In the third installment of our Housework With blog series, we met with Allen Navasero, a sweet, soft-spoken young designer passionate about positively impacting the world via intentional, slow fashion.
We arrived in his San Bruno Mountain neighborhood on a classically cool San Francisco afternoon – fog rolling over the hills from the west, leaving us ever so slightly misted. Allen came out to greet us and suggested that we start our visit with a little stroll around the neighborhood, as his very excited pup Bennie could use the walk. Overlooking the bay, we began our meandering conversation, which ranged from how having animals around from a young age teaches empathy and compassion to his going to graduate school in London for 'fashion futures' and how many languages he speaks. The answer to that, by the way, is four: Mandarin, French, Italian, and English.
After returning from our short walk, we took our shoes off at the door and began to explore his cozy little live/work space.
While in some ways there's a lot going on, the space is kept meticulously clean. Cabinets topped with candles and incense, stacks of books and pots of plants, yet everything feels perfectly in place. No area is overwhelming, and the walls are mostly left untouched, providing a beautiful balance of visual stimulation and relaxation.
Allen's got a clear affinity for vibrant colors and rich patterns, and this is reflected both in the way he chooses to furnish his room, and Bodies as Clothing, the fashion line he's in the midst of creating. An old Moroccan door from a trip his parents made back in the day leans on one wall, elaborate woodworkings are to be found throughout the space, as well as a wide variety of textiles hailing primarily from Asia, including one piece we were particularly drawn to made of abacá (also known as Manila hemp) in an elaborate crocodile motif. According to Allen, it is said that when working with this fabric, one is supposed to bite the thread before cutting it, otherwise the crocodile will bite back. (One time when he forgot to do this he noticed what looked like bite marks on his arm shortly after.)
What is home to you?
A place, both physical and metaphorical, that inspires and energizes me to create and hear my own thoughts clearly. A place that will love me back as much as I love and care for it.
You've moved quite a bit, from the Bay Area to Manila to Singapore, upstate New York, Italy, London, Bali. How has your relationship to your living space and working within it changed over time and spaces?
I've never been in a living space I didn't have a good relationship with. I'd always find a way to somehow connect to the consciousness of each space I'd ever lived in, and find a way to work with it, no matter what size it was. Every space had a story to share with me. And more space wasn't always better. I enjoyed working within the limitations of smaller spaces. I would adjust the room as needed to prepare it for a particular function – work, play, sleep. Having a space large enough that I can also use it as a studio for creating clothes however has become more important to me over the last two years.
Your home feels very much like a sanctuary. Do you spend more time at home or out?
I try to keep it balanced throughout the week, however there are times when I'm home for 3 or 4 days straight! Getting out and reconnecting with the outside world is important to me though, especially after my days of hibernation and introspection at home.
What are some rituals you practice in your home life?
Every morning I make my bed, light some incense, and change the cup of water in front of my Buddhist shrine as an expression of gratitude for the upcoming day. I do any cleaning that needs to be done after that if I have the time. Next, I'll do a couple of yoga stretches, make breakfast, and get ready for whatever I have planned for the day ahead.
What household chores do you find most relaxing? Which tool in your home do you have the hardest time imagining living without?
Folding clothes and organizing closets, drawers, and wardrobes! Separately, I don't think I could imagine life without my stainless steel pans. (He's a wok man.)
Are there any kinds of housework that you resented when you were younger that you’ve grown to love or appreciate?
I honestly loved cleaning the house as a kid! I'd even clean my parents' cars for fun. I've always enjoyed being able to turn something messy and unsightly into something more pleasant and enjoyable.
What are your goals for the next year in terms of improving your quality of life at home?
I'd really like to reduce the amount of plastic my mother (his current roommate) brings into the home for the next year, polyester, single-use plastics and otherwise. One of the main ways I'm trying to do this is by encouraging her to refrain from shopping at stores like Trader Joe's and instead buy more in bulk, as so much of what she buys comes pre-packaged for convenience. She does this in part too because she assumes all the plastic she buys is recyclable at our local recycling facility, but in reality less than 20% of it actually gets recycled! Definitely a difficult generational gap to close, but helping others improve their daily habits into healthier ones is important to me.
What are some personal requirements you have for items you purchase, and how did these guidelines come about for you? What began your journey towards a more holistic lifestyle?
The items I purchase have to be as beautiful as they are useful. Why acquire something you don't see beauty in? These days I avoid anything made using petrochemicals. They're carcinogenic, not so great for our atmosphere, and they just don't feel good!
It's kind of embarrassing, but I think my journey sort of began with watching An Inconvenient Truth at a 7th grade school assembly. It got me to start thinking about those things more, and I began doing things like sleeping without the AC on, opting for a fan instead, even in Manila where it was super hot. I also switched over to a predominantly vegetarian diet and convinced my parents to drive a Prius.
From then on, discovering all of the different ways my daily habits affected others and the environment was almost like a domino effect. I’d ask restaurants where their vegetables came from, started reading the labels on all my personal care products, and began questioning whether we humans were really different from the animals, plants, and seemingly unconscious objects around us.
And how did you get from those early realizations to where you are now?
When applying for undergraduate programs, I decided to major in natural resources at Cornell University at first, with the intention of understanding how to ameliorate this environmental mess mankind had gotten itself in. However, I wasn’t really happy with the program, and wanted to study something that brought together my interests in the arts, design, urbanism, and my growing interest in fashion. I wanted to study something that examined more closely human behaviour in relation to the degradation of the environment.
I ended up majoring in urban and regional studies at Cornell’s Architecture, Art, and Planning College, and it was a much better fit for me. I gradually came to learn how interconnected cities and fashion are, on both developmental and psychological levels, and I began conducting independent studies mapping out how the fashion industry affected all these different people and their built environments across the globe.
Growing up I always had trouble figuring out where I could place all of my different interests; I constantly felt like a jack of many trades and a master of none. Eventually, I realized that fashion was becoming a more and more relevant field for me to want to get involved in, especially after reading Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle, Mario Perniola's The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic, and a number of works by Marshall McLuhan on electronic messages and messages communicated by fashion. I was convinced that mass media and the fashion industry were pretty much manipulating people's desires in order to disconnect them from the sensitive earthly environment surrounding them.
I didn’t feel like I was really ready to do what I wanted to by the time I'd finished my undergraduate degree, and felt the need to go to graduate school. I was originally thinking about applying to law school, and was really interested in attending Fordham's recently founded fashion law program. I knew that I wanted to eventually produce my own clothing though, and that I didn't want to take out exorbitant law school loans, so after further searching I landed on the MA Fashion Futures program at London College of Fashion – a 16-month degree that would cost me less than half a year of law school, and would put together fashion design, psychology, socio-politics, anthropology, business, and environmental science, all for the sake of figuring out how to usher the fashion industry into a healthier evolution amidst our environmental crises. It was there that I really honed in on my interests and the direction I wanted to take my career in fashion, and came up with the idea for Bodies as Clothing.
Tell us a little bit about Bodies as Clothing.
Bodies as Clothing is a metaphor attempting to bridge the gap that the West has imposed on global society regarding the health of our bodies, and the clothes that go onto them. The intention is to use pre-industrial production techniques and clothing aesthetics that arise from practises grounded in an awareness of our interconnected environment. I’m looking forward to officially launching my collection Forgotten Lungs by Spring of 2020.
We're looking forward to seeing where Allen's journey takes him, with his broad spectrum of passions now coming into focus through the launch of Bodies as Clothing next Spring. His unique, globally informed perspective on our impacts and interactions with the world beyond ourselves is distinct, and his attention to detail (e.g. seeking out a plastic-free sewing machine to create his sample work, or steaming his clothes exclusively using rose oil infused Berkey filtered water) comes from a beautifully Buddhistic place of mindfulness that one can't help but admire.
He walked us back out to the car as we wrapped up our conversation, and said goodbye as Bennie who was waiting on the porch so sweetly beckoned his return.
Allen is pictured wearing his well-traveled Story Mfg Sundae Jacket in Jackfruit Canvas paired with a thrifted wool beret, an old pair of undyed Industry of All Nations pants and one of his prototypes, a mango leaf dyed long-sleeve top in pesticide-free heavy cotton gauze.