If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that consumption is the lifeblood of our civilization. Knowing this, it is still surreal to hear some politicians openly prioritizing the economy over human life, as if the stock market was a flesh-eating monster that can only be pacified by human sacrifice. The criteria for being a sacrificial lamb has changed over the years, from slaves to immigrants, but the practice is older than the Constitution itself. The disciples of this belief system may have become more nuanced in their messaging, by comparing universal healthcare to socialism, but after spending the last two weeks in isolation, it is clear that the old paradigm is dead. The only question is whether or not we die along with it.
The majority of us will survive COVID-19, but according to the U.N.’s environment chief Inger Andersen, “nature is sending us a message.” As devastating as this pandemic is, there are a plethora of diseases that already exist within wildlife that have a much higher mortality rate. It is human behavior that is causing the destruction of natural habitats and driving this trend of infectious diseases being passed between species. Aaron Bernstein from the Harvard School of Public Health explains that “the separation of health and environmental policy is a dangerous delusion. Our health entirely depends on the climate and the other organisms we share the planet with.”
New heroes are emerging, from health-care workers and grocery store employees to New York governor Andrew Cuomo. The Jacob K. Javits Center is fulfilling a vital need for increased hospital beds. I know the Javits Center as the home of Tex World, the semi-annual fabric show where fabric mills convene from all over the world to entice NYC designers to sample their wares. I was there on Jan. 20, and instead of ICU beds and ventilators, there were rows of fabric stalls and an interactive trend forecasting display by the Doneger Group.
The architect of the space seemed to be grappling with the same question that many of us are pondering at this moment — if I must consume, how can I do so responsibly? With the threat of rising CO2 levels, infernal forest fires and a gluttony of plastic, the singular theme to emerge out of TexWorld was sustainability. This sentiment was echoed in alteration, which touted recycled plastic in vivid colors.
One World was an homage to artisan techniques from around the world. The vibrant hues immediately conjured up mental images of the colorful huipil fabrics that are traditionally worn by the women in Guatemala.
The weaving is all done by hand and while there is continuity from one weaver to the next, each design is a one-of-a-kind piece of wearable art. The Utah based brand Nena & Co. then transforms these textiles into highly coveted bags.
Utilizing the ancient techniques of indigenous people all over the world has become a staple of the eco-fashion movement. The fact that the techniques have withstood the test of time is a testimony to their inherent sustainability. The One-World display was the seed for this post, and I envisioned a photo essay that paired my Gilded-Mane jewelry with some of the sustainable fashion pieces that I’ve acquired over the past year.
But the world has changed a lot in the past two months. We do live in one world, and it is like any marriage. In the best of times, we have access to virtually any product we desire, from necessities like eyeglasses and affordable clothing to high-speed technology and luxury handmade goods. Even the superfood powders I’ve been using to supplement my diet are sourced organically from all over the world, including countries such as India and Peru.
But in the worst of times, it means that we all battle the same virus as one human family. Even the weavers in remote villages of Guatemala no longer feel safe from a disease that started on a different continent on the other side of the world, as their markets have closed to safeguard their health. If there is a lesson to be learned in all of this, it is that our actions do matter, and not as a vague sense of altruism, but as an immediate consequence to those we interact with on a daily basis. I can’t help but wonder if a higher level of carbon dioxide could be playing a role in why a respiratory illness is sending healthy young Americans to the ICU. We’ve gotten so used to hearing about how a warming atmosphere will impact younger generations in terms of coastal erosion and hot weather, but we haven’t considered the fact that less oxygen might compromise our lungs in the present.
While our immune systems struggle to adapt to this mysterious pathogen, one truth is self-evident, COVID-19 has exposed our civilization for all its weaknesses. It is similar to how a tornado in 2018 took down many of the trees in my parents’ yard. It was the weaker trees that snapped like twigs and ultimately forced my dad to plant new, healthy ones. As a society, when we hold on to certain ways of doing things because they’ve worked for us in the past, nature has a way of shattering that false sense of security.
If we want to continue to source foreign labor, then whether we realize it or not, we have a vested interest in the health of those workers. Social distancing has emerged as the best defense against spreading the virus, but it only works if the essential workers have the protection and resources they need. Individualism is at the core of our national identity but cooperation is the only way we will get through this. The narrative that has been passed down to us is that we’re separate, and that we live in a meritocracy where we all end up with the lives that we deserve, but that has already been proven to be false.
The virus has already brought out the best and the worst in us, with stories of some businesses price gouging hand sanitizer, while others have been making it for free for hospitals. This dichotomy in our country has always existed, and even though raising prices when there is high demand is a core principle of capitalism, it is inhumane when people’s lives are at stake. If I were a religious person, I would say that this is a test, and how we behave now will determine the fate of our civilization.
Since my work is not essential, I will continue to stay home, which I consider to be a privilege in these difficult times. I realize the real sacrifices will be made by others and I applaud them as I plot out my garden for when the weather warms up.
I will continue to keep my immune system strong by having at least one super smoothie a day. So far, I have become much more in tune with my physical body. As New Yorkers, when we’re not feeling well, we don’t even pay attention to the exact nature of our symptoms. The main question we ask ourselves is “can I still go to work?” Now that going to work is no longer an option, we’re all hyper-aware of every physical change, especially those of us with seasonal allergies. I will continue to stay connected virtually, and I look forward to the day when we can all reconnect with our friends and loved ones in person.
For More WWD Business News: