Aesthetic as Activism: Tylea Richard
Nia Hampton | Monday April 10th 2017
In the late 60’s, a widely used slogan in the feminist movement was, “the personal is political.” And this past year, we’ve seen an overall increase in political awareness around the world. Everyday our favorite brands are vocalizing their support for a certain cause. Our favorite fashion institutions are taking a stand against injustice. We here at All the Pretty Birds are getting in on what we hope is more than just a trend. For a long time, Aesthetic was seen as something frivolous or only necessary in the world of art. But as the study of identity politics gains more traction, we’re realizing, you actually ARE what you wear. I’ve decided to talk to some very powerful people in their own right. Activists who use their mediums of art to fight for their personal cause, and find out not only what’s in their closet, but why?
This month’s feature Tylea Richard a hilarious boss, whose fighting to save the world, (one vagina at a time) with her line of coochie friendly underwear. We caught up with this wonder woman and she gave us some insight into her thoughts about aesthetic and activism.
What does aesthetic mean to you?
Aesthetic is a manner of visual communication. It is the transmission of emotional and intellectual information with colors, shapes, forms and textures. Individual aesthetic is just as much about personal expression as it is about signaling, “Hey, we are part of the same tribe” or “I might be a danger to you, stay away.” It’s the oldest language there is.
I spent most of my life trying very hard not to be noticed. I hate photos, I do not enjoy the attention of strangers and I’ve always hated how I looked. And yet I found that the more I shed my wallflower act, the less people actually noticed me. In fact, having dyed hair and tattoos and piercings is the easiest way to get ignored. People take one look and assume they know everything, whereas before I think people thought I was a blank canvas and projected onto me whatever they wanted. I feel a lot more free now to do what I want with my look and not be bothered by other people. Amen for your 30s!
What looks are you going for right now?
A couple of summers ago I showed up to the beach in a black jumpsuit, huge black hat, black sunglasses and my typical bad attitude. When my friends clowned on me for being Cruella de Vil in human form, I just rolled my eyes. But honestly they were right. I think style-wise, I have finally mastered the two looks I always wanted most as a little girl: Cruella de Vil meets angsty tween boy. It’s a perfect storm of glampy androgyny and I see no reason to wear colors ever again (except for my hair!). I love a good t-shirt, bright hair, and a side eye to round out the look.
What does activism mean to you?
When I was 10 years old I begged my father to buy me a shirt that said “REBEL WITH A CAUSE.” Adults loved to stop me and ask what my cause was and I remember telling one older woman: “I don’t know yet but I know I have one.” Even before I could articulate the ways that the world was wrong, I felt it. So for me, activism is about listening to that deeply instinctual voice in a way that honors who and where I come from. I want the world to be better and I won’t stop trying.
I try my best to participate in as many forms of activism as I can and are needed at any given time. But my most persistent form of activism is in building alternate economies that honor and support people of color, women, trans, queer and non-binary and poor folks. The only thing I love more than making things is making things with amazing artist folks that are not well represented in “business.” I don’t believe that capitalism itself will transform the world, but I believe that financial independence and self-sufficiency is a necessary part of resistance.
What are some internal/external changes you’d like to see in life this year? What changes are you making personally and what changes would you like to see in the world?
Internally, I am trying to get my money right this year! I have lots of debt and funky credit and although I know I’m not alone, it’s embarrassing because nobody talks about it. I would like to quit my 9 t0 5, and being more financially responsible is a big part of that.
Externally, I desperately hope that we can find a way to protect each other across borders and boundaries. I sat at my desk at work yesterday and watched Syrians die in front of me on Facebook Live. I don’t know how things have gotten so in-congruent: the technology to broadcast the deaths of innocent people to horrified viewers across the world, but no technology for me to stop it. Perhaps we are not in a position to stop the bombing of one dictator on another, but I hope we can figure out a way to stand up and protect one another in real and tangible put-my-body-in-front-of-yours kind of ways this year.
What’s your makeup/haircare/skincare/self care ritual looking like?
I am not naturally inclined to take good care of myself, but I’ve been working really hard at it recently! I have chronic digestive/intestinal issues so I am sick a lot, and I have finally realized just how important diligent self care really is to managing my overall health. So there are a few things that have become practice recently. First, is my nighttime ritual: I bought an expensive mattress, satin sheets and I sleep naked every. single. night. It feels indulgent and sensual and like my skin is being kissed by baby dolphins in a sea of unicorn tears. It feels good but it also reconnects me to my body in a way that is really important, especially with chronic health issues that leave me cursing my body more often than appreciating it. I know that sleeping habits might seem like a weird way to define self care, but if I don’t get enough sleep it really doesn’t matter what I put on my hair or skin because I feel like hell and I look like it too.
Other rituals that have made the cut are: overnight coconut oil pre-poos for my hair, apple cider vinegar + clay face masks, and homemade lemon and brown sugar face scrubs.
What are your Muses/Inspiration at the moment?
I am very inspired by the young femmes coming up. They are unapologetic and honest in a way I’ve never been able to manage in a public arena. The politics are on point, the style slays, and they out here talking THAT SHIT. I couldn’t be more inspired. I’m thinking about Sage and the Art Hoe Collective, the Brujas crew, Amandla Stenberg, Blue Ivy and her pink tuxedo, among many others. This next generation is giving me everything I need.
I’m also deeply inspired by the otherwise white-passing or racially ambiguous black people out here just being black as hell and not giving any of the f***s. I think it’s an important time for black people right now, and those of us who are white passing or white adjacent have a real responsibility to put ourselves on the line. So I’ve been inspired by Jessie Williams’ willingness to be vocal despite criticism from every angle. We need an army of racially ambiguous black people to defeat the anti-muse, Rachel Dolezal.
What creative projects are you working on right now?
All of my extra time and energy is focused on Thundress, a small brand I started a couple years back that makes coochie-friendly underwear. I got sick of looking at how underwear was made and marketed to women. Underwear has become so synonymous with sex and satisfying the male gaze, that we’ve completely forgotten how much it affects our health and well-being.
We smother our poons with plastic-y, synthetic undies in order to be sexy, meanwhile the fabric is giving us all kinds of irritations and infections that we’re too afraid to talk about with each other (that’s why your granny and your gynecologist always recommend 100% cotton underwear!). So I have become obsessed with fabric and dyestuffs. I am on the hunt for the softest, gentlest textiles and getting lost in the details of each knit. I am learning to make colors from berries and roots and leaves, and watching how they work together. And best of all, all of this playtime with fiber and form have led me to work with some incredible makers. For that, I am ever grateful.
Graphic By Sophia Gach-Rasool