THE SOLIDARITY INDEX EPISODE 2:
Colors Our Ancestors Can See – with Korina Emmerich
[Waves surging then crashing]
Korina [00:00:07]It’s a radical act of solidarity in itself to take care of the earth that we are all living on. We can’t be here without the nurturing that we get from the Earth.
MUSIC: Until Everybody Is Free by Bella Cuts – featuring the voice of Maya Angelou [00:00:32]The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free. No one of us can be free – until everybody is free.
Welcome to THE SOLIDARITY INDEX – a gathering place for trailblazing artists from around the world to share experiences of solidarity and liberation through creative practice, and to welcome all of us into freedom struggles – from Palestine to Brooklyn to Berlin and beyond.
MUSIC: Until Everybody Is Free by Bella Cuts – featuring the voice of Maya Angelou [00:01:09]
No one of us can be free – until everybody is free.
We are back in the saddle! Zahyr Lauren here – in conversation today with designer Korina Emmerich, whose work has been featured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA PS1, the Denver Art Museum, Santa Fe Indian Market’s Couture Runway Show, New York Fashion Week… On the cover of InStyle worn by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (wow!)… In the pages of Vogue, Elle and New York Magazine, the list goes on and on. She founded her own slow fashion brand – EMME Studio – in 2015, and is co-founder of Relative Arts NYC – an atelier, gallery, and community space opening spring 2023. Whoo she busy!
Thanks for joining us as we dive into the threads of Korina’s colorful work, exploring heritage, sustainability, storytelling and inspiration. And be sure to check out our show notes on TheSolidarityIndex.com for more info on all the amazing people and projects that you’ll hear about.
MUSIC: Until Everybody Is Free by Bella Cuts – featuring the voice of Maya Angelou [00:02:30]
Free… Free… Free.
I’m Zahyr. My pronouns are they them. I’m on Duwamish land. I am a Black gender expansive individual. Today I am wearing a white hoodie with a white jacket that has one of my drawings on it and the names of my family members.
Cute. haʔł sləx̌il txʷəl gʷəlapu, gʷəlapu, dʔiišəd, dsyayayəʔ čələp.Korina Emmerich tsi dsdaʔ spuyaləpabš čəd. ʔəsłałlil čəd ʔal tə Lenapehoking
So I just said – I’m Korina Emmerich, hello everyone, all my friends, what’s up? And I live actually in Lenapehoking, so I’m currently on occupied Canarsie territory in Greater Lenapehoking, also known as Brooklyn, New York. My pronouns are she her. Actually, you are near where I am originally from. I am Puyallup from Washington State, on my father’s side, it’s my patrilineal heritage. On my mother’s side we’re European. I have – I have a blanket from Eighth Generation wrapped around me like a good old auntie because I’m a little chilly right now!
And you are a fashion icon.
I’m wondering for you personally, when you wake up in the morning, when you get up every day, how do you pick your attire? What makes you feel powerful in the clothes that you wear?
Oh, gosh, that’s so interesting because I often refer to myself as an unfashionable fashion designer. Yeah, I kind-of just like… all my clothes are pretty eclectic and interesting. So I seem to put together things that are quite strange. But the most interaction I have outdoors is just walking my dog. So really I just think, you know, pants that are comfortable, shoes that are comfortable, and I usually switch up my coats because coats are one of my favorite things to make as a designer, so I have a lot of them. Um, but yeah, come Summer, who knows what it’ll be.
Word. What is it about coats?
Um, you know I work – I work so much in wool. Growing up, it was a really prominent thing in our family. We had Pendleton blankets all over the house because winning them from, like, pow wow raffles or being gifted them. So it was something that was really prominent. And also growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I think it seems like a big part of our decor, I guess you could say, where the woolen mills are. So it’s always reminded me of home, you know what I mean? Like the blankets themselves. And it was actually my father who suggested that I start working with Pendleton fabric and I, I actually pushed away from it because I didn’t want to be a Native designer. You know what I mean? I wanted to be a fashion designer who happened to be Native. And it’s so, it’s so interesting now that that’s really what my work is getting attention for because it’s something that’s accessible and familiar, like on a pan-Indigenous level. But I also just – blankets are a class symbol. You know, blankets are part of ceremony. They’re a really important part of our lives. So I like to kind-of adorn myself in those histories as well, I guess.
Kind-of wearing the power and the protection of culture on you, like being able to move throughout the world with that memory, that tradition, and everything that – the power that comes with that.
Yeah, absolutely. Our clothing is such a way of telling non-verbal stories, as well. And it shows what we represent. So in things that I would consider every-day, you know, somebody else might, might be shocked by – like if I have on my Urban Native Era hat that says, “You’re On Native Land”… I was out with my dog and that started a conversation with a stranger, you know, and that’s just something that I don’t even think twice about throwing on my head. But it is – we’re in such a time where what you wear is so indicative of who you are and who you choose to be.
So I got to ask you about wool, because I know that you love the wool so much and I’ve heard you speak about it and all these different properties and kind-of the magic of it… Would you share a little bit of that with us?
Yeah, totally. I work a lot with wool. I think wool is a really kind-of magical fiber. I always consider it because it is one of the most sustainable fibers that we are able to work with currently. It is regenerative fiber, so it goes back into the soil to create nutrients. So it’s a cradle to cradle fabric. I mean, not all wool, but depending on the practices while making the wool it’s generally a cradle to cradle practice where it is regenerative and feeds the soil instead of just being poison to the soil – which is what we would consider cradle to grave. Right? So I really appreciate it that way. And I think that as Indigenous people we talk a lot about being stewards of the land and – and in my head I think a lot about what does that mean in this day and time and how can I incorporate that into my everyday practice? And so sustainability has always been really important to me as a fashion designer, and so wool is one of those fabrics that I really like to work with. I find it amazing… and beautiful.
Does that mean that literally, if the wool is cared for properly and naturally, that if you lay it in the dirt or bury it, it will feed that ecosystem?
Exactly, yeah. So instead of just being poison – which is like polyester – natural fibers are going to be best because it’s nature going back into nature. When we create things through chemicals, like a lot of the fabrics that are being used now are petroleum based, like polyester, which all come from gas and oil. And so polyester takes over 200 years to biodegradate, which means every single piece of polyester clothing that has ever been created is still on our planet. Yeah. That’s something that is a big consideration when buying – buying or making things. Particularly making things. Yeah, I just think about like… like, oh god what are we up against here? It’s pretty intense to think about what we’ve done in the past decade alone, and – the fast fashion.
Yeah. Well it’s dope that you’re leading by example. You know, I feel like a lot of folks kind of talk about sustainability, but it’s not necessarily rooted enough in their ethos for them to move in that way. So it’s dope to know of someone who is creating with that as a foundation. I look at sustainability as one of the roots of solidarity. Can you speak to how your commitment to sustainability of the earth contributes to a global solidarity?
Yeah, you know, we often talk about – what your actions are in this lifetime affect the next seven generations, you know, or – or we think about it in the past three generations and the forward three generations. Right? We have to think about the impact on us as a whole. And I think that having a sustainable outlook on life then you are in turn taking care of future generations. And that’s something that I think has been missing – why we’ve gotten to where we are, because it was so much about here and now and like not thinking about the future impact of things like plastics and and all these things that are now slowly killing us. So yeah, I think it’s a radical act of solidarity in itself to take care of the earth that we are all living on. We can’t be here without the nurturing that we get from the earth. And we’re taught from a young age that there is no separation between our bodies and the land and that and that we’re all one, and that what happens to the land happens to our bodies. I don’t think that there’s any saving us if we’re not taking care of the place that we live. We think about the impact of environmental racism, which it is, you know. It’s like out of sight out of mind, and we’re redirecting things from rich, mostly white neighborhoods into – taking the pipelines through reservations instead of through these other towns where they – they deem less risk because it’s majority people of color, which is like so disturbing. But that’s a huge part of what we’re dealing with in climate justice is environmental racism.
Absolutely. Yeah. What it takes to get – globally to bring these fashions to… just the States, you know, not even talking about other places around the world, what it takes like for just here. Um, I remember there was a factory that completely collapsed. And the folks who were working there, in my memory, folks were complaining about the cracks in this building forever.
Yeah, I want to, I want to share, um, regarding the Bangladesh factory collapse. And I think, I think it was 1100 mostly women and girls that died in that factory collapse. And the majority of the labels of production wouldn’t even take responsibility because they quote didn’t know that their stuff was being manufactured there. And that’s another huge problem with fashion is like our complete disconnection to our own supply chains where it has nothing to do with humanity it’s about costs on a piece of paper. And we’ve created – it’s life or death for a lot of these people and unfair conditions while we’re just creating waste. Yeah, it’s really sad. It’s really sad.
Well, I did not mean to take us down the sadness rabbit hole. You are doing things that should give us the energy to duplicate the positive ways in which you are acting out solutions to these issues. So that’s what’s exciting to me. Just meeting someone who is like literally living the solutions to a lot of these problems.
MUSIC: LetsMove by Mimi O’Bonsawin [00:13:15]
So while I have been in Seattle, I had the great honor of working under Esther Lucero at the Seattle Indian Health Board, and that meant I got a chance to work down the hall from Abigail Echo-Hawk, who is someone that I know in the MMIWG movement – missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. And so I learned a lot about that movement just by working at the Seattle Indian Health Board. I’ve also been aware for a long time of Erika Alexander and her work as an actress, activist, educator on all things around Black folks and our human story in this country. The podcast is called “Finding Tamika,” and it’s highlighting this struggle around missing and murdered Black women and girls. So this is a purely visual question I’m going to ask you. If we were all together as a people in the thousands – in the hundreds and thousands. What would we look like? What would we be wearing? What would be the power in that image? And I’m happy to share my version of this question with you first, if you want.
Yeah, I would love to hear what you have to say because I feel like I have a specific answer, but I’d love to hear your answer.
Okay. So for me, this is like, again, pure imagination, right? Given that the diaspora of Black folks, you know, we come from all around the world – we’re not a monolith. We’re all different. I think the same can be said about Indigenous peoples, so many different tribes, languages, you know – from around the world. I imagine this as a color scheme. And then a singular identifier for tribe or family. So color scheme to me would be black, white and red. And because it’s out of my imagination, black is for purity and it is for death – it is for infinity. White is for peace and kind-of submitting to each other – this spirit of peace and togetherness. And red is for the common blood of all people. And so I would draw up patterns, like four different patterns. Everyone would be wearing these same four patterns with these three different colors, and you would have an identifier like on your shoulder for like your tribe or your family crest or your family’s last name, whatever made you feel you know like you’re repping your village. I’m thinking of the look of infinity in these colors and patterns. The look of folks marching together. I know that hair is also very important for a lot of different communities. And so these things would be up to the individual. But for us to be standing together and recognized for marching for this in that visual way – I feel like would be powerful. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but that’s my answer to the question!
t does make sense. And I love – I love calling it back to the colors and what each one of them represents, because I think that’s so important in any fashion movement. Yeah… I mean, I was thinking the exact same thing, that – but what you said is great. I was just going to say, you know, when we talk about missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, trans, two spirit people, we use the color red because it’s a color that calls back to our ancestors, right. A lot of people believe that red is one of the colors that our ancestors can see. So there’s meaning behind that color – the red dress. We were talking about orange about boarding school survivors. We use that color to show solidarity with that. I really like the black, white and red color scheme. I love the meaning. I think one thing we think about in solidarity too, when you were talking about blood – how it’s all of our blood – and, and I think, you know, we’re all related, we all are, you know, living in the same place – we come from the same home, essentially, right, when we think about Planet Earth. We all share that – that commonality. We are all related. We need to take care of each other like a family. And we have, you know, the term “all my relations” into – into remembering that. I think it would just be so insanely powerful – I was getting all these visuals as you were talking about it and describing the colors. I just see, like, this overhead view of all these people in the sea of these colors, which almost makes it sort of like a pinkish color, right? And then I just, when you said about hair, I just imagined everybody’s – the top of their heads and how amazing that would be. I like that concept. I can see it going on for miles and miles and miles and miles.
Yeah… yeah. Miles and miles.
MUSIC: LetsMove by Mimi O’Bonsawin [00:19:01]
How can we be so yoked to each other that after this march – everyone is in unison?
Storytelling is so important, right? Like, conversations like this where we’re telling each other stories – I think that’s one way that people can stay connected is telling about themselves and telling about where they come from. And we’ll find, again, more similarities than differences. So I guess in a perfect world it’s like just constant storytelling.
Yeah. So speaking of that – and like, sharing stories and hearing stories and being able to meet people in a story. To me, that’s a major gain in standing up for what you believe in, and standing up for solidarity. I feel like right now there’s a lot of talk around the risks, of course as it should be because it is risky standing up for – just telling like regular truths at this point. But I’m like… there’s also so much to gain. So I’m wondering for you, and taking the stance that you’ve taken, and being a part of the movements that you’ve been a part of – what do you feel like you’ve gained from that?
Hmmm….. I think, you know, my immediate thought is about my community and how important that is to find people who aren’t just like-minded but people who also challenge you. I think that’s one of the biggest gains by sticking to my beliefs is staying on a path that will bring me to people who have similar beliefs and then getting to walk that path with them as well I think is so important. And that’s really just so indicative of our growth as well. Our individual growth is being surrounded by community, and that’s something that’s super important to me. And you know, as far as like gaining what I, what I materialistically have gained, I guess is that you know – we’re opening a space in the East Village called Relative Arts, and it’s kind-of like an arts collective, but it’s focused in textiles, so it’s an active atelier and showroom. And then it’s also going to be an education space. 367 East 10th Street! We’re opening officially April 1st. I’m excited to open up my world to a – to a different neighborhood, different people. So that’s kind-of where I feel like my work has led me, you know, this thought of gain, gain right? What have I personally gained? A lot of what I’ve gained I would like to share with other people, and I think I’ve gotten a couple of doors open and I plan to keep them open. And – and if that’s through my own work and to be supportive of other people, I think that if I can take something it would be something that I was also able to give back.
Word. I love that. I love that. Yeah. For me, I feel like the gain has been family. You know, it’s just like… you know at the end of the day your – for me what I call the village of folks who are standing in a certain way. And it’s about trying, to me, like – I’m not perfect. You know, I stay messing up but I am trying to evolve in a certain way. And so meeting family who can – we are multiplying a village that then is able to sustain itself in all of the things that get thrown against us. So, you know, whether that means I have a friend who’s a farmer, I know that this farmer friend would be the person who would be trying to feed folks if we needed to be fed, not just me, like – like you’re saying, you know, trying to incorporate whatever you gain into something that is also a benefit to the entire village or however you call your community, your people. You know just having that comfort, especially in the absence of having monetary stability, and trying to build an ecosystem that capitalism doesn’t have such a chokehold on. You know it’s based on your heart and the hearts of other people you’re involved with. That to me feels super special. Like, I know my mom is going to be taken care of because I got two homies in the bay that will see to that if it needs to be seen to. You know what I mean? That type of stuff. Like you can’t buy that.
Yo one more question for you, and then I promise I’ll stop talking your ear off. Okay um… how do you take care of yourself?
Korina [00:24:17]Oh, gosh.
Zahyr [00:24:21]In all of this, how do you take care of yourself?
Korina [00:24:23]That’s a triggering question!
Korina [00:24:26]Getting outside is the number one thing that I do to take care of myself. I prefer to be outside. That’s really important to me. And then also just – being around people, as much as I complain about it. I’m like a weird… I’ll go in – I’ll go through spurts of wanting to be around people all the time and then spurts of like just total isolation.
Zahyr [00:24:53]I’m the same way.
Korina [00:24:56]I’m sure my friends get pretty frustrated with that. Yeah, I mean, you know, so then I guess that I conserve energy, but I also like to give energy.
Zahyr [00:25:07]Tight. Yeah, I’m super similar. Everyone thinks I’m an extrovert because when I do go outside like once every 3 or 4 years, I’m like mad nice and like, you know “Heyyy” and there’s a lot of hugging, but then you might not see me for the next 5 or 6 years.
Yeah so I feel that, and I think – you know, you gotta reboot. You just have to reboot.
And as artists it’s really – it might not be super healthy, but it’s really important to spend time alone. Yeah, it’s um – listening to yourself is a hard thing to do, but that’s where the visions come, right?
Yo… mmm… say that. It’s hard to do, but that’s where the visions come from. Thousand percent. Yeah, I totally agree with that.
MUSIC: LetsMove by Mimi O’Bonsawin [00:26:00]
Part of what we are attempting to do here is take some of the fear that comes with having to intellectualize some of the concepts like solidarity out for a second and feel into what it means internally. And for me – I try to follow my heart a lot because I feel like that is the guiding force for me personally. So when you think of solidarity, what do you long for? Like, what does it make you feel? Like, what in your body does that bring up for you when you hear the word solidarity?
I… it’s so funny, it brings up a lot of emotions if I’m just thinking about it, umm, without intellectualizing it. I, you know, obviously you want it to bring up all feelings of peace. But I think that the road to solidarity may – may be a long one. What are your thoughts? Maybe then I can elaborate more.
Um, well… I feel like, it is terrifying… because I feel like – what it means is we have to break open wounds and really explore them. And that’s a lot of – for my people and the people that I belong to that’s a lot of deep pain. And it means that we have to take the chance to express that pain, and offer the story of that pain, knowing that people in this country are going to call us crazy, are going to try and hide our human story, that we may be killed for it, that our movements will likely be infiltrated. And so there’s a lot of like – heaviness around it. And at the same time, I feel like it is a terror worth exploring because then it offers the opportunity to – sit with you in conversation. There’s so much opportunity in it. There’s so much room to build Love. And to me, love is the through-line. So I guess the feelings are just like – ugh. They’re like ughhh – that’s how I feel about it. And also like, Wow this is incredible… when you meet people who are able to approach it through love, and that love is so expansive that then you forget about the pain because now you’re covered – you’re covered in this sense of communal love and this sense of us being on the same foundation.
I was saying too, it like brings up so many different emotions, and I – and I think it’s because we don’t really know what it would feel like, right? We’re not there yet. And like where we – we can be there in these little micro moments like between you and I in these small conversations that are really – they are impactful, right? They are doing something. But it’s… it’s a small scale. So the road is long. I don’t know that we will even be able to tell the truth in this generation, let alone find solidarity. So I think the truth is – the truth is a long road, right? When we really start listening to each other’s stories about what really – what has really happened and what people are really being affected by. And that’s a point of contention in this time… it’s a strong point of contention. And it’s – it can get really scary, but it also is beautiful right? When – when we can meet and have a conversation 3000 miles away… Pretty cool.
Right… yeah. Yeah, no doubt. I think it’s worth it – to feel.
Yeah… Yeah. And as much as I don’t like to talk very much publicly, it’s part of it, right? We’re like – Dr. Adrienne Keene says it’s consenting to learn in public, and I think that’s such a great way of putting it because we’re not all right. We don’t have all the answers. We’re just having a conversation, you know? Starting a conversation.
Absolutely. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Thank you for spending some time and just like being so open and sharing so much knowledge and… Yeah.
No, I really appreciate it. I think this whole endeavor is really cool and I’m really honored to be a part of it.
Right on. Thank you.
[Waves surging then crashing]
Yo it’s a big deal in 2023 – consenting to learning and leading in public, committing to culture and sustainability in fashion and beyond. Korina, we thank you.
MUSIC: Until Everybody Is Free by Bella Cuts – featuring the voice of Maya Angelou [00:31:52]
No one of us can be free – until everybody is free.
Thank you for taking the time to listen to THE SOLIDARITY INDEX. If you like it – share it! And follow us wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you, Korina Emmerich. Check out her work and upcoming designs at EMMEstudios.com. Also follow her new venture, Relative Arts, at Relative Arts NYC on Instagram. And if you’re in New York City stop by to visit them in the East Village. Reminder – check out our show notes for links and information on the people and topics we touched on in this episode.
This podcast is a production of State of Mind Media, created and produced by Jen Bell, Shalva Wise, Stina Hamlin and Zahyr Lauren. Audio editing and production by Stina Hamlin. Audio mix by Matt Gundy. Logo and identity design by Marwan Kaabour. Art direction, website, and additional design by Jen Bell at Studio Analogy. Our theme song, Until Everybody Is Free by Bella Cuts, is out now everywhere you listen to music. All proceeds from streaming and downloads go to the Dr. Maya Angelou Foundation. Additional music featured in this episode – Let’sMove by Mimi O’bonsawin – available from Nagamo Publishing, an Indigenous music library.
I’m your host Zahyr Lauren, aka the artist L.Haz. Follow us on Instagram at THE SOLIDARITY INDEX, and follow our show anywhere you listen to podcasts. For more information about THE SOLIDARITY INDEX project, check out our website – TheSolidarityIndex.com. Appreciate y’all for listening… Peace.
MUSIC: Until Everybody Is Free by Bella Cuts – featuring the voice of Maya Angelou
No one of us can be free until everybody is free. No one of us can be free – until everybody is free.