My latest venture is about creating a new ritual around illness and other changes in health. I realized that an individual’s needs were not being met during the time that is most trying. In discovering the things we take for granted—like clothing that fits—can define people during the moments that are hardest on us and our loved ones.
My company, w/you (with you), supports primary caregivers who have other priorities when caring for a loved one and benefit from seeing them in clothing that properly fits and reflects their personality.
Take, for example the man who lost 100 pounds while going through medical treatment. His wife, his primary caregiver, sat across from him at a restaurant for her birthday dinner. And, through the help of w/you and his friends, her husband was also wearing new clothes that fit and reflect his personality. At least for that night, her birthday seemed upbeat and normal, just like any other. A limit had been put on the amount of control the illness had. And the couple was given refuge while taking in a rare moment to acknowledge the passage of time.
Before w/you, what would the solution have been for them? What is the ritual for when those we know get sick?
It is tradition for those facing an illness to be visited by concerned neighbors and friends, usually on a drop-in basis. Some well-wishers may bring with them a symbolic trinket or charm with religious meaning. Others still might swing by with food that can bring nausea along with a cook who insists their meal be “enjoyed” in their company. All are great sentiments, but are these rituals necessary, helpful, or even welcome?
It’s tough to take a good look at our rituals and see that what we feel is well-meaning might not be the best thing for others.
But it makes sense that our rituals often don’t. After all, we inherit parenting tropes we grew up complaining about—and then perpetuate. We grind away at jobs we don’t like for unneeded, unwanted possessions. And when we get older, we seem to shed it all without any of the concern that got us there.
There are even new rituals that deserve examination. On our devices, the find, friend, and follow routine feels like a never ending feedback loop. And even the world around us currently seems co-opted by rituals grounded in hate and the dismantling of rights. Suppression and oppression are the rituals humankind seems unable to leave behind.
Tiu de Haan, a famous ritual designer, says she creates “that which unites us rather than that which divides us, giving people of all backgrounds and beliefs new and creative ways to transform our experiences into meaningful moments, finding the magic in the mundane.” Sobonfu Somè of the Dagara tribe in West Africa is the appointed keeper of rituals and in sharing with Tiu, she sees ritual “as being to the soul as food and water is to the body—it’s what nourishes us deeply.”
People forget that clothing, while mundane and perhaps not always seen as nourishing, is a basic need that shouldn’t automatically be tied to excessive consumerism. The goal of w/you is to embrace, serve, contribute, and provide in that way—taking the ordinary and making a gesture that’s lasting.
When a person faces an illness, it’s the often-overlooked and unmet need that receives the most welcome response when addressed. And when we establish a new ritual that assigns significance to a basic need, we also create a new North Star. And when we do that for one small thing, we can usually add on another with less effort.
Rituals exist and persist for a reason, and routine is sometimes all we have left. But if we’re able to take a ritual and make it our own, to do things consciously and with intent, to help not because we feel forced to, but because we’re ready to engage—we can change a lot of things. In this delicate context, w/you helps to preserve a person’s chosen identity and turns ritual back into a habit of care and concern, one article of clothing at a time.