Designer and founder of the Atlanta-based, zero waste, luxury, humanity-driven, fashion powerhouse, øzwkg, Karen Glass is on a mission. A brand driven by compassion and mindfulness as much as it is by exciting stitch work and clean lines, øzwkg partners with local non-profit BeLoved Atlanta to rehabilitate women who have survived trafficking, prostitution, and addiction. Whether the brand is upcycling materials atelier-style for their ø archive line, or designing knitwear with 100% traceable cotton fiber, the brand is injecting fashion with philosophy in a way that cannot be ignored. In an email interview with Karen Glass, we probed her mind about all things øzwkg.
BASIC: Why did you start this fashion brand? How and why are all its interests connected?
Starting øzwkg was a calling for me, my life and personal values were experiencing deep transition. They still are, every day is existential these days! I am laughing inside because it’s not an easy path.
The brand and its identity, the company and its mission are all connected not just to me and what I do but to what is most relevant to society and culture today. I’ve come to realize that once you choose to work with a purpose that serves humanity, you never go back, it would be like trying to unlearn something.
Through øzwkg I express my purpose: creating balance in the environment and in human nature. We are moving through a great social and economic shift, values increasingly blur and redefine themselves, we objectify more, then less, thus creating new paradigms.
I see objectification as a process of human consciousness evolution- of breakthrough. Modern spirituality calls it out as denigration, and collectively we then are able to focus our attention on moving through it.
We used to spend money on mass fashion, on disposable home items and volumes of food. But for the past decade the shift toward living life with fewer things of greater value has become more and more mainstream. I still believe in sharing values through things, as personal expression and memento giving, as storytelling and remembering our own personal provenance. That is what øzwkg is really about. Living a life with greater value. Living a richer, deeper, more meaningful existence and sharing those values with others.
BASIC: Part of the way that øzwkg is described on your website is as a shift towards transcendence. Could you elaborate on what that means?
Transcendence is moving beyond just existing, which is the norm. When you shift in to a deeper awareness that life is not all about you, you experience everything differently, it’s richer, higher, and much more intense. I grew up catholic and was fortunate to be able to have long talks with the missionaries of the sacred heart, they called this kind of awareness “the grace of god”. When you achieve this awareness, your personal sight or vision becomes more acute, along with this empathy grows as well.
It’s a calling. It starts as a feeling or a knowing that you have to change or implode!
I’m laughing right now, but it can really be intense! Curiosity about the mind and the nature of existence certainly helps.
BASIC: It seems like the philosophy of the brand is very personal to you. Are these beliefs, such as mindfulness, ones you have held your entire life?
Hah! Very personal. Not my entire life. I have had a few overwhelming thoughts throughout my life about the nature of consciousness, god and man etc. Some of them were real and deep, some were romantic notions (kind of like how the New Age movement has become a branded spiritual identity with all the media empires built on it and all the stuff that you can buy to support your “belief” about it).
Modern spirituality has become a market, a concept. Once I had explored it all over the years I could then draw similarities between modern spirituality and the collective trends shaping how fashion concepts and products move in and out of market. All the spiritual leaders and writers were trading each others’ ideas and knocking each other off, like mass fashion is now.
You could hashtag search current spiritual titles and buzz words and find all the big boys. And let’s face it: they really are mostly men. Modern spirituality has become a commodity, trading in human values as it translate into media, experience, and product.
But this has been the modern course of thought and social movement: it moves from the authentic to the representational; mass acceptance is the representational.
The art in one’s work must always be authentic to oneself, otherwise humanity has outsourced its own value. Can you imagine human value becoming irrelevant? Scary thought huh? I guess that is my overarching mission, human value and the importance of it.
BASIC: On your iFundWomen fundraising campaign description, it says, “Ø envisions a brand that expands cultural boundaries of acceptance” what does that mean to you?
When I first envisaged Ø in my mind as a brand, I asked a lot of people if personal value expression had a place in brand identity. I got split answers so went with my own heart. I am a creative, Ø for me means expansion, means going beyond where you have been, not being static. Life is about movement and acceptance brings that movement.
In business culture we have historically been told “if you want to make more money in your business, keep your personal values out of the game. Some will not buy your product because they don’t align with your values and feel offended that you express them”.
I said “no”. Express yourself. Be authentic, but most of all be aware of what’s happening in life, some of that is injustice and some of that is boundless joy and beauty. I will always go for both!
Through the brand I hope we speak to both. Specifically victimization as social and human injustice, and great beauty as the transcendent movement.
Most of humanity still does not value ‘waste’. They surely don’t value what they consider a wasted human life- like engaging in commercial sex, or choosing to live an alternative sexual identity. This is so important to me. We have moved through a great era of consumption that has created waste as its most formidable by-product, not just in terms of the environment, but the people as well, and at so many levels of engagement.
I hope for Ø to be a voice for everyone who chooses to be expansive and accept what has been done in order to move toward a better, more profound experience of life.
BASIC: What are you hoping people will take away from the brand?
To live life with fewer things of greater value. This includes thoughts and actions, and honestly this means living with beautiful things too, which have provenance and relevance and a story that helps the wearer be their own authentic self and find their own voice.
BASIC: How do you find your muses?
I watch people, well I watch life! A person’s sense of self and the identity one creates is so apparent in the way they look, in how they move, in how they speak and what of. I gravitate toward authentic nature, and I find that most often in counter culture—those experimenting with life, love and identity. I look for the creative and the fierce.
BASIC: How did you get involved with BeLoved Atlanta?
I was spending time in the mission system of ATL, wanted to find a way to serve. Ø was starting to form in my head and I thought I could teach some of the women to sew if they were interested. I met another woman who was helping and she invited me to a fundraiser for BeLoved, I met the founders and was drawn to their purpose and their dedication.
BASIC: The work space for creating these garments is described as “socially designed as safe space for using work for personal growth in spiritual development, emotional rehabilitation and life abundance elevation.” Could you go into more specifics about this design?
The studio is specifically designed as a modular 10 person apparel making system. This system develops and makes some of both our Ø archive and Ø2 lines. The garments move back and forth between the women during the process. The training before and during the process is about making your work the best and most beautiful it can be for the next person that will be receiving it. Like a gifting process of respect.
We have a social agreement in the studio: what happens in the studio stays in the studio. We have community time, when everyone works on one big piece together, regardless of your role in the company.
Once a week for a designated period of time we have a time for deep personal emotional expression. The women can get real. Then the healing starts and we are all in agreement to be accountable and respectful. We give and we receive with balance and respect. This is part of the ongoing values I hope to carry on with Ø, its people, the brand and its products.