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A Window to Our World: Hurricane Strong Ladies of Puerto Rico

STORY BY RACHEL SCHWARTZMANN – PHOTOS BY EIMY FIGUEROA FOR THE STYLE LINE

The world has changed a lot since launching this series after the 2017 presidential

election. Divisive rhetoric, intolerance, and violence have plagued all corners of the earth – Yet as a result, we’ve witnessed worldwide movements that stand against this hatred and advocate for positive, inclusive change. Here at The Style Line, our initial hope was that A Window to Our World could serve as a space for our community to come together and comment on the world’s current political, social, and in the case of today’s story, environmental, climate. As we’ve seen in the past eleven months, these ideas extend far beyond the immediate aftermath of last November. More stories must be told.

This year, we’ve had the incredible opportunity to begin to get to know some of the women at the helm of Puerto Rico’s growing creative community. We’ve connected with emerging style mavens and shop owners who are setting a new standard for the way islanders look at style as a whole. But as Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, their lives changed overnight. The devastation sent shockwaves through the community and compromised the island’s most vital agricultural resources.

Over a month later, Puerto Rico is still collectively working to overcome the humanitarian crisis and figure out ways to replenish everyday resources. In trying to figure out an appropriate role to play in this conversation at The Style Line, we wanted to begin by championing the island’s incredible small business community – as well as shed light on how they are using their businesses as a platform for rebuilding. Enter the #HurricaneStrongCreatives, a collective featuring Puerto Rico’s most promising talent. Today we honor them and introduce you to four talented ladies within this group that truly prove you can leave an imprint in the world, simply by doing what you love.

Read on to meet Frances, Sally, Sandra, and Kali who share an honest window to their world (featuring amazing portraits captured exclusively by our contributor Eimy Figueroa for The Style Line) and discuss the shift in conversation they hope to see in the months ahead.

My name is Frances Rivera, I am a graphic designer and

sometimes I do photography as well. I love what I do and in addition to making a living, I also enjoy what I do, which makes me feel that is not a job. I consider myself a simple and genuine person. I love fashion, photography, to create, traveling, and discovering new places. Something I’ve learned to value in life besides my family is to cherish time; it depends on how and with whom you invest it in, but you will have the best moments, experiences and memories.

Give us a window to your current world: What are the questions we need to be asking or the conversations we should be cultivating given the current situation?

The questions or conversations that I think should be talked about due to our current situation are: What is the action plan that should be taken to improve the situation of creative artists in the island? And, what does it take to resist the blow and survive on the island as a creative artist? A great majority of people have been forced to leave or consider leaving the island for the sake of their future.

How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s bigger conversations and how do you hope the Hurricane Strong Collective plays a role in this?

Well, creativity plays an important role right now because of the situation we live in – you have to reinvent yourself and create new ideas to survive. As Albert Einstein once said, “In times of crisis, imagination is more important than knowledge.” This situation that we are currently living in will not normalize for a long time, but the needs will lead us to create new ideas; ideas that if you work hard, with optimism and perseverance, we will see our island flourish again.

While this experience has been devastating, what have you learned about yourself and your work as a creative as a result? What do you want the world to know when it comes to PR’s creative community?

If living off of art is normally difficult in Puerto Rico, now it’s much more difficult. Hurricane Maria changed the lives of Puerto Ricans in a matter of hours. We have to adapt to the different situations in which many people like me or my generation have never lived before, especially the fall of communications and electricity. But if I have learned anything from this experience, it is to overcome every situation, help those in need, be patient, be grateful, and remain optimistic even though it may seem impossible. All of this drives my personal and creative inspiration.

Hi, my name is Sally Torres Vega, which is also the name

of my label which I design. I’m an enthusiastic educator, nature lover (my studio is located in the rural/central area of the island) and mother of two beautiful girls. Family, friends, sense of humor and right now “resources” like water and internet are things I value a lot.

Give us a window to your current world: What are the questions we need to be asking or the conversations we should be cultivating given the current situation?

Realities and priorities have been shaken in all areas of our lives, in my case, like having to travel for 30 minutes in order to have communication and internet. How systems are built and the fragility of them at the same time. How dependable our lives can be and how can we go back to basics in some ways to make days pass in a more organic way…

How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s bigger conversations and how do you hope the Hurricane Strong Collective plays a role in this?

There is no option other than to get creative, and I mean creative in any way. From how we manage new situations or how we reinvent the ways we work. The passing of Hurricane Maria through our island has rooted down the values of my product. The importance of handwork and how to work around the materials that are available.
It is great to design when there is abundance but it is also interesting to design from necessity and lack of materials and resources. This experience has shown me that my work is definitely slow fashion. It is a reality to us and not just a trend to follow. We have to embrace the new alternatives that can be available and yes, it has been tough, working from electric generators and having things pass by more slowly, but it is a daily process.
We are currently working on our e-store to be our primary sales source. In the past, we have successfully engaged with loyal customers but in order to grow next steps are introducing our product to people from around the globe – this is a way we can continue to support our production from our base here in Puerto Rico.

While this experience has been devastating, what have you learned about yourself and your work as a creative as a result? What do you want the world to know when it comes to PR’s creative community?

It has been great and refreshing seeing many creative communities, cooperatives, and people just wanting to help. Locally, stores are being brave in opening their doors without electricity. New projects with a manufacturing bases are opening and reaching out to help small designers. Tough times call for tough minds and tender hearts.

My name is Sandra Williamson and I am a

hairstylist. Outside of my profession, I am an artist, designer, and mother. One of the things I most value in life is spending time with my family and my pets. I enjoy drinking good coffee and my plant oasis.

Give us a window to your current world: What are the questions we need to be asking or the conversations we should be cultivating given the current situation?

The mentality of the people that have stayed on the island is that you have to make it work however you can. My shop EDIT Hair Studio is located in a shared space with other small businesses. I have had to improvise my current workspace. Moving from a basement location to be by the window where I can get natural light and a breeze. I have to bring people downstairs with a flashlight to wash their hair. My work schedule has changed to match the hours of daylight. As I have been working, my days have been filled with clients that are moving out of Puerto Rico. The cut and color styles have changed to be low maintenance. My space has become a place where people can take a break from the everyday chaos and treat themselves to a moment of normalcy.

The questions that people should be asking include, what is happening in Puerto Rico today? Hurricane Maria made headlines but now it’s been more than a month later and the island is still devastated. The conversation should be: What’s next? How can we help?

How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s bigger conversations and how do you hope the Hurricane Strong Collective plays a role in this?

I think it’s important to bring attention to the day to day lives that people are living currently in Puerto Rico. They are in survival mode and every day is hard. We have to shine a light on the situation and keep talking about it. The world has a short attention span and soon they will be on to the next big news.

While this experience has been devastating, what have you learned about yourself and your work as a creative as a result? What do you want the world to know when it comes to PR’s creative community? 

During this process, I have learned to be more patient and more thankful. Creativity has helped me through the trauma of Hurricane Maria. I had to pick up the pieces and create a way to get back to work and life. I want the world to know that Puerto Rico has a lot of talented and creative people. We are a community of hardworking and passionate artists that love our island so much! We all want to work together to rebuild Puerto Rico.

Hola! My name is Kali Solack. I own a tiny

coffee shop in San Juan, Puerto Rico called Café Regina. In December we will be open for one year. Outside of my daily routine of being speckled by coffee grounds, I am usually baking and cooking, developing recipes, shopping at farmers markets, or reading about food and art. I really value being at home and preparing meals with friends and family. This is where I am the happiest. Through cooking and food, I have learned the importance of community, honesty, creativity and the value of a strong work ethic.

Give us a window to your current world: What are the questions we need to be asking or the conversations we should be cultivating given the current situation?

Today marks our 37th day without electricity and Café Regina has not been able to open normally since the storm. Life’s simple pleasures like water bottles and fruits and vegetables have become rarities and we have been forced to slow down and adopt a new schedule. However, with a lack of power and resources came a beautiful strengthening of community and an outpouring of support. Pop-ups and collaborations are keeping Café Regina and other businesses busy and pulling the creative community together. On the flip side of that, there are businesses closing and unfortunately, many people are fleeing.

I am working on initiatives with multiple businesses in the states to help raise funds or get donations to help coffee farm communities in the mountains and get coffee shops back on their feet. From an agricultural point of view, most of the crops in Puerto Rico, including our coffee farms, have been destroyed. We need to start asking ourselves what the future of agriculture in Puerto Rico looks like and how this can be a good opportunity to create new ways of doing business. We need to start talking about the future of Puerto Rico, and how we can keep it a place where people still want to live and travel. Will creatives from this generation who made a mark on our society come back or will a new influx of people come with different ideas and values?

How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s bigger conversations and how do you hope the Hurricane Strong Collective plays a role in this?

I think that the creative world is a means for expression and communication during a time when words might not be enough. When it seems like needs are not being met and voices are silenced, artistic expression can often be the driving force that we need. I hope that the Hurricane Strong Collective can be part of this voice and shine a light on how our generation and its leadership is dealing with the aftermath of such a powerful disaster.

While this experience has been devastating, what have you learned about yourself and your work as a creative as a result? What do you want the world to know when it comes to PR’s creative community? 

I have learned that with patience and a positive attitude, we can adapt and find beauty in the unknown. Our lives have changed drastically and new challenges are presented but we are resilient and innovative. After Maria, I have been forced to slow down and look away from technology. I have learned that times like these give me an opportunity to reflect and form new goals and plans. Once things are back to normal, I want to incorporate more downtime into my routine in order for fresh ideas to bloom. The creative community in Puerto Rico is so tightly knit and full of passion and potential. I am very grateful and thankful to have been accepted into this community so openly and lovingly. Puerto Ricans are very family and community-oriented and this is proven in the creative scene. Everyone wants to see their colleagues and friends succeed and are willing to do whatever they can to help and make that happen. If you travel to Puerto Rico or if you live here, shopping locally, visiting art exhibits and supporting the upcoming culinary scene is incredibly important, and now, more than ever, crucial to the growth and continuation of this community.