Transcribed by Kayde Rieken
Announcer: This is Fashionability, your guide to accessible style. Finally, style within reach of everyone.
Emily Davison: Well, hello, everybody from Fashionability today. This is Emily, your co-founder; and today, I’m really, really delighted to be joined by my co-founder Laura Legendary. And today, we’re going to be talking a bit about her experience in fashion and style and some of her tips for success, as well as kind of getting under the skin of her philosophy on fashion and style and what she hopes to achieve with the launch of Fashionability. So Laura, it’s an absolute pleasure to have you here with me today.
Laura Legendary: Thanks, Emily.
ED: So Laura, the first thing we really want to know about is kind of you as a person; so do tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be so interested in fashion in the first place.
LL: Well, I cannot claim that fashion in particular is my first love. My first love has been music and art and theater; and I come from a background of being a patron of the arts, and fashion as an art form does interest me. But my love of music has always been the inspiration of my life. However, once I discovered that technology was a wonderful way to advance one’s ambitions and to assist people in achieving their goals, I became fascinated by technology; and my first real job while in college was in a computer store. And so most of my career has been centered around technology, assistive technology, computer hardware and software. And then I became a professional speaker talking about assistive technology and how it can enable and empower people with disabilities; and I’ve been a speaker and an author and an educator most of my adult life.
ED: Wow! Fantastic. So I’m sure you know a lot about computers and, I daresay, a lot more than me. (Laughs)
LL: Well, it certainly moves faster than I’m able to keep up with some of the time. It seems that every year that goes by there are a myriad new things to learn, and I find that it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with; so becoming an entrepreneur and going off in a different direction seemed like a logical place for me to direct my energy and my skills and abilities. And so my most recent reinvention of myself has been to become an entrepreneur, and hence the genesis of Elegant Insights Braille Creations.
ED: And it is a fantastic creation at that. It’s such a wonderful, inspirational idea; and I have to say, you’re very, very talented at what you do. I mean, you say that — for you, that fashion is a creative outlet; it’s kind of an art form for you. So — I mean, when you think of fashion, what is it you actually think about? What comes to mind for you?
LL: I guess the most problematic aspect of the fashion industry for me is this notion of exclusivity. I think the fashion industry tends to focus on an ideal of beauty that doesn’t exist because people are individual, and we all come in different packages. And I think fashion emphasizes the idea of conformity, all the while advocating a pretense of individuality that I don’t see evidence of. And that bothers me because people are, as I said, of all walks of life and different shapes and sizes; and this notion that one has to aspire to look like or be like or move in the circles like other people, it’s antithetical to what I personally believe in. And for me, what I can appreciate about the fashion industry is fashion as art. I can really appreciate the creative aspect of fashion. I value the creative genius of the various designers of different fashion products; and as a person who does design myself, I know how hard it is to create a business around something as ethereal as a design or as an idea. And so I admire the fashion industry as a business and as an art form, but I find the culture of celebrity, in America in particular, to be bothersome. So I’m hoping that one of the ways in which fashion as an industry can change is to become more inclusive of all ages, all economic strata, all walks of life, all shapes and sizes and abilities.
ED: It’s definitely a really great, you know, thing to think of that fashion will — you know, can change to something that’s a bit more of an inclusive environment; and, like you say, I think fashion should be for everyone from all different walks of life. And I think the most important thing is — is that fashion is very personal to each individual. And — I mean, would you say, for you — I mean, when you go through the process of getting ready in your daily routine, you know, from start to finish, selecting clothing, anything from styling yourself — I mean, what are some of the personal things that you consider to — to be very personal to you, and what are some of the aspects of getting ready that you consider to be special or very intrinsic to the way that you — you function?
LL: Due to the particular nature of my vision loss, I find that planning and organization are key to putting myself together. I am blind as the result of an eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa, which causes a slow, progressive vision loss over time; and one of the ways in which I found myself becoming more frustrated as I began to lose my eyesight was the fact that I was less able to find things quickly and efficiently. And the time I would waste searching for things would drive me crazy, and it would add to my level of stress. And I have found that I am not a person who thrives on chaos; so I began to realize that the best way for me to function in my life in general was by way of planning and organization. So to get ready, if I plan to attend an event or if I need to go someplace or do something — even if it’s relatively spontaneous — I find that getting ready for me involves planning and organization. Everything in my life is very well-organized — my cosmetics, my bath and body products, my closet. I cannot stand having to go somewhere and frantically searching for the other shoe or the blouse that I wanted to wear with this jacket or some accessory that I knew would be the perfect fashion touch for the outfit that I want to wear. I can’t stand rummaging through drawers or my closet or whatever it may be in trying to find that one thing I want. I can’t stand being late. So for me, I have to plan what I’m going to wear in advance, and I actually set up … (Laughs) This may be silly to some people, but I actually set up what I would call a staging area; and I will literally choose the cosmetics that I’m going to wear, the lipstick color that I’m going to wear, the shoes, all the accessories to the outfit that I’m going to wear; and I set it all up in one particular place in advance so when it’s time for me to get ready, I can systematically and methodically go through my routine, find everything I need to find, everything is in its place. I need to do what I need to do to get ready and be on time because people who are disabled and who rely on alternative forms of transportation know that there can be a thousand things that may go wrong between the time you step out of the house and arrive at your destination. Any one of those things could cause you to go the wrong way, make a wrong turn, arrive late. And since I like to be on time, one of the ways in which I like to mitigate those variables — (Laughs) — that can be a barrier to my on-time arrival is to be very organized and systematic in the way I put myself together. So that is one particular aspect of getting ready that is unique to me; and I would say, if you’re talking about a particular fashion aspect in specific, I would definitely say jewelry is my accessory of choice, as you might imagine. Being the owner of a jewelry business, jewelry has been a lifelong interest of mine; and so adding jewelry to the end of my getting ready routine is one thing that would be my specific fashion signature, you might say.
ED: I love it, absolutely love it. A staging area where you get ready in advance. I think that’s such a brilliant idea, and especially needed with the whole aspect of transport and relying on public transport when you have a disability. Now — I mean, you mentioned the process that you take to get ready and kind of how you do it. And — I mean, I think, for a lot of the readers and a lot of the listeners on Fashionability, something that might be very useful is to understand kind of you — kind of your personal appearance and the way that you choose clothing because of the way you are, and to understand where you’re coming from with some of the things that you talk about on Fashionability. So would you care to kind of reveal to us your personal appearance and some of the aspects that affect kind of how you choose clothes and how you actually shop and buy for clothes?
LL: Well, one fashion challenge that I have had throughout my life is that I’m taller than average. I’m five foot eight inches, probably, and a little more, which is several inches taller than the average American woman. I’m very long-limbed; and therefore, finding clothes that fit me has always been problematic. I find that I have a very difficult time finding blouses where the sleeves are long enough to go down to my wrist if it’s a long-sleeved blouse; and often, I find I have to size up in order to get something to fit my arms. And it’s not always easy to find tall-sized pants for ladies; and so if I’m going to wear a pair of dress slacks, or even a pair of jeans, it’s not always easy to find a pair of pants that are long enough for my long legs. And if I’m going to wear heels with it, then that’s even more problematic if you want to wear pants that are a little bit longer. So finding clothes that fit my tall-drink-of-water self is a bit of an issue at times. I’m extremely pale. You expressed that you are, too; and I’m sure you can relate to how difficult it can be sometimes to find colors that are flattering to someone who is extremely pale. I would describe my hair as a copper color. It’s a reddish brown; it’s straight; and my eyes are brown. I would say that there’s no particular ethnicity to my features. I have a very soft look about me. I’m very young looking. I look much, much younger than my age, which I will not reveal; but I’m very young looking. And I would say that, generally speaking, my preferred attire is that of classic, understated elegance. I choose natural fabrics. There isn’t a strand of polyester or any other synthetic fabric in my wardrobe; I’m a bit of a textiles snob in that regard — all natural fabrics, always. And most of my clothes are classic to the degree that, if you were to walk into my closet — my very well-organized closet, as mentioned before — (Laughs) — you would not be able to pull out a suit or other garment and point to it and say, “Oh, my gosh, that is so 2004.” Everything that I own is very generic with regard to style or year or trend, and I believe that great tailoring is one of the best accessories to any fashion look. And so my clothes fit well; they’re made of beautiful fabrics with classic styling; and that’s generally my sensibility. If I’m going to add some sort of fad or trend to my look, I’m going to do it by way of an accessory. It’s going to be a handbag; it’s going to be a pair of shoes; it’s going to be some jewelry; but it’s not going to be in one of my garments.
ED: Wow. Well, you sound absolutely stunning. And I really love your whole ethos on having classic pieces but teaming it with things that are more adhering to trends and new fashions that we’ve got coming in because I think that’s the best way to be, to be honest. I mean, especially with, you know, new trends coming in and having, you know, new trends going out. And, I mean, for you personally, would you say that having things that are classics but incorporating them with things that salute a trend but are not kind of, you know, full out there — would you say that makes it easier for you in terms of, you know, accessing fashion with your sight loss and making your life easier to actually, you know, keep in with fashion but not in a way that it would be out of budget or kind of be too quick-paced to follow?
LL: I think that, for people who are visually impaired, it can be difficult to keep up on what’s trending; and again, I am averse to the notion that one must keep up to begin with because, again, there’s the suggestion of exclusivity there, that if you’re not “in the know,” if you’re not “in,” then you’re “out.” And I dislike that world view. I believe in individuality, and I believe that people, as long as you are being the best version of you that you can be, your most authentic self, I believe that that is the key to being at your best in any situation, being comfortable in your own skin. And let’s be honest, Emily: we’re not solving world peace here. We’re not curing the world’s hunger problems. This is fashion. There are certainly more substantive issues to which we could devote our time and attention. But what appeals to me about the notion of Fashionability and what we’re doing is that, by enabling people to reach to be their best, most authentic self, they can gain the confidence and the enhanced self-esteem to enjoy a better quality of life by giving more of themselves to others. And I think the more we give of ourselves, the closer we get to solving world hunger and world peace and climate change, or pick whatever issue is close to your heart. Does that make sense?
ED: Oh definitely. I think, you know, having kind of something, an ethos that you believe in, to improve the way that you feel about yourself can only be transmitted to others. I mean, I’m a strong believer in the notion that confidence is very infectious, but also self-esteem and self-belief is very infectious; and I think fashion is one way to achieving that and, too, kind of promoting happiness within the world that can, in turn, affect other issues, like you say. And I think that’s a really great philosophy to have on the world. I mean, you speak a lot about success. What do you personally think are the keys to success in your mind, being a successful businesswoman?
LL: To be honest, I hardly think of myself as qualified to identify the keys to success because I think success is very individual to everyone; and I think that my version of success might not hold up to close scrutiny by others. It depends upon how you define success. If you define success by financial freedom, then you might not think of me as a success. If you think of success as a person who is able to live life on their own terms and call their own shots, to be autonomous, then you might think of me as a success. But to most people, I think the trappings of success are noticeably absent from my existence. (Laughs) And therefore, they might not think of me as a success. However, I am on my own; I have no one in my life who can catch me if I fall; I am single-handedly paying a mortgage and running a business; and I’m paying my employees. And I cannot stop, and I cannot rest; I have to take care of everything on my own. And if you think of that as success, well then perhaps I’m successful, unless you think of the fact that running your own business and being an entrepreneur means that there are no days off; and, in reality, what I’ve essentially done is simply create a job for myself that never ends. You might not think of that as a success. So if anyone wanted to be their own boss, to be an entrepreneur, to go into business for themselves, I think that my best advice would be to trust your instincts, don’t take no for an answer, and be open-minded. Listen more than you talk, and realize that the world will not reward you for withholding your gifts. Whatever those gifts are, give them. Give it all; give it hard; and give with all your heart.
ED: Wow. That is a truly amazing philosophy. And I think a lot of people would think you a success, Laura, because you are a very inspirational person. You have, certainly, a lot of great things to say, and you’ve got a lot of experience in advocacy of disability and equality. Now, I mean, in terms of equality — getting back to Fashionability — what are some of your personal things that you would love to see change in the fashion industry within the next — I don’t know, say, ten years — and how do you personally hope Fashionability is going to help achieve that?
LL: I’ve never really thought of the fashion industry as an industry that requires change, or I’m certainly not arrogant enough to think that there’s anything I could do to change an industry. However, I can change me. I am always in control of myself, and I would say that my great passion has always been to live my life in the service of others, to the degree that I can use my strengths — the gifts I’ve been given — to help other people reach for more, then that is a wax in which I hope to effect change, simply by sharing myself and my skills and abilities with other people. I hope that I can inspire other people to choose to make any changes that they might believe they want to make; and if we all choose ourselves as an agent of change, then things in the larger picture can become changed. So with regard to Fashionability, I hope to communicate some of the aspects of fashion that have been missing from the landscape of accessible information. I think that one of my strengths is communication. I think that is one of my gifts that I can share with other people; and I think that, for anyone who wants to embark on a journey of self-improvement, if I can help them on that journey by communicating some aspects of fashion to them that have previously been inaccessible, then that is something I hope to be able to do for other people. Beyond that, I hope that Fashionability can become a place that people can turn to for the information they need to effect those changes in their own life, and therefore be happier, feel more confident as I was expressing before, have an elevated sense of self-esteem so that they’re able to then be a better version of themselves, a more authentic version of themselves, so as to effect change elsewhere so that other people can use their strengths, their gifts, their skills and abilities to make the world a better place. So by empowering individuals, I hope that we can then, therefore, all effect greater change.
ED: I really love that view of how kind of empowering other people can effect change; and I suppose that’s the whole crux of it, is giving people the tools and the knowledge to be able to live a more independent and confident life and to be able to show the public that people with disabilities do not need to be stereotyped and do not warrant to be stereotyped. Now, you took a lot about philosophies and, you know, your own personal beliefs on life and style and confidence and the world in general; and, I mean, for yourself, as a co-founder, what do you think are some of your key philosophies on culture, identity, life, fashion, all that kind of thing; and how do you think you’re going to bring them to Fashionability?
LL: I really think that all I have to offer is my ability to communicate. I think that I cannot honestly set myself up as some sort of fashion icon. I’m certainly not an influencer; I’m not a celebrity; I’m not a mover and a shaker in any industry. And I think that all I can do is live the example about which I speak; and that is that you can live the life you want to live, and you can have all that you desire to have. And by setting the example, I can be evidence of all of the claims that I make about what is possible. So for me, I just want to be the bridge between all of the information that’s available and accessible to the mainstream and all of the information that’s unavailable and inaccessible to people who have disabilities. And if I can bridge that gap by way of my gift of communication, then I hope that, in some small way, I’m enabling someone else to pay it forward, so to speak, so that they can then go out into the workplace; they can find gainful employment; they might be able to embark upon their own speaking career or write a book or teach something to someone else. I recently read a quote that went something like, What we leave behind is not that which is engraved into stone monuments but what we weave into the lives of others. And so I want to weave a fabric of knowledge and empowerment and inspiration and enlightenment into other people so that they can weave that thread into the lives of still others.
ED: Wow. What a metaphor that is, weaving a fabric of knowledge and empowerment. I absolutely love that, and I think that’s a truly beautiful quote. It is pure genius, and still keeping in with the textile fabric theme. I love it; it’s brilliant. (Laughs)
LL: You just — you can’t buy that kind of — what can I say, you know?
ED: Oh, God, totally. Totally, absolutely, one hundred percent. So, I mean, is there anything you’d like to add, any kind of quotes or things that you would like to add and tell the Fashionability audience that I haven’t mentioned or I haven’t brought up or that we haven’t had the chance to talk about yet?
LL: I don’t think so. I just want to let people know that I make myself available by way of a number of different platforms. If you’re interested in Elegant Insights Braille Creations — that is my jewelry business — you can find me on Twitter at @ElegantInsights, all one word. If you’re interested in my accessibility and assistive technology information, I’m also on Twitter as @accessible_info. And I write a blog pertaining to all aspects of advocacy, accessibility, and assistive technology; and you can find my blog at AccessibleInsights.info/blog. So AccessibleInsights — make sure it’s plural because I’d like to think I have more than one — .info — it’s not .com; it’s .info — /blog. And there you can read many articles that I’ve written throughout a handful of years regarding products and services and insights into all things accessibility.
ED: Well, that is absolutely fantastic, and I do hope that many of our listeners will check out your wonderful collection of jewelry — particularly the autumn range because it’s my favorite — and, you know, check out all the great advice and tips and information and services that you have to offer as a writer and as an entrepreneur. So it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you today, Laura. And don’t forget, guys, to check out all of the things we’ve got going up over the next few weeks on Fashionability. And if you want to ask either of us a question, you can find out all of our information, which will be linked in the downbar of this subscription. And from me and Laura, we want to thank you so much for listening to us today