I think it might have been her glorious smile that first caught my eye. Perhaps it was the warm color of her skin that attracted my attention. Wait! Was this racism on my part? That my first impression of her was through the color of her skin? I didn’t want that to be the case. Clearly one can’t but help noticing skin color. Racism is when you don’t see beyond it, to the person.
I knew that, as an ethnic textile aficionado, my interest in her clothing was authentic. Her top was a made of lively African textiles interacting with panels cut from a black t-shirt.
My eyes traveled downward and there they were—slim cut olive cargo pants with rich yellow embroidery on the cuffs. A quick glance at the table behind her and it clicked—this was Lola, Lola Faturoti, whose bio in the program had intrigued me.
I was attending the Weave A Real Peace (WARP) annual Meeting (https://weavearealpeace.org/ ). WARP is a networking organization that promotes improving the quality of life among impoverished textile artisans across the globe, through their textile traditions.
According to the program of the Weave A Real Peace 2019 Annual Meeting, Lola was a London born Nigerian fashion designer “who merges traditional and indigenous designs with up-cycled sweatshirts and T-shirts.”.
I took in the rest of her. She was tall and slender, her hair in a fashionable ‘do, a short faux-hawk. Everything about her was striking—she was vivacious and engaging, and her smile contagious.
I was mesmerized by the garments she sold, especially the pants… I prefer wearing cargo pants more than any other style, so practical and comfortable. But these… that fabulous embroidery… I knew I’d be buying a pair.
I had to learn more more. Her gorgeous designs were the impetus for our exchanges, but it quickly became clear that we had a lot more to talk about. Lola, like me is multi-cultural. She was born in England to Nigerian parents. She was sent to live with her grandmother in Nigeria when she was three years old. She later returned to London, where she learned fashion design at Kilburn Polytechnic, and she now resides in New York.
She asked about my accent. I chuckled. “Yes, I was also born in England.”
She looked at me sharply, then smiled. “So that’s why there’s something between us.”
I too felt a connection, a kinship. Of course it was more than our place of birth. I felt it was more than our mutual interest in ethnic textiles.
During the meeting, several opportunities arose for us to get to know each other better, to share our stories, her journey to New York city, my childhood in Israel. This was a friendship in the making, a close friendship.
I laughed at myself. I had it bad—a new friend crush.
Or was I trying too hard? Had I fallen into the trap that so many of us do? Where we overcompensate, trying to prove that we are not racist? (To ourselves? To others?) Did it matter? Yes, it mattered to me. I wanted my behavior to be genuine, not forced, based on another aspect of racism.
It felt like an authentic reaction to her as a person. I really did like her, for her personality, for who she was, beneath the veneer of her skin color.
I was delighted when she said that we should keep in touch. When I spoke of my skills in a variety of textile arts. She grinned. “We must collaborate.”
She repeated herself after she riffled through my book on traditional textiles. “I have to think of something.”
I certainly couldn’t think of anything. But the next day, studying a piece of kantha embroidery, I knew. Over the past few months I’d been toying with the idea of playing with free-form embroidery using parallel stitching reminiscent of the kantha quilts. Perhaps I could produce embroidered panels for her tops.
Her eyes lit up when I presented my idea to her. “And we could leave the ends hanging then pull on them!”
I nodded. “To get a scrunched up look. I’ll have to experiment.”
“Yes, and then we’ll make a prototype!”
We were like little kids with a shiny new toy.
Yes, my reaction to her was genuine. And yes, we will stay in touch.