Muse - Janelle Whitehead
Janelle Whitehead is an Austin-based ethical clothing advocate and barista, who plans to one day open her own coffee shop that hires refugee women, so that they may work on their conversational English skills. In addition to that, she is also the Austin events director for fair-trade handbag line Purse & Clutch, and is working on starting her own fashion and lifestyle blog. “I think that we, as consumers, need to be way more mindful of the labor involved in fashion, and to prioritize the women and men making our clothing over yet another pair of cheap boots or trendy tank top,” she says, “I am unapologetic about calling people to rethink their obsession with fast fashion.”
Janelle’s views on changing the fashion world align with our efforts to make ethical fashion more beautiful, visible, and attainable, and are what made us want to explore further what “Being Janelle” means.
What garment do you have an emotional attachment to that you can’t let go, and why?
I'm such a sentimental person, which is reflected in my closet for sure. I work hard to curate my closet to include only ethically made pieces that really fit my style, which means I mull over every piece. A lot. But the best example is one I didn't buy: a hand-me-down brown Givenchy vest (worn in some of the photos). That vest was my uncle's in college in the mid 1970s. My mom stole it from him when she started college, and then passed it to me when I started college 10 years ago! It's literally falling apart, but I can't let it go! And if anyone reading this wants to fix it for me, I'll make you cookies.
Do any particular cultural styles/uniforms/references resonate with you?
I flutter back and forth between the late 60's/early 70's flower child colors and silhouettes, and a more 90s hippie look like I grew up around- with linen and dreads and a tinge of grunge. Luckily, I think those two can work pretty well together most of the time! I find myself being pulled to South American patterns, which makes sense, seeing as I've been immersed in South American textiles for the last 2 - 3 years with Purse & Clutch, as well as Teysha - a Guatemalan boot line I worked with for a while. However, it's more likely that I'll just admire and appreciate it, or put it in my home rather than on my body. I stick to a lot of solids, neutral/desert-y patterns and earth tones - but I do make exceptions here and there! I have a killer bright red Mexican house dress that I wear the heck out of. I'm also really really drawn to traditional work uniforms of Southeast Asia - fisherman pants, draped linen and cotton aprons, wrap skirts, etc. There's something comforting and freeing about the layers, simplicity and muted colors. I think all of this makes its way into my closet in one form or another, and is becoming more and more seamless over time.
What does "Being Janelle" mean to you with regards to your personal style and the way you express yourself?
Yikes, I'm not sure I have a full answer on that yet. I got rid of 3/4 of my closet 3 years ago, and realized I had lost who I was entirely in an effort to be everything to everyone. Every single morning, I had to wake up and decide which version of Janelle I was supposed to be that day - and it was exhausting. That's actually also when I made the decision to only buy ethical and/or secondhand from there on out. Luckily, ethical fashion has made huge strides in the last few years, but even still, that decision has shaped a lot of my "personal style", as I would rather sacrifice being trendy if it means that the people who make my clothes are treated with respect and dignity. That being said, I feel the most "Janelle" in a headwrap and maxi, with my tattoos visible, the same stack of bracelets I wear every day and ignoring completely the idea that you should pair larger necklaces with smaller earrings or vice versa. "Being Janelle" has meant slowly getting rid of the mindset that if I appreciate a look on someone else, I should try it myself. It has meant not being afraid to say no to Zooey Deschanel cutesyness or hipster cat shirts or whatever else someone says I should wear, and saying yes to myself, even if that means I'm never on the cover of a fashion magazine.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
Obviously, I adore Joni Mitchell. Obviously. But for modern influencers, I am unashamedly in love with Jessica Kraus of House Of Habit. She has mastered the "desert bohemian" vibe, and has the cutest family and home. She also alerts me to some really great small-batch designers and ethical vendors I may have previously been unaware up. Jessica Gatlyn is another fashion-love of mine, who I feel like has gone through some of the same wardrobe shifts I have, though she's way cooler/trendier than I'll ever be. And on a more personal level, I can't get over Ashlee Pryor of BossBabes ATX. She is such a lovely soul, and her style (and overall radiance), reminds me that I can dress however the heck I want, and that I'm perfectly enough just as I am.