Who Knew

As I prepare the Hopeless + Cause Atelier autumn/winter 2018 collection for New York Fashion Week, I’ve been reviewing past shows and photos from the runway. It used to bother me SO incredibly much when there was an empty seat in the front row. As a designer, you want the photography to come across as a full house, sold out show. After the first show, I made sure to provide explicit directions to my production team to get those seats filled with volunteers or move someone up to the front row. And no matter what, I’d get the photographers beautiful shots and there’d be this blaring emptiness that would come through (I’d be backstage or so in the moment, I’d never notice during the event). Then last week, I looked at this photo and it hit me; I learned the importance of an empty seat.

Photography by Kate the Photographer

I had one of those crazy full moon nights that turned into a horrific week. We all do. However, have you had one of those weeks where you’ve felt something in your gut for a long time, but you didn’t want to believe to be true? Sadly, it was and worse. The following few days were a distraction to focus, yet I knew that in the end not focusing would only impact me and my goals for New York.

“love does not look like a person
love is our actions
love is giving all we can
even if it’s just the bigger slice of cake
love is understanding
we have the power to hurt one another
but we are going to do everything in our power
to make sure we don’t
love is figuring out all the kind sweetness we deserve
and when someone shows up
saying they will provide it as you do
but their actions seem to break you rather than build you
love is knowing whom to choose”
From What Does Love Look Like, The Sun and Her Flowers, Rupi Kaur

I reached out to my dearest loved ones and they provided incredible support, yet there was someone I wish I could have talked to. It will be 22 years on June 22 since my mom died and there are days where I think maybe I shouldn’t be still so sad and feeling so much loss after all these years and I should be over it because it’s a natural part of life. I opened up the next advice column from Dear Sugar in Tiny Beautiful Things. The writer spoke about his soon-to-be wife and the absence in her life without her mom. He asked for advice because while “she’s normally joy on wheels; her mother’s death is always lurking” and he didn’t know how to support her. He asked Sugar, since she lost her mother at a young age, for advice to best support his finance. As I read Sugar’s response, my tear drops stained the pages. She talked about her experience after her mother died and finding a jar of rocks her mom collected and recalling memories as a child with her siblings collecting them for her. She wondered what she did with those rocks and now with her mother gone, she wondered what she’d do with them. Were they her connection to her mother? She went on describing how, in the months after her mother died, she tried to “crack the code”, how she could move on with her life knowing it’s okay without her.

My mother died two weeks before my 23rd birthday and I remember wishing I had been gifted one last letter or birthday card. But how could she, her body taken over by cancer, she was so sick and in so much pain. A few years later, the movie, P.S. I Love You, was released and I was obsessed, I so wished that my mom had left me a trail of letters letting me know I was going to be okay and it was going to be okay without her. I think I watched that movie at least 6 times while it was in the theaters. My mother’s death forever changed how I approached life. I’ve chosen to live my life without regrets. Something you truly want is worth the risk and whether you are better off or totally destroyed by it, you will learn from it. I have chosen to not be afraid to share how I feel. A few years ago, I took the Love Languages quiz and I wasn’t surprised to learn that I desire love in the form of service…actions are stronger than words. I tend to share my feelings, good, bad and the ugly (my daughter calls me an emotional cancer—the astrological sign not the disease). I believe people should know how you feel. I want the people who I love to know exactly where I stand and those who are trying to hurt me, or anyone in my heart, I want them to know this type of behavior is not okay. I tend to ensure my actions are in line with my words. I decided for my kiddos birthdays I would give them several gifts. It’s not what you think, they were small but important things I wanted to present them to remind them that they are found in every day life. In my last blog, I spoke of giving my son the gift of following your passion. The first gift he received was the gift of time.

Time is finite. If I am overwhelmingly blessed, I will share the next 60 years with you, but I will live and love you like today is my last. My love, it is important to me that I raise you to know how much you are loved, how much you are valued and how much I believe in you. I will die hoping that I instilled the following values—that when difficulties came, instead of running like a coward you faced them head on; you always spoke your truth while being kind; that you loved more that you ever thought you could; and lived your life to the fullest. Today, is God’s gift to me, so I hope every time you look at this gift you will remember that.

I believe in the power of writing love notes. I’ve never believed in the commercialized holiday to share your love with overpriced flowers, candy and stuffed animals. Not getting a reservation at your favorite restaurant because men and women are trying to impress someone else by being out and being seen on this day. Why do you need someone else to tell you what day to love someone? A few gifts of love, that have been my all-time favorite to receive are the deep conversations I’ve had where I’ve really learned about the other person and they’ve really heard me. On a few occasions, they lasted until the sun came up. I remember dancing so close, I felt my heart beat becoming one with my dance partner. Another wonderful gift is taking walks or hikes in the mountains and stopping to pick a wildflower or breathing in the awe and wonder of the world. These have come from romantic love and love grown out of my heart.

That last kiss
I’ll cherish
Until we meet again
And time makes

It harder
I wish I could remember
But I keep
Your memory

You visit me in my sleep

That empty seat at my shows maybe is meant to be there. Maybe it’s to remind me that while there might be someone missing in my life, it’s open for someone to come and fill it, or maybe it will never be filled and it shouldn’t be. 

My darling
Who knew

With light and love,

P.S. Here is the link for The Black Arc of It. I highly recommend this read, but you will need tissue. Who Knew written and performed by P!nk

I See You

Did you watch the Golden Globes? I always watch the red carpet to see what everyone is wearing. The other bonus to the Golden Globes is the fact that the event includes alcohol at the table, so I tend to watch it to see what faux pas occur thoughout the evening. Last year, it was announcing, La La Land was the movie of the year when it was actually Moonlight (not sure that alcohol played a role in that mistake, but it definitely was a faux pas). This year it was a little different.

“Women think of all colors except the absence of color. I have said that black has it all…” Coco Chanel

Women and some men dressed in all black in solidarity to make a statement about sexual harassment in the entertainment industry. The black reminded me of my middle school or high school days when I learned about students protesting the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands (another thing you may not have known about this designer, is that she is a history buff as well). As I started to write this blog, I had to Google the background on this event…it’s been a few years, okay?!! According to Wikipedia, this protest occurred in 1965 by students between the ages of 8 (yes, EIGHT YEARS OLD) and 16. They were protesting the Vietnam War and supporting the Christmas Truce called for by Robert F. Kennedy. All but the elementary students were disciplined and suspended; they would be allowed to return to school if they complied with the request to remove their armbands. They chose not to and a suit by the Iowa Civil Liberties Union was filed. This suit went all the way to the US Supreme Court where it was to be decided whether to protect the students right to freedom of speech. For those who aren’t familiar with this case, it set precedence for schools censoring speech based on perceived disruption in the classroom. This was how children, who are often told to be seen not heard, revolutionized the way we bring about change in the world through a small but bold fashion statement.

The program was on while I was writing my short story, Wrong Girl. I have been encouraged for a number of years to write about my life, adventures and encounters. I decided 2018 would be the year to focus on that story, even if it’s only to start with the past few years. As much as I wanted to share my story, I’ve had this gnawing doubt and fear that no one would want to read it. As I was incorporating the next section, Cowardly Acts, Oprah Winfrey was called to the stage to be recognized for the Cecil B. DeMille Award. I stopped typing and looked up to give the television my full attention as she spoke. As many described afterwards, she spoke with elegance, she spoke in a presidential manner, and she spoke authentically, as she has done for many years. However, there was one line that I feel she saw me and was speaking directly to me.

“What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” Oprah Winfrey

She talked about the Time’s Up and the Me Too movements. She talked about people who have felt they didn’t have a voice, who have been silenced by the powerful, and gave way to a “New Horizon”. In that instant, I realized that whether or not my story is read by just me or 1 million, it is my story and my truth. I went on that evening and completed 27 pages before going to bed. The next day after work, I came home and searched YouTube to find and re-watch her speech. I found something more. I found the backstage press room video where she was able to answer questions from the Hollywood Foreign Press and others. There were great questions from “what is the greatest lesson you’ve learned through your life and career” to “what humbles you” to “what wisdom can you share with the future generation of entertainers”. My favorite was “what advice would you give your seven-year old self”. What she shared is that as a 7-year old, she was a sad little girl and that all her real love came from her teachers.

“You have no idea the power of noticing another human being and what it feels like when they have been seen, truly seen, by you.” Oprah Winfrey

I remember being “seen” by teachers and mentors and those who truly SAW what, at times, I couldn’t even see. A few years ago, I developed an incredible friendship with someone who believed in my power so adamantly that it scared me deeply because I was afraid I wasn’t good enough or going to be able to live up to those expectations–the good ol’ impostor syndrome. I was reminded often that I shouldn’t question myself, even when I was questioned at home which always led me to internal doubt. He challenged me often to think about how I was going to change the world and would send the following quote as a reminder on more than one occasion, “if you realized how beautiful you are you would fall at our own feet.” The first time I went out to a social event after the store closed–still feeling like I had really failed, and basically, pulling myself out of bed because of a bout of depression–I was apprehensive to be out and socializing. I didn’t really want to be there but I also knew I had to face my fears and anxiety. That evening, when I was left alone while my date and bff went to get me a glass of wine from the bar, I stood there pretending to look at my phone, so I didn’t look entirely like a wall flower. I felt this intense weight on me coming from afar. I looked up and across the field, I saw this person, who I hadn’t seen in months, but who was encouraging me to still be out there moving forward, was looking at me. We caught eyes and he smiled. In that moment, I felt the full weight of that quote, not because of the outward beauty, but in the internal beauty we all carry. He didn’t see my failure; I felt he still saw me. That feeling is addictive and I enjoy sharing that drug…helping others see how beautiful they are.

In Oprah’s professional career, she made sure that whomever she interviewed, whether famous or infamous, was made to feel that they were seen, and their voice was heard. In this day and age, when information is so readily available through social media, it is so easy to be swayed in one direction or another. We are seeking to create a connection yet failing to understand not only differences, but also failing to create inclusion. What we all bring to the table is a gift not a barrier. When you come from an authentic place, and you work to align that with your passion, that’s when you’ve reached self-actualization, and that is where the real power comes from. The awards event carried heavy undertones and outwardly comments about the abuse in power, but that abuse doesn’t come always come from men. I know plenty of men who have supported women, treated them with dignity and respect, and have spoken against others for their inappropriateness. I have known many women who have spoken poorly of, have been passive aggressive toward, and attempted to ruin the reputation of other women. I think a perfect example of this from that evening, is Blanca Blanco, the actress who chose to wear red to the event and was shamed for her choice. While the protest was to wear black, maybe the protest should have been for empowering women to wear what they want without fear of reprisal from men or women. We are so concerned about fitting people into the box of how we think they should act, dress, speak, and live their lives. If they stand out from the mainstream norm, they don’t belong. And I was brought back to those in power. We seem to continually forgive leaders who openly speak of disrespecting women, people of color and nations of the of the world, and we don’t hold them accountable for these acts because the economy is on the upswing. There is something fundamentally wrong with this. Wasn’t this the same divisive rhetoric and blame used by Nazi propaganda to rise in power in Germany?? At least, that is what I recall reading about in high school world history.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I started my reading goals this year by ordering The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, The Sun and Her Flowers, by Rupi Kaur, and Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, by Cheryl Strayed. Not originally an avid reader, I have learned to love books; they are at times my escape mechanism or my therapy session. I have made it a goal each year to read twenty minutes every morning before the sun rises. I love bound books more than digital versions. I think I’ve told you before, I love the smell of them. I love highlighting and underlining the words, and writing in the white spaces. However, after I placed this order, I was given the opportunity to open up the digital copy of the “Dear Sugar” book. I almost couldn’t stop reading it all the way through.

“I happen to believe that America is dying of loneliness, that we as a people have bought into the false dream of convenience, and turned away from a deep engagement with our internal lives—those fountains of inconvenient feeling—and toward the frantic enticements of what our friends in the Greed Business call the Free Market. We’re hurtling through time and space and information faster and faster, seeking that network connection. But at the same time we’re falling away from our families and our neighbors and ourselves. We ego-surf and update our status and brush up on which celebrities are ruining themselves, and how.”

Dear Sugar has become so important in this day-in-age because she offers something “almost unheard of in our culture: radical empathy.” We have all been there whether we realize it or not. It is life. It is not meant to be fair, it’s meant to be lived. There are moments where we feel pain, fear, shame or rage–we are alive in that. And, we are alive when we can take that empty place and build from it. I swear I put something in the universe and like a Facebook algorithm or digital cookies it comes back to me. I am on social media because I am trying to sell something that I believe I can offer, a product that will better the life of my customer, and it’s an easier method to reach the masses. I do research and make connections through the innerwebs, but my most powerful interactions don’t come from this online presence. I believe in the power of human interaction. A few weeks back, I invited a few girlfriends over for an after work get together. I cleaned up my casita and made a few tapas invited them to bring their favorite food and/or drink. Most of the women who came over that evening had never met each other  before. I concocted a back up plan of playing card games in case the conversation became lacking. The conversation went on for hours we laughed and talked about backgrounds, passions, love and loss. It was such a wonderful evening; my plan is to do it again next month.

And then it came full circle–darn universe cookies!! Today, I took my son to the movies as part of his birthday gifts–this gift was the gift of following your passion. I wanted to take him to see The Greatest Showman. I didn’t know much about it except it was a musical (his love), was about PT Barnum (what did I say about history?), it included Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zach Efron and Zendaya and was up for a number of awards at the Golden Globes. My opinion…it should have won SO many of the nominated categories. I loved the modern choreography and music, but the premise even more. It was about aligning your passion to your life’s work, truly SEEING the beauty in people, in their differences and their value, and “rewriting the stars”. I plan to see it again and again and again.

Do you see who is in front of you or are you to consumed by what you might be missing? How are you seeing them? Is it from your perspective and bias or with an open heart like a blank canvas? What are you using your voice to do—speaking up or shutting down? We all have the power to really see, however it’s really the matter if we want to.

With light and love,

Dara Sophia

You Get What You Need

I hope this latest blog finds you surrounded by gifts: gifts of faith, wonder, joy and love. I am sitting here in my creativity chair (it’s a really fab over-sized, cheetah print chair that because of it’s age, I sink right into and it truly inspires me to write), looking at my Christmas Tree and all the ornaments and memories of Christmases’ past, and thoughtfully pondering what a gift the past year has been to me and to the Atelier.

A few years ago, at Christmastime, I wrote about Washing the Feet of Others: No Greater Gift. The blog was about an unexpected gift that rocked me to my core. As children, we have that "one gift" memory that stands out over the rest. This was my adult memory. The gift made my heart so full of joy because it reminded me of a basic life lesson, being present. A few months before the same person gave me a book, The Go-Giver, by Bob Burg and John David Mann. It is a quick read, only 127 pages long, but it is truly impactful. Without giving the entire premise away, the book reminds me that our true value is determined by what we give more than what we take in payment. When we put others first, we create a “sphere of influence” and it has a boomerang effect, returning those gifts to you. We should not be afraid to receive because ultimately what you put out into the world will always be returned for you. I read the book often, but especially at this time of year when I’m trying to ground myself in the season of gift giving…to find the true meaning of giving (also another great reminder of this is the Littlest Angel by Bing Crosby, but make sure you have Klennex when you listen to this song). And then I thought,

“God doesn’t give you the people you want, he gives you the people you need: to help you, to hurt you, to leave you, to love you and to make you the person you were meant to be.” Unknown

I had SO many of these gifts in brief interactions, to deep relationships, in great joy and laughter, to deep pain, and in departures, to great love. If I hadn’t pursued fashion, my travel may not have taken me to LA, Austin, New York and San Francisco in the same way. I wouldn’t have been able to connect with incredibly talented and gorgeous women and men who also happen to be incredibly beautiful souls and are working on fulfilling their dreams while supporting mine and vice versa. I wouldn’t have received the gift of adding NYFW to my own portfolio, and wouldn’t have given the opportunity to those whose goal make it to NYFW. If I hadn’t pursued fashion, I wouldn’t have been able to highlight, on TV, the unique designers and indie retailers that ABQ has to offer. They who are the HEART of this city. If I hadn’t pursued fashion, I wouldn’t have learned how difficult retail is and running a business is. I wouldn’t have been able to share that learning with an up-and-coming social enterprise, and wouldn’t have had the nerve to apply for the Civic Accelerator to aid this non-profit scale, profitably. If I didn’t pursue fashion, I wouldn’t have been inspired to write about all I’ve learned, all the incredible opportunities given to me and people who have helped me, as well as the adversity and the challenges I faced. I wouldn’t have inspired my children to follow their dreams and remind others that it’s NEVER too late to follow yours.

What is preventing you from following your dream (P.S. I am a great torMENTOR to help you be accountable in achieving it)?

Last year, I wrote about visiting NYC for a day just before Christmas. I had it planned all out and gave careful consideration on what I would pack into this day. It ended up being a dream, but as I now think back on it, I wasn’t supposed to experience it alone. As much as I love traveling solo, I once again needed to see the city through the eyes of someone who has never experienced it before. My gift to my children this year was to visit NYC during this crazed holiday time because the only time more magical to me is during Fashion Week in September. I want them to value what great learning travel brings. I also want them to understand the importance of collecting memories and not things. I needed that inspiration injection as I work on my AW18 collection. Boy, did all these things come to fruition. We ate, we walked, we shopped, but we really took in the sights and enjoyed each other’s company (note: it wasn't all fun and games, we did have Cranky McCrankypants moments, but luckily snapped out of it). My son was able to see his first Broadway show. I think before that moment he hadn’t solidified the possibility of being on a stage at that level. Now he has a goal of two years to pursue an internship on Broadway. My daughter, who had a rough semester balancing work, school and some intense obstacles thrown her way, was able to finally relax and spend some time at the Guggenheim and re-energize her creative soul. I know I say this repeatedly, but "New York City IS my soul" and as the quote goes:

"One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as on five years." Thomas Wolfe

Where is the place you feel most alive? You need to nurture that.

After New York, I traveled to Chicago for the final leg of the Civic Accelerator. As I mentioned before, this incredible 10-week journey has made the social enterprise I work for dig deeper, get uncomfortable, think big, make small bets, and at times fail in order to move forward. I thought this experience was going to be full of strategy and competition like the reality TV show contests. What I learned from this experience is that it was a game changing experience because of what we brought to the table--SOCIAL IMPACT. Each of the start ups were experiencing their own challenges. We were all vulnerable in revealing them and we found a community of authentic support, not competition. My biggest personal challenge for growth was being vulnerable, in order to ask for help and support and to create understanding as to why I find this work so important. I am always asked when I started sewing/designing. It is tied directly to the type of impact this social enterprise has on families. I know I will continue to check in with the cohort and will actually be showing Albuquerque to a few new friends soon. I have invited them to join me in NYC when Hopeless + Cause Atelier shows the SS19 line during NYFW.

Sometimes you need to be in that awful, uncomfortable but totally authentic place called vulnerability in order to get the real help you desire. If you are in that safe space, where people genuinely support you, don’t be afraid--jump in with open arms.

It’s funny. Through adversity, a deep love made its way into my life. This love challenges me to be the best me. It encourages me and reminds me to not be so hard on myself because life is a journey of constant learning. This love makes me smile from ear to ear and reminds me to laugh heartily. I am no longer afraid to speak up, share my insecurities, and set boundaries.

Don’t be afraid to be you. As Dr Seuss so beautifully stated,

“Those that mind, don’t matter and those that matter, don’t mind.”

As I look forward to the upcoming year, I know there are a few obstacles I need to conquer but I am excited by the possibilities both professionally and personally. I will be open to receiving the gifts dreaming big, working hard, overcoming adversity and living la vita e un dono! Thank you for all of you who have come into my path—you are woven into my life’s fabric—those who provided support, understanding and love, provided lessons I needed to be my authentic self, provided opportunities for growth and especially those that made me smile and laugh. I hope that in some way lightened your life or your load, or showed you there’s a big life out there for the taking.

With light and love,

Dara Sophia

PS if you read along my Ms. Adventures, we did get together again as family late on my mom’s birthday to watch Star Wars, The Last Jedi. And, what the heck?!? I wasn’t expecting that ending, but loved that we actually stayed up past 9pm and got to see it with my son and brother’s family on my mom’s birthday.

Be Where We’re Supposed to Be

I have only one sibling. However, I grew up in a large Hispanic extended family. My mom was the oldest of 6 children which, has grown to 13 grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren, spouses, stepchildren and other family members. The most important things to my maternal grandparents were faith, then family, so that meant (and means) family gatherings. These gatherings aren't just for holidays or special occasions. I mean weekly Sunday Dinners. There was even an occasion after my mother died that my grandparents, uncles and aunts showed up to the probate attorney’s office because I was young and they thought he was trying to take advantage of my brother and me, and create a divide among us. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. Until the early 2000's, my grandparents lived in Las Cruces, NM. For every major holiday, all the family--who didn’t live in town--would travel to Las Cruces and would call “dibbs” on any open room (and access was based on seniority or who arrived first), or couch and most of the small kids would camp out in the den because they knew then they could stay up later that way. A few would reserve a room at the nearby hotel. There would be food for days, movie watching, games played and conversations. Of course, having a household that would sometimes swell to over 30 people, there were tense moments of irritation, but if it got to be too crowded, you could easily go for a walk in the nearby cotton fields or to the nearby lake for respite.

The last Christmas in Las Cruces was 2003. My grandfather had died in 1997. My grandmother and aunt who lives with her, thought it would be better to be closer to the family in Albuquerque. Almost all the family made the last vacation trek to Las Cruces. What made the holiday a little more somber was that my uncle, a Sargent in the National Guard, had received orders that he was being deployed to Iraq shortly after the holiday. We made the best of the holiday again with games, laughter, food, and movies. In particular, we had become big fans of the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy, Lord of the Rings. The Christmas before, we watched the first two segments around the TV at my grandmas. Most of the family was anticipating the theatrical release of the last segment, Return of the King. We made a plan and invited whomever wanted to go. Now, this is before you could reserve your reclining seat at the nearby theater, and as a new release we weren’t sure how crowded it would be, so the day after Christmas we set out for the local theater…just under 20 of us. We grabbed an entire row (or now that I think about it, maybe it was two) and settled in for the movie. I sat next to my aunt who was a Tolkien fan and had read the books years before, so she was a subject matter expert. PSA: don’t sit next to the person who has read the books. The movies (I don’t care which book) are never the same as the books and her comments throughout the movie reminded of just that. I smile now because I think in ways I do the same thing. Christmas’ since are still wonderful and soul feeding, but they’re not the same. I think how grateful I am every day for this experience of the extended family.

I am also extremely grateful for my community of friends, many who have been part of my life since I was very young and who are part of my extended family. I realized just this past week how much of an impact it is when surrounding yourself with the right people, how important the right "family" can be. Two weeks ago, the leadership team, at the non-profit I work with, met about the upcoming holidays. The holidays aren’t joyous for some. For those, especially those who may no longer have a connection with their family and especially for those individuals who we work with, and whose pay is not a livable wage in our consumerist society, it can be dauntingly stressful to feel like you can’t provide for your family. That can lead to anxiety and depression which can be a trigger to a slippery slope of relapse or worse. This week it happened to one of the brightest talents in the room. He cited depression and change. For the first time it really hit me, how important it is to have the right supports around you and it made me think about a year ago. 

I have never been afraid to be alone. I actually enjoy it at times because I think it helps me to be a better person to be around when I’ve spent me time to work through my internal issues, but I’ve realized I’m okay doing it because I have a family and friends support system that I know I can call if company is needed. Last year, when I was going through and finalizing divorce proceedings. I knew my traditions wouldn’t change, but they were changing for my children and their father. Knowing this, I did what I could to help ensure the transition was a little less bumpy. There was 22 years of marriage and our own traditions, I wanted ensure that their father also felt involved and not alone during the holidays, so I made sure he knew there was an open invitation to my grandma’s and if there was something special he wanted to do with them, I was supportive of it. I think about how some of the fathers I work with are struggling with that. I think out some of my friends are struggling with that. I think about how important inclusion is. It also made me realize, I am where I’m supposed to be. As we live through the season of gratitude into the season of giving, think about what a blessing it is to spend time with someone. It makes me reflect on Matthew 25: 34-40 and not to get preachy, but how doing something for someone else without thought of repayment is the biggest gift to the world.

Last Saturday, I invited a number of family members to join me to watch Justice League (this time my brother could reserve our seats in advance). It was great, and we took up the back row. There were 12 in attendance. I sat between my son and my niece. I loved seeing her get as excited as I did when Wonder Woman did her 'thang and giggled when my son would give me a hard time when he saw me get excited. As the tag line for the movie goes…You Can’t Save the World Alone. We do need others as the social creatures we are (or as my first-grade teacher labeled me, as the "social butterfly"). It’s these moments and the conversations afterwards that I live for. We are planning to do it again for the next Star Wars release.

So, my hope for you on this Thanksgiving Holiday is that you are surrounded by love ones whether related or not, have a wonderful meal before you and if not, I have a wonderfully boisterous group of people that would love to have you join us.

With light and love,

To Give To

The first night after rolling back the clock, I found myself waking in the dark. As I lay there, not wanting to open my eyes because I knew I’d never go back to sleep, I focused on the sound of my ceiling fan hum. That glorious white noise tends to help me sleep heavier, but that night wasn’t enough. And then I heard it, “Who.” “Who.” “Whoooooooooooo.”

I often wonder, “where do I live?” From rabbits in my courtyard, to coyotes howling at the full moon, to the various birds and seasonal foul that make a road stop on the nearby golf course to their winter home, I am so grateful to have such vibrant life in my backyard. Once again, I got to thinking, “Is this owl talking to me?” Then, the hooting continued. I finally fell back asleep, only to awake the next morning to track down why this nocturnal animal called out in my sleep. So, first thing that morning, I googled “owl spiritual meaning”. Instantly, a list appeared, from translations from Hindi to Celtic meanings. I opened the first link to read that the owl is sacred to the Greek goddess of learning, Athena, and is depicted as a symbol of status, knowledge and wisdom. In other cultures, the owl is the protector of the dead, thus often misunderstood as an evil omen. Death is not the end all be all, it also has the meaning of transition.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, I find myself in Washington DC for the next round of the Civic Accelerator. Unfortunately, I didn’t build in a lot of time for playing tourist, so instead I decided my morning exercise routine would be to run around the White House and the National Monument. It’s been a little over a year since the latest administration has been in office and I can only think that the past year has been like traveling down the rabbit hole, so much has happened personally and within the outside world that I can’t help but think this must be some sort of psychedelic trip. Like, is this for real?!? Then I thought back to the, “Who. Who. Whoooooooo”, and I realized it was a question. Who do you think you are? Who are you? As I’m running, I’ve come across the National Christmas Tree and I think about the pitch I developed for this round. I learn in my first day of this week of challenged thinking, that to help us develop that authentic voice that we should design a visual port key (I know you read this and are thinking Harry Potter—and yes, it is in that same vain and yes, that pun was intended—I’m a HP N.E.R.D). It is a huge responsibility that I am grateful for, but it calls for my vulnerability.

Being vulnerable is something that is difficult for me, but it is important for me to be completely authentic as to why I’m involved and why it’s important to invest and help scale the life changing organization I am representing. I really had to dig down deep to some memories that I had buried deep inside, not necessarily wanting to relive them. And yet again the stubborn owl, now in my head, reminded me of the transition, changing energy in one form to another. This transition or “death” is not a physical exclusivity instead it can be a transition in emotion, mind and/or spirit. It has been a cathartic exercise and has been liberating to remove myself from the shame that I didn’t commit, yet has shackled me my entire life.

The weekend before Dia de los Muertos, I received a message from a family friend informing me that her office had received a call to highlight my mom for Humans of New Mexico. This is the same office that houses my mom’s memorial scholarship. I was proud once again to honor her, her life’s work, and her legacy. She is continuously omnipresent in ways I need her guidance most. Just days before my departure for NYFW, the article written about her, her impact on University of New Mexico Students and following your dreams appeared on our family ranch refrigerator. That article had been written over 30 years ago and was found by my aunt as she was cleaning out closets. The request for information from Humans of New Mexico (the link is here if you want to read it) was that reminder of WHO I am and where I come from. We all have a legacy and we should live with the notion that we only die once, but we live every day until that last breath.

Which brings me to today, Wednesday, November 15, 2017, and the accelerator segment in which we were challenged by Smallify to seize opportunities by answering problems faster in creative and improvisational ways. At the end of the segment we were given a gift, one of the values. I reached into the gift bag and drew out a FEAR LESS button. What resonated with me so powerfully was that in 2015, my mantra was FEARLESS. It was superficial. I was scared shitless. I was feeling the strain of piling debt, relationships, not knowing what to do or where to go to, and honestly, felt I had no support in my work and personal life. Today, I fear less probably because I’ve seen rock bottom. There is so much I’ve gained from the experience to help me be stronger and more authentic in what I do today. As the Smallify founder, Dave, left and I thanked him for his time and shared knowledge, he mentioned to me what positive energy I provided to the group and how that makes it easier to create an impactful learning environment when you feel the support in the audience. That comment took me back to a conversation I had in a meeting a few weeks ago with a colleague. I was waiting in the conference room when he walked in. As we shared our greetings, he mentioned, “you are always smiling. Is that something you always do or is it that you are genuinely a happy person?” I laughed and thought about it for a moment and realized, smiling is my favorite (of course I had to throw that in), but honestly, I judge people at first sight (keep that in mind the next time I see you). And maybe, judge is harsh but it’s my reality. How are you projecting your genuine self? I believe happy is a constant choice I make. I choose to look for good in every instance and if I can lighten or provide hope even when it may feel hopeless, I feel that empowers me and those around me.

As I’ve focused on the premise to fear less, I am seizing opportunities to test ideas without fear of failure because if I haven’t succeeded, I’ve learned a valuable lesson. I no longer fear the “no”, either hearing it or saying it. This has driven me to start conversations in retail. Not me taking on the role as the retailer again (I suck at that role) but becoming a supplier to retailers that find worth in my value proposition of Making Impactful Entrances. I am building a shop-able website for my patrons that want to wear Hopeless + Cause Atelier but don’t live in Albuquerque. I am pulling crazy inspiration into design and challenging the status quo. I have found the WHO, Mr. Owl (and it didn’t take me three licks to get to the center of that Tootsie Roll pop) and it is To Give – To.

To Give my voice To those who haven’t yet found their voice.

To Give my knowledge and share my skills To empower others.

To Give my soul work To inspire others to dare greatly in order to fail greatly and succeed greatly.

To Give my smile To remind people how you live is a choice.

To Give my hand and heart To provide hope.

Who are you? What is your To Give To and how are you living it? And I purposely didn’t share the reasoning behind my Christmas Tree port key. If you would like to learn about it, shoot me an email, invite me for a coffee or wine conversation, but know I will challenge you to find your own port key.

Con luz y amor, Dar (To Give) A (To)
(Quien eres esta dentro de ti)

Brand New Me

If you noticed that I'm different
Don't take it personally
Don't be mad, it's just the brand new kind of me
And it ain't bad, I found a brand new kind of free
Oh, it took a long long road to get here
It took a brave brave girl to try

If you are reading this, you know my work and passion around the design studio (yes, that’s what Atelier means). However, you may be unfamiliar of my day job; what I do to pay the bills, support my children and invest in my passion project. I provide consulting in Human Resources and Communications for a local non-profit that provides workforce readiness and wraparound support to fathers who were formerly incarcerated (now on parole or probation), so that they can build better futures for themselves and their families. Last week, I traveled with the Executive Director for the first week of a 10-week civic accelerator program, aimed at building scale for our organization in serving underemployed populations. As one of 12 organizations in this cohort, I applied to be part of this accelerator program because I knew, if selected, we would be challenged to be succinct in our offerings and become more robust in our impact. You see, I tend to color outside the lines and do what people think I can’t do. We received a call last month inviting us to attend this prestigious program…a first for an organization in New Mexico. I was excited but also nervous at the caliber of our peers and the coaching team. It was a brain-filling, mind-challenging triumph. We learned our gaps, but we were challenged on what we need to do to fill them. We were paired with a peer group that will help us be accountable and honestly, want to see each other succeed. One morning, on our walk to the daily meetings, the Executive Director asked me, “with all your talent and connections, why are in you involved with this organization?” The easy answer could have been “because you asked me”, but that wasn’t it. I thought about it for a minute. I truly believe in the mission of supporting people to become who they want to be. If I have the skills, network and capability to do that professionally, then that is fulfilling to me.

However, personally I have a deeper connection to the work. I am one of those—1 in 10 New Mexico kids who has or had an incarcerated parent—statistics that we stun the audience with. I was in fifth grade the first time my father was incarcerated. It became cyclical because he didn’t address or get help for his underlining issues of addiction and aggression. Based on that, I decided I could not have a relationship with him as an adult. If there was a program like this when I was growing up, who knows what his life would be like now and the kind of relationship we’d have. However, I don’t wallow in the “could have, should have” philosophy. I believe everything happens for a reason and my path led me back to this body of work to impact others. Initially, I was asked all the time by friends and family, “if I ever felt scared going to work”. My naïve, knee jerk response was, “No, why?” and then followed by, “Oh, you mean because I work with men who have been incarcerated?” I have never felt scared. I think about the dads I work with and how they are treated as 2nd class citizens (if that). They are judged all the time because of their past choices. Yet, I see every day how they are working SO hard to build better lives for themselves and their families. It’s funny to me because I have dealt with people who are supposed to be community role models, yet don’t go an extra step to be there for others including their families, using the excuse that they have busy schedules or focus on their own interests. I am reminded all the time that you can’t judge a person by what you see on the surface.

Recently, I volunteered with my son at the Westside jail. Several years ago, it was re-purposed to be a winter time shelter for homeless men, women and families. However, nothing was done to change the appearance of the building. Arriving families were met with razor wired fences, industrial-sterile looking rooms and walls, until a woman and her girl scout troop made the time and investment to make it warm and inviting for these families. They first started out on their own and then the Sandia National Labs community jumped in. This woman presented last month to a group I belong to about the volunteer opportunities because the shelter would be opening up again for the season in a few weeks. I volunteered and voluntold Isaiah to join me. When we arrived, it was stark and in the middle of nowhere. The facility was surrounded by high fencing with barb-wire and small but welcoming hearts on each side of the gate. It was a little intimidating. When we walked inside, it was quite different. Taupe walls had been transformed with paintings and powerful words like dream, hope, love… Different segments of the buildings were decorated to support its inhabitants: family rooms, men’s rooms and women’s rooms décor reflecting the users. We were inspired and headed back outside. For our team, we were given silk flowers and flagging tap. Isaiah and I got to work creating floral archways on the two gates while the other volunteers created welcome signs and cheery graphics on the fencing. The outside now reflected the inside—warm and inviting. The beauty and color in the flowers and designs made the twisted wire melt away. I thought about it for a hot moment, how adding some love, support and teamwork--transformations occur. I think how important this is for people.

It's been a while, I'm not who I was before
You look surprised, your words don't burn me anymore
Been meaning to tell you, but I guess it's clear to see
Don't be mad, it's just the brand new kind of me
Can't be bad, I found a brand new kind of free

I was told a few months back, “you have passion and dreams, but you lack foundation”. It’s funny, if put any stock into this comment I might have been devastated, but obviously this person didn’t know me. Instead it was a great motivator for me to follow my dream to show in NYC (and invited to show again in February 2018 with a pop up shop). I'm currently in talks to show in London and potentially in Paris. It gave me self-confidence to apply for the accelerator because this non-profit deserves the best minds to challenge the impact. It reminded me that we all have the power to uplift or tear down and it is incredible to see people overcome odds when they not only put in the work and believe in themselves, but are also mentored and have someone believe in them. And, I realized that is why I’m involved in the manner that I am. Thinking through all the "why I do what I do" gave me the time to formalize the Atelier’s value proposition…Making Impactful Entrances.

When you feel comfortable and confident, you impact the scene. Through Hopeless + Cause Atelier, patrons can also impact the environment through sustainable production processes; they can impact charitable causes and as the brand grows it is my hopes that we will be able to impact sustainable futures by working with domestic social enterprises with livable wages. I have redesigned the website to reflect this. While I love providing style consultation, until now, I haven’t really built out that product. I’ve now created a space on the site for this business. I’m hoping you take advantage of that work.  I hope you will continue to follow the Ms. Adventures and the crazy that happens in the Atelier, but I also hope you will have your own positive IMPACT on the community around you and transform it into something beautiful.

Saturday, October 28, 2017 is the National Make a Difference Day. For projects in Albuquerque, visit: https://www.centerfornonprofitexcellence.org/mdd/projects-list. Nationally, visit: http://www.makeadifferenceday.com/.

With light and love!