FOND Founder Keynotes Ecommerce Brazil

FOND Group’s Founder, Nicole Delma, was recently honored to Keynote the Ecommerce Brazil Forum held in sunny Sao Paulo on August 12th. This gathering of over 1000 of Brazil’s top digital marketers and technology leaders was an exciting event for a nation experiencing one the the largest surges of digital growth in the world.

Nicole Delma has previously led email programs for companies including Conde Nast, Getty Images, J.Crew, RCRD LBL and consulted for many major brands and publishers including The Huffington Post, Harper Collins and Barnes and Noble.

Watch the video below of Delma’s presentation as she walks through how and when to move to more advanced email marketing tactics and when to get back to basics. Topics covered include dynamic content, mobile optimization, advanced segmentation and analytics.

Photos of the event are available at Flickr and Facebook as well.

A special thanks to Ecommerce Brazil and Rina Noronha for this amazing opportunity and for their incredible hospitality.

BOOKINGS:
To book Nicole Delma or FOND Group for speaking or consultative engagements, please contact info@fondgroup.com.

Kauai’s Struggle for Health by Amanda Brower

Health and the environment have become the number one issue with GMO operations on Kauai. 

FOND NOTE: During my stay on Kauai, I was presented with an onslaught of information regarding the GMO debate and much of it was downright shocking . What had seemed like a straightforward argument between Chemicals/Genetic Engineering versus No Chemicals/No Genetic Engineering was anything but.  There were and are layers upon layers of history, loyalty, information, misinformation, politics, employment issues and tradition factoring in to the debates taking place on beautiful Kauai.  As I did some digging (which I will elaborate on in a future post), a friend shared the below summary with me of the local issues specific to Kauai – arguably the US capital of GMO industry. I am still doing my own research (as I encourage you to do) but this post by Andrea Brower, originally run on Civilbeat.com on July, 17, does a great job of covering the key issues. Mahalo to Richard Diamond for allowing me to share and Andrea Brower for authoring. — Nicole Delma

By Amanda Brower

Born, raised and educated on Kauai, I was brought up with an ethic of care for this land, its future, and the people of this aina. I was also taught that we have kuleana to stand-up for what is right, just, and in the service of the common good — and that sometimes we must struggle for what is pono.

The movement on Kauai to protect our land, water and communities from the impacts of the agrochemical-GMO industry is reflective of this deep sense of responsibility that my generation feels for our home and one another. We know that the decisions being made today will shape our future and that of many generations to follow.

Despite what they would like us to believe, the global agrochemical-GMO industry — corporate giants Pioneer DuPont, Syngenta, Monsanto, Dow, BASF — did not show up in Hawaii merely because we have a year-round growing season. They came because they saw us as an exploitable community, left with an economic void when the sugar plantations exited, and challenged to think outside of the box of plantation agriculture after 150 years of it.

They saw a community of mostly working-class people, already conditioned to accept an industry that exports all of its profits and leaves behind nothing but pollution, health bills and unsafe, low-paying jobs. They came because, despite our enlightened state motto and constitutional mandate to protect the environment, we allow them to get away with doing things that they wouldn’t be allowed to do in other places.

Since GMO testing began in Hawaii, over 3,000 permits have been granted for open-air field trials, more than in any other state in the nation. In 2012 alone, there were 160 such permits issued on 740 sites.

Kauai has the highest number of these experimental sites, which are associated with the use of 22 restricted-use pesticides in the amount of 18 tons of concentrate each year. Syngenta, BASF, Pioneer DuPont and Dow occupy nearly all of the leased agricultural lands on the westside of Kauai — over 12,000 acres in close proximity to schools, residences, churches, and hospitals.

Kauai residents currently do not have the right to know what is happening on these agricultural lands, or how these activities are affecting our common air and water. We do not know which pesticides are being used where, in what amounts, and what their cumulative impacts might be. We also know nothing about the experimental GMO crops being tested. Even when the federal government determines that new pesticide-GMO crop combos significantly affect the quality of the human environment, as the USDA did in the recent case of 2,4-D and Dicamba resistant crops, we have no way of knowing whether they were tested here and what their impacts might have been.

Kauai County Council Bill 2491 on pesticides and GMOs seeks to correct this obvious oversight. It is a highly reasonable bill that is applicable only to the five corporations who use tremendous amounts of restricted-use pesticides each year.

The bill establishes people’s right to know about the chemicals that are being used, and sets up a buffer zone between the spraying and schools, hospitals, residential areas and waterways. It also requires that the county conduct an EIS so we can better understand the impacts of the agrochemical-GMO operations on our island, and in the meantime puts a moratorium on new operations. And it mandates that experimental pesticides and GMOs be tested in containment rather than in the open-air.

The pesticides this bill pertains to are not the type you purchase at Ace Hardware. They are “restricted-use” pesticides because they are recognized as extremely dangerous to human health and the environment. Chemicals such as Atrazine (Syngenta), banned in the EU and known to cause birth defects, cancer and reproductive issues, and to contaminate ground-water. Lorsban (Dow), known to cause impaired brain and nervous system functions in children and fetuses, even in minute amounts. Other pesticides being used are shown to affect brain cancer, autism, and heart and liver problems.

Pioneer employees who were bussed by DuPont County Council meeting for hearing on Bill 2491 to regulate GMO company pesticide use on Kauai Photo by Juan Wilson.
Pioneer employees who were bussed by DuPont County Council meeting for hearing on Bill 2491 to regulate GMO company pesticide use on Kauai Photo by Juan Wilson.

Atrazine, chlorpyrifos (Lorsban) and bifenthrin have made it inside Waimea Canyon Middle School, almost certainly the result of drift from the chemical-GMO operations around the school, which is a violation of federal law. Bill 2491 is about our right to know where these highly-dangerous pesticides are coming from so we can determine how they might be affecting human health and the environment. It has nothing to do with whether we are for or against the science and technology of GMOs.

While it would be great if we could count on the state and federal governments to adequately regulate, the fact is that they haven’t. And this issue cannot wait. People are sick now. We need to know now. Our state and federal governments have spent the last decades putting the interests of these transnational corporations over the interests of the common good.

The US government’s own Accountability Office concluded that the EPA is severely lacking in its implementation of laws relating to pesticides. It is up to us on Kauai, the people who have direct experience of the industry’s impacts, to take the necessary action. This bill has been reviewed by many local and national attorneys, and we at the county level have the right to protect our health, safety and environment.

Rather than be responsive to reasonable concerns, the chemical-GMO companies are doing everything they can to fight this bill. They are some of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world, and infamous for their fierce opposition to any kind of disclosure and regulation. This is not a matter of “bad” people doing bad things. These corporations are legally mandated to make profit for their shareholders at other expenses.

Beyond the rhetoric of their well-paid marketing, they do not care about the places where they operate. They may have a few friendly and concerned managers who live locally, but the economic structure that they operate within does not prioritize environmental and human health. That is why this issue requires a structural response — actual policy that will limit these corporation’s ability to externalize their costs onto us.

The industry is using the unfortunate tactic of threatening workers that if this bill passes, their jobs will be lost. While the claim of these incredibly wealthy corporations that they can’t afford to be more responsible in their chemical usage seems exaggerated, if not absurd, we need to be compassionate and sensitive to the position workers are being put in.

If in fact the industry does decide to leave simply because we’ve asked them to be transparent and responsible, then we must generate new agricultural jobs that are higher-paying, less hazardous and long-term. Jobs that express who we are and are integral to our local economy rather than those dependent on the whims of transnational corporations who can get up and leave at anytime.

As an island dependent on barges coming from at least 2500 miles away for 85% of our food, one obvious place for job generation is in developing our sustainable agriculture industry. There are huge possibilities. Half of the lands used by the agrochemical-GMO industry on Kauai are state lands, which could be made more easily available to real farmers. Water that is currently being hoarded by the private chemical industry could be returned to streams and agricultural users, in line with state water law. Subsidy support and research could be consistently put towards sustainable and locally-appropriate agriculture.

By privileging the chemical-GMO companies’ use of our resources over local agriculture, we are paying the high costs of missed opportunities. Sustainable agriculture to service local needs would generate local revenues and stimulate the economic multiplier effect, plug economic leakages, support a wide variety of other small businesses, employ far more people, insure food security, add to the resilience of our economy, distribute benefits more equitably, and be a real draw to tourists.

While we do face structural challenges to building our local agricultural industry, some of which are national or global, there are innumerable creative and immediate solutions. These include a variety of socially responsible enterprises, cooperatives, food hubs, land trusts and ag parks, land use policy in favor of local ag, farmer training, and research funding for sustainable ag. The public will to proactively create and support these solutions keeps growing. Young people especially are looking for opportunities to farm, to be stewards of the aina and feed their communities.

By regulating these transnational corporations, we are supporting the possibility of local agriculture and food security. By protecting our fragile, limited and precious resources, we protect the possibility of real agriculture (that actually feeds us) thriving in the long-term. This is a turning point in the island’s history, one which will determine the type of path we will take.

On Kauai we take pride in our values of care and responsibility for one another and the aina. Now is our moment to lead the state and show the nation how a small community can stand-up for what is obviously moral — putting people and nature’s rights ahead of corporate profits. When it comes to the health of our population and environment, we must demand self-determination. The world is watching, and we will send a clear message, one way or the other.

Andrea BrowerAndrea Brower is doing a PhD on the politics and economics of food and agriculture. She has a Masters degree in Science and International Development from the University of Sussex.

Please visit Civilbeat.com to view the original article and browse more great content.

When Flexibility Becomes a Liability by Michaelle Edwards

Preventing hip replacements and sacral injuries starts for many people with their yoga or fitness practice.

Last year, approximately 400,000 people had their hips replaced in the United States—and most of them were women.

Why do women’s hips wear out more than men?

Excessive flexibility and weak stabilizing muscles are often the key factors leading to hip joint deterioration.

Women have looser ligaments to allow the pelvis to open for the act of childbirth. Beyond birthing, flexibility can be a liability because the lumbar and hip joints must have strong and tight ligaments to keep the parts stable for proper joint function, and shock absorption during movement.

All women should consider practicing strengthening exercises to stabilize the hip, and be cautious when doing hip ‘opener’ poses practiced in yoga and stretching classes that may be giving you more flexibility than you need, compromising the longevity of your joints.

Michaelle practicing on beautiful Kauai where her school is based.
Michaelle practicing on beautiful Kauai where her school is based.

Longer is not better for your ligaments.

Many people stretch their ligaments too much, unaware that it can take years for pathology in the hip joints to show up.

Every time you sit poorly in a chair, do a five minute child’s pose, or engage in an intense straight-knee forward bend, consider how these positions globally affect the entire body and in particular your spinal column. You are flattening the sacral platform, and over-stretching the ligaments that attach your sacrum to the pelvis and femur (thigh bone). It is similar to taking a garment like your favorite pair of pants and tugging on a seam and stretching out the threads (your ligaments) that hold everything together.

Long ligaments can destabilize the dynamics of our pelvis to spine and pelvis to leg attachments leading to SI (sacral/hip) joint or groin pain.

Many people who do yoga and stretching exercises have chronic SI joint pain but keep bending forward to stop the pain unaware that the forward bending pose itself is causing a shortening of the front and excessive strain and over stretching to the back extensors. Most of us are pulled forward and shortened in our front body from excessive time spent in right-angled chairs; hence our back body is strained and over-stretched. It needs to be tightened and strengthened, not stretched.

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There are no straight lines in nature. Forward bends can be harmful to your body.

If you think about it, does leaning over, reversing the natural lumbar curve in your back in a quest to touch the toes, while keeping the knees straight, honor the integrity of our human spinal design? We used to think the world was flat. Why do we say straighten the spine or tighten your abs to make a flat back? Our world is made of curves and so is our spinal column. There are no straight lines in organic nature.

These positions put a lot of torque on the natural sacral angle, and also undermine the curving forces in the spine and hip joint needed for shock absorption and hip stabilization. Without the lower back curve, you end up with a flat looking posterior or butt and oftentimes-chronic low back, knee and neck pain too.

Your spine does not need to be stretched.

Our vertebral column is strung together with posterior and anterior longitudinal ligaments that get over-stretched when we slouch, or do yoga or fitness positions that engage the forces of spinal flexion over extension and stabilization.

Years of tugging on your ligaments can weaken the forces in your body that hold you together. As ligaments become lax, it can lead to serious postural issues such as forward head carriage, chronic hip, back and knee pain, slowed digestion and elimination, and even a weakened immune system.

If you find yourself feeling tenderness when you walk, sharp pain when doing a pose like revolved triangle or a deep warrior lunge, you may want to back off. This is the beginning of the tragic hip destabilizations and replacements that are rocking the yoga world.

Lady Gaga, a yoga enthusiast, just cancelled her tour with serious hip pain that required surgical repair and sidelined her for months. Was it her intense daily Bikram practice? There are many factors, but yoga certainly did not prevent it from happening.

There are many other famous and not famous yoga teachers and practitioners who have had one or both hips replaced and sadly the numbers are adding up. It just makes sense to ask if yoga pose biomechanics might have contributed to these joint destabilizations. Are we paying attention and learning from this?

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YogAlign standing forward bend.

Touch your toes like a toddler.

Watch how any toddler bends over and you will see hips back, knees bent deeply, butt muscles engaged, and a curving spine when they reach for a ball on the ground. When we keep the knees straight in yoga, and instead ask the spine to flex and bend as in forward bends, we are overriding our natural design forces.

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To experience this in motion, keep both knees from bending and walk across the room. Does it feel like driving with a parking brake on? What would your life be like if you could not bend your knees? How could you run, ski, dance, or even move? What is the anatomical advantage of stretching with both knees straight? Does it contribute to the longevity of your joints? Does it have a correlation to how you engage your body in real life function?

Next bend your knees deeply while standing and being to take your hips back while leaning forward until your head is pointing towards the floor. Slowly begin to straighten your knees and notice where you feel the pull or stretch in your body. It is the sacral/hip joint! Does it make anatomical sense to stretch out the ligament stabilizing forces in your spine and hip?

It’s not too late—strengthen your hip and butt muscles.

Active and dynamic movements require effort from the deep hip flexor and gluteus muscles that attach the femur (thigh bone) to your pelvis. So working any yoga pose with strength and motion—instead of relaxing into a static pose—will benefit your hip/femur joint.

For people who are already experiencing hip joint problems or sciatic pain, strengthening your postural muscles using deep breathing while in natural spine positions can activate dormant extension and expansion forces that allow your bones to ‘float.’ Keeping your knees bent when bending over enlists your gluteus or butt muscles to create strong muscular actions to help to stabilize your pelvis and contribute to functional biomechanics and strong stabilization forces.

Once your body experiences working in a healthy, connected fashion, your ligaments can regain their natural length, protecting your hip joint and sciatic nerve from wear and tear.

Focusing on an overall balance of strength and flexibility needed for daily movements ensures the integrity of our natural infrastructure is preserved, and also allows for the deep diaphragm movements that are the cornerstone of a yoga practice.

The key to healthy alignment is accommodating your breathing process.

Breathing dynamics provide the best tool for checking if a pose contributes towards natural alignment.

When doing any yoga poses, see if you can take a full breath that allows your diaphragm to contract downwards and your rib cage to expand. If you cannot take a deep breath, then the pose is activating externalized forces in your body that override the body’s natural and essential core movements and infrastructures.

The core of your core is your psoas muscle group.

Breathing deeply engages the psoas muscle that connects your diaphragm to the lumbar spine to the upper inner thighbone or femur. Sitting in chairs or doing forward bends with straight knees shortens the psoas, which can lead to bulging or herniated discs. The psoas is the only muscle group in the human body that is attached to the discs of the spine. In many people the inner groin and psoas is short and tight although the ligaments in the pelvis may be too loose. A shortened psoas can affect the delicate balance of the hip joint possibly leading to compression in the hip socket and deterioration of the joint.

Learning to activate the psoas as a stabilizer and not just a flexor can be done through breathing techniques and specialized exercises. In a new style of yoga called YogAlign, a pose called the core connector activates the psoas/diaphragm connection quickly restoring equilibrium to the psoas. Balancing the actions of the psoas can stop chronic back pain, stabilize the spine and create a fluid balance of the whole body.

Natural flexibility honors spinal integrity.

The truth is, that over a period of time, yoga practitioners—like any discipline that has habitual positions or compartmentalized static poses—will often suffer from injuries in the long and short term.

When posture is naturally aligned, the human body stays flexible without the need to do dozens of intense stretches to relieve tension of the parts.

The ligaments that string our vertebral column are getting stretched beyond their anatomical functions when we do poses that take our spine into the C shape; which is the bane of aging.

Remember, like all of nature, the human body is made of curves and spirals. What has the most value is to remember our innate postural patterns, and preserve the natural integrity of our spine and joints.

Michaelle Edwards is the director of the Kauai Yoga School in Hawaii, inventor of YogAlign and author of the book/DVD combo; YogAlign, Pain-free Yoga From Your Inner Core. She is an ERYT, Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT), professional musician, and posture educator. She is devoted to giving people painless, inexpensive self-care tools to heal chronic pain and injuries using common sense techniques that work quickly and painlessly.

MICHAELLE IS COMING TO NY! – SEP 21, 2013This Fall, Michaelle is making her way to New York to teach her first ever clinic here: Change Your Posture, Change Your Life. The class will take place on September 21 and I will be sure to be there and will post more information on how to sign up as it becomes available. If you are interested, feel free to email me at nicole@fondgroup.com and I will alert you when I have those details.

YOGA + SCIENCE, DISCOVERING THE ANATOMY OF WELLNESS WITH MICHAELLE EDWARDS

HOW I LEARNED TO RETHINK MY BODY BACK INTO ITS RIGHTFUL POSITION

When I visited Hawaii this past spring, I was told stories about a very special woman living up in the hills of Kauai named Michaelle Edwards who had dedicated her life to helping people get repositioned in their bodies so that they could enjoy them as they were meant to be used. This intrigued me on a personal level as I had often felt as though I wasn’t sitting quite right in my body and had great difficulty doing anything that required me to remain still for any length of time. More than just your average restlessness, my body actually brought me tremendous pain if I was forced to be still and, while this predisposition served me well in sports and running very long distances, it also prevented me from pursuing other activities I was curious about such as yoga or meditation.

Regardless, I had tried Yoga only to be chastised by teachers who insisted it was the restlessness of my mind that was causing my physical pain (viable, I thought) or forcefully tried to ‘straighten me out’ and pressure me in to positions my body wasn’t ready to accept. Strangely, not one teacher had ever suggested the reverse – could it be that the positioning of my body might actually be agitating my mind? What’s more, as a trained massage therapist versed in anatomy and physiology, I found it very disturbing that some of my teachers didn’t even know the various parts of the body or the mechanics of how they were connected yet they were bold enough to sit on me to try and get my body where they thought it should be. There had to be a better way to work with my body, I thought.

The view from Michaelle's property in the hills of Kauai just outside Hanalei.
The view from Michaelle’s property in the hills of Kauai just outside Hanalei.

While reading Michaelle Edward’s book YogAlign, which was gifted to me by one of her former students, Pro Surfer Rochelle Ballard, I read something that quite possibly changed my life. Using detailed attention to anatomy and physiology, Michaelle explained that the Psoas muscles, which connect your spine to your legs, have a direct connection to your emotional state and that connection goes both ways. You see, the Psoas are somewhat of the ‘fight of flight’ muscles that respond directly to stress and are linked to the proactive tightening of the tissues around our torso/major organs that occurs to protect our most vital parts when danger or a threat are imminent (an approaching predator, for instance). The thing is, improper positioning or stress on these muscles and associated nerves can actually cause the agitation in the centers the brain responsible for the ‘fight of flight’ response to stay on well after the perceived threat is present and when there is no threat at all. Hence, a physically rooted cause for a restless mind. Aha! This was a light bulb moment for me and I at once contacted Michaelle and arranged come and study/work with her for a week at her home and studio on Kauai.

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As I got to know her, I learned that Michaelle Edwards has spent the better part of her 60 years studying the human anatomy, the dynamics of movement, the brain/body connection and various disciplines of yoga and bodywork and applying that knowledge to her own unique method. Over time, that method evolved into a specific set of exercises or adapted Yoga poses aimed at freeing that stress on the Psoas and thereby relaxing the mind and just generally shifting us into a more peaceful place at home within our bodies. Her technique, called YogAlign is the embodiment of much of her life’s work coupled with her own personal practice and that of the hundreds of students she has worked with over the years. Understanding the intricacies of human anatomy, its connection to our brain and our spiritual and emotional well being is Michaelle’s passion and, after spending a week with her, I could clearly see was also her calling.

Out front of Michaelle's property, an ample supply of surfboards, snorkels and fresh bananas.
Out front of Michaelle’s property, an ample supply of surfboards, snorkels and fresh bananas.

I arrived at Michaelle’s amazing green property just outside of Hanalei in early July where I was housed with Katrina, one of her advanced students who teaches YogAlign in LA and was there helping her to shoot some informational videos to post on YouTube. The property is nearly completely sustainable and she and her students can subsist on the fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs and coconut water naturally provided from her land with little need for anything from the outside. As I came to learn, this is not unique on Kauai and is part of a growing movement to help keep out GMO yet, for Michaelle, it was just a way of living she had acquired nearly 40 years earlier to stay in sync with the natural environment around her. This pure diet is likely one of the reasons she looks substantially younger than she actually is and is literally exploding with energy.

Michaelle at work with a student in her studio.
Michaelle at work with a student in her studio.

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Our days together mainly consisted of an hour of YogAlign group class in the morning, an hour or two of swimming in Hanalei Bay early afternoon (in which she always swam twice as fast as me), running on the beach or on the trails above her home followed by a natural lunch and then 2-3 hours of focused practice working on my own unique ‘posture challenges’ and learning a specific combination of exercises, breathing, bodywork and mental techniques I could use to reset and realign myself to a more natural and dynamic positioning. As Michaelle explained it, our bones are really just ‘strung’ together by our fascia, muscles and ligaments – all of which are soft tissue and can be coaxed back to their optimal positions. When we are aligned, motions and proper posture take far less effort as the natural human form is quite efficient by design- just watch a toddler move sometime and you will see how effortless their motions are before their posture begins to get compromised.

Daily swimming is part of Michaelle's healthful regimen. The waters of Kauai are said to be curative.
Daily swimming is part of Michaelle’s healthful regimen. The waters of Kauai are said to be curative.

Michaelle absolutely blew my mind with her knowledge and I genuinely felt as though I was sharing time with someone who had indeed ‘figured it out’ and was on to something remarkable. After one week, I could see a marked difference in my posture and actually measured a full inch taller in height as a result of the release of the pressure on my spine that was being imposed by a wound up Psoas from years of suboptimal posture and overconditioning. What’s more, I felt so different. I was sleeping better than I had in months, my eyes and sinuses were clear and my energy levels were steady and strong. At 60, Michaelle still ran circles around me in terms of her energy level but I got the sense that she had tapped into some inner knowledge of health and longevity that others had not.

The studio where we practiced daily. Michaelle hosts regular retreats and training on her property: Manayoga.com
The studio where we practiced daily. Michaelle hosts regular retreats and training on her property: Manayoga.com

We took before and after photos, measurements and careful notations on things I would not otherwise have looked at such as the distance and positioning between my toes. Realizing that my little toes being crunched up had a direct connection to pain in my neck was eye opening, literally. There were techniques she showed me which actually changed the way my face looked by altering and releasing the stresses that pulled on my eyes and jaw and positioning of my head to my body. We sat together and went through photos of her previous students who had even more dramatic results after spending weeks with her and even my skeptic’s mind started to change. Perhaps the secret to ‘straightening out’ my body had nothing to do with forcing through painful positions and stretching muscles to the point where I was hot and throbbing in pain. Perhaps the key to evoking lasting change in my posture was actually in these very subtle movements coupled with focused breath and mental techniques. (You can see some before and after photos here on Michaelle’s site Manayoga.com. )

Since leaving, I have kept up with the practice and continue to see added benefits and results. I look and feel taller, lighter. My core is toned and elongated all the way around. My running is better than ever as I now feel as though my legs and hips are moving efficiently in an anatomically correct gait. I would not go so far as to say that I am a Yoga devotee but, when it comes to YogAlign and the techniques and theory I learned from Michaelle, I can say that I have unquestionably received tremendous benefit and that the quality of my life has improved as a result.

Michaelle even taught me how to sit correctly (though she is the first to explain how most of our human health woes seem to have evolved out of our sitting culture). As I sit and write this, I am pain free and thinking of my next run – a 22 miler and considering I might actually bump it up a day as the need to recover from yesterday’s 18 miler just doesn’t seem to be there the way it used to be.

Thank you Michaelle for helping me to find a pain-free way to be within my own body – in stillness and in motion. I can’t promise I will sit still any time soon but, at least it is good to know that I now can 🙂

Mahalo!

Nicole

MICHAELLE IS COMING TO NY! – SEP 21, 2013This Fall, Michaelle is making her way to New York to teach her first ever clinic here: Change Your Posture, Change Your Life. The class will take place on September 21 and I will be sure to be there and will post more information on how to sign up as it becomes available. If you are interested, feel free to email me at nicole@fondgroup.com and I will alert you when I have those details.

The view of the studio from above, nestled in the green hills.
The view of the studio from above, nestled in the green hills.
The GMO controversy came up a lot during my time on Kauai - a heated local and global debate.
The GMO controversy came up a lot during my time on Kauai – a heated local and global debate.
Michaelle cracking open a fresh coconut for me post-class.
Michaelle cracking open a fresh coconut for me post-class.
Her beautiful chickens that provide much of the protein for the property.
Her beautiful chickens that provide much of the protein for the property.
The chicken coup.
The chicken coup.
Daily greens with equally vibrant views were a part of the wellness routine at Manayoga.
Daily greens with equally vibrant views were a part of the wellness routine at Manayoga.
View from a hike above the house.
View from a hike above the house.
The stunning hidden bamboo gardens Michaelle took me to.
The stunning hidden bamboo gardens Michaelle took me to.
Mangoes and papayas fresh from the trees were in constant supply at the house.
Mangoes and papayas fresh from the trees were in constant supply at the house.
An accomplished musician, Michaelle treated us to an impromptu jazz performance after dinner one night.
An accomplished musician, Michaelle treated us to an impromptu jazz performance after dinner one night.
Hanalei Farmer's Market was easily one of the best I've ever experienced. Fruits and veggies you've never seen before and GMO free!
Hanalei Farmer’s Market was easily one of the best I’ve ever experienced. Fruits and veggies you’ve never seen before and GMO free!
The view from the backyard never got old.
The view from the backyard never got old.
Hanalei sunsets were spectacular every night.
Hanalei sunsets were spectacular every night.

Kauai Proper – living the life of a local Pro Surfer…well, almost

While I don’t like to pick favorites, there is no secret that I feel incredibly lucky to have Surf Pro Rochelle Ballard and her company: Surf Into Yoga (SIY) as one of my clients. Surf, nature, sweet gear, massage, amazing natural foods, Hawaii…what more could you need? From the moment she told me she was moving from Oahu’s North Shore to reestablish SIY Wellness Adventures from her native Kauai, my bags were pretty much packed while I waited for the green light.

That green light to come and check out the new digs in Kauai came in July when I anxiously boarded a plane to spend 16 days in Kauai working, brainstorming and ‘testing’ (wink, wink) all the experiences SIY Kauai Wellness had to offer.

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Napali Coast view from the North

Aside from the obvious perks of this arrangement, add in a refreshingly humble world-class athlete who generously offers tips on the Hawaiian approach to health, nutrition and local wave knowledge and you pretty much have the perfect Hawaiian experience. Couple that with the the fact that she is who she is, a surfing legend who truly helped pioneer the sport for women, and you can imagine that the experience of jaunting around her favorite local haunts, surf breaks, camping spots and excursions is that much better.

BETTER WITH A LOCAL LEGEND: CASE AND POINT, SURF LESSON WITH ROCHELLE
On the first day Rochelle took me out to surf the very break she learned on, I was shown so much Aloha from the locals paying their respect that you might have thought I was in Blue Crush and not her. Not one dirty look, not one negative word – it was all positive and powerful energy of encouragement as I paddled into waves twice the size of my comfort zone. I know Hawaiians are super friendly but, I’m not naive. I’m aware that much of this welcome reception had to do with who I was paddling out there with and for that, I am incredibly grateful.

Not only did I get countless smiles and thumbs up from perfect strangers who made me feel completely welcome as I struggled just to stay put in the line up on her Joel Tudor single fin (about 3 feet shorter than any board I’d ever actually stood up on) but they lovingly launched into a joint hoot of booming cheers and whistles when I finally caught my first ever short board ride allllll the way into shore (albeit on my belly-foot-knee-belly-butt). It was an unbelievable experience I will never forget. In between receiving tips from Rochelle on how to position myself, how to breathe, where to put my toes, how to open my stance, I sat in awe as she paddled outside to the larger sets and gracefully demonstrated why she is a champion of the sport.

The itty bitty Joel Tudor single fin I rode/tried to ride my first day out on a short board.
The itty bitty Joel Tudor single fin I rode/tried to ride my first day out on a short board.
Day two of surfing went a little smoother once I got back on the comfort of a long floaty board.
Day two of surfing went a little smoother once I got back on the comfort of a long floaty board.

What is so cool about what Rochelle is doing on Kauai is that she is aiming to share that priceless insiders-only experience with visitors right there on the very beaches that she grew up learning to surf at. The experience is about understanding what it really means to enjoy the Hawaiian lifestyle, to value nature and family and to live with a strong sense of community, health and service to others. Surf Into Yoga has now successfully relocated from Oahu to Kauai and has expanded into an outfit offering lessons, day packages and full multi-day wellness retreats to include anything and everything from Surf, SUP paddles up the Waimea River, Napali Coast Boat Excursions with Snorkeling to Private Yoga and Massage or Ayurvedic Wellness Consultation. Like any good researcher would do, I had to try all of these things myself before I could sign on and approve. The verdict: AMAZING.

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Rainbows abound daily on Kauai. This is, in fact, a double rainbow!!
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Breathtaking views of the Napali Coast cliffs from the boat during our excursion – this view is an actual Windows Screensaver, for obvious reasons. And yes, those are dolphins!

The experience one can have on Kauai surfing and exploring the far less touristy west coast is unparalleled and the waves, well, no complaints here. Yes, the North Shore of Kauai is spectacular and beautiful but the west is magical in its own special way and for so many reasons. Most notably, its proximity to some of the most amazing sights and adventures on the island of Kauai. Nestled right at the base of the Waimea Canyon and 30 minutes below the majestic hiking territory of Kokee State Park, the west coast also offers direct access to Napali Coast Boat Adventures where you can cruise the sights of the pristine northwest cliffs and beachfront inaccessible by road.

An experience on the west side guided by Surf Into Yoga allows you to explore the island as something more than just another tourist and to get a sense of what is truly the Hawaiian way of life sans the overcrowded and overpriced restaurants, souvenir shops and marked up coconuts you will find in the more resort-focused areas. The accommodation options, ranging from converted plantation style cottages to private beach bungalows, are nestled among beachfront communities where you are more likely to stumble on family potlucks than bars and very likely to be greeted as though you are a neighbor rather than a foreign mainlander.

During my stay, we surfed, camped and hiked up at Kokee, paddled at sunset up the Waimea River, boated up the Napali Coast, snorkeled, bodysurfed, practiced surf-specific yoga, did an outdoor massage, talked a bit of Blue Crush history, ate gobs of fresh lilikoi, avocado, mango and payapya right from the trees, sucked down buckets of Mate (a miracle green tea), ran, planted some trees, did some work in the garden, caught every sunset and almost every sunrise, did a little off roading, ate some killer fish tacos, had a campfire, experienced a run in with local bulls and pretty much wore our faces out smiling.

My experience was so epic that the final days of my trip consisted of me looking at potential rentals for a more permanent stay along this lesser traveled coast in what is arguably one of the most magical places I have ever visited.

I returned home nourished, tanned, toned and so excited to start sharing my experience with friends so they too could see what a special thing she has going there on Kauai’s west side with Surf Into Yoga.

Contact: Visit SurfIntoYoga.com for info or email info@surfintoyoga.com or call 808.343.0616 for custom package or booking options. Be sure to mention FOND for special rates and preferential treatment 😉

Mahalo to Rochelle for hosting me, to Aura and her other friends and family for amazing food and hospitality, to Nukumoi Surf Shop, Hanapepe Naturals, Brennecke’s Deli, Napali Coast Adventures, Michaelle of Manayoga.com.

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Sunset overlooking the valley on my final day on Kauai.
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Early morning view from my tent atop Kokee State Park where we spent the day hiking along rivers and waterfalls.
The original SIY sign finds a new home in Kauai.
The original SIY sign finds a new home in Kauai.
Overlooking Waimea Canyon on the way up to Kokee.
Overlooking Waimea Canyon on the way up to Kokee.
I think we saw dolphins everytime we were in or near the ocean - so beautiful.
I think we saw dolphins everytime we were in or near the ocean – so beautiful.
My makeshift massage table where I was treated to bodywork by Rochelle, a Licensed Massage Therapist for over 20 years.
My makeshift massage table where I was treated to bodywork by Rochelle, a Licensed Massage Therapist for over 20 years.
More stunning views from the Napali Coast Adventure.
More stunning views from the Napali Coast Adventure.

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Closing out the day with a perfect sunset moments before the 'bull incident'.
Closing out the day with a perfect sunset surf moments before the ‘bull incident’.

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Quick swim in the river after a nice hot hike in Kokee.
Quick swim in the river after a nice hot hike in Kokee.

Reforesting Patagonia and the Patagonia Ultra Marathon

5 REASONS WHY WE ARE EXCITED ABOUT THIS RACE, THE CAUSE AND 2 WAYS TO GET INVOLVED

On September 28th, FOND will be down in Patagonia to race an Ultra in one of the most pristine destinations on the planet and to help reforest the region of the Torres del Paine National Park in the process. Take a read on why we are super stoked for this race and ask yourself whether you might want to join… or perhaps just plant a tree (which you can GPS track) for just $4 and pick up some happy earth karma.

WHY WE LOVE IT:

1. IT’S IN PATAGONIA. Contrary to popular belief, Patagonia is more than an awesome gear company – it’s also home of some of the most incredible natural beauty in the world. Because it’s a bit of a hike for us here in the US, a race is a great excuse to get down there and give back. From sailing to sheep shearing, Patagonia is home to lakes, forest and breathtaking glaciers, including Grey Glacier, which is part of the Southern Ice Field, the largest expanse of ice on the planet after Antarctica and the Arctic.

Patagonia Runners

2. THERE’S A RACE LENGTH FOR EVERYBODY.  The race is comprised of a 63k ultramarathon, 42k marathon, 21k half marathon and 10k. The run starts and ends in the Torres del Paine National Park and is a point-to-point run. The event offers runners of all abilities a distance to choose from. 2013 marks the second year for the event and the first year for the 63k ultramarathon.

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3. IT BENEFITS REFOREST PATAGONIA . The event, organized by NIGSA, continues to support the mission of calling the world’s attention to the conservation of Chilean Patagonia and contributing to the sustainable development of the region. For every entry, a tree will be donated to Reforestemos Patagonia, a campaign with the goal of planting 1 million native trees in Chilean Patagonia. What’s cooler, their advanced GPS and mapping technologies will record the exact coordinates where each tree will be planted. Along with a digital Certificate of Reforestation, each individual who plants a tree will receive the coordinates of their tree, as well as a geo-tagged link showing them its location on Google Maps.

Patagonia forest

4. IT’S A NEW RACE. The Patagonian International Marathon is the first of its kind in the Torres del Paine National Park. Because it is a new race, it will be fairly small and will offer an excellent chance to meet other dedicated runners/conservationalists/travel enthusiasts from around the world.  In spite of its youth, the race has clearly been organized by experts as is apparent through the wealth of information available on the Patagonia Ultramarathon Site. The smaller entry pool also means much greater chances of placing well. Small competition = healthy competition 🙂

Patagonia_Runner

5. IT’S A CUP-FREE EVENT. Perhaps one of the coolest innovations in long distance racing, the remoteness of this event combined with the mindfulness and foresight of its organizers led them to the decisions to eliminate the needless piles of waste associated with most endurance events. This means every runner is required to carry with them their own water hydration system- handheld water bottle or bladder system. It’s about time!

TWO WAYS TO GET INVOLVED – ONE EASY, ONE FUN!

1.  GIVE A TREE!  for only $4 and help reforest a precious part of the earth. This small step will leave you feeling good for several hours – possibly even weeks and will give you a nifty Facebook share opportunity to prompt your friends to also plant a tree. Together, we can help reverse the devastation of the forest fires that ravaged this area.

2. RACE! As we mentioned above, there is a race distance for every runner and plenty of accommodation options available near the park ranging from camping to luxury. What an amazing destination to put on your calendar for fall Travel than Patagonia! Also, as far as races go – the fact that the Ultra is less than the NYC Marathon is pretty epic. If you sign up, be sure to let us know so we can brag about you on our site and say hello while down there.

We hope to see you there!

FOND

RACE DETAILS AND REGISTRATION
FAQ

Travel + Leisure talks to FOND about Voluntourism

THE LUXURY OF HELPING OTHERS

When I quit my job last year to found FOND Group , I wasn’t prepared for the outpouring of support I received from friends, colleagues and total strangers. While I knew that working with the intent to truly help others felt SO much better than just doing work for the sake of work and earning a paycheck,  I wasn’t so sure others would agree–especially not NY, the epicenter of the manic rat-race.  Within days of launching, any doubts I had were quickly quelled as I was immediately welcomed in to what felt like a secret society of inspiring people who had similar experiences and goals as I did and were amped to offer their guidance. Many of these people (ex-cubies, as I call them) were much further along on their paths but quick to share similar tales of career re-evaluation after reaching some level of traditional ‘success’ in the big apple and then mindfully deciding to pull the plug and reroute.

Hillary Kaylor was one such amazing person.

Today, Hillary shared her experiences and mine in an article she wrote for Travel and Leisure titled Voluntourism 2.0. I’m thrilled T+L, a publication I have respected for years (even when I worked for its competitor Conde Nast shhh), had the foresight to cover this rapidly expanding market. Perhaps they too realize that luxury travel isn’t always about extreme self-indulgence but sometimes its about the luxury of feeling awesome having helped someone else reach their goal or the luxury of gaining a broader perspective of the world. It’s a luxury to be in a position to help other people and its important we remember that.

I’m not sure if was the hurricane last fall or a cosmic shift of the stars of maybe just a lot of first-world early midlife crises going on but I’m finding that others — MANY others– seem to also be shifting their points of view as to what it means to be successful, what it means to get ‘paid’ and what it means to have purpose in their work. Eight months in to FOND, it is apparent to me that there is a tuning of sorts happening and a lot of ‘successful’ people I knew who could easily have followed the traditional corporate climb are bucking it entirely to find work that matters.

Please take the time to read Hillary’s article in T+L and think about your skills and where they might have the most positive net benefit. It’s not about having the time – it’s about designing a life where your time is best spent. If you are stuck, reach out to us and maybe we can help.

A note on Hillary…

I’ve said before what a gifted writer she is but she is also just an amazing force of a person who believes she can (and is) able to make a difference in the world. It’s inspiring.  The fact that she exercises her gift of writing to artfully and passionately articulate her point of view and her experiences to inspire others is, in itself, a huge act of paying it forward. A former colleague of mine at RCRD LBL, Hillary and I linked up earlier this year and she agreed to put her skills to use to help FOND accomplish its mission. What an important part of the team she has become. Thanks Hillary!

Mahalo From Kauai-

Nicole

Digital Detox: Summer Camp For Adults

BY HILLARY KAYLOR

Color wars. Village communities demarked by wildlife flags. A reveille bugle to wake us every morning. The 325 of us, ranging in ages from 19 to 67, were warned. We were prepped. But it was only when we stepped deep into the cover of 80 acres of cool redwoods in Anderson Valley (three hours north of San Francisco), into a 1970’s boy scout camp straight out of Wes Anderson’s wildest dream that we realized, finally, where we were.

Camp.

And not just any camp. A camp for adults. Without electronic devices, computers, phones, lights, heat, or watches. We were not to speak about the “W” word (that would be work), what we did for a job (hereto forth to be called “fun” or “play”), and that revealing our names or ages would result in severe punishment (pulling out one another’s hair, strand by strand for each offense). We were asked to hand over our bags of iPads, Kindles, iPhones, Blackberries, digital cameras and a jumble of cords. Mine alone weighed 15 pounds and was giving me a lopsided walk; just one of the many reasons I had signed up for this experience. The offending devices went into a paper sack and were unceremoniously locked away as the campers (again, mostly me) whimpered softly.

As our tech lifelines were stripped, we couldn’t help but wonder what a Digital Detox meant. After the initial withdrawal, we were promised special connections with each other, a slow release from our wired selves; a disconnect to reconnect.  And a whole lot of good feelings, spirituality, and ultimately, a freedom we once knew as kids but had forgotten now that we were drones in the world. We were also promised that after just a few hours of sing-a-longs, we’d rid ourselves of the nasty urge to grab our phones to document the experience or share with someone who was not there. Because at this camp, the only people who mattered were the ones you were speaking to face to face. Something that I personally had forgotten how to do at least three years ago.

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Greeted by enthused counselors with names like Bricky St. James, Prow Prow, Golden Bird, Honey Bear, Topless (a jovial tea-master who claimed not to have worn a shirt in six years) and our saintly, mustachioed director Fidget McWigglesworth, we soon dragged our packs to our open-air bunks, geared up in shorts, face paint, and with mouthfuls of chocolate chip cookies, decided upon our own nicknames.

Mine was Lil’ Ripper. My best friend; Magenta.

We sipped woody tea and strolled the landscape before the others arrived from San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Australia and Canada. We went to the Wonder Woods, to the Magic Bus where many a late night party would be spent swinging in hammocks and playing music, to the yurt-cum-tea room alight with romantically strung Christmas bulbs and carpeted with Oriental rugs and Indian tapestries. We ran to the flagpole, the main field.  We stumbled upon vistas and the hollowed out trees seemingly tailor-made for Tarot card readings. Creative stations. Rock walls. Typewriters to post messages of hope and inspiration to one another strung along a wall titled “Human Powered Search Engine.” Questions were asked, questions were answered. Legos were assembled and Frisbees were thrown.

Playshops during the day included hip-hop dance class, archery, meditation, non-violent communication (my favorite), partnered yoga, river walks, and more were on sign-up sheets where we handwrote our preferences. We raised the flag and hugged one another, sang songs, served one another vegan meals and water, and took one-inch photos of each other by holding up our hands and making tiny boxes as viewfinders, forever imprinting what we saw into our memory banks.

“Internal-Gram!” Proclaimed a counselor, before we rushed off to campfire talent shows, jam sessions in dark pockets. Inspirational signs and spirit sticks abounded:

YIELD TO THE PRESENT

TODAY YOU ARE YOU. THAT IS TRUER THAN TRUE. THERE IS NO ONE ALIVE WHO IS YOUER THAN YOU.

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The Kumbaya was infectious. In Sun Fire’s outdoor meditation, I tearfully told him an internal struggle I’ve never told anyone. He kept my gaze, squeezed by hands and thanked me for sharing and reinforced how proud of me, and of the moment, he was. Later when I spent three hours making a fire with Condor, who literally lit it out of nothing more than two sticks, a piece of rope, whispers and intentions. Then he ran back to his backpack to gather his stone peace pipe. We stayed so long it began to get dark, and he told us of how to speak to the fire, release our problems to the non-judgmental flame, and then burn our pain away.

At the end, I held his shoulder and thanked him for the amazing experience, and true to counselor form, he deflected gracefully. “Thank you. Because the amazing thing here, is you.”

There was sleeping under the spiders and the stars, grass stains and field rashes from Capture the Flag. Wild costumes. Skinny swimmin’ and streaking through the 80’s themed prom. Outrageous contests that resulted in me diving my face into a pie plate of flour to find a piece of bubble gum to chew, blow a bubble and then pass on. I coughed up enough flour to make a batch of scones, but we did place second. There were haircutting contests where scissor-wielding amateurs treated volunteers to choppy services. And then? The scraps of hair on the ground were swept up by the final competition: the best beard contest, where girls and boys alike literally had the floor-hair glued to their faces.

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We pranked each other, we danced like maniacs, and we never knew what time it was or where we had to go. We moved as a group in tune, as a flock of birds or wave. We whispered into the wind and had a silent candlelit dinner under the trees. Many people choked up. When we were finally allowed to speak again (and eat), we devoured our gluten-free mac and cheese and mustard greens like a Thanksgiving dinner. Then many of us ran to the port-a-potties, as few were accustomed to our body digesting so quickly.

It was exhausting, it was a social experiment; it was a beautiful experience that brought me back to life. Consciousness. Living in the moment. Being free from cubes and screens and judgment. It has ushered in a new revolution between all of us. No Facebook for a month, we swore. No texting for six, we exclaimed. No answering emails and instead inviting meetings to be in person. Easy to enact in Anderson Valley, perhaps not as much in midtown Manhattan, where I “play” for “fun.” We wrote each other’s real names down in our booklets and promised not to look until we’d left. We put our numbers in and promised to call. Just like when I was twelve, I left sunburnt, sweaty, with an infected tick bite, and full of simple purpose.

There’s too much philosophically to speak of in terms of the backlash to this wondrous world of technology that has saved us in so many ways and may very well be destroying us in others. But even with this incredible camp experience and detox, we struggled intellectually how to bring this back to our lives in the “other world” in a meaningful way. We talked about many things, as there was nothing to do but talk and to act: about life, God, love, the universe.

Eventually, the topic switched from what dreamed to finally, where we were from so we could spread the word at home about this mini-revolution. When I said, “Brooklyn,” the painted fairies around me seemed shocked.

“How did you hear of it?” They wanted to know, entranced that I was not a Californian like them.

I spoke in wonderment back. “How did you hear about it?”

“A Bay Area e-blast,” one piped in.

“A forwarded Eventbrite from a friend in the Castro,” said another.

“We heard it on Twitter,” I motioned to Magenta, since she was my source, who’d gotten it from an Arianna Huffington tweet. “You know they have the Internet in Brooklyn, too, right?”

Get More Information on Other Digital Detoxes near you, right here: thedigitaldetox.org/

Post by Hillary Kaylor – to read more on Hillary, click here.

re{FASHION}er shows us how to shop vintage and save the world

Last Fall, FOND fell in love with Kate Sekules – the charismatic visionary behind re{FASHION}er. In addition to running ReFashioner, a {r}ecommerce site dedicated to the practice of ‘haute-cycling’ unwanted or unworn couture and vintage (green, yes!), Kate has embarked on a personal mission to educate other style-mavens-with-a-conscience on the virtues of recycling and upcycling vintage wares. Her message is catching on.

 

Kate at work at re{FASHION}ers Brooklyn based headquarters.
Kate at work at re{FASHION}ers Brooklyn based headquarters.

The art of vintage and its place in high fashion (all fashion for that matter) is somewhat of a taboo topic since designers are constitutionally opposed to revealing just how heavily past collections influence their style and creative process. There are people in New York City and in other fashion meccas whose SOLE JOB is to hunt through past designers’ work in thrift shops and online, organize it into collections and then share those collections with their employers (big name designers) who use their finds for ‘inspiration’. It’s a fascinating rung in a complicated industry that doesn’t get the press it deserves but that it should because the more of us who recycle and upcyle our clothes by shopping and trading second hand and vintage, the better off the world is. (More on this in a future post.)

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KATE’S CLASS – VINTAGE HOW TO>> This July, Kate is teaming up with Skillshare (another business we love) to teach a course on Vintage to give would-be and experienced hunters alike the resources they need to embark on successful couture treasure hunts. Taught online, the course is self-paced and taught via a video and curated resources hand selected by Kate.  She’ll walk you through the who’s who of the underground vintage curation society as well as provide the basics on how to search by date, price, fabric, designer. All for just $15.00.

Check out the course and sign up here.
USE CODE: FBFWEND for 30% OFF

More on Kate Sekules >>

Kate_HeadshotKate is the founder of online couture and vintage consignment site ReFashioner. She has been obsessed with vintage ever since it was called “secondhand” and found only in rummage sales.  She started her hunting career in London’s famous Portobello Road at the age of 11, and ten years later had collected so much she had to open her own vintage business. She never really stopped: hence ReFashioner.

More on re{FASHION}er >>
The site aims to educate against throwaway fashion, giving individuals a means to recycle their unwanted clothes, save money on new items, reduce waste and shop without guilt. Users can also share their clothes’ stories, attach emotion tags, answer 20 Fashion Questions, and can ‘stalk’ each other’s style, making it easy to shop and find quality couture and vintage clothes.

To shop online, swap online and sell your unwanted clothes, visit www.refashioner.com

Don’t forget to read their blog, re{MAG}.

Small Steps and Slumdog Children of the World

BY HILLARY KAYLOR –

Where did your feet take you today? Mine padded across my apartment, into my work shoes, out to the pavement and onto the subway. There was more pavement, and then a carpeted office. Maybe, if I’m lucky, they’ll later take me to a bar, a club, a movie. This mundane route is actually a revival of one I took before I left for Cambodia to volunteer. It feels different now, because before, each step I used to take I felt connected to my feet, when in reality, they never even touched the streets at all. In that sense, I was never truly grounded: never connected to the earth, never connected to anything. So, on this morning commute did my feet actually take me anywhere at all? Did they touch the world; did they really choose my path? My answer after my time abroad is no.
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I was protected by the barrier of my shoes and my routine. In New York City, trash is strewn about, vomit, discarded food containers and dog shit. And though I walked those avenues every day, my feet did not touch them. For that, I was less thankful than I was complacent. I mean, who even thinks about such things as gratitude for shoes when living in New York? I did have the sense to notice that when I was barefoot, it was special; in sands, thick grass or plush rugs. To be barefoot meant a privilege–a sacred thing reserved for vacations and safe spaces. Then, and only then, was when I was truly connected to my steps, my path, my feet and the imprints they left as I made my way.

Perhaps this is your experience too. You walk from place to space, your shoes carrying you all the way. Protected and safe. But what if they took you somewhere else? To a prison, to a war zone, into a burning garbage dump? And what if you didn’t have shoes? And had to navigate your scorched soles through piles of glass, syringes, and toxic waste?
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In the documentary short Next Steps, a group of ‘slumdog’ Khmer children–those living shoeless on toxic garbage dumps to forage for food–are asked, “What’s the best thing you’ve ever found?”

The kids alight, their sooty faces grinning, and then shout, “Plastic!”

“And the worst?” Probes an off-screen speaker. For this, the kids are quieter, unsmiling.

Finally one answers.

“A dead baby.”

This film, one of many documenting the plight of destitute populations living off garbage in Cambodia, Nicaragua, Romania, Guatemala and more, is a devastating look into the mission of the Small Steps Project, headed by Amy Hanson: reformed celebrity reporter with a closet full of Louboutins-turned philanthropist and that voice off-screen. Peruse the many short films, testimonials and pictures on the charity’s site, and see a post-apocalyptic world where children roam in rags, eating and collecting trash all the while choking back thick black smoke from tire fires and other blazes. Their parents, if they have any, are impoverished and considered societal misfits: suffering from alcoholism or HIV, and have found a home here because there is literally no other place for them to go. The dumps are more attractive than the streets: they provide a community of sorts, sometimes with organized chiefs of modern tribes, and the influx of garbage trucks provides a consistent and reliable deluge of material to sort through.

Sometimes the parents have jobs within these tribes as collectors. Other times? The parents stay inside their trash shanties all day, drunk. Inside their homes fashioned from plastic beams and vinyl beer adverts, drawing stagnant water from a sulfur-stinking pool. In those cases, and in the case of abandonment, it’s the children as young as four who trudge forth with two-foot-long metal hooks–instruments better suited for medieval torture than trash collection. They do not go to school. They do not see anyone outside their dump community. They do not know of a way out; they cannot comprehend another life. Their feet take them nowhere, and they are connected deeply to their lot in life, physically and psychologically. More than you and I, they are connected to what this earth has become.

Before I met Amy this year in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, I wanted to help heal the world, but I was overwhelmed. Even paralyzed at times. There were too many options, too many people in need. I was just one person, with limited resources. How to choose anything: a country, an epidemic, a cause? I took a leave of absence from my job for three months, in no small part to my mentor’s shocking death and my realization that those who seemingly have it all can end up in a headspace where they believe they have nothing at the end. But was three months even enough time? Would I make a lasting impact? Or would it just be a speck in the overall scheme of things? I was too protected by my shoes, and my small world, to really understand what I was doing, and why.

But there was something about Amy. There was something about the name Small Steps. And there was something about their mission that put it all into sharp relief:
Small Steps aims to put shoes on the children across the world that live on trash dumps. Small Steps is unique in its way because of its shoe-based efforts and two-pronged plan of action. Stage one is to get shoes on the feet of the kids in the dump so they are no longer standing in glass, animal remains and raw sewage and give them immediate aid in food, medical supplies and other necessities. Stage two is to empower the dump-living community with the tools to relocate: transportation, job placement, and other expansion efforts.

Naturally, there are many implications and hurdles in solving this problem at one dump, let alone across several countries and cities. The first problem is: no one on the dump wants to leave it. It’s their home, after all. And their livelihood, however insufficient. The second is with unemployable parents, the children more or less follow the same path. Without school, without outsiders, without skills that could be translatable, the kids are often painfully shy or terribly ashamed of their soil and their smell. There is poor and then there is a child who roams barefoot on a garbage dump. Among the economic hierarchy, there is a difference and that difference is palpable when interacting with them. They ask for nothing, they avert their eyes. Their smiles emerge faintly when joked and played with and then are gone instantly as they gauge your reaction. Are you here to help or to hurt? And how are you going to help anyway?

But it’s about starting small to get big results. As Amy says “Sometimes poverty feels like such a big problem that what you do to help or donate feels like a drop in the ocean and you can’t tell what impact it has. But if everyone takes a small step, the impact is huge.”

The idea of mattering to just one is at the heart of successful philanthropic movements.

When faced with the question of why volunteering or donating matters, at any step or stage, I think of this.

This is a mantra that may ring true for those who, like me, had not yet heard.

If it matters to just one person, you have actually changed the world.

Especially if, like Small Steps, you concentrate on global projects, like showing documentaries at Glastonbury (June 26-30) documentaries about their efforts across the world, including Cambodia, Nicaragua and India with expansion plans for Romania, Laos, Guatemala and Africa. Or auction shoes from the likes of Ben Stiller, Morgan Freeman, Coldplay and The Rolling Stones, who are donating the shoes they perform in at Glastonbury to the cause.

This is how Amy starts small to get big results. Today it’s shoes, tomorrow water filtration, next week, nurseries and Mommy programs that employ parents within schools and centers. Expansions, outreach programs, investors, celebrity philanthropists and world tours are just some of the many paths Amy is spearheading to bring Small Steps to a truly global scale.
Through my work with Amy, I met mothers and children affected. Beautiful children, dark-complected with almond eyes, whose smiles can light up a life, let alone a room. We fed them, we played hand-slapping games, we took them to the beach for the first time in their short lives.

There the kids learned to swim in our arms. Stripped down to their underwear, and others naked, there was no shame among them; they had lost any they had long ago. Shame is life to them.

They screamed in the ocean, they squealed. The burnt rubber smell left their skin. Some whose skin was very dark in the morning is lighter now, more attractive according to Cambodian culture. With the dump washed away temporarily, they transformed into flashing beacons. Their initial shyness fell away, they smiled, they played, and they pretended to sneak up on us. They took turns with water goggles, undone by the luxury of this, the most magic piece of plastic they have ever encountered. They don’t have to trade this one in. And they are considerate with one another, gentle. Passing the goggles around and showing each other the truth beyond what they ever imagines. They are not in fire, they are in water. And in the water, they can see.

The children come to school with us. They are fed more rice then they have seen, bits of sweet egg, garlicky morning glory, fish heads with the flesh still on. There are toys, there are bathrooms. They shower and then stand naked together, as we dry them. We wrap them in big red towels and hold them close. We comb the lice from their hair. Gently. One girl with hair cascading down her back waits with a blissful smile on her face as I take a half hour to turn her tangles back into strands of silk. I hold a section with one hand away from her scalp so that when I attack the knots she won’t feel the rip. The first time I do it she looks at me in shock. She is not used to getting her hair brushed. And certainly without yanking the hair from her head. She sits still and watches the other girls watch her. She winks at them, and when I am done she bows to me.

I try to bow back, and she runs away. But when I see her later she hooks her arms through mine. Another wants to borrow my sunglasses. Her brother has a mouthful of rice that spills from his mouth in delight at a joke known only to him. A girl of three bursts into giggles when I pretend her tiny new shoes, given to her by Small Steps, are mine and I walk away like an elephant in them, strutting like a beast on a runway. In turn, she steps into mine and models for me, my moccasins slapping against the dirt floor in huge comic effect, until she reaches me, wraps her twiggish arms around me, hugs me and doesn’t let go until I pry her off and bring her back to her mother.

She abandons my shoes, as she is more comfortable barefoot in the safety away from the dump. And that day, when I left the school, I left mine too. I walked back to the volunteer house in the sidewalk-melting sun. I stepped in pools of stagnant water. I cut my feet on glass. I tended to my wounds in my hotbox room with swipes of stolen paper napkins from restaurants and a foul-smelling salve I’d come to rely on for everything from sprains to headaches. After a few weeks of this, my soles became yellow and black: hard and strong, like slabs of rocks. And with each step, I felt the ground beneath me; I felt my feet carry me instead of the other way around. I began to run faster and lighter. My toenails turned black and my feet became my own protection from the elements. It was against the rules to be shoeless at the NGO where I worked, and of course at the trash dump that Small Steps serviced during my time there, because it was so dangerous. But whenever I could, I was without them. I wanted to feel everything beneath me, my path. I wanted to feel where I was going.

Now, back in my New York office months later, my feet have softened, my nails pretty once again, my soles pink as I am compelled to wear shoes like everyone else or face reprimand from HR. It feels like a personal failure. Under my desk, in meetings, and whenever I can, especially outside, I take them off. It aligns me with my time away; it reminds me of the kids who do not have them. And it lets me dream about where my moccasins are today, months after being left in Cambodia. If someone has taken them. If they are protecting someone else. Someone who needs protecting far more than me.

And as for my thoughts on the world and how we can change it; I’ve come to this. Giving is an endlessly replenishing resource. The more we seek, the more we find. This trip to Cambodia for me was something, but not nearly enough. I’m currently speaking to Amy about a Canadian fire truck convoy to deliver supplies to slumdog children in need in Nicaragua. And Guatemala. And anything else I can do. Because it really doesn’t matter if I have shoes or not, as long as I am connected to my path.

To donate to Small Steps, please visit here.

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Post by Hillary Kaylor – to read more on Hillary, click here.

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