A fashion designer and stylist in New Orleans, one of the early epicentres of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, has said that she was left “stifled and confused” by the disruption caused by the pandemic, but recognizes there are opportunities to grow creatively and serve the community by making face masks, with some fashion flair.
Kai Bussant was interviewed by UN News in December 2019 as part of an International Labour Organization (ILO) photography project called "Dignity at Work: the American Experience”. She has since left her job as a milliner to launch her own fashion brand.
UN News caught up with Kai Bussant during the ongoing lockdown to ask how the fallout from the pandemic has affected her.
“One of my creative responses to this pandemic has been to start making face masks. A lot of the masks that people are wearing right now are literally offering no protection, apart from maybe reassurance to others. I am designing multi-filtered silk masks which actually will protect people while still making them feel good; I don’t want people to look scary in masks or look like a nurse, or as though they’re in an apocalypse.
I want them to be beautiful while also extremely functional and last for an extended period of time. I'm working on making them washable and that is giving me a bit of a challenge.
I kind of want people to look like a fallen angel, because as a fashion accessory, it still has to fit a look. If I go grocery shopping, I'm dressing up, just because that's the only time I get to do something that I keep near and dear to my heart - it’s therapeutic.
Opportunities during the pandemic
The pandemic has definitely provided an opportunity for new ideologies and voices to come to the forefront and for designers to rethink their approaches, to look more closely at the connection between clothing and human necessity.
I have been working on a line, on and off, for the past four years and one of my main aims is to encourage social responsibility and for people to hold themselves accountable. I want to help the wearer be better to themselves and to the environment and to the Earth that we live on.
The outbreak of the virus and the lockdown caused people to feel stifled and confused and it left me feeling kind of “hazy” because as a freelance artist there are no second options. Initially, I wasn't really focusing on what was happening and I was actually experiencing intense disbelief.
I slipped into a really sad, depressed space after working so hard for six months on launching my new clothing collection. It’s something that I had to deal with and I’m thankful to have people around to advise me and give me another perspective.
It's a slow process for me to be honest, but I'm working through it and I’m learning about myself. And right now, I can say that I'm excited. I've been refinding my focus.
I'm excited to push myself into what is happening now because I think this is the time for artists and entrepreneurs to make their voices louder and more deeply rooted in society.
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On a practical level, this has meant developing more tutorials and online classes for the afterschool programme where I worked before the pandemic. My hope is that people can continuously educate themselves, and that the pandemic does not stop their momentum.
Like everyone else, I'm stuck in the house and through this experience I have been able to find inspiration. However, it didn't come from fearing the situation, despite the fear-mongering that was going on outside, it came from my truly genuine need to make something to help people.
It’s more important than ever before to support the arts and entrepreneurship because artists naturally answer questions and develop ideas to put this new world into context. I think that imagination and creativity is really special and powerful right now".