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Meet Alix: a multi-hyphenate mom entrepreneur

By Brook Cosby 

The cure for the dizzying pace of modern life may well be to spend the afternoon with Alix Vasquez. Or hopefully, simply to read about her.

Alix is a multi-hyphenate entrepreneur, the type of woman you hear about and assume must be a nonstop engine of go go go. After all, she’s a first-generation college student with a Ph.D. in Sociology who teaches at the University of San Francisco -- in addition to being a researcher, an artist, a business owner, a partner and a mother. More than enough jobs to keep anyone busy, and yet her message, woven through all that she does, is to simply slow… down… 

Her unhurried approach to her many responsibilities and deadlines reflects the wisdom of natural movement: slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Her “leisurely” attitude is instructive -- by reducing the friction on our path, we can actually speed up our journey.

Alix admits that maintaining this mindset isn’t always easy; she frequently contends with the stress of feeling like she should be doing more. However, the birth of her son Julien in April 2020 brought her a significant downshift in tempo, as the twin forces of pandemic lockdown and new motherhood reconfigured the schedule and pace she had previously known. Spending those first years in such an altered routine ingrained in her the value of doing less. 

Now as the mother of a very active preschooler, she often feels the pull to speed up. In these instances, she lovingly reminds herself that a frenzied approach is rarely successful. To reinforce her commitment to the wisdom of not-rushing, she summons her alter ego, the herderin (pronounced “HAIR-der-in”), the Dutch and Danish word for shepherdess.

Picture a herder and odds are, a male shepherd with a rod and staff comes to mind. This masculine image is baked into Western culture, but the shepherdess, though less celebrated, is a longstanding icon in her own right. Cultures around the world have traditions of women walking the hills, braving the elements, and tending to their herds. The freedom of a woman alone in nature, the slowness of foot speed, and the carefulness of minding each and every sheep calls to Alix as the epitome of mindfulness and intentionality.

This archetype speaks to her so strongly that her business bears its name. Herderin is her line of womenswear, luxury pieces made from US-grown organic and sustainable textiles. That the wool of consciously shorn sheep is her line’s primary fiber underscores the significance of the shepherdess in all that she does. Alix channels the soulfulness of the herderin when designing her garments, a calling that emerged from her work as sociologist and her interest in how people, especially women, know themselves. 

Nearly 100 years ago, the French philosopher Jacques Lacan famously observed what many mothers know: by about 18 months, a child will recognize their own image in a mirror. From this point forward, we know ourselves both through our internal experience and our own reflected gaze, as well as the gaze of others. Inhabiting a visual understanding of self has historically been limiting for women, as the gaze directed at them is often male.

To offer women (and increasingly, men) an opportunity to know and celebrate themselves from the inside out, Alix creates clothing that embraces the body as is, rather than manipulating it into conventional forms.

To hone her ability to know through feeling, Alix spent four years without mirrors in her home. She was able to loosen the grip of visual feedback -- which is so often negative and critical -- and become attuned to what did and didn’t feel good. She began to wonder how people would dress themselves based purely on feeling and absent the internalized gaze of others? As a sociologist, one of her research interests is how people dress themselves, or more aptly: how culture dresses people. And she’s perplexed by the lack of a theoretical framework for clothing design. Fields such as architecture have theories that outline the principles and practices for building structures. Fashion design has no such framework; it’s driven strictly by ever-changing tastes and aesthetics. The arbitrary whims of the fashion industry aren’t a sufficiently robust explanation, Alix feels, for the enormous power that industry has to influence how we dress. She’s searching for deeper intelligence behind our sartorial choices, and her designs reflect this search. Increasingly, her academic work does as well. She’s currently designing syllabi for design schools that examine the missing theory of fashion design.

Her personal approach to clothing design reflects the sensory wisdom she’s accrued, especially since becoming a mother. She’s drawn to the the hips and pelvis, a region of the body understood by Eastern cultures as the second chakra, the locus of creativity and emotion. While pregnant, a woman’s body may be revered for its life-giving power, but once the child is born, the womb area is castigated if it no longer conforms to a culturally idealized shape and size. As a sociologist, Alix is captivated by this phenomenon, and as an artist and advocate, she felt called to intervene by designing clothes that celebrate rather than shame the body. Her signature design is a wrap pant that swaddles the hips, offering them comfort and nurturance. She cites the energetic support the creative center needs, and also the tradition in many primarily Eastern cultures of wrapping a woman’s hips after childbirth to help the body recover.

The motif of overlap runs throughout her work, from the multiple layers of fabric that create an embrace of the body to her overlapping interests with designers in other fields. She thrives in collaboration with fellow artists/makers. At present, she’s working with Fibershed, a sustainable textile non-profit in Northern California that develops regional fiber systems that support both natural ecosystems and community health.  She’s also exploring the role that fragrance plays in enveloping and celebrating the body by partnering with Liis Fragrances, a natural, organic, cruelty free line that views fragrance as a second skin. And she’s designing a piece with Harper Handbags, a company that designs with vegetable tanned, certified nontoxic leathers. Her boundless curiosity about form, connection and adornment makes footwear a natural extension of her creative interests; she’s on the lookout for a conscious footwear designer to collaborate with, as she’s fascinated by direct relationship to the ground.

In all that Alix does, since becoming a mother, she wonders if the time and attention that raising a child demands has impacted the quality of her work. She spent the first year-plus of Julien’s life fearing that she wasn’t doing her best anymore. She’s had to learn to accept her new work as perhaps not her “best,” and honor it as the best she’s able to do now. This recognition prompted a deep consideration of the tenacity of perfectionism, and how pursuing the “perfect” is always doomed to fail.

Considering the constant pressure to achieve, she believes that parents, especially new parents, need permission to just let things be. “Life with a child is going to be different,” she reminds us. “Embracing the new chapters and changes is what makes life full and rewarding. Be forgiving with yourself. Allow people to help you. Let go of unsupportive friends. Let go of trying to control everything. Surrender the hustle. Multi tasking doesn’t work. Be present. Be grateful.”

How does she practice gratitude? By jogging -- slowly. “Everyone passes me,” she says, “but I don’t care at all. I’m not out there to win; I’m out there to move my body comfortably, to smell the flowers, see the water, experience intimacy with nature.” She cites the Buddhist teacher Silvia Boorstein as one of her biggest influences. Her takeaway from Boorstein, she says, is to “relax, then figure it out. You actually can’t figure it out until you relax.”

“Life is hard enough; no need to layer on more pressure. This is your life. Enjoy it. It’ll all be fine.”


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