My friend Sam asked, “What does Dharma mean?”. We were on a dharma path strung with Tibetan prayer flags that led to the foot of a mountain we planned to hike. Despite growing up in a Buddhist home, I shamefully managed only a few garbled phrases. Using Wikipedia as instant mollification of my embarrassment, I found an esoteric answer referencing multiple Eastern philosophies.
Broadly, the word encapsulates the spiritual concept of universal order and the principles that uphold cosmic law. It includes the ethical path that leads an individual closer to the Soul, or Oneness with the Universe. Unfortunately, we were on a hiking path that would become, unbeknownst to us, 10 miles long and would lead us only closer to starvation. It was the hottest, most humid 5 hours of the day saddling noon. With this vague definition of Dharma in mind, I thought about how this concept fit into my life.
Simulacra, the lifestyle brand launched last year, was an idea born from a desire to design aesthetically, create responsibly, and jump into the unknown. It was to be a brand that spoke not only to a person’s sense of style but also to one’s beliefs and agency and to how small choices have rippling effects. Simulacra was an attempt to create clothing, starting from these basic principles, in order to make some sense of what the fashion industry has become.
With the rise of globalization, fast fashion, and luxury goods (even second hand), I found it difficult to extract the principles of cosmic law and universal order when it came to something as simple as finding a pair of pants to start the day. Given the ubiquity of “do good” brands, I wasn't the only one feeling this way. Despite the tenuous altruism and blatant arrogance in “consumerism for a cause,” there still existed an underlying, genuine desire to connect with others and their communities.
I was always fascinated with the idea of simulacra, a copy of a copy ad infinitum, and the power it held. Naming the brand, Simulacra, paid homage to the complexities of modern life, where we take selfies in order to further the fight again breast cancer while Kim Kardashian takes nude selfies to further her cause for breast cleavage while 1m+ followers click “like.” Given that all things (be it photos, clothing, design, or art) are derivatives of the things that came before, could we still celebrate the repurposing and cull meaning from the process of distillation?
And so, my friends and I continued our casual hike, dripping sweat and feeling good that we were #goingplaces and #doingthings. Sophie and I had planned to take some photos for Simulacra’s incessant need for content, Content, CONTENT. Sam only wanted to get to the soaring view. He had no interest otherwise. Our photoshoot was problematic because it meant I'd be modeling. Sophie was behind the camera, and Sam did not fit the womenswear I had packed. My discomfort in having photographs taken of me was exacerbated by the embarrassment of self-promotion. Literally.
Starting a business has been an absurd, empowering, and lonely path, maybe even a dharma path. Simulacra has become a personal attempt to sort through the millennial, meandering white noise and find purpose, whether that meant a connection with the Cosmic Soul or a freshly defined relationship with Instagram. While the camera was regrettably photographing me on our hike, I felt like Cindy Sherman, posing myself in an artificial setting, manipulating a scene in B movies. Though she created art and I am merely creating “content,” I recognize the universality of this moment. It is in every selfie that social media has begotten.
Within this artifice, this construct, lies a truth. Cindy Sherman captured meticulously staged moments meant to emulate a still moment in film, simulacra at its best, forever changing views on photography, portraiture, and female roles. I founded a clothing brand, made a commitment to things I care about, ended up on a beautiful/invigorating/miserable hike, begrudgingly posed for myself, walked twice on the dharma path lined with tattered flags, not exactly Enlightened after the hike but certainly elated that the Universe would lead to my favorite meal.