Three Creatives on Taking Up Space in Nature
Since the pandemic, there’s been a greater move towards the outdoors. Workers left the city for greener areas; gorpcore saw everyone don fleeces, cargo pants and athleisure wear for outdoor walks – or, perhaps, simply for the woodland aesthetic. For people from marginalised backgrounds, this cultural shift represents an overcoming of invisible barriers. Inner-city communities have often faced social hurdles in accessing nature, and people from marginalised backgrounds are less likely to engage with the outdoors due to historic discrimination.
This shift has also been marked by a number of collectives that’ve sprung up since the pandemic. Flock Together, a birdwatching group for people of colour, was launched in 2020. After losing his son to knife crime, Birmingham-based Marlon Patrice sought healing from the outdoors. Later, he launched We Go Outside Too, a non-profit project to help the Black community access the countryside. Jahiking began in Paris to help people connect with nature.
These collectives not only work on uplifting communities, but have spread an awareness of the social, physical and financial barriers people may face. Furthermore, travel and nature are both linked to mental health and have been used as a source of inspiration for creatives.
For Benjamin Patch, a professional volleyball player from Utah who’s currently based in Berlin, the outdoors is much more than a trend. The multi-hyphenate is also a ceramics artist, and uses nature to inform both his art and personal style. To Patch, nature is for everyone. Berlin-based stylist Fiyori Ghebreweldi, similarly, uses nature for inspiration, drawing from its details – such as the colour of moss, the vibrancy – to inform her work. For Ghebreweldi, outdoor wear has always been a part of German fashion and her own style. Florence Huntington-Whiteley has recently swapped bustling city life for the calming qualities of nature, a journey that’s seen her live in the mountainous areas of Ibiza and trek across Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. Trippin’s co-founder Kesang Ball joined the Zalando team on a trip to the Slovenian outdoors to reconnect with how nature inspires her creativity and personal style.
We speak to Patch, Ghebreweldi and Huntington-Whiteley about taking up space in the outdoors and how nature has inspired their work.
As a ceramics artist, what are the creative benefits of spending more time out in nature?
I’m sure people can imagine the correlation between nature and pottery – the medium of molding dirt. However, past the obvious, nature inspires emotions; the wind through the trees, the river over rocks, or simply the open sky. The shapes I create are an honest representation of a mood or story I’m currently in. Nature is running alongside that as a guide for the beginning of a new object and the finishing comes from my emotions.
Venturing into nature provides moments of inspiration, curiosity and self-discovery. How does the outdoors inspire your personal style?
I really love style. I love people with their own sense of style. Also, a style that is recognisable but not always obvious. Fashion is not always stylish (rarely). Similar to creating ceramic shapes, there is a language of an artist that you can usually identify and in style. Even if it’s a broad range there is an identifier. Nature plays to its own rules, and that is my inspiration. I can be just as dynamic as roots under our feet.
What are your travel style essentials for going off-grid?
[Laughs] Besides sweatpants… I’m pretty obsessed with cargo pants. I don’t care if it’s 40 degrees outside, I have with me some version of cargo pants.
Has travelling into natural spaces made you more aware of the need to take up space?
That’s an interesting point. Where I come from it’s full of native and indigenous cultures, and they are the exemplars of outdoor recreation. The altruistic relationship between nature and us as creatures. Nature is for everyone but doesn’t belong to us at all. The goal in my mind is a cohesive synergy between us, not one of ownership. Not one of colour because in the outdoors our colours are represented. White is maybe the colour you see the least. I have travelled a lot in my life, lived all over this beautiful world, grew up on a tiny Pacific island and I really think nature, the rocks, the trees really love us. They hope better for us. They try and reach us – sometimes in dramatic ways to catch our attention. It’s up to us to listen and learn.
Can you share one tip to encourage folk from marginalised backgrounds who are thinking of exploring nature but might have hesitations?
Go be part of the world you come from. We are not of tall buildings and malls. We are from the soil.
As a Berlin-based stylist, access to green spaces is on your doorstep. How does nature and the outdoors influence your personal style?
Berlin is surrounded by lakes. In summer I constantly incorporate bathing suits and bikinis in my outfits. You never know if you’ll spontaneously take a trip to the lake! There’s also a lot of greenery and parks not only around the city but within. So walking is a huge part of our activity all year long, I love a good and comfy sneaker. You can just let the city drift you around from one neighbourhood to the next through all the parks!
Are there any style essentials which you always take with you when travelling into the outdoors?
Gloves! When hiking I love to just tune out. If my feet and hands are secured there is nothing I cannot step on or touch. You can go and explore without thinking too much.
Has travelling into natural spaces made you more aware of the need to take up space?
My parents are both Black and immigrated to Germany at a very young age, however my dad was always very interested in taking us camping, canoeing and hiking, which marginalised people seldom have access to. At some point you realise that you’re the only Black family. We definitely need to make these activities more appealing to BIPOC. It can be very intimidating, knowing that there isn’t a community. But I think, especially after Covid, there’s more and more initiatives and clubs popping up focusing on the outdoors for marginalised folks.
Can you share one tip for non-white folk who are thinking of exploring the outdoors but might be hesitant to do so?
Nature is here for all of us, as you mentioned before. We have to remember that. If you have the privilege of living in a bigger city there might be outdoor clubs focusing on, for example, BIPOCs! Also a great way to meet new people and try out something specific and getting guided.
And we have more access to information than ever. YouTubers can give you an impression on activities and places, there’s a bunch of sites offering guided activities for friends, groups, and we often forget the positive power of social media. Sometimes a little story call can bring great people, tips and suggestions into your DMs, if you do not have anyone to bring along!
Life in the city can be fast-paced and tiring. Similarly to you, many city-based folk are turning to nature and exploring outdoor spaces away from human development in a bid to feel less suffocated and burnt out by the oppressiveness of living in busier areas. How has this move away from the city, towards nature and the outdoors, impacted your mental health and work/life balance?
I would say I’m less trying to escape, more trying to return. Returning to nature has brought me right back to my childhood where I feel I can start again, and this time move forward with more of an understanding of who I am. Nature shows me growth and change takes time, so I give it to myself. Nature shows me the seasons and cycles, so I follow them. Nature shows me how change is always happening, so I accept that. It's the best teacher and can be kind and cruel.
Off the back of the trip in Slovenia you went on a solo trek into the mountains. What are your thoughts on the importance of solo travel into the wild, and what are you learning as you progress further into this journey?
2022 was my first year of solo travels and I loved it. What’s been most important to me is it is showing me what I really want to do and enjoy, and with that comes more self-acceptance of who I am and the lessons I learn. I tend to also be more open and curious too; it was so cute because I made three new friends at the summit of Goli vrh in Jezersko and ended up sitting and drinking their homemade Jäger together!
Solo travel can feel dangerous, especially for folk from marginalised backgrounds. Can you share one tip for those who are thinking of exploring nature?
Do your research – look at reviews! Ask locals questions but don’t be too intrusive (read the room), learn a couple phrases in the language, see if anyone you know knows someone where you’re going, go where you want, not where people say you should go. Leave room for spontaneity. If in doubt, leave it out!
Venturing into nature provides moments of mystery, inspiration, curiosity and self-discovery. How has the outdoors inspired your personal style?
The outdoors inspires my style because I dress ready for the outdoors, to be part of the outdoors (and I love nothing more than being practical). Nature is style to me. The materials, dyes, prints, colour palettes, textures, shapes, movement and tone – it all comes from nature.
What are your travel essentials?
For outdoor travel: Shell, thermal layers, balaclava, decent shoes and socks, penknife, insulated bottle, snacks. General travels: travel clock/watch, incense and CBD, Google maps list of recommendations I’ve collected and researched (mainly food or nature-based), one smart or formal outfit (you never know), Maharishi snow pants, tank tops, workout gear, journal, book (ideally about where I’m exploring or the nature there), cap and beanie, tracksuit, battery pack, film camera, insulated bottle, Earl Grey tea bags (outside the UK they suck), snacks.
Zalando Street have been publishing a digital magazine that explores how different streetwear communities are shaping culture and trends across Europe. You can shop the Zalando collection here and find them on Instagram here.