Big changes to federal policy are cascading into local programs and breaking down barriers to healthier lives for some of our most vulnerable residentsRead More
by Marilyn Anthony
Our mind will deceive us,” says Angie Norris. “Our body will not.”
Norris, 45, is the studio manager at West Philadelphia’s cherished health, wellness and community center, Studio 34. Soft-spoken, but full of thoughtful passion, Norris says that she sees too often how people fail in their resolve to create a healthier life, undermined by the relentlessly critical mind we all harbor. She compares this scolding voice to an overbearing boss we have to teach ourselves to ignore.
“People will beat themselves up more than any other person in their life, and that is one of the greatest barriers to healing and wellness,” says Norris. “Self-compassion is one of the most important aspects of wellness, along with developing an awareness of our body. An awareness of how we feel—and allowing that to guide us.”
Yoga forms the core of programming at Studio 34, and manifestations are many: beginner classes, queer and trans yoga, yoga for recovery, chair yoga, and multiple forms of yoga teacher trainings. But Studio 34’s offerings also include Pilates, talk therapy, massage, a breastfeeding support group, African dance, and art and music shows.
Named for the trolley that rumbles past its location—and a nod to the glamour-filled haunt of Andy Warhol, Studio 54 in New York—Studio 34 began in 2008 as a vision shared by Norris and two other co-founders, sculptor James Peniston, 42, and yoga instructor Stephen Fisher, 47. Citing the growing feeling that Western medicine was focused more on disease than on wellness, Norris stepped away from her 20-year nursing career specializing in HIV treatment last September to join the staff full time.
One of the group’s chief aspirations was inclusivity, so they situated Studio 34 “halfway between those with resources and those without,” says Peniston. They strive to make wellness inviting to a population diverse in age, race, ethnicity and ability, and they want everyone who walks through the door to feel as though they belong.
When Norris hires a yoga instructor, she says she looks beyond their certification to a “vibe” that indicates a willingness to serve every person who may come to their class, whether they are 6 or 60. Norris admits they would like to attract even more people of color. “Your blind spots are your blind spots,” she says, “and you just don’t know what they are. ”
The neighborhood continues to evolve, and Norris and Peniston (Fisher has since left) want to make sure the studio keeps pace with changes. So far, membership growth has been organic, powered by people who find their first community here and then invite their friends in. Norris wants to figure out how to reach others, especially those “who never felt they belonged.”
When longtime Studio 34 members talk about their experiences, you get the sense that Norris’ message of self-acceptance and the studio’s conscious effort to create community is working. Instead of words like “pounds lost” or “inches trimmed,” you hear “beautiful,” “sweet,” “accepting,” “transformative” and “fun.”
One life center, many transformations
Former yoga teacher Jess Radovich, 33, who recently moved to Seattle, gets teary when she talks about her experience at Studio 34. She was a yoga novice when she first stepped through the doors, looking for help dealing with emotional turmoil.
“It’s the first place I learned how to relax, the place where I worked through grief about losing my father, confusion about getting married, issues of body image and injury, and major life issues,” she says. “The yoga practice that I developed at 34 changed my whole life, and I mean that in a very deep way.”
What distinguished Studio 34 for Radovich was the genuine sense of welcome and belonging. She valued practicing yoga in classes offering modifications and variations intended to accommodate different bodies, different abilities, and different backgrounds. In her view, Studio 34 offers a rich cross-section of the diverse racial, ethnic and socioeconomic elements of Philadelphia.
In 2010, Qui Alexander, now 29, was also looking for a place to reconnect with his life and body.
“As a queer and trans person of color,” Alexander says, “to see myself reflected in yoga was very hard to find.”
He thought a yoga studio would be intimidating, upscale and “fitnessy,” and, like most people, was nervous at the prospect of trying something new. In 2010, a friend encouraged him to take a yoga class at Studio 34, and he found “a place where you can go and take a deep breath and not have to worry.” More than that, Alexander found inspiration in the power of yoga. He is now an instructor at Studio 34, teaching what he believes is the only queer and trans yoga class in Philadelphia.
“When you see the changes in your physical body, you realize that you have power over your own body, and you can apply that power to other parts of your life. People have unhealthy habits—we’re human, that’s OK—but when you want to shift, yoga can help you do it at your own pace and do it in your own way. Yoga is for lots of different bodies. You can be fat and be healthy,” he says. His advice for all his students is simple: “I’m going to tell you to breathe and to take care of yourself in a way that’s genuine.”
Studio 34 also restored Jacques-Jean “JJ” Tiziou, 39, to mental and physical health by encouraging time for reflection. A professional photographer whose work was used to create the highly visible “How Philly Moves” mural at the Philadelphia Airport, Tiziou recalls how the transition from film to digital changed his working life.
“The darkroom used to provide me time to slow down,” says Tiziou. When digital photography eliminated the need for developing film, his life became an endless pursuit of images. He needed a way to break what had become an exhausting routine.
Before coming to Studio 34, Tiziou considered yoga a competitive activity. His new instructors offered a different, richer experience.
“The emphasis is not on some outward performance of twisting yourself into a pretzel,” he says. His instructors gave options enabling beginners to set their own limits and move at a safe, comfortable pace. “That ideally should be everyone’s experience with yoga practice,” Tiziou adds. He notes that the healing opportunities at Studio 34 go beyond yoga. “The intentionality of the lounge available for people to have a quiet safe space to sit and have a cup of tea, having acupuncture, massage therapists, wellness rooms for people to use,” he says, all demonstrates that, “a lot of heart equity has gone into that place.”
He’s now an avid Studio 34 member and a believer in spreading the message of wellness and inclusivity. “Yoga is a practice that by definition is—and should be—accessible to anyone who can breathe.”
In a conscious effort to eliminate the perceived exclusivity that often surrounds yoga, mats are free, water is free and the studio does not sell yoga clothes. Prices are inexpensive, membership options are flexible, coveted work exchange positions are sometimes available, and anyone can drop in for a class. Norris laughingly admits that she is “always looking for new ways to give yoga away.”
Circles of support, sweat and laughter
On Sundays, the African Dance class is the big draw at Studio 34. Since 2009, it’s been taught by professional dancer and drummer Anssumane Silla. Originally from Guinea-Bissau in West Africa, Silla offers weekly dance instruction accompanied by a cohort of drummers playing traditional African drums such as djembe, dundun and kenkeni. He uses laughter, song, gentle teasing and a relaxed attitude to disarm his students and foster unselfconscious participation. Classes run for 90 minutes, long enough to work up a sweat and practice some moves in small groups. According to his wife, Nikki Silla, who attends every class with Jeneba, their 2-and-half-year-old daughter, participants come from across the tri-state area to enjoy the dance workout. “It’s all about having fun,” she says, and the small group size, ranging from six to 23 dancers, allows for a lot of interaction and personal attention.
Much of the programming here revolves around strong community. On the Wednesday before Christmas last year, 12 young women, many with infants, sat comfortably in a loose semicircle of armchairs and loveseats for the studio’s Mother-Baby Breastfeeding Connections sessions, which offer women a safe place for what can be difficult conversations about their lactation experience. Under the kindly direction of Patty Siegrist, staff nurse with the Birth Center in Bryn Mawr, the Studio 34 meeting room took on the feel of a cozy living room. Frequent laughter, occasional baby squawks and earnest talk characterized the session. This support group, running since 2009, is open without appointment and accepts donations as payment.
The studio owners believe that healing comes from surrounding yourself with others seeking their own wellness, whether that’s weight loss, playful relaxation or a sense of belonging.
Peniston says the energy people bring to Studio 34 is like having “hundreds and hundreds of workout buddies.” Norris adds that fun is always at the center of Studio 34, since for her and Peniston, it’s their “clubhouse” where they work to keep things light.
Norris and Peniston view their roles not as healers, per se, but as facilitators.
“We don’t heal anyone,” says Norris, “but we hold space for them, where they feel safe enough to do that work. You offer the space and the tools, and then people find that healing for themselves.”
How farmers are getting to know the neighborhoods they serve?Read More
by Rebecca Goldschmidt
For many of us, this is a time of year for healing, growth and the reintroduction of ritual to everyday life. Luckily, all of these needs can be accomplished by heating up a kettle of water. At the Random Tea Room, we believe that there are an abundance of herbs and teas that can improve day-to-day existence.
First, know the difference between true tea and herbal infusions. All tea comes from the same plant, camellia sinesis. The various ways it’s processed lead to the vast array available, which is also influenced by where the tea was grown, the altitude, rainfall, season it was plucked, and even drying and fermenting processes. In contrast, medicinal herbs come from many genera and species of flora that make each unique. When water is added to herbs, it’s referred to as an infusion.
Be mindful of the water needs of your tea or infusion of choice. Black and red teas tolerate being steeped with water just shy of boiling; overly hot water loses oxygen, which makes a flat tasting brew. Green and white teas are best with spring water at cooler temperatures (around 170 F) to prevent scorching and bitterness.
Most herbal infusions benefit from high temperatures and long steep times, especially hardy roots. Herbs, unlike teas, which can become bitter when steeped too long, have less tannic content, and therefore can steep for extended periods or multiple times. At the Random Tea Room, we leave the herbs in the cup and serve with a filtered straw called a bombilla, traditionally used in drinking yerba mate.
Here are some of our favorite teas and infusions if you've gone a little overboard.
Rejuvenator Infusion: This blend of yerba mate, peppermint, lapacho, licorice, kudzu and fresh ginger is designed to put a spring back in your step. The mate has a compound similar to caffeine, and lapacho may reduce inflammation. An important ingredient in this blend is kudzu root, in which daidzein and daidzin are the main compounds that may curb alcohol cravings, according to some studies.
Teatotaler's Toddy: A combination of tulsi, kudzu, licorice, marshmallow, slippery elm and honey make an excellent alcohol-free hot toddy.
Belly Blend Infusion: A soothing blend of peppermint, wild yam, chamomile, fennel, licorice and ginger for upset stomachs. If you suffer from acid reflux, order a custom blend without peppermint, which may relax the esophageal muscles and worsen the situation.
Pu-erh: During the fermentation process used to make pu-erh tea, it develops living enzymes that can help aid digestion. This is one of the oldest forms of tea.
Simmer Down Infusion: A blend of chamomile, lemon balm, motherwort, peppermint, lavender and passionflower designed to assist the body in alleviating stress and worn nerves.
Kava Kava: This is a ceremonial drink in the South Pacific. Its main compounds, known as kavalactones, have in some studies been shown to improve feelings and emotions, but consult your doctor if you have a liver condition. The kavalactones break down when your water is hotter than 160 F, so be mindful when brewing.
Rebecca Goldschmidt is the proprietress of the Random Tea Room, a tea shop and art and music space in Philadelphia.
Soak it In
A trip to the spa can be the pinnacle of relaxation, but you don’t always need to outsource your pampering. It’s easy to make your own bath scrubs and soaks, choosing the scents that appeal to your sense of inner peace. Ingredients are widely available—even at some chain drug stores or your neighborhood supermarket.
Scrubs are composed of two parts, an exfoliant and an emollient. The exfoliant sloughs away dead skin cells and creates an irritant which draws blood to the area. Examples of exfoliants are ground apricot kernels, sea salt, almond meal or corn meal. The emollient smooths and soothes the skin. All oils, aloe, some hydrosols and some teas have emollient properties.
Hydrosols are a byproduct of the essential oil distillation process. While they contain compounds found in specific plants, the levels are gentle enough for use when an essential oil may be too irritating. They are water-based, as opposed to essential oils, which are oil-based. Both essential oils and hydrosols will come from specific plants like rose, lavender, lime or orange.
In addition to being used for skin care, scrubs are great for the circulatory system. The act of gentle scrubbing can be used to move your blood and lymph, and to loosen tight muscles.
Remember that water + plant material + time = mold. If you want to create a scrub that has a water part in it (aloe, tea, a hydrosol), you will need to make a fresh batch each time.
Exfoliating Body Scrub
1 tablespoon colloidal oatmeal
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground apricot kernel
2 ounces oil (try jojoba, sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil, or olive oil)
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons aloe or hydrosol
10 drops essential oil
Mix everything together and enjoy your scrub!
1 cup salt (sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, Epsom salt)
1/3 cup oil (olive oil, jojoba or almond)
1/8 cup honey
10 drops essential oil
Mix honey, oil and essential oil together. Pour the mixture over the sea salt.
Some recommended routes to help you reach that runner’s high.Read More
by William Beisley
It’s 8:30 p.m. and you’re walking home from dinner. You’re approaching a baseball field and, from a distance, you assume it’s a little league exhibition. As you get closer, however, you notice the first baseman has a beard, and the player on deck holds a thinly veiled beer can in their hand. “What on earth are these kids doing?” you think to yourself. Then it sets in: They’re adults playing kickball.
There is a wide variety of intramural sports leagues in our city. Some leagues cater to the casual crowds, while other leagues are for born competitors. There are small do-it-yourself organizations that host only a few teams for one specific sport, while there are also larger clubs that host an array of activities, indoor and outdoor, for multiple skill levels. Here’s Grid’s list of 12 clubs, leagues and groups to get your fitness on while still having fun.
The Philadelphia Bicycle Club
Bicycle rides for cyclists of all skill levels.
$15 per year; $10 per year for students
Group runs at all skill levels, all year round. (See Page 49 for more details and favorite routes.)
Full seasons and tournaments of kickball for adults.
$25 per player
Philly Sport & Social
Full seasons and tournaments of basketball, football, cornhole, kickball, dodgeball, soccer, floor hockey, softball and volleyball.
Philadelphia Sports Network
Indoor and outdoor seasons of basketball, bowling, broomball, cornhole, dodgeball, field hockey, flag football, floor hockey, kickball, soccer, softball, tennis, Ultimate and volleyball.
Indoor and outdoor basketball, dodgeball, kickball, soccer, softball and volleyball.
Manayunk Sport and Social
Football, softball, volleyball, kickball, dodgeball, darts, soccer, floor hockey, ultimate bocce, baggo, lacrosse, roller hockey, shufflebowl, Ultimate and wiffleball.
Casa Soccer League
Indoor and outdoor soccer.
Greater Philadelphia Flag Football League
A league dedicated to flag football for the LGBTQ community and straight ally players.
Philadelphia Area Disc Alliance
Year-round indoor and outdoor Ultimate.
$55 per player
Out Philly Athletic League
Basketball, bowling, dodgeball, football, running, softball, soccer, tennis and wrestling for LGBTQ participants.
A handicap-scored bowling league. Proceeds from league and non-league bowling go to Programs Employing People (PEP), a nonprofit that provides vocational and education opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities.
$14 per game
Philadelphia, We Have a Solution
interview by Heather Shayne Blakeslee
Matthew Tejada, a former clean air advocate in Houston, is now the director of the Office of Environmental Justice at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Tejada spoke with Grid about his trajectory from community organizer to federal appointee, lessons learned along the way, and the link among strong environmental regulation, public health and a thriving economy.
There are forces in Philadelphia that would like to make us the next Houston. You were involved in helping to ensure that the petrochemical industry kept environmental and public health in mind in their operations in your work at Air Alliance Houston. What were some of the environmental justice issues in Houston around this work?
MT: Houston is the largest energy hub in the entire United States, and the immensity of heavy industry there can be overwhelming: oil, chemicals, petrochemicals, manufacturing, shipping, transportation, storage, agriculture, technology, medicine, aerospace. Houston also has no zoning or traditional form of city planning to speak of, both elements that are essential to its personality as a “make it happen if you can” kind of town.
It’s also, by at least one measure, the most diverse city in the entire country, but those populations tend to be very segregated. There are a lot of reasons for this; whether as a result of historic policies such as redlining or more recent immigration trends and socioeconomic pressures, along with having very few space constrictions in a city of its size, Houston is very much a community of separate communities. So, you have all of this industry in all of its different stripes—a huge, sprawling metropolis. And that’s combined with all of the minor sources of pollution and environmental threats.
Taken with extraordinary diversity—and also stark segregation and separation of different populations—there are no end to challenges and no end to opportunities to work on issues that can have a real positive impact on people’s lives. So many issues there are big, and have national connections and implications, but at the same time are hyperlocal.
What should Philadelphia be on the lookout for?
MT: The biggest lesson to me is that engagement, relationship building and collaboration are absolutely crucial. Those are central to everything we do with environmental justice here at EPA, and they were lessons I learned first-hand working around the Texas Gulf Coast. It was really illuminating to me during my time there because I worked with a lot of different communities from Port Arthur to Corpus Christi; and each community, of course, was completely unique and different, but, at the same time, they all had the same issues and actors involved.
But the places that were making progress were always the places where, at the end of the day, folks could talk to one another. They could walk around the corner to actually look at and have a conversation about the problem and what they might be able to do about it. That doesn’t mean they always agreed. Everyone understood when they went back to their separate places that some would draft lawsuits and others would get ready for quarterly earnings meetings and others to fundraise for their next election. But they were able to talk and search for areas of commonality, so they could collaboratively move the ball forward and actually make change happen.
What were the challenges of working with the petrochemical industry?
MT: Folks understanding one another. Being able to build relationships and trust with folks from industry is one of the things I’m most proud of from my time in Houston, and also one of the most valuable things that I learned. It doesn’t matter who you are or what side you’re coming from— just about everyone walks into a room and has a preconceived notion about what everyone else is walking into that room looking for. And it’s hard. But it’s absolutely essential that folks don’t become preoccupied with those notions.
Just because someone comes in representing industry doesn’t mean they are a bad person; they’re human beings like everyone else there, and their job is to represent the business interest of the company they work for. The community members, likewise, are human beings who are looking out for the best interests of their families and communities. That sets up a complicated dynamic, of course, because you have one side looking very pragmatically at their economic interest, and the other side looking very passionately at the health of their children and the value of their homes. But those interests do not have to be incompatible with one another.
It’s really incredible when you actually see places in this country where folks have gotten past these notions and start to work together. It’s not some big love fest and everyone is best friends and spends their holidays together—there are still tense interactions and tough conversations and plenty of confrontations, but when they have gotten to the point that after the confrontation they can take a breath and restart the conversation, those places can really start to do good things with and for the community.
Can you talk about some of the community organizing strategies that were successful, or things you might have done differently?
MT: I went into community organizing and working on the community level as a complete unknown. I had studied social movement theory and the role of civil society as academic disciplines, but when I got to Houston, all of a sudden there was a community in front of me that needed help. I really had no idea what to do other than to start showing up, talking to people, and then promising that I’d show up again next week. And it took some time and I definitely made my share of mistakes along the way, but there are some basic things I learned which, no surprise, plenty of other people have learned and been sharing as central truths for decades before I ever showed up.
One is that the community speaks for itself—it doesn’t need someone else speaking for it. Another is that you can’t show up and want the community to just work on your issue. If you want to work with the community, you have to engage them and try to do what you can on all of their issues. In Houston, my organization would partner with communities, because we were focused on air quality and health, but we wound up working on issues of education, health care access, transportation and transit, local food, land use decisions—all sorts of things. Because if they were going to partner with us and raise their voices for air quality improvements, then my organization had to be willing to partner with them and raise our voices for a different bus stop and a new grocery store.
This is the hardest work you can do. Engaging a community, being a partner, doing the legwork, showing up every time, building trust and keeping that trust, putting your heart and passion into it—and dealing with all of the struggles and challenges—is absolutely the hardest work there is. But it’s also the most meaningful and rewarding when you do it right.
Countries like China and India, which don’t have the protection of laws like the Clean Water Act or Clean Air Act, are really suffering. How directly linked are America’s environmental protections to our economy?
MT: At the EPA, we think that the choice offered between environmental protection or a healthy economy is a false choice. Since 1970, air pollution has decreased by nearly 70 percent while the economy has tripled in size. The economic benefits of protecting health and the environment, based upon sound science, while providing an even playing field for industry, has time and again proven to be a winning combination for our country, its people and our economy.
Are we just exporting our pollution as manufacturing moves abroad?
MT: We are also a global leader in protecting the environment and health. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has called for a new era of partnerships at the agency. Just this past year, our head of enforcement and compliance spent two weeks in China and Thailand for this very purpose—to share with our partners what we have learned and where we are headed, and why it is such a benefit to the health and economic prosperity of our country. Our environment in the U.S. is a part of the global environment, and it takes partnerships and collaboration to protect it.
Matthew Tejada is director of the Office of Environmental Justice at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
A glimpse into the creative process of four eclectic studios
by Emily Kovach
Our burgeoning fashion scene bears all the hallmarks of the Philadelphia spirit: authenticity, cooperation, grit and ingenuity. Pia Panaligan, a co-owner of the local line Senpai + Kohai, gets to the heart of it: “Philly isn’t thought of as a big fashion city, but that’s OK with most of us because we get to define it,” she says. “Fashion isn’t just about fashion shows and Fashion Week—it’s about having your line, owning your quality control, coming together, pushing each other. Everyone we meet is open about experiences, and learning from each other.”
This month, we get to know a few of the designers helping to define what Philly fashion is, and where it’s going.
Clothes for the City Ninja
Technical fabrics and sleek designs from the NINObrand
Life for the city-dweller can be a harrowing hustle, and Bela Shehu, owner of NINObrand, designs garments as protection for what she calls the City Ninja. Her clean, almost severe shapes in a muted palette—mostly black—are constructed with technical fabrics that possess antibacterial properties, wick moisture, insulate, and protect from water and wind.
“Women who wear these clothes transform,” says Shehu. “It’s not a harness you strap yourself into—it allows you to be fluid and protected.” Plus, the pieces can transition through the many moods of a long day. With her designs, she says, “You don’t look like a fool in the morning, but you’re not underdressed in the evening.”
Shehu has been making clothing since she was a child in Albania. She came to the U.S. as a high school exchange student and, due to political instability in her home country and other factors, made Philadelphia her home. As a young adult, she dabbled in designing and making clothing, gained a cult following, opened a flagship boutique on 13th Street in 2004 (shuttered in 2008), and founded NINObrand in 2011.
Her coveted line is not available for retail in shops or boutiques—customers must schedule an appointment at her Rittenhouse atelier/showroom space. “Wholesale is not my strategy,” she says. “I want to keep what I do close to heart.” All of her pieces are hand-sewn by a team of seamstresses in Center City, and range in price from $180 to $600. The advanced fibers she uses are extremely durable, meaning the pieces are true investments—the Asher Jacket, one of the line’s most popular items, has a 15-year guarantee.
She’s doesn’t sew much herself these days—she’s too busy being the “boss lady” of NINObrand and her fashion consulting business, Shehu. But the South Philly resident has a softer side, too, just like her clothes. “I still do therapeutic things, like iron my handkerchiefs and make jams,” she says. “I like tending to things.”
To schedule a private appointment, visit ninobrand.com
interview by Emily Kovach
What’s your overall design style?
NH: I like to work with stretchy fabrics because it fits a lot of bodies. Our last collection was about torn paper and collage: We’re always taking things to a more artistic and less predictable place. My customer base is mostly women between the ages of 40 and 70. I love when the mom and daughter come in and both shop. I want to design things that all women want to wear, not just the thin 20-year-old woman!
How did Lobo Mau begin?
NH: In 2009, I got a small loan from a friend, bought fabric, made things in my house, and just showed up at boutiques like, “Hi, I’m a designer!” A lot of Philly shops gave me a chance. I wasn’t making enough to pay the bills, so I went back to work for two years, making jewelry for John Wind and working in my studio in Northern Liberties on nights and weekends.
In 2011, when I was ready to quit my day job, I serendipitously met Lele Tran, a designer who was starting a co-op called US*U.S. in Old City. I moved my studio to their basement and was able to grow my business incrementally.
Last year, I was approached by some major investors, one of whom was my third cousin I’d never met before. My great grandmother was a Philadelphia bridal and evening gown designer—she made dresses for Grace Kelly! She taught her little brother how to sew, and he went on to start Alfred Angelo, the biggest bridesmaid company in the world. He was the one who helped me. I was able to really get off the ground.
What’s next, then?
NH: I’m keeping it manageable and local. I just moved my studio into the Bok building—I am the first tenant! I’m helping to open a new boutique, and working on projects with Betabrand and Nineteenth Amendment.
Available in select local boutiques, at lobomau.com and other online shops.
by Emily Kovach
When Melissa Choi and Pia Panaligan met in a fashion illustration class in 2004 at Philadelphia University, their creative chemistry was immediate. They spent hours in the studio sewing side by side, sharing what inspired them.
“I always wanted to find someone to design with,” Choi says. “I felt like Pia was the only person who could be that for me.”
They reconnected in 2012 after separate post-college adventures in the fashion industry—Panaligan pursued internships in Manhattan and worked her way to head stylist at Anthropologie, while Choi designed for Free People and then lived and worked in Thailand and India. The pair now share a home in South Philadelphia that is also their studio for Senpai + Kohai, a Japanese term that refers to the relationship between apprentice and mentor.
When Choi returned from India, she brought back beautiful handmade fabric, trim and carved wooden blocks that became the basis for their debut collection of one-of-a-kind garments. Classes at the Fashion Incubator helped them realize that creating unique pieces wasn’t particularly sustainable. In the winter of 2013, they switched gears and designed a wholesale collection, but they quickly realized that they’d swung too far in the opposite direction.
“We love the slow fashion feel of things, and making things really special, as opposed to the fast pace of wholesale,” Choi says. “It’s not what we’re passionate about—it doesn’t tell the story we want.”
Choi and Panaligan have now found a middle ground that speaks to their vision. Their pieces still have that distinctive feel—they feature hand-embroidery, dyeing and printing—but the silhouettes are consistent, and garments are available in multiple sizes.
Some of their fabric is made especially for them by a Burmese weaver in South Philly, and their most recent collection features hand-dyed silk tunics in marbled indigos and muted neutrals, knee-length quilted vests and gorgeous silk scarves.
“My experience with Melissa opened my eyes to a more colorful palette,” says Panaligan. “I tend toward neutral hues, but that’s what makes the balances—the bold and the classic neutral colors.”
Choi agrees, adding, “Working together, we grow in our design aesthetics.”
For more information, visit senpaikohai.com
interview by Emily Kovach
When did you first become interested in clothing, fashion and design?
TD: My mother is quite the fashionista. She was keen on outfitting my sister and me with new fashions each school season. She taught us a lot about style and finish... I look back now and those are some of the foundations of how I style.
How did you get your start in fashion design?
TD: I was self-taught. I hit the streets of NYC in the ’90s knowing nothing. I tend to be more technical in nature, and I was drawn to the production process.
Suddenly Fem started as a family venture. My mother was a hairstylist, and was often hired to do cross-dressing transformations and makeovers, but could never find any clothing to fit her clientele. So, with her design sense and my technical ability, we created the first production line of clothing for the cross-dressing and trans communities 15 years ago.
Our first design was our little black dress made to fit the biological male form, designed with high neck and long sleeves, of course, to hide any arm hair or chest hair.
We have improved on this design with better fabrics and an almost seamless design now. It has always been one of our best sellers!
What has the response been?
TD: We have been around for over 20 years and launched a fall and spring line each season... It has become a full-fledged fashion line catering to transgendered and cross-dressing shoppers.
Available through crossdresser.com and through occasional pop-up shops.
by Emily Teel
Elizabeth McTear of Honest Alchemy spends her days dipping into pools of color: salmon red from madder root, mustard yellow from fustic wood, and rich cranberry from brazilwood.
The deep blue from indigo—and a desire to get away from commercial toxic dyes—was what started her down the garden path of making a line of natural, hand-dyed clothing, accessories and housewares in her Germantown studio.
She first learned her techniques while studying textile design at Moore College of Art & Design, but in the classroom she only learned how to work with synthetically produced dyes.
These dyes, like oil paints, are high in heavy metals, and McTear couldn’t reconcile her lifelong environmentalism with pouring a spent vat of commercial dye down the drain.
“I needed to find a way to continue,” she said, “but not necessarily participate in the toxic side of it.”
That’s when McTear started experimenting with indigo, that color in the rainbow between blue and violet. It comes from a leafy plant that naturally yields that deep blue color when processed for dye-making.
“Where the fun comes in,” she says, “is that indigo on wool, cotton, [or] silk… it’s all from the same vat, but the resulting colors are completely different based on the fiber itself. On silk, I get Aegean blues; on wool, I get deep, inky blues… the range of colors is so wide, and that’s just one color!”
Come spring, she’s planning her very own backyard dye garden with flowers like goldenrod, coreopsis and marigold.
“The more I learn,” she says, “the more I realize the color that could come from flowers that you or I can get at the farmers market.”
Local makers supply Honest Alchemy with the scarves, pillowcases, sweaters, tote bags and bandanas that McTear dips into her dye vats. The earthy and richly hued results take their texture from the wool, silk and cotton of the original items, and have helped McTear build a loyal following on Etsy and through national retailers such as Anthropologie.
In her work, McTear employs the ancient Japanese fabric dyeing practice called shibori, a method of pleating fabric and securing it with string or wooden blocks. Just as with tie-dye, whatever space is bound remains the original color of the fabric and whatever is exposed picks up the color of the dye it’s submerged in.
In addition to dyeing, McTear is exploring eco-printing, a process whereby she lays natural materials like leaves onto treated fabric, which she then steams. The plant materials leach their natural hues directly into the fabric, and the resulting silhouettes of leaves appear as though they were woven into the fabric itself.
While she finds her methods and materials less toxic, it’s challenging.
“It’s completely different,” McTear says, laughing. She explains that using natural dyes is “a lot more fickle and in some ways difficult, [but] it’s also really satisfying.”
Honest Alchemy products can be found online at etsy.com and at Philadelphia retail locations such as Moon + Arrow.
1. Keep Your Blood Pumping
Join a yoga studio or look into Grid’s list of intramural sports leagues on Page 51 to find the perfect low-key workout. It’s never too cold to run or bike.
2. Plan the Perfect Garden
It might not be warm enough to put a shovel into the ground, but you can crack open your seed catalog and let your imagination run wild.
3. Test Old Seeds
Place 10 seeds in a folded, damp paper towel. Keep the wrapped seeds in an open plastic bag placed in a warm area. After a week, if fewer than half have sprouted, buy new ones.
4. Save Your Soil
Water outdoor container gardens; dry winters are unkind to your soil.
5. Start Your Starters
They’re just seeds now, but if you plant them inside, by the spring you can have broccoli, cabbage, onions and leeks ready to plant.
6. Clean Your Cleaning Tools
In preparation for spring cleaning (spring is on its way, right?), replace your vacuum filter, soak your mop head in hot water and wash your broom bristles.
7. Maintain Your Resolution to Eat Healthy
Enroll in a cooking class at your local food co-op and explore foodfitphilly.org for more ideas about your healthy lifestyle.
8. Replace Your Air Filters
Replace any air filters from your heating system before the end of winter to prevent mold, pollen and other allergens from entering your home.
9. Shop Locally for Valentine's Day
Surprise your sweetheart and support the local economy with that one-of-a-kind, personalized gift that only a neighborhood merchant can provide.
10. Start Planning a Neighborhood Cleanup
Contact organizations such as Keep Philadelphia Beautiful and borrow tools from the Philadelphia Managing Director’s Office at the Community Life Improvement Program, where you can also coordinate trash pickups with the Philadelphia Streets.
Matt Rader is the New President of the Philadelphia Horticultural Society
Matt Rader, an accomplished nonprofit leader and management consultant, is now the 37th president of the Philadelphia Horticultural Society (PHS). Rader brings with him experience in urban parks, neighborhood revitalization, historic preservation and strategic management. A graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Rader was most recently at global firm McKinsey & Company, and has also served as executive director of the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust and of East Passyunk Avenue’s Business Improvement District.
“I am honored to lead PHS in continuing its 189-year track record of connecting people with horticulture,” says Rader, “and using horticulture to make Philadelphia a healthier, more beautiful, more dynamic place.”
Andrew Stober Hired as A VP at University City District
Andrew Stober, former chief of staff for the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU), is the new vice president for Planning and Economic Development at University City District. In his new role, Stober will oversee public space development and management, commercial corridor development, and pedestrian and transportation movements for University City, along with continuing UCD’s mission of promoting the neighborhood’s vibrancy and ensuring public safety. Stober sees “an important opportunity to use new public spaces, improved transportation options and commercial corridor support to make University City an international model for inclusive development.”
80 Acres of Croydon Woods to be Preserved
On Jan. 6, the Heritage Conservancy in Doylestown was named as steward of an 80-acre parcel of Croydon Woods. The land is one of the last undeveloped expanses of wooded wetland forests in the region, and it was transferred to the conservatory for preservation purposes from the prior owners, Rohm and Haas Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dow Chemical Company.
The Heritage Conservancy plans to maintain the site in a “mostly natural, undisturbed state,” and intends to perform an assessment of the property’s natural resources. They will then develop a management and stewardship plan in accordance to the needs of the ecosystem.
Post Brothers Apartments Receives City’s First LEED Gold Certification for a Residential High-Rise
Post Brothers Apartments, a real estate company that specializes in urban residential communities, was awarded LEED Gold certification for its Goldtex apartment complex from the U.S. Green Building Council. The Chinatown project, a 13-story former shoe factory, is the first apartment high-rise to achieve LEED Gold certification. The zero-carbon-footprint facility runs entirely on wind-generated power, a staple of the Post Brothers’ design elements.
“After the warmest December on record, environmental issues are top-of-mind for many of us,” said Michael Pestronk, CEO and co-founder of Post Brothers. He added that their approach was helping to “reverse the trend of building pollution in our cities.”
Redevelopment Authority Reclaims Eastwick Land
The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) and developer Korman Residential have reached an accord, terminating the 50-year-old Eastwick Redevelopment Agreement, and returning control of approximately 135 acres of land to the PRA. The land, which neighbors the Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, was protected by the Eastwick Friends & Neighbors Coalition and the broader Eastwick community in 2012, when it was discovered that Korman Residential intended to develop 722 rental units and 1,034 parking spaces. The land transfer to the PRA has a four-year purchase option to the City of Philadelphia, subject to the results of a planning process that will be led by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission.
Philadelphia Students Compete in Waste Management Competition
Since returning to school this fall, middle school students from the Philadelphia region have been developing waste management solutions for the 2015–2016 Future City Competition. The nationwide contest’s theme is Waste Not, Want Not, in which students will design a virtual city using “SimCity” video game software to analyze waste management systems and develop real-world solutions. After the virtual model is completed, teams bring their ideas to life by building a tabletop scale model of their city using recycled materials.
Students from the region are competing with more than 40,000 participants from 1,350 schools across the nation. First-place winners from the regional finals will compete in the national finals in Washington, D.C., from Feb. 13 to 17, and prizes for finalists include a trip to Space Camp and more than $15,000.
Gas From Organic Waste Offered As Alternative to Fracking
A new program from Philadelphia’s Energy Co-op aims to incentivize landfill operators to distribute biogas produced by decomposing organic waste at their landfills to local businesses as an alternative to fracked natural gas.
“This new RNG product has the potential to change how natural gas is produced in the region,” said Eric Kravitz, director of business development at the Energy Co-op. “When you purchase the RNG product, you’re taking a stand against fracking, supporting the development of renewable natural gas and helping to achieve a cleaner, healthier future for Pennsylvania.”
The system is similar to Renewable Energy Certificates, which monetize the environmental benefit of using renewable electricity. Members of the Energy Co-op can now purchase the Renewable Natural Gas Credits, although they will continue to receive pipeline natural gas from PECO to their homes.