I Made Your Clothes

By Colleen Keller Mishra

Photo by: Matthew Rhein

Photo by: Matthew Rhein

Sara Keel spent over a decade as a designer for the brand Anthropologie. She now owns her own company, Penrose Design Studio. Sara is an entrepreneur, mother, and advocate for slow-fashion. 

 

How did your career begin?
I have always been interested in fashion. I think it stems from my mom teaching me to sew and growing up sewing my own clothes, but I didn't consider a career in fashion at all because I wasn't exposed to it much as a child. My parents are in the medical and science fields so when I was younger I assumed I would do something similar in college. A year into college, I realized business marketing wasn't for me and I just wanted a career making clothes! I ended up transferring to Savannah College of Art and Design for Fashion. Soon after graduating, I signed on as an intern at Anthropologie, and ended up designing with the company for eleven years. The concept for my own design studio formed after I went part time so I could stay home and raise my baby daughter. I started designing and making clothes for myself while my daughter napped, and launched Penrose Design Studio (named after my daughter Penelope Rose) as a way to share what I was making with others. After a year of working part time I was accepted into a designer residency program in January 2017 which led me to commit full time to being an entrepreneur and running my own fashion business.

What does your day to day look like?
Every day is so different. My business is very new and it is just me running the show. So, I am doing a little bit of everything during the week. I am currently hand-making all of my garments, so a lot of time is spent sewing and sourcing materials. On Mondays I work with an incredible intern who is a textile designer and helps me with hand-dyeing fabrics. She also doubles as my model so we use Mondays to photograph new products to add to the website and Instagram. I also use Mondays to review the budget, and plan social media marketing for the week. Tuesdays and Thursdays I keep my daughter home with me. She is two-and-a half so you can probably imagine I don't get much work done when she is there! I use those days to run errands, deliver new product to local stockists, and take her with me when I need to go out on inspiration trips. I am currently in a year long designer residency program called the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator, which helps designers start and grow their businesses in Philadelphia by providing workshops, resources, and mentoring. On Wednesdays, I have weekly meetings with the other five designers in the program and often following the meetings we have our workshops. Since I am still a new brand, I try to get as much exposure as possible. Many Fridays and Saturdays are spent preparing for and attending pop-up shops and events with local businesses so I can meet new customers face to face.

How would you define the style of Penrose Design Studio?
Penrose is free spirited and feminine, and I love vintage so you can usually find a touch of vintage influence in my designs. The silhouettes are relaxed and flowy and often are of one size so they can fit a variety of body types. Plus, they are super comfortable to wear. I use vintage materials like silk scarves so each piece has a unique print and pattern, creating one-of-a-kind pieces. I also hand dye so the outcome is completely different on each garment. My hope is that my customers feel as good buying a Penrose garment as they do wearing it.

What are your thoughts on the slow/ethical/sustainable fashion movement?
It is an absolute necessity for the future of our planet. The fashion industry is one of the worst on our environment, second only to the oil industry. The amount of pollution and waste created by manufacturing clothing is huge, not to mention the tons and tons of clothing that we throw out every day because something may be a little worn or out of style. It’s really terrible and has to change, and it is everyone's responsibility because we all wear clothes, right? I think consumers are becoming more and more aware of these effects and are starting to demand higher standards when it comes to the clothes they buy and wear.  I believe larger companies that don't offer ethical/sustainable clothing options are going to have to make changes to meet the demands of the consumer. We have talked about this to some extent in our group at the Fashion Incubator. It’s like the organic food movement: you used to have to go to a farmers’ market or specialty store to buy organic food, but now almost every grocery store has an organic aisle, and it is because the consumer made the demand of the stores. But it is also the responsibility of clothing companies to help educate the consumer on how to make the change and join the movement.

You’ve mentioned that you watched the documentary The True Cost. Did it in anyway influence your work or change your own shopping habits?
It completely changed the way I consume fashion. I was pretty naive about the negative impact the fashion industry has on the environment and the often terrible working conditions of many factory workers in the industry. After watching the documentary, I decided to shop way less than I had been, and to only purchase ethical and sustainable clothing in the future. It actually felt very freeing in a way. I didn’t feel the pressure to buy the newest Zara pieces that drop on an almost weekly basis in order to stay “on trend” with my wardrobe. I had been working in the fast fashion industry as a designer for eleven years and had been sort of blinded by my work for so long. I felt like I gained a new sense of individuality with my wardrobe because I wasn’t guided by trendy fast fashion anymore. I went back to shopping a lot of vintage and remembered it is such a passion of mine! I have had to do a little research to find ethical and sustainable brands but it has been encouraging and fun learning about the slow fashion movement. I watched the documentary around the same time I was forming my clothing line so I vowed to create a brand that keeps sustainable and ethical practices at its core. And I am proud to say that Penrose is part of the slow fashion movement.  Even if you are not into fashion I encourage you to watch this documentary, it is truly an eye-opener. We all wear clothes, so we are all responsible to educate ourselves (and our friends!) on the impact of what we wear.

Photo by: Sara Keel

Photo by: Sara Keel

Do you have any advice for readers who want to move towards purchasing a more ethical wardrobe?
I think there is a general misconception that an ethical or sustainable wardrobe means expensive, frumpy, organic, cotton frocks, but that is so not the case. There are many ways you can start to make little changes to your wardrobe without sacrificing your style (or shopping habit), and it doesn't have to be all or nothing. It is important to know there are different terms to be aware of: ethical, sustainable, organic, fair trade, and all can help you move toward a more ethical wardrobe. Buying vintage clothing is a great sustainable practice and probably the best way to cut down on clothing waste. If you aren’t into wearing clothes from a different era, online retailers like The Real Real (a luxury consignment retailer) or Rent the Runway (designer clothing available for rent that allows you to wear something “new” every day) are other great alternatives to buying new clothing. When you are shopping, look for brands that give clear information on where their goods are made. Ethical brand will often show photos of their factories and will even name the individuals who sew their clothes. This is a good sign the brand follows ethical manufacturing practices. There are some great websites like Ecocult which is an ethical fashion blog and lists ethical and sustainable brands on their site. Another great place to start is right in your neighborhood!  Try shopping in local boutiques. These are small independently run business and a lot of the time stock locally designed and made clothing and accessories. Lastly, try to make the clothes you already have last longer so you need to purchase less. I think proper laundering is a largely overlooked aspect of an ethical wardrobe. Washing machines and dryers can be hard on clothes and really wear them out if they are not washed properly. Make sure you understand the care labels of your clothes so you don’t ruin them in the wash, and you can avoid throwing out that sweater you shrunk and buying a new one (this has happened to me so many times). Many companies will list garments as “Dry-clean Only” (a process that uses chemicals which harm the environment) but often the clothes can be washed in cold water and line dried. You can also put clothing in the freezer to refresh your clothes and kill odor causing bacteria, which also cuts down on the water you would otherwise use to wash in your machine.

Photo by: Matthew Rhein

Photo by: Matthew Rhein

In what ways to do you think Penrose gives back? (to the customer? to your community? on a global scale?)
It feels great to say that because I am still a very small brand. It is easy for me to incorporate sustainable practices into my business model. I am able to use vintage and materials like silk scarves in my designs so I don’t have to buy and produce new materials. Several of my pieces are made to order so I am not over-producing and creating waste if something doesn’t sell, and sometimes I even cut and re-sew or overdye pieces from a previous collection to create new designs. I also use leftover scraps from previous designs in new pieces. I realize it is a brand’s responsibility to educate the consumer about the importance of sustainable fashion so I am using social media and marketing to give this message to my customers.

What have you received in creating Penrose? (freedom to be more creative? a new outlook on environmental impacts?)
It has been an unbelievable blessing and gift to have the opportunity to start my own business. Since being in the Fashion Incubator, I have experienced an incredible amount of personal growth, learning about business and entrepreneurship with a talented group of designers and amazing mentors. The creative freedom of running my own business has given me new life and much fulfillment I didn’t realize I was missing. Above all else, the most important thing at this stage of my life is time with my daughter. Working for myself has given me a flexible schedule that allows me to have my daughter at home with me two days during the work week (she is in daycare the other three days). We have had the best time learning and growing together and I would not trade those moments for anything in the world.      

What are your hopes for Penrose in the future?
As my brand grows, I want to be able to partner with artisan groups globally to produce my designs and develop programs to help give back to their communities. With the rise of fast fashion it is harder and harder to find beautiful handcrafted goods, so I hope to do my little part to help preserve those practices and give artisans the wage they deserve for their craft. And I am dreaming of developing a system for recycling materials (like scraps from past seasons’ designs or vintage materials) into new garments on a larger scale to help reduce waste. Any weavers out there interested in using fabric scraps to weave new materials, give me a call!

Photo by: Matthew Rhein

Photo by: Matthew Rhein

Here’s some of Sara’s favorite  brands and resources for anyone wanting to learn more about ethical and sustainable fashion:

Penrose Design Studio - My brand’s website

Reformation - Great dresses and other fashion basics; this brand is committed to sustainable practices and it gives information on the environmental impact of each of their garment.

Maiyet - A luxury fashion brand that partners with artisan groups around the world, which promotes self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship within those communities.

Study New York - A sustainable fashion brand that is manufactured in New York and is transparent about where their raw materials come from. They even use the scraps from previous designs and weave them into fabric for new designs.

Rent the Runway - A huge selection of designer clothing available to rent. They have several subscription options so you can wear something “new” every day.

The Real Real - A luxury consignment retailer.

1st Dibs - An amazing designer vintage and home pieces.

Accompany - An ethical fashion online retailer that stocks artisan made goods.

Ecocult - An eco fashion blog with tons of great information and a comprehensive list of eco and sustainable fashion and lifestyle brands.

Fashion Revolution - A global movement and organization. From their mission statement: “We want to unite people and organisations to work together towards radically changing the way our clothes are sourced, produced and consumed, so that our clothing is made in a safe, clean and fair way.”

Fashion Transparency Index - Created from research done by the Fashion Revolution, it highlights the business practices of the top 100 fashion brands. Definitely worth looking into brands you shop - some of the results are shocking.

Philadelphia Fashion Incubator - I am currently a Designer-In-Residence in this Philadelphia based program aimed at fostering small business in the Philadelphia area.

Bosnia, Volim Te

By Colleen Keller Mishra

Samantha Owens is the Programming and External Relations Manager for The Post-Conflict Research Center (P-CRC) in Sarajevo, Bosnia. P-CRC works to restore a culture of peace and prevent violent conflict in the Western Balkans. They do this by creating, implementing and supporting unconventional and innovative approaches to peace education, post-conflict research, human rights and transitional justice.

March 20, 2017, Zenica - A stray dog is seen in front of a graffiti saying "Volim te (I love you)." The total number of stray dogs in Bosnia is unknown, but in Zenica there is estimated to be more than 6,000 and in Sarajevo more than 15,000.

March 20, 2017, Zenica - A stray dog is seen in front of a graffiti saying "Volim te (I love you)." The total number of stray dogs in Bosnia is unknown, but in Zenica there is estimated to be more than 6,000 and in Sarajevo more than 15,000.

Tell us about how you got connected with P-CRC?

From 2014 through 2016, I was working for Chicago-based ART WORKS Projects and we had gotten a MacArthur grant to do a four-part exhibition about transitional justice in different environments; the US, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo and BiH (Bosnia and Herzegovina). As part of this curatorial process, we hosted representatives from each partner organization for a workshop in Chicago, where I met co-founder of P-CRC, Leslie Woodward in 2016.

July 13, 2017, Zenica - Sunset above Arcelor Mittal steel factory in Zenica, that once used to employ about 40,000 people. Currently less than 5,000 people work there. According to World Health Organization (WHO) data from 2017, Bosnia and Herzegovina are the most polluted country in Europe.

July 13, 2017, Zenica - Sunset above Arcelor Mittal steel factory in Zenica, that once used to employ about 40,000 people. Currently less than 5,000 people work there. According to World Health Organization (WHO) data from 2017, Bosnia and Herzegovina are the most polluted country in Europe.

Leslie and I hit it off and hung out after the workshop talking about what we were interested in, what we were working on, what we wanted to work on, and we really clicked professionally. ART WORKS was in a period of transition and I was figuring out what my next steps were going to be. I had always wanted to live in the Balkans as my mother is a first-generation American born to Croatian parents and my mother’s side of the family is all either Croatian immigrants or first generation. Leslie had someone leave the team recently, so it was sort of just kismet. That was in April 2016, I believe, and I finally made it to Sarajevo in December 2016.

March 27, 2017, Zenica - Alen Marijanovic is seen reading a brochure "Welcome to Gelsenkirchen." It's said, that roughly 100,000 people have left Bosnia, in search of a better life.

March 27, 2017, Zenica - Alen Marijanovic is seen reading a brochure "Welcome to Gelsenkirchen." It's said, that roughly 100,000 people have left Bosnia, in search of a better life.

What projects is P-CRC currently working on?

We are currently working on a photo-based exhibition about the Roma population in BiH, which I am really, really excited about. They are a very marginalized group, they were profoundly impacted by the war, but their stories are rarely told. So, our goal with that is to challenge the stereotypes about the Roma by giving them a platform to share their own stories. We are also introducing a digital component to our Ordinary Heroes project, using stories of interethnic wartime rescue to combat divisive, nationalist narratives online.

October 25, 2017, Sarajevo - Pensioners protest.

October 25, 2017, Sarajevo - Pensioners protest.

In addition to our new projects, we have several ongoing programs including; the Peacebuilding Program, Balkan Diskurs, and mentoring Balkan Diskursyouth correspondents. We also work with the ICTY’s Outreach office, who work with the United Nations to monitor conditions that could lead to genocide and mass atrocities in the region, and are also the organizers of the WARM Festival run by WARM Foundation. We have so many projects constantly running, I am in awe of my colleagues and our intern teams who do so much with very limited capacity.

Again, I would encourage anyone interested in learning about our work to visit our website. We recently re-designed it. You can see a good selection of our visual content, too.

October 17, 2017, Sarajevo - Protests against the water restrictions in Sarajev. Most households don't have water from 12am to 6am, and many go without any water entirely.

October 17, 2017, Sarajevo - Protests against the water restrictions in Sarajev. Most households don't have water from 12am to 6am, and many go without any water entirely.

Can you speak about conflict in Bosnia? (past and present)

have studied the region in undergrad, grad school, and been living here for a year and this is still a question I am trying to wrap my brain around. Let me preface this by saying that everything I am about to say/observe is my own views and not any sort of official stance by P-CRC. I just want to be clear about that since so many aspects of the conflict remain contentious. For a very, very brief history lesson, for those who weren’t around or don’t know about the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, I will just give a bit of background. Yugoslavia was a multi-ethnic state held together by Josip Broz Tito from the end of WWII until his death in 1980.

July 10, 2017, Srebrenica - A woman mourns next to the coffin of her sibling.

July 10, 2017, Srebrenica - A woman mourns next to the coffin of her sibling.

After his death, national identities became stronger and in some cases, nationalism among the various ethnic groups and regions bubbled to the surface. Various regions began declaring independence--first, Slovenia, which is ethnically and linguistically perhaps the most “different.” Bosnia declared independence too; however, as it was/is the most ethnically mixed state, its independence was the, what’s the word, perhaps the most “controversial”? Serbia declared it part of greater Serbia, while Croatia also laid claim to parts of Western Bosnia. What this resulted in was the horrors of ethnic cleansing and genocide that most people associate the war with. Twenty years on, I would argue, it remains a frozen conflict in a lot of ways, as the Dayton Accords, which achieved immediate peace through segregation and institutional separation of the various ethnic groups, became the constitution. The peace is therefore very fragile, and, in its current form, not sustainable, as you cannot just keep people separated forever. That is not a durable solution. What we are seeing now, among the generation that is currently coming of age, is this internalized division that has been fostered not just through family and community narratives about the war, but also through this institutional segregation. There are certainly young people who are working to make BiH more unified, but it’s an uphill battle when the entire political system is designed to keep you separated.

April 2, 2017, Sarajevo - Medical High school students worked jobs to raise money for their friends who could not afford a trip at the end of the High school. Pictured here, the city of Sarajevo hired them to clean Miljacka riverbed.

April 2, 2017, Sarajevo - Medical High school students worked jobs to raise money for their friends who could not afford a trip at the end of the High school. Pictured here, the city of Sarajevo hired them to clean Miljacka riverbed.

In what ways does P-CRC engage with communities in peace-building?

Because there is so much bureaucracy in BiH--for instance, there are three presidents at a time, one from each ethnic group, who rotates "charge" every eight months--operating outside of formal structures is the most effective way to work. That’s one of the beauties of working through multimedia and the arts; you can set up an exhibition and it reaches people in a natural, organic way. We make sure all our exhibitions are as accessible as possible; typically, they are outdoor installations, set up in a heavily trafficked public space.

To reach young people, we have an extensive network of grassroots youth centers, youth programs, activists, and so on, across the country. We, again, work outside the formal school system so that we don’t get paralyzed by the red tape. We have found this to be an incredibly effective approach. We also do our best to offer young people opportunities that are mutually beneficial so it’s not just like “here, come to this training so we can tick the box that we did it.” We impart psycho-social skills, offer journalism and multimedia trainings, and, for some young people, offer compensation for articles they’ve written about their communities or specific issues in BiH for publication on Balkan Diskurs.

March 15, 2017, Sarajevo - Kenan Hidic who has learned the craft from his father, is using shells from the war in Bosnia 1992-1995 to produce souvenirs that decorate homes around the world.

March 15, 2017, Sarajevo - Kenan Hidic who has learned the craft from his father, is using shells from the war in Bosnia 1992-1995 to produce souvenirs that decorate homes around the world.

How did P-CRC come to exist? 

I can’t put it any better than the "official" statement on our founding, which was put together by founders Velma Šarić and Leslie Woodward: “The story of the Post-Conflict Research Center (PCRC) began in Sarajevo in the summer of 2010. While living on opposite sides of the world, global technology supplied us with our [sic] some of our most powerful tools. Equipped with two Mac computers and Skype, we spent countless hours developing plans to create an organization dedicated to building peace a reality.
 
“In the beginning, we had minimal funding, no office and only a few part-time volunteers. Now, we have reached millions with our interventions and have received global recognition for our innovative approaches. Our journey has been both difficult and exciting and we are constantly faced with new challenges, roadblocks, and opportunities, but, in the end, we hope that our story can serve as an example that anything is possible if you follow your passion, believe in yourself, and work hard to achieve your dreams.”

December 11, 2016, Kozarci - Illegal miners are seen exiting a mine. Miners work with makeshift tools and dig out coal from illegal mines earning 20KM a day, and digging out about 40 tons of coal.

December 11, 2016, Kozarci - Illegal miners are seen exiting a mine. Miners work with makeshift tools and dig out coal from illegal mines earning 20KM a day, and digging out about 40 tons of coal.

What does your day-to-day look like in your role?

For anyone who has worked for a grassroots NGO, you know that you basically wear every hat. For me, I work on our grant applications, overall messaging, social media, article editing, project management, project design, and I help with management of our intern team. So, every day is different, which is something that I enjoy.

Also, we share our office building with a pensioners’ chess club so I spend some time each morning speaking to them in broken English/Bosnian combination, usually answering twenty questions about why I am not dating anyone, which is always pretty funny.

September 21, 2016, Zavidovici - Indira Sinanovic was the first women wearing hijab to run for City council of Zavidovici during the 2016 elections.

September 21, 2016, Zavidovici - Indira Sinanovic was the first women wearing hijab to run for City council of Zavidovici during the 2016 elections.

What is it like to live in Sarajevo? 

Life here is lived at a much slower pace and on the weekends my life basically revolves around going from café to café, reading, meeting friends, drinking far too many coffees. It’s a funny combination because life feels much easier and laid back, the city is small, you are constantly running into people you know, you have your regular spots. But, in other ways, some of the minor day-to-day things are incredibly difficult. For instance, paying bills, picking up packages from the post office, doing any sort of paperwork, each one is a full-day process running from office to office. So, it’s a strange dichotomy in that way. 

December 28, 2016, Svatovac - Nazif Mujic is a Roma "actor". He was starring in Danis Tanovic's movie about Roma life in Bosnia. He won a Silver Bear award in Berlin for that movie, which he sold for 4,000 Euros.

December 28, 2016, Svatovac - Nazif Mujic is a Roma "actor". He was starring in Danis Tanovic's movie about Roma life in Bosnia. He won a Silver Bear award in Berlin for that movie, which he sold for 4,000 Euros.

Actually, I think the city is very much a city of contrasts. There is a lot of beauty, coupled with a lot of pain, "Eastern" culture mixed with "Western" culture, laid back but very much alive. One thing I’ve really noticed is that you do feel every day that you are somewhere special, there’s something really captivating about the city. It also has a really strong sense of community that makes you feel really safe. It was so funny, moving from Chicago everyone was so worried about my safety, but I feel exponentially safer here than I do in the US.

November 22, 2016, Sarajevo - Ismail Zulfic is a boy born without his two hands. With no help from the country Ismail lives a normal life, he is going to school, he swims and skis.

November 22, 2016, Sarajevo - Ismail Zulfic is a boy born without his two hands. With no help from the country Ismail lives a normal life, he is going to school, he swims and skis.

Can you recommend a book or article related to your work?

Again, this question can get tricky as accounts of the war can be contentious; there are a lot of opinions about various scholars who have written works. I found The Balkans: A Short History by Mark Mazower to be really helpful in terms of an overview of regional history. Specifically about the war, the chapter in Samantha Power’s A Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide about Bosnia is a good overview of international inaction while atrocities were being committed. I read a great article recently in The Economist about Bosnia’s collective sense of humor and its use in processing collective trauma. The film Grbavica is also great, and the photography of Ron Haviv is beautiful and heartbreaking.

February 15, 2017, Prozor - Ramsko Lake is seen dried out due to the increase in the production of electricity.

February 15, 2017, Prozor - Ramsko Lake is seen dried out due to the increase in the production of electricity.

Any additional thoughts?

I think, unfortunately, for a lot of people, Bosnia has basically become synonymous with “genocide.” While the 1992-1995 was certainly a watershed period in the nation’s history, there is so, so much more to Bosnia than just the traumas of war. I think commemoration is incredibly important, but I also think recognizing the beautiful parts of Bosnia and the resiliency of Bosnians is just as important. Reducing an entire country and a thousand years of history to three years of conflict can be easy to do—especially when those three years are full of horror and trauma and international headlines—but is, I think, unfair to the richness of the country. There’s history, there’s culture, there’s strength, there’s beauty that should also be recognized and associated with Bosnia. 

June 20, 2017, Sarajevo -  War Hostel  is a unique experience in Sarajevo. It's a hostel where the sound of shelling is played during the night and there is no electricity. They use candles and sleep on the floor. When you knock on the door, a man wearing a uniform greets you. In 2016, official data say that 90% of tourists that visited Sarajevo, came only for war tourism.

June 20, 2017, Sarajevo - War Hostel is a unique experience in Sarajevo. It's a hostel where the sound of shelling is played during the night and there is no electricity. They use candles and sleep on the floor. When you knock on the door, a man wearing a uniform greets you. In 2016, official data say that 90% of tourists that visited Sarajevo, came only for war tourism.

To follow P-CRC's work connect with them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Photography and captions by  Armin Durgut.

One of Water

By Marlee Moses

Image by Emily Bucholz

Image by: Emily Bucholz

Like many others before me, I became fascinated with the unfolding of the childbearing year as I navigated that transitional space for the first time myself. Reproductive health and justice were passions of mine prior to my being pregnant. I even had experience facilitating workshops on the topic, but this fascination was something altogether different.

It was mysterious to me, growing a child, witnessing the changing of my body and mind. I felt as though I could not possibly learn all that I wanted to know about the entire process. From my own physical health to eventually caring for a human being, the information was endless. Twelve years on, I have yet to satiate that desire for more knowledge.

The prenatal care I received and the birth of my eldest were the opposite of what I had wished for. Limited by financial resources and the confining bureaucracy of Medicaid, I was pushed into a prenatal clinic and then a birthing environment that were antithetical to what I knew, based on my research, to be best for both me and my child. My hands were tied (metaphorically) and I felt resigned to accept the impersonal care I was offered.

Young and worried, I did my best to navigate a health care system that was not set up to support me in a holistic way or honor my personal decisions regarding my and my baby’s care. I felt belittled by my care provider and reduced to a specimen in the teaching hospital where I gave birth for the first time. I longed for a companion, someone who had been through this before and who wouldn’t tell me simply to be happy that my child was healthy. I walked away from that experience with my eyes set toward change. I knew others must have been experiencing the same and much worse, and wanting to find a way to be helpful.

After the birth of my daughter and having been invited into the birthing room twice by dear friends, I decided to formally train as a doula. I hoped that this would be the path forward to offer support to others from a place of compassionate service. I wanted to continue to learn and share with others, to help future clients find the evidence-based information they were looking for so that they could make informed decisions for themselves and their families, cultivating a sense of empowerment within themselves all the while.

During my first training, our instructor told us that we, as doulas, must become like water. And I’ve mulled this phrase over many times in the three years since I heard her say it, asking for its full meaning to be revealed to me. I have taken this phrase with me as both a gift and a guide while navigating the path of birth work. With each new client, I continue to ask, what does it mean to be one of water?

Water finds a way. It follows the path of gravity, being drawn into open spaces and easily filling the gaps it finds. When a person is in need of answers, I point them toward what they are looking for, often pulling from sources I have already discovered, seeking out new information and leaning into the local birth community to access the collective wisdom they hold. I offer information, presenting facts about the risks and benefits of different care and intervention options, so that each client can make the best, informed decision for themselves, personally. I am there to support their decisions. I am there to help them find a way to have their needs met.

In its purest form, water is clear. It is transparent and open to change. I must show up for my clients. With my full, honest self, I seek to enter the birthing room and remain present both physically and emotionally. To occupy the vacant space between the clinician and birthing person can facilitate continuity of care and can contribute to an overall sense of well being. Like water, a curious and present doula, is a valuable resource.

Water is fluid. It is malleable. Each client is different. They come into the childbearing experience with their own individual history, learning style, fears, and aspirations. I bring no set agenda. And while my own experience is what brought me to birth work, and for that I am grateful, I must set the details of that experience aside. Like water, I mold to the specific desires of those that I serve. And this simplicity of my role I aspire to most.


Marlee Moses is the owner of Birch Tree Birth Services, providing birth and postpartum doula services. She also has a knack for plants. She resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with her husband and two children. 

Emily Bucholz is a Philadelphia-based photographer and owner of Tell the Bees Photography, focusing on child and family lifestyle portraits and events. 

Follow Marlee and Emily on Instagram. 

Revitalizing the Forgotten, Restoring Simplicity

By Colleen Keller Mishra

06be2d83ebe05aa239fa87db6af0482e_4_orig.jpg

New Delhi based designer Shivani Dogra prefers old over new. With her sharp instinct for potential in forgotten and disused spaces, she along with her team revitalize residential and commercial properties throughout India. Here she discusses the inspiration behind her work and gives us a glimpse into her beautifully curated designs. 

You own a multi-disciplinary design studio based in New Delhi, India. What do you mean by “multi-disciplinary”?

Shivani: We're a studio that's not limited to interior design but also decoration, table arrangements, purchasing, and restoration. 

What is your philosophy behind your work? Can you speak about restoring deteriorating and forgotten places?

Shivani: Simplicity and authenticity. I strive to create spaces that are friendly, comfortable, and emanate a sense of security whether they're residential or commercial as people that are at ease with their environments are happier people and perform better on a personal and professional level. Steel and glass architecture to me are alienating and I lean more towards the warmth of natural textures, light, colours, indigenous craft and art. We work in collaboration with restoration architects on bigger projects. Our contribution includes researching and suggesting finishes and textures to the architect. And at a later stage, designing the interiors, space planning and decorating. We've done work on sites around the country that are between 60 to 150 years old.

A work in progress inside a New Delhi apartment.

A work in progress inside a New Delhi apartment.

What is your objective in restoration? Do you find that this contributes to society in any way?

Shivani: To create areas of order and beauty for everyone to enjoy. Creating spaces that are “breathable” and natural have been proven to ensure better mental and physical health. I've most often converted dank, dark places plastered with vinyl and polyester into green and open spaces. Also, since most merchandise and materials are sourced from local vendors and artisans my team and I ensure a steady stream of income for them besides employing at least 20-40 construction labourers at site.

How did you get interested in this idea?

Shivani: Some of my earliest memories from childhood were of decaying colonial heritage and my inexplicable desire to do something for them. It was most of what I thought about back then. Whether it was how to rearrange a garden in school or fix the structure of a worn house, those thoughts were always in the background. It pained me to see this heritage treated with disregard. I think it must have been that I felt for the life in them when they were at their best and of the time in which they were built in—a slower, simpler, quieter era. Most of them were beautiful structures sometimes in skeletal ruins or garishly decorated. Also, I grew up in a home that placed high value on the hand crafted which was tough to let go of.

"From a government accommodation in New Delhi. The client required this space to be peaceful and calm; a retreat from the chaos of the city." - Shivani

"From a government accommodation in New Delhi. The client required this space to be peaceful and calm; a retreat from the chaos of the city." - Shivani

In what ways does your work inspire you or give you satisfaction?

Shivani: In numerous ways—from the helping of artisans and local crafts persons to seeing clients happy in their new spaces to employing labour from around the country. This is work that helps uplift society at every level.

In what ways does India (culturally, socially, or aesthetically) influence your specific vision?

Shivani: Without India my work would not be. The people, the simplicity, the craft, the art, the fabric, the colours, the smells, the landscape, the depth of its philosophy and spirituality—all of it seeps into the world of my work and influences me every day.

What does a normal day look like for you?

Shivani: No two days are similar—I could've planned a week to precision, but it invariably falls apart. A “regular day” would be to visit office in the morning and site in the afternoons. I start early with yoga and breakfast, in the office at 10:00 am, and work till 7:30-8:00 pm. And sometimes weekends.

"This space was decorated with furniture sourced from Delhi or made in-house. Its tones and upholstery were made to match the existing wall color which could not be repainted." - Shivani

"This space was decorated with furniture sourced from Delhi or made in-house. Its tones and upholstery were made to match the existing wall color which could not be repainted." - Shivani

What are your biggest challenges?

Shivani: Learning to manage people and the business side of things. Both of which don't come naturally to me.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Shivani: There have been many pieces of advice given to me that I value, but the one I remember most often is biblical: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” It helped me through a lot of tricky situations.

On site in Gwalior, India.

On site in Gwalior, India.

Follow Shivani on Instagram and view her portfolio here.  

All photographs © Shivani Dogra