Much like Birds Watching, Jenny Kendler’s permanent sculpture on the 606 depicting one hundred eyes of birds threatened by extinction, the interdisciplinary artist keeps her eyes wide open to the impact people have on the environment. Her work focuses on the relationship between human beings and the natural world—especially concerning biodiversity loss and climate change. When it comes to the fashion industry, she doesn’t turn a blind eye either. “The garment industry is responsible for 8 percent of warming emissions, making it a bigger contributor to the climate crisis than the aviation industry,” she says. “In addition to significant pollution from farming nonorganic cotton, heavy-metal containing dyes, and synthetics made from fossil fuels, the garment industry is also responsible for massive worker abuses and exploitation across the globe. When you don’t think about where you shop, your clothing can accidentally become a statement about your inattention to justice in the world.”
Even though Kendler, 40, stopped shopping at traditional clothing retailers 15 years ago and now wears exclusively secondhand or artisanal garments, she still gives her personal style plenty of consideration. “It is a nonverbal way to tell the world something about yourself, express your culture, or even to send a political message. In that sense, style is a part of everything that I am interested in! Why not broadcast on all channels? Both my artwork and my closet work to express my values, bring a spirit of joy and play to the mundane or overlooked, and work to reenchant and shift spaces that otherwise have been overtaken by consumer capitalism.” Kendler suggests people should reconsider their idea of “value.”
“Americans love a deal, but something that is trendy which you won’t like in six months, or a garment which quickly falls apart, isn’t really worth any money,” she says. “Instead, invest in well-made, beautiful clothes that support artisans or fair-trade and B-corporations. Think about how what you wear can more fully express your personality and help bring into being the kind of clean, green and just world you’d like to live in. Style is an easy (and important) place to practice our bravery and desire for social change!”
The day Kendler was photographed, she was covered in earthy tones and multiple textures, while sporting a brocade face mask made by artist Michelle Hartney. “Right now, I am feeling oversized, gender-neutral shapes and lots of nature-inspired patterns, like the ‘granite’ on this overcoat. I’m also thinking a lot about the artsy, liberal ladies at my synagogue in the 90s who sported chunky jewelry and hand-woven boxy tops and jackets. Especially during the pandemic, I have been enjoying interjecting an element that’s playful or even a little tacky, like this giant faux fur scarf from Buffalo Exchange. I got the bag on Etsy years ago. The bottom is made from upcycled leather jackets. I don’t like to compromise function—this outfit and my boots are warm and practical—but there’s no reason I can’t amuse myself, and maybe others, at the same time.” v
Jenny Kendler’s work can be seen at jennykendler.com and on Instagram at @jennykendler. Her first museum solo exhibition will be on display at the MSU Broad in Michigan from January 9 through late spring next year. She wants to bring attention to a petition concerning the fashion industry at Stand.earth.