April showers brought more than May flowers this season in NYC. Indeed, last month brought remarkable vegan fine dining to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, two nights that this month attendees still can’t stop talking—and writing—about.
The Old Bowery Station, on April 25 and April 26, played host to 20-year-old plant-based chef Jay Astafa’s restaurant concept, Jay Kitchen. The transient but transformative pop-up wowed crowds of roughly 80 – 90 people each evening, which translated to about 1,360 plates total, as the sit-down dinner consisted of eight carefully curated courses.
Photo by Hulya Provenzano
The menu featured several palate pleasing dishes, but perhaps most memorable, at least to my mind, were the nut cheeses. From a cashew chévre crostini topped with ramps to a homemade cheese plate (featuring aged cashew cheese and brie with strawberry-rhubarb compote, orange infused bee-free honey and rosemary-almond crackers), there was much to indulge in, not to mention rave about on Instagram.
Beyond blowing folks’ minds with rich and creamy cruelty-free cheese, kitsch also made a cameo, in the form of caramel popcorn treated to liquid nitrogen. Entitled dragon’s breath, the salty-but-mostly-sweet morsels titillated the tongue and made for some entertaining exhales.
“This menu was inspired by fun,” Astafa told me. “I wanted to do something fun.”
Photo by Erin “Red” Grayson
Born, raised and based in Long Island, Astafa said farewell to flesh six years ago, at age 14. He explains, “After watching a PETA video, I made the connection that meat comes from animals. I couldn’t eat meat anymore after that.” Following this realization, he had another, maybe more profound, awakening: “I remember, it was Halloween. I was trick-or-treating at that time and eating candy with milk in it. Every time I consumed dairy, as well as eggs, I felt guilty. So I became vegan.”
Astafa grew up in a foodie household, however, as his family owned and operated an Italian restaurant, called Three Brothers Pizza Café. Instead of being discouraged by their conventional cuisine, four years ago he asked if he might supplement the menu a bit. As the cliché saying goes, the rest is history.
Astafa continues to craft compassionate meals at the casual suburban spot, but has in the past year developed a desire (in addition to a business plan) to open a gourmet establishment in New York City proper. Presently studying restaurant management at The International Culinary Center (formerly The French Culinary Institute), Astafa has high hopes of garnering savvy investors’ support and competing with some of NYC’s finest, from Candle 79 to Blossom, Pure Food and Wine to Dirt Candy.
I recently sat down with Astafa to discuss this achievable dream, one for which many a local conscientious consumer is waiting anxiously to come true. We also talked about his trajectory, techniques and a whole lot more.
When did you realize you aspired to be a chef?
As soon as I became vegan. It opened a whole culinary world for me. I discovered so many different ingredients. I would watch Food Network all the time, to teach myself how to cook. I even had a food blog when I was 15. If I weren’t vegan, I don’t think I would be a chef. I was aspiring to be an actor, actually.
When did your diet and lifestyle shift infiltrate the family restaurant menu?
In 2009. By then I had been teaching myself how to cook vegan for about a year-and-a-half. To my dismay, there weren’t any vegan dining options on Long Island. Then I discovered Daiya. I was like, Why not just add vegan cheese to the pizzas? I created a modest vegan menu, and at first traffic was slow. No one knew about us, because we didn’t advertise. I was so happy when even just a few people each day ordered from my menu. A few months later, I created a full vegan menu, and it was written about in The New York Times. That’s how it started. It was all word of mouth.
From how far do people travel to dine at Three Brothers?
It’s not just Long Island. It’s Manhattan, it’s Brooklyn, it’s all over. Three Brothers is definitely a destination restaurant.
Are there non-vegan skeptics that try the vegan dishes?
We get people who aren’t vegan who order vegan food and are so surprised. Now, I want to open a restaurant that’s entirely vegan!
Tell me more about that.
I want to open Jay Kitchen, a vegan fine dining restaurant. I want to do something that hasn’t been done in New York City yet. NYC’s foodie scene focuses so much on meat. That’s the trend. I think meat is passé. It’s time for something new. I want to show people that you can enjoy innovative food that doesn’t involve harming animals. That’s my mission.
Which was presented at your pop-up. How did that materialize?
Originally, I had hoped to open my own brick-and-mortar restaurant by early 2013, but my concept changed, evolving for the better. In the meantime, I was looking for a fun way to share what I was working on. So, I decided to do a pop-up. Spring is my favorite time of year; there are so many awesome vegetables in season, which I saw as the centerpiece of my menu. Most people think vegetables are side dishes, but they can easily take center stage. I also wanted to emphasize foods people don’t typically think can be vegan, like cheese.
Oh, for sure. From where did you draw inspiration?
For a couple of the cheeses, like the Brie, I was inspired by Miyoko Schinner’s Artisan Vegan Cheese. She’s created recipes for so many different kinds of plant-based cheeses. It’s one of my favorite cookbooks. Spring was also an inspiration, as mentioned. Another inspiration was fun. I wanted guests to have a fun gourmet dining experience. Lastly, and tied to fun, but also innovation, I incorporated modern molecular gastronomy techniques, something you don’t often encounter in NYC’s vegan scene.
Can you speak to a couple of these techniques? I know there was the liquid nitrogen caramel popcorn…
There was a technique for the caviar called spherification. The soup had a foam made from chive oil. I also used a lot of neat equipment, such as a PolyScience Smoking Gun. It’s a really cool tool—you can cold smoke anything! I used it on the cauliflower. For dessert we used caramel powder, made from tapioca maltodextrin. The tapioca absorbs the fat, and turns the caramel into powder. When you eat the caramel powder, it melts into caramel. This was dusted on top of the chocolate tart.
Yum! What was a fan favorite across the board?
Guests really loved the ravioli. People can get vegan ravioli in NYC, but not like you find in Italian restaurants like, for instance, at Babbo. Mine was inspired by Mario Batali. I wanted to make a vegan version. I make my own cashew cream butter and my own cashew Parmesan. The pasta is homemade, too. Instead of eggs, I use silken tofu. That’s an excellent egg replacement for pasta. Eggs make the pasta soft, and silken tofu provides the same effect.
I remember it melted in my mouth. So dope. What did guests think of the cheese plate?
People loved the cheese plate. There was a woman there, not a vegan, who is a big Brie lover. She raved, This tastes just like Brie! That was a rewarding compliment. People imagine vegans can’t eat cheese, but that’s not true: there’s a whole world of plant-based cheeses out there.
Vegan cheese is having a major moment right now.
Six years ago, there weren’t any vegan cheeses that tasted good. Now, so many are coming out, including some that melt. It’s really changing our world. There’s no longer an excuse not to be vegan. And it’s definitely growing more popular. When I first became vegan, many people didn’t know what it was. Now, everyone recognizes the term.
Absolutely. Who in the vegan community do you look up to?
Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. Their book, Veganomicon, was one of the first books I bought when I became vegan. They inspired me to learn how to cook. Before that, I didn’t know anything about vegan cooking.
What’s so special about your edible offerings? What do you bring to the table, so-to-speak?
A lot of the stuff on my menu I can’t just go get from the store the same day. I have to pre-plan. I make a lot of ingredients from scratch, like the butter and cheese. Beyond this and the modern methods I mentioned earlier, in general I simply like creating a one-of-a-kind dining experience.
Your future looks bright. What are you most looking forward to post-pop-up?
I can’t wait ’til I actually do that every day. I was sad it was over after two nights. I’ve been dreaming of opening a vegan restaurant in NYC for so long! Right now I am working on finding a location and a backer. 2013 has been wonderful so far, and I’m excited about what’s to come.
Interested in investing or know someone else who would be down to discuss backing this talented and ambitious vegan chef? Have access to a viable venue in NYC, or have other ideas to help him make this fine dining dream a reality? Reach Jay Astafa at email@example.com.
Unless otherwise specified, photos courtesy of Rachel Durga Page.
Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech at the University for the Arts is great advice for creative types, but I kind of think it’s just great advice for anyone. I’d never heard him speak before and he’s pretty much wonderful so listen to the whole thing.
Here are some highlighted passages in case you’re at work and don’t have speakers or if you prefer reading or if your cat is making too much noise:
“Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut, and sometimes it will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you are doing the correct thing, because you’ll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work, settling for what you can get.”
“Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.”
“And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.”
“I would do my best in the future not to write books just for the money. If you didn’t get the money, then you didn’t have anything. If I did work I was proud of, and I didn’t get the money, at least I’d have the work.”
“The things I did because I was excited, and wanted to see them exist in reality have never let me down, and I’ve never regretted the time I spent on any of them.”
“I hope you’ll make mistakes. If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something.”
“Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do:
Make good art.
“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”
“Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make. Good. Art.”
Full transcript available at The University of the Arts.
Montreal is a fast-paced urban center alive with a steady flow of students and business people alike. Sometimes you’ll see them slipping past one another, hungry and hunting. It’s likely they would never imagine being able to eat crisp vegetables grown within city limits.
“We’re providing an answer to an enormous variety of environmental issues by supplying hyper-local, fresh vegetables to urban residents. By growing without pesticides and distributing directly to customers the same day as harvest, we provide safe, nutritious, and much more flavorful vegetables, while also eliminating the 1500-mile transport chain most grocery store produce travels through,” said Lauren Rathmell, Greenhouse Director and Founding Member.
“We further minimize our environmental impact by recirculating water, capturing rainwater, and using about half the energy of a typical greenhouse. Finally, we help cities by replacing rooftop heat islands with a transpiring plant surface and we help reduce the energy needs of the building below us year-round.”
Lufa Farms will be expanding in the Montreal community by taking on new subscribers and opening more drop-points where people can pick up their baskets. Their second greenhouse will be opening in a few months, which will more than double the amount of vegetables they produce.
Over the next couple years, Lufa Farms plans to have greenhouse sites underway in at least one other major city in North America. In the more distant future, they hope to build multiple greenhouses in cities around the world.
“Finding suitable rooftops isn’t necessarily straightforward, so this is a challenge that lies ahead as we start expanding to new cities,” said Lauren. “We’re an incredibly innovative team overall, so we’ve been able to find solutions to many of the engineering, cultivation, and other challenges we’ve encountered so far. This leaves us poised to tackle expansion and introduce this concept worldwide.”
Their ultimate goal is to make cities self-sufficient in their food production. To provide for the population of Montreal for example, it would take about 25m square feet of rooftop greenhouses, a space equivalent to about 20 shopping centers.
“Our team is motivated to make an impact and push towards expansion, and we have the creativity and drive to make it happen,” said Lauren. “It’s been no easy task to get to where we are today, but we’re all so excited about the potential and ready to give it our all.”
Lufa Farms was founded in 2009 by Mohamed Hage and the founding team of Kurt Lynn, Yahya Badran, and Lauren Rathmell. Hailing from Lebanon, Mohamed drew inspiration from his heritage in naming the company. A lufa is a type of vegetable that grows abundantly in Lebanon and vines over homes and gardens. It produces a gourd-type fruit that can be dried and used as a loofah or sponge. The spirit of benevolence embodied in this plant that cools, shades, and bears fruit without needing much in return seemed to Mohamed an apt choice for the company’s name.
Lufa Farms is now composed of a team of about 30 people, including corporate, distribution, and greenhouse workers. Their head office is located in Montreal, where they also built the world’s first commercial rooftop greenhouse.
More information is available at Lufa Farm’s facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RooftopFarming?fref=ts
You may access their official webpage here: https://lufa.com/
You may call them at (514) 669-3559 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve been anticipating the release date of the new rendition of the classic novel The Great Gatsby by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald for a few months now. The new adaptation by Director Baz Lurhmann, which came out this Friday, was cinematically stunning.
Prada Sketches for The Great Gatsby
I’m quite the fashion enthusiast and for most of the film I found myself having to lift my jaw, as the costumes and cinematography were incredible! I had to stop from fiddling in my seat from excitement the whole time. Not to mention, the 1920’s are one of my favorite decades historically for fashion, I got the urge to cut my hair into a bob when it ended.
What I loved most of the film was Lurhmann’s ability to capture the energy of the roaring 20’s. The speakeasies, the androgyny, the flappers, the dancing & the partying were captured seamlessly. I’ve always had an interest in costume design; and after watching the film and reading an interview with costume designer Catherine Martin, it inspired me to take the weekend to myself and start sewing again. My machine has been stacked up in my closet the entire winter collecting dust; it felt good to start using it again. It’s easy to fall into routine, though making time for yourself & your favorite hobby (for myself at least) is the best break to routine and who knows maybe one day I’ll be able to make one of the costumes from the film… it’s in the works!
Many artists, particularly us introverts, dream of having a 2nd home that is away from the hustle bustle of the big city. For myself it would be a shack made of concrete, steel and glass surrounded by acres of forest and enough trees so that privacy would be an understatement !
I’m guessing these are the feelings Phillip Johnson had in 1949 when he built his glass house in New Canaan, Connecticut. The project was not only innovative for the time, but also became a turning point in modern architecture.
The 47 acre estate includes 13 modernist structures Johnson built. There is an underground paintings gallery which includes a portrait of Johnson by Andy Warhol as well as works by Frank Stella, Jasper Johns, Julian Schnabel and Robert Rauschenberg.
An interesting quote in LIFE magazine in 1949, sign of the times: “Except when entertaining, Johnson lives alone, servantless and accompanied only by weather, paintings and books.”
I tend to think of the Glass House every summer once the snow is gone and the grass is green again, maybe it’s time to take a tour…
Two seemingly incongruous worlds collided this past Saturday night in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. At SIR Stage37, steps from the Westside Highway, fashion fans and animal lovers alike gathered to toast both.
A runway show, cocktail party and auction, the swank Fashion Loves Animals soirée at once honored designer Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart and her cruelty-free company Vaute Couture, as well as fundraised for Farm Sanctuary, one of the nation’s foremost animal protection organizations.
“Farm Sanctuary has always been my most favorite place on earth,” Leanne beamed to a captive audience following the main event. “Honestly, it’s amazing.”
Hilgart in February wowed a considerable crowd and attracted mainstream media attention when her brand became the first all-vegan fashion label to show in the history of New York Fashion Week. Her presentation—which, in addition to showcasing autumn/winter ready-to-wear, also featured adoptable dogs alongside models—secured coverage in and on outlets like US News & World Report and CNN, the latter dubbing Hilgart “the rebel of Fashion Week.” Which is, in case it isn’t apparent, a compliment. No fur, no leather, no wool, no down, no silk—nothing derived from an animal. Just innovative and attractive alternatives.
“Events like this are very inspiring. It’s a way to recognize entrepreneurs who are making a difference, by producing products—in this case fashion products—that do not cause animals to suffer. We need more of that. We need more young people to get involved in creating positive change. Leanne’s done an amazing job with Vaute Couture.”
As with her first iteration three months ago, Hilgart enlisted Joshua Katcher of Brave GentleMan and Monisha Raja of Love Is Mighty to complete her ensembles with cruelty-free footwear. Katcher’s collaboration with Novacas has in the past year yielded the most attractive men’s shoes on the market. And Raja didn’t disappoint with her eye-catching heels, each woven out of otherwise landfill-bound biscuit wrappers.
Whimsy could also be seen in Hilgart’s youthful line. Comprised of myriad sweet pieces and her classic coats, perhaps most coveted were her patterned dresses with skin-baring star and heart cutouts at the upper back.
“I just love hearts and stars,” Leanne gushed. “To have a playful element to things, that’s really important to me. I think people take fashion too seriously.”
Keeping with the evening’s theme of fun, food vied with fashion (and adorable dogs) for the limelight. Twenty-year-old chef Jay Astafa volunteered his services, churning out savory hors d’oeuvres, while pasty chef Fran Costigan pleased palates with decadent desserts.
“I really wanted to get involved with Farm Sanctuary,” said Astafa, who—beyond passing apps like cashew chévre crostini with ramps and mac ‘n’ cheese bites (both of which were ridiculously delicious)—also donated a four-course gourmet meal for ten.
Of his generous gift, which commanded a $1,000 bid-donation, Astafa shrugged, “Cooking for ten people is easy, and I wanted to do something nice for animals.”
Astafa wasn’t alone in this. Also up for auction were Love Is Mighty flats, The Body Shop bath and beauty loot and a Brave GentleMan custom tailored blazer, among other things.
Partygoers were equally smitten over the Matt & Nat handbags, briefcases and backpacks that male and female models carried down the catwalk. The mother of an intern even later tried to buy one off of Hilgart. “I’m like, I’m sorry, I have no control over that,” Hilgart laughed while recalling the incident. “People love the Matt & Nat bags.”
What’s more, unlike a lot of animal advocacy happenings, albeit comparably lovely, Fashion Loves Animals drew fashion industry insiders. So, when Baur addressed guests, many were hearing his wise words and viewing his compelling slides for the first time, which is critical.
“Every day we make choices,” he began. “It’s about living in a way that’s more humane, more kind. These animals [at Farm Sanctuary] get to be who they are. They get to express, which is part of fashion, too. Animals on factory farms in cages can’t.”
Hilgart put it quite nicely when she explained to me her aesthetic motivation.
“I’ve always loved Sailor Moon in terms of design. [But, she also has] this amazing story. [She’s] a normal earth girl [who] tries to save a cat. The cat turns out to be a magical cat [that] gives [Sailor Moon] superpowers!”
Hilgart at last brought the creative concept full circle, “I feel like, that’s what life is. If you help others, you find your superpowers. And that’s true for everyone.”
Photos courtesy of Max Gordon.
We moved our offices last December from Chabanel street (otherwise known as the fashion district in Montreal) to an area not too far from there that feels really different. The streets in our new neighborhood are bordered with grass so it’s easy to step out and get some fresh air, eat your lunch seating on a rock or take a moment to relax outside. After 8 years spent on paved streets, I must say this new address makes me appreciate these simple pleasures. Given the incredible summer weather we’ve been experiencing the past couple of days, I decided to step out and take some pictures of our Dean backpack around the block this afternoon. The Dean has been one of our favorites recently: it’s so simple and practical, and yet we love the sharp lines. It’s also great on a bike, so when we were experimenting with the recycled rubber from bicycle tires, it made sense to try the material on this style. What you see in the pictures is a development sample of the style for our Fall 13 collection, one of these prototypes we use to test our ideas. We changed it a little bit after that, maybe we’ll use this sample for one of our giveaways.
“I feel a tremendous sense of obligation and responsibility for this film to reach the people,” award-winning filmmaker Liz Marshall told me when we spoke on the phone recently. Even in the midst of preparing for its premiere, Marshall took time to discuss her much-buzzed-about film, The Ghosts In Our Machine.
A compelling documentary about both the ubiquity and the invisibility of animals in our world, Ghosts follows animal photographer Jo-Anne McArthur as she traverses heartbreaking and heartwarming terrain, figurative and literal alike.
“I wouldn’t say that I take photographs of animals,” McArthur says in the film. “I would say that I photograph the predicaments that animals are in because of humans.”
McArthur travels Canada, the United States and Europe, in each location documenting something (and someone—countless someones) different. From caged critters on fur farms to claustrophobic aquaria, from skittish lab beagles to formerly confined dairy cows making an escape, we become members of her critical mission: to uncover what’s at once hidden in plain sight, as well as what’s beyond the environs of our everyday encounters.
Food, fashion, entertainment and research—Ghosts explores each of these areas of exploitation, and does so with taste and tact, grace and gumption. Gorgeously shot and meticulously edited, it’s no wonder this aesthetic gem premiered at Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival and, I’m told, received a standing ovation.
“This is a film designed to open the door to deeper awareness, or awareness for the first time,” explained Marshall as we concluded our call. “I hope people understand it, that’s all.”
Please read on for more from the talented auteur filmmaker. Then, peruse the interactive section of Ghosts’ site, which supplies an immersive introduction to the film. And, if you’re in Toronto, snag tickets to the theatrical release at Carlton Cinema between May 31 and June 6, as Ghosts is poised to resonate well into the future, long after the sentient beings we meet on screen are gone.
Why does this story need to be told?
Because it’s a significant social issue. I think it is being told, in various ways, by all kinds of incredible, multimedia [people] around the world: thinkers, writers, speakers, activists. I’m just adding to the way it’s being told. I’m adding a new language to tell this story, which has been around for quite some time. But, it’s all about how it’s told. The biggest challenge since I started developing it in 2010 has been trying to find the right tone. The right way to anchor the “animal question” to a story that could then be universally accessible. In terms of filmmaking, I think The Ghosts In Our Machine is [serving] a useful—and powerful—purpose at this particular juncture in history. We’re telling this story in a way that, I believe, [will be] received by a larger demographic.
How did you arrive at the title? Why “our machine” and not “the machine”?
[The latter] is all over the internet. Every possible genre has appropriated this phrase, especially science fiction. So, I decided on The Ghosts In Our Machine. The “our” in the title is very significant because, the way I see it, the “machine” is not an abstract notion outside ourselves. We are the machine. We feed the machine, as consumers, and we have the power to make a difference and change the way things are. In that regard, The Ghosts In Our Machine turns it on the viewer. It says to the audience, Well, what can you do?
Absolutely. With that said, when and why did you become vegan?
I became vegetarian when I was 18 because I read John Robbins’ amazing book, Diet for a New America. It really radicalized the way I think about animals, the environment and food production. But, I slipped occasionally. I would forget why I was vegetarian. I would sometimes eat fish or chicken. But, when I [got together with] my partner, Lorena, nine years ago, she reopened my eyes to the animal rights issue. I chose to become vegan when I started developing The Ghosts In Our Machine, about three years ago.
Onto the nitty-gritty, what was it like sneaking into a fur farm and filming?
That was my first time doing any kind of animal investigation. And it was really, really, really hard. As a social issue filmmaker, I’ve been to the frontlines of human atrocities all over the world—war-torn countries, HIV AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa, poverty-stricken slums in parts of Africa and South America, things like that—but I’ve never done a documentary that focused on animals caught within this machine. It makes you wonder how we can do this to other species. I don’t understand it.
I am comparably perplexed. On a separate note, it’s incredible the pristine production, especially given the circumstances and crew size. You had, like, five people (crew included) plus security on watch outside, right? Wasn’t that tough and super risky?
We took equipment that was very conducive to doing fieldwork. Yes, we were definitely several people, but it was a tight ship, let’s put it that way. Very, very, very well-planned. [We] were planning that investigation for five months leading up to it.
I can’t even imagine. So, your film focuses on several specific things, like fur farms, lab beagles, aquaria and dairy cows. How did you determine what elements of abuse (and rescue) to incorporate, given the pool of options is so vast?
In total, there’s about 180 hours of footage. The film is 92 minutes long. I wanted there to be one investigation story. I didn’t want more than one, because I think it would be overwhelming. I definitely wanted there to be a couple of rescue stories. The film ebbs and flows between witnessing animal use and then animals living in peaceful, happy, loving environments, like Farm Sanctuary. It was important to try to create that balance. People will not want to watch this film if, from beginning to end, it’s all about animal abuse. Ultimately, I want people to walk away with a new understanding of animals, as truly unique, feeling, conscious beings. So, that’s what this film is trying to achieve.
I noticed—and appreciated—that it was equal parts uplifting and harrowing. So, what aspect of the experience making this film was most difficult for you?
The totality of it. You know when you know something intellectually and then you actually feel it? I had a deeper “ah-ha” moment when I decided to go vegan. The blinders came off 100% and I became very aware that, all around me in the urban environment, animals are everywhere. Animals have been reduced to ingredients. To bits and parts all around us. And we’re so accustomed to it. It’s “normal,” in a way. Quote-unquote, normal. But normal doesn’t mean it’s right. When you grow up with something as normal, you don’t necessarily question it. You need the veil to be lifted. You need that awakening. So, my own awareness was the impetus for me to try to create a film for people that would gently lift the veil. By the end of the film, people leave the theater with a new awareness. And that’s a big task to try to accomplish, but that truly is the goal of the film.
Anything you would go back and change if you could do it all over again? (Apart from setting every caged animal free.)
I feel at peace with the film. In the past, there was always something nagging at me. But, with this project, I feel it’s done. It’s ready to be released.
Please consider supporting Jo-Anne McArthur’s ambitious book project, We Animals, which, once published, will add yet another element to Ghosts’ potent story.
No release is scheduled yet for the U.S. Film distribution leads are warmly welcomed. Please chime in if you know how to help bring Ghosts below the border.
All photos are courtesy of Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals, except for the shot of the camera photographing the sheep, which is courtesy of Liz Marshall.
We’re constantly testing out new materials that we can use for our bags in order to reduce our carbon footprint. I’m excited to say that our Fall 13 line (that will be available for purchase in August) will feature 100 yards of recycled bicycle tires! It was a fun addition to our line; especially for us bike enthusiasts here at the office. We’ve been playing around with the material for a few months now and are happy to have it included.
Here are a few of the samples that we fiddled with. The process is almost as fun as the final product. What are your thoughts?
We’re starting off small, only offering it as an exclusive small batch to our unify collection. Stay tuned for our launch in August!
I like documentaries. I feel that as a society we don’t watch enough of them. So this week I’m promoting an all time favorite and Canada’s most successful documentary ever.
The Corporation examines the rights and actions of today’s dominant institution. It gives some fascinating insight into these large, influential companies that have all the rights of a ‘person’ without necessarily being concerned with the consequences or externalities.
An externality is a cost or benefit which results from an activity or transaction that affects an otherwise uninvolved party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit. The results of an organization that is interested strictly in profit will lead to more negative externality than positive ones, these are also called ‘social costs’.
The film also touches upon the fear that social responsibility is a trend which may or may not stay in fashion (such as fur). Will today’s proponents for social change be labeled the hippies of the new millennium decades from now?
The video particularly struck a cord with me in relation to MATT & NAT. Beyond being vegan, making use of recycled materials and encouraging upcycling, what else can we do to ensure that all of our externalities from design/concept to delivery are positive ones? A lot. Promoting a lifestyle of ‘living beautifully’ has meant taking a fresh look at everything we do and the effects on everyone we touch, directly or not…
What can you do as an individual in full control of your actions and subsequent consequences ? Watch the video, occupy your future…
Today is May 1, celebrated in over 80 countries as May Day or International Workers’ Day, and it seems like the perfect excuse to tell you about someone’s work that I greatly admire. I recently acquired one of these great coffee table books (… if you know me, you know I collect them even though I don’t own a coffee table). This particular one is called a “Photographer’s life” and covers the work of photographer Annie Leibovitz from 1990 to 2005.
Although the book features portraits of well-known figures like Johnny Cash, Nelson Mandela or Michael Jordan, what’s most striking is that Leibovitz included personal pictures along with her assignment work—she chronicles celebrations and heartbreaks of her large family, making the book incredibly raw and emotional. She writes in the introduction to the book: “when young photographers ask me what they should do, I always tell them to stay close to home”.
Today, photography is everywhere, but looking at the immense talent of someone that does it professionally and so passionately, I couldn’t help but think about what it means to live/work beautifully.
Adam Purple, is often coined as the godfather of the urban gardening movement, and is well known in New York for his “Garden of Eden”on the Lower East side of Manhattan. His project began in the 70′s when two buildings behind his apartment were bulldozed by the city. Looking out his window, he noticed children often playing in the filth, and leftover debris. It soon occurred to him that he could rebuild the space into a sustainable, communal garden. Within a year he transformed the abandoned lot into a green garden that soon stretched to 15,000 square feet. “By the end of the second year, he had transformed both of the lots into flowers,trees, and food crops.” It soon became a communal project within the city. More people came to help him who called themselves the “Purple Guard”. They soon had a fully sustainable garden, where they grew nuts, fruits & vegetables.
” The garden of Eden was a work of art, a place to grow and share food, and a place to learn. Though that place is gone, Adam’s ideas are not. We can still learn from the Garden of Eden. We can look down at our own two hands, as Adam Purple did, and start using them to change the world.” Amy Brost
In 1986 the garden was demolished. To learn more about the history of Adam & the Garden of Eden watch the short film “Adam Purple and the Garden of Eden.” Here:
One of our sales reps just returned from a trip to London and was a little disappointed at what she felt was a lack of new trends in the marketplace.
We had an interesting discussion about minimalism and how this trend of clean lines and no logos is starting to take shape.
This is of course music to our ears at MATT & NAT as the clean aesthetic with a focus on utility has always been at the basis of our craft. From Japanese and Scandinavian design influences to a focus on utility with details that pop and perform, it’s a design language that we’ve been speaking for almost 20 years….
There’s a great article in the April issue of Elle Canada that discusses how minimalism also applies to a simpler lifestyle: working fewer hours, making the right choices, evolving past the simple ‘less is more’. Karim Rashid and Ennio Capasa go on to say that it’s not simply the cold minimalism of the 90’s coming back but a warmer minimalism or sensualism as coined by Rashid.
“What minimalism is really about is a reassessment of your priorities so that you can strip away the excess stuff-the possessions and ideas and relationships and activities-that don’t bring value to your life” Colin Wright, exilelife.com
BRING VALUE TO YOUR LIFE- everything you do, are involved with, all your relationships, when you make ‘value added’ a priority, your time starts to become that much more valuable…as it should be
Is minimalism the new consumerism ?http://www.upgradereality.com/minimalist-lifestyle/
We really enjoy pieces that can be worn by both genders. When we introduced our travel bag, the Raylan, in our men’s 2012 collection, it seemed like women could not get enough of it. The appeal might have been the same as a worn-in pair of jeans or that perfect shirt you want to steal from you-know-who, it just struck a cord. The following season, we were looking to add another piece to the collection that had the same vibe and functionality, but smaller in shape so that people would be able to carry it everyday (because you know, we want you to carry them all the time). We pictured an adventurous person wearing it, someone that carries a lot of life with them, literally and figuratively. The bag is just the right size for you to pack half of your belongings inside and take them with you everywhere. We named it Jack after Kerouac, not only because he’s originally from our beloved province of Quebec, but also because the spirit in his writings will never cease to inspire us.
“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road.
Sustainable Concordia (SC), founded in 2002 by Geneva Guerin and Melissa Garcia Lamarca is an organization that assesses and enhances sustainability practices at Concordia University. This not-for-profit organization now has a core operation group of 4-5 people, 3-5 project coordinators, 10 people comprising a board of directors, and an estimated 50 volunteers per year. In the year of its founding, SC conducted an assessment of sustainability at Concordia, which identified areas that could use improvement. Since then, they have organized various projects such as: reducing waste through an on-site composting program, setting up a secure bike parking facility at the downtown campus, supporting urban agriculture programs, and helping make departmental offices more sustainable. SC also spreads general awareness about sustainability issues through workshops and public outreach.
How can people be more eco-conscious, in general?
“Taking the ecofootprint test at www.myfootprint.org and trying to get your score lower,” said SC member Faisal Shennib. “Your individual actions are just one part of the equation. Possibly more important is how you contribute to collective actions -holding the government accountable for environmental protection, participating in city consultations and asking them for sustainable changes, and organizing your office/workplace or home to be more sustainable.”
Last year, SC held their first “What’s Your Eco-Footprint?” challenge. They set up laptops in the atrium of the downtown library and helped walk people through an online program that calculated how many planets would be needed if everyone on the planet lived like them. Then they asked people to commit to one or a few changes they could make to reduce their impact most effectively.
Receipts found in trash – Waste Audit
This past March, SC had their annual Waste Audit, where they sorted through samples of trash from around the university to get a breakdown of how much of what they are sending to landfills. See more photos here
The SC has also been collaborating with the CSU and Tapthirst to encourage the university to remove bottled water from vending machines. Upgrading the water fountains to have bottle fillers was another recent project.
“SC’s work is special for a few reasons. It is a point of constructive communication and collaboration on sustainability between the university’s administration and the community. It is a place where innovative projects can be started and eventually grow into larger, university-supported projects, like the compost and greenhouse projects,” said Faisal. “SC provides a lot of resources to upstarting projects -office space, computers, workshops, and probably most importantly, a knowledge of how to turn a project from an idea into a real project at the university. It’s an important asset to the community because of the subject-matter -sustainability is inherently important work, even if we are only playing a small role in a global movement.”
Want to be involved? Here’s how you can :
People can get involved by presenting themselves at SC’s offices located at 2090 Mackay, 2nd and 3rd floors. One may also register to hear about volunteering opportunities here: http://sustainable.concordia.ca/get-involved/
Other than volunteering, one may work in an internship position: http://sustainable.concordia.ca/get-involved/internships/
There are also job opportunities, which may be accessed here: http://sustainable.concordia.ca/get-involved/coordinator-positions/
SC also has a board of directors where students, staff, faculty, ex-coordinators, etc can volunteer to guide the organization in the right direction. Contact email@example.com for more information.
Access SC’s official website here: http://sustainable.concordia.ca
Contact SC at (514) 848-2424 ext. 5829 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SC is having their annual general meeting Tuesday, April 30th from 5:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at their offices. You’ll have the chance to meet members, learn about SC’s projects, and eat some healthy sustainable food. More details will be announced on their facebook page.
When it comes to Las Vegas, there are two men in my life: Steve and Ronald. Steve, as in Steve Wynn, is a big-deal iconic Las Vegas casino owner. Apparently he adopted a vegan diet in 2010 and now all of his restaurants (of which there are many) have a special vegan menu in addition to their main menu. I don’t know much about Mr. Wynn, I just know I would jump in front of a train for him. How could I not? Look at this!:
This beautiful creation is the vegan eggs benedict from Wynn’s restaurant Tableau. It was amazing. And the marble potatoes weren’t bad either. Additionally, the setting is lovely. I felt really fancy, which is the main reason I like going to Vegas anyway. I highly recommend Tableau, especially for brunch, but my favorite Wynn restaurant on my last trip was Sinatra. It’s Italian fine dining and, like always, there’s an impressive vegan menu:
Don’t be jealous! OK, you can be jealous.
But like I said, Wynn isn’t my only Vegas beau. There’s a handsom devil named Ronald who has always had my heart. OK, I’ve never met him. I don’t even know if there is a “Ronald,” the man, I just know Ronald’s donuts are the best vegan donuts in the country. Maybe the world!
I don’t know why more than half of the donuts at Ronald’s are vegan, I heard a rumor it was for religious reasons? But really, I do not care–as long as they keep making them! These are classic, old-school donuts; They aren’t caky like so many donuts these days. And they have giant donut twists! And bear claws! And apple fritter things! It’s basically heaven. No trip to Vegas is complete without getting a ton of donuts from Ronald’s. You will probably have to take a cab if you don’t have a car, but it’s worth it.
If you happen to find yourself in the area, you have to patronize the Wynn and Ronald establishments, or you will never be a complete person. It’s sad but true. But why wouldn’t you hit these spots? These two wonderful men are doing all they can to keep vegans plump and happy in the grownup amusement park that is Las Vegas!
May 1st marks the 7th annual sunflower guerrilla gardening day. What does this entail? Taking over parts of cities by planting seeds to brighten up city roads. This practice also has implications for land rights and land reform; it promotes re-consideration of land ownership in order to reclaim land from perceived neglect or misuse and assign a new purpose to it.
The guerrilla garden organization was formed in October 2004 and is now a growing community “ in the war against neglect and scarcity of public space as a place to grow things, be they beautiful, tasty (or both!)” – Guerrillagardeningorg
On May 1st they are inviting cities around the world to take part in the sunflower guerrilla gardening day by creating local events with specific times & places for it to take place.
GuerrillaGardening.org HQ has a lot of free sunflower seeds available for guerrilla gardening on 1 May. If you want some please send a stamped addressed envelope / box / shipping container to Richard Reynolds, 76 Perronet House, Princess Street, London, SE1 6JS and I’ll post you some.
I was on the line with aeroplan this week booking a trip and was asked for my birthdate. Sukh (my surprised agent at the other end) let me know that she not only had the same birthday, but the same year ! Chances of that ? I’ve always felt that everything is connected and there are no such things as coincidences (I’ve yet to find the connection with Sukh but this journey isn’t over yet.
The call this week got me thinking about numerology, the study of the special relationship between numbers and coinciding events.
I also rediscovered 21, the beautiful and massive coffee table book put out by Ennio Capasa for the 21st anniversary of COSTUME NATIONAL. To quote Capasa:
“ I am celebrating the 21st anniversary because this was a magical age for me in my youth looking back and because I was born on the 12th, my brother on the 21st, my father on the 12th, my mother on the 3rd (2 +1), my headquarters is in Via Fusetti 12, my first shop in Milan in Via Sant’Andrea 12, my factory in Thiene in Via Dell’Agricoltura 21- numbers have always played me!”
I’m not going to talk about all the t.v shows out there right now relating numbers to events and crimes (although they sound really neat ). I will instead ask you to pop your name into the site below and decide for yourself, coincidence or…….
I was mentioning last week the influence of menswear on our designs, and the interesting gender plays going on in the fashion world right now. Sometimes though, we just come across a specific person and find them inspiring, because their way of being just makes us smile.
Ali may not be the kind of pretty young thing we’re accustomed to seeing on fashion blogs but he is one dapper looking 83-year-old. Australian-born and Berlin-based photographer Zoe Spawton first noticed him as he would walk by her coffee shop every morning at precisely 9h05, always impeccably put together, and never wearing the same outfit.
After a few weeks of greeting each other every morning, she asked him if she could take his picture (or gestured to her camera, she says, as he speaks little English). Spawton was so fascinated by his sartorial sense of style that she’s started a blog dedicated to “What Ali Wore”.
Ali, who has lived in Germany for 44 years, used to be a doctor before he became a tailor. He has 18 kids, works a full 6-days-week and still makes a lot of his clothes by hand.
photos via What Ali Wore/Zoe Spawton
Living beautifully is our mantra at MATT & NAT. For us, it means not only to live beautifully within ourselves, but to give back to our community as much as we can. We’ve been taking stronger initiatives to get out of our office and help our community by implementing a social committee. Given the month of April, and earth day approaching, I’ve decided to highlight a few initiatives that we’ve been implementing in our office as of late.
- We recently had our first meeting after our pot luck last Friday and we decided to collectively be part of 4 charitable initiatives per year, and allow each employee to take up to 8 hours/month of paid time off to volunteer in a charity of choice!
-In addition, sustainability is a fundamental element of the MATT & NAT philosophy, and consequently we encourage minimizing the ecological impact of what we do. Recently, a new policy was implemented to encourage the use of public transport by reimbursing the cost using public transit.
-We continue to research new materials and ways to make our products more sustainable. This season, we experimented with the use of recycled bicycle tires and we are currently looking into new, fully biodegradable materials to use in later seasons.
-On Earth day, we plan to work with natural sunlight by turning off all lights in our office.
- We’ve been collecting our Nespresso tablets and up cycling them through terracyle. An initiative to collect waste and provide a second life for used Nespresso capsules through the Nespresso Capsule Brigade. “Every time you enjoy Nespresso, save the capsule and recycle it with TerraCycle. TerraCycle will collect all consumer Nespresso capsules and then recycle them into two streams. The metal capsules will be melted down and turned into new aluminum products. Residual coffee will be separated and sent to an industrial composting facility.”
To take part in terracycle’s initiative at reducing waste, visit their website here: http://www.terracycle.ca/en-CA/brigades/nespresso-capsule-brigade.html
The 2002 futuristic thriller ‘Minority Report’ is not looking so distant any more….
Sales at the retail level have been relatively flat for many fashion brands since the start of the recession yet e.commerce sales for some have increased as much as 30 % year over year.
Social media has presented a whole new opportunity for connecting with customers as never before. We recently celebrated reaching 25,000 facebook followers at MATT & NAT and we are seeing ROI on digital/web initiatives that make traditional advertising such as radio and print look negligible.
Check out this great profile on Angela Ahrendts, the CEO of BURBERRY, inspiration for all of us that are trying to keep up with this ever evolving world. Hoping to plant some digital seeds in your psyche over the weekend, have a great one !
Menswear has always had a big influence on our designs; we always find a lot of inspiration in the utility and though lines that are traditionally thought of as masculine and nothing pleases us like seeing a women carry the Soren or Raylan bags from our men’s collection. Lately though, I was watching the video of David Bowie’s latest single “the stars are out tonight” and it got me thinking about how FUN the recent displays of androgyny have been in fashion/music. Case in point: Bowie’s video below. A word of warning, it is wild and bizarre, but it also features a fascinating gender reversal: models Andrej Pejic and Saskia de Brauw play a celebrity couple where Pejic is the girl, while de Brauw is the boy. A lot of weirdness ensues.
Case in point #2: Casey Legler is an artist that works in New York. A former Olympic swimmer, she’s also a women working as a male model. Speaking about her modeling career, Casey’s focus is on self-expression and freedom: “I understand signifiers. We’re social creatures and we have a physical language of communicating with each other,” she says. “But it would be a really beautiful thing if we could all just wear what we wanted, without it meaning something.” Watch her interview below, we dare you not to be charmed.
You can ask anyone in the office, I’m a tad coffee obsessed. It all began when I didn’t understand coffee culture at all, so my curiosity put me to search to understand it. I talked with baristas, friends, and avid coffee drinkers about the art and different cultural implications that coffee plays in our lives. Sure it’s just a bean in a cup, though everyone has a story about it, and can relate to it somehow. Recently in our office, Inder bought an Nespresso machine which has been making our coffee area a communal spot in the morning. (Thank you!)
One of my favorite travel memories was from a trip to Hawaii, waking up from camping atop a volcanic mountain, and started our day searching for coffee. The desolate roads weren’t looking too hopeful, until we stumbled across a small coffee sign. We drove up to realize that it was a coffee plant but looked closed. As our car turned around, we nearly hit a dog who came running out of nowhere, so I got out, and was heckled down by a lovely lady in a house coat yelling “ how do you like your coffee”. I approached her, and she welcomed us into her home. We later found out that her husband and her grow their own beans and open up their home to travellers like ourselves into her home as a little coffee shop. Myself being coffee obsessed I ended up speaking with her for a good hour as she taught me on the different beans, and gave me a lengthy background life story on how she ended up in Hawaii. I’ve got to say, it was one of the best cups I’ve had!
The dialogue, one evening, was started by a young Canadian, wearing a Lungi and a thin kurta. He said he was twenty-three, but looked barely out of his teens. He wore around his neck an elegant little silver cross on a dainty chain. He said he had come across the book I Am That in a bookshop in Bombay a couple of days ago, a cursory glance at a few pages impelled in him a desire to meet Maharaj personally. He had already gone through the book reading almost continuously, through the afternoon, evening and night, and had finished both the volumes only a few hours ago.
Maharaj: You are so young. I wonder since what age you have been interested in the spiritual quest.
Visitor: Sir, ever since I remember I have been deeply interested in Love and God. And I strongly felt that they are not different. When I sit in meditation, I often…….
M: Wait a moment. What exactly do you mean by meditation?
V: I don’t really know. All I do is to sit cross-legged, close my eyes, and remain absolutely quiet. I find my body relaxing, almost melting away, and my mind, or being or whatever merging into space, and the thought-process getting gradually suspended.
M: That’s good. Please proceed.
V: Quite often, during meditation, an overwhelming feeling of ecstatic love arises in my heart together with an effusion of well-being. I do not know what it is. It is during one such spell that I felt inspired to visit India — and here I am.
M: How long will you be in Bombay?
V: I really don’t know. I rarely make any plans. I have sufficient money to live frugally for about fifteen days, and I have my return ticket.
M: Now tell me, what is it exactly that you want to know. Do you have any specific questions?
V: I was a very confused man when I landed in Bombay. I felt I was almost going out of my mind. I really don’t know what took me to the bookshop because I don’t do much reading. The moment I picked up the first volume of I Am That, I experienced the same overpowering feeling that I get during my meditation. As I went on reading the book a weight seemed to lift off from within me, and, as I am sitting here before you, I feel as if I am talking to myself. And what I am saying to myself seems like blasphemy. I was convinced that love is God. But now I think that love is surely a concept and if love is a concept God also must be a concept.
M: So, what is wrong in it?
V: (Laughing) Now, if you put it like that I have no feeling of guilt in transforming God into a concept.
M: Actually, you said love is God. What do you mean by the word ‘love’. Do you mean ‘love’ as the opposite of ‘hate’? Or, do you mean something else, although, of course, no word can be adequate to describe ‘God’.
V: No. No. By the word ‘love’ I certainly do not mean the opposite of ‘hate’. What I mean is that love is abstaining from discrimination as ‘me’ and the ‘other’.
M: In other words, unity of being?
V: Yes, indeed. What then is ‘God’ to whom l am expected to pray?
M: Let us talk about prayer later. Now then, what exactly is this ‘God’ you are talking about? Is he not the very consciousness—the sense of ‘being’ that one has—because of which you are able to ask questions? I am’ itself is God. What is it that you love most? Is it not this ‘I am’, the conscious presence which you want to preserve at any cost? The seeking itself is God. In seeking you discover that ‘you’ are apart from this body-mind complex. If you were not conscious, would the world exist for you? Would there be any idea of a God? And, the consciousness in you and the consciousness in me — are they different? Are they not separate only as concepts, seeking unity unconceived, and is that not love?
V: Now, I understand what is meant by ‘God is nearer to me than I am to myself’.
M: Also remember, there can be no proof of Reality other than being it. Indeed you are it, and have always been. Consciousness leaves with the end of the body (and is therefore time-bound) and with it leaves the duality which is the basis of consciousness and manifestation.
V: What then is prayer, and what is its purpose?
M: Prayer, as it is generally understood, is nothing but begging for something. Actually, prayer means communion-uniting-Yoga.
V: Everything is so clear now, as if a great deal of rubbish has been suddenly thrown out of my system, blown out of existence.
M: Do you mean that you now seem to see everything clearly?
V: No. No! Not ‘seems’. It is clear, so clear that I am now amazed that it was not clear at any time. Various statements that I had read in the Bible, which seemed important but vague before, are now crystal clear— statements like: Before Abraham was I am; I and my father are one; I am that I am.
M: Good. Now that you know what it is all about, what Sadhana will you do to obtain liberation from your ‘bondage’?
V: Ah! Maharaj. Now you are surely making fun of me. Or, are you testing me? Surely, now I know and have realized that I am that —I am, which I have always been and which I shall always be. What is left to be done? Or, undone? And who is to do it? And for what purpose?
M: Excellent! Just be.
V: I shall, indeed.
Then, the young Canadian prostrated before Maharaj, his eyes brimming with tears of gratitude and joy. Maharaj asked him if he would be coming again, and the lad said: “Honestly, I don’t know.” When he left, Maharaj sat for a while with his eyes closed, the gentlest of smiles on his lips. He then said very softly: “A rare one”; I could barely catch the words. I never saw the young Canadian again, and I have often wondered about him.
These pages are from Pointers from Nisargadatta Maharaj (chapter 13). Wishing you much love this long weekend, have a great one!