A Revolutionary Vision of What it Looks Like To Heal The Masculine Divine : EXPRESS YO’SELF RVA

by | Feb 1, 2024 | FASHION, NIGHTLIFE, PHOTOGRAPHY, QUEER RVA

One of my best friends and fashion-contemplating confidants, Bliss Foster, who operates his eponymous YouTube channel with over 250K subscribers, created a video entitled “The ‘Men in Skirts’ Phenomenon”. He was asked by his Patreon discord group, “Is embracing feminine traits the only way of becoming more fashionable as a man?” His reply was a resounding no, but he did mention that, “The start of me looking at things a different way is because I got educated via osmosis by [looks] I was into.”

In this segment of EXPRESS YO’SELF RVA, I’d like to dive into this “osmosis”  process of self-discovery by examining the themes brought up in ‘Barbie the Movie’ and how it shines a light on how men and women sees themselves through a reflection of our society and our relationship to patriarchy. If you watched Barbie the Movie, and listened to America Ferrera’s Iconic Barbie Speech, I’d you to join me for further contemplation regarding society’s strange relationship to feminine being and expression, patriarchy’s conniving hold on our collective consciousness, and what it means to become a liberated male and inherently “whole” human. 

Never before in history has there been such collective consideration regarding what constitutes masculinity and femininity and who has the right to express either of these dynamics. Diana Vreeland, Ex-Vogue Editor extraordinaire, circa. 1960s has stated the following: “Fashion is part of the daily air and it changes all the time, with all the events. You can even see the approaching of a revolution in clothes. You can see and feel everything in clothes.” The way I see it, the Men-in-Skirts phenomenon happening in fashion right now is a precursor to a new frontier of life as we know it. In our current astrological age of Aquarius, we are seeing the dissolution of a world that values material markers of success, and thus, the value of “men-as-provider” is losing meaning. We are entering a new timeline of existence in which men have to adopt deeper levels of cognitive awareness to contribute to personal and societal well-being.  

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Additional photos from Portal333 Ken in RVAMAG #41 (Photo Credit: Kim Frost Photography)

Joan Didion states in her seminal Vogue 1961 essay, ‘Self-respect: Its source, Its power’: “…innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself.” The looks created in the fashion spread entitled, ‘Portal333 Ken’, printed in RVAMAG #41 worn by model, Brad Cox, represents the coming home to self of a man seeking to rediscover this innocence. For many men, the notion of liking oneself for who they truly are is pulverized by the societal assignment of “man”. 

The FW24 Menswear season just ended in all of the major fashion capitals. For many of us who follow fashion runway news (aka moi), men in skirts have been a big deal!  In my fashion, over the past four or five seasons of Men’s runways, this trend feels strong and seminally predictive. Some of my favorite collections from the past few years include: Louis Vuitton FW21, Terry Singh FW23, Dries Van Noten SS24, Fendi SS24, and Ludovic de Saint Sernin FW23.

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Louis Vuitton FW21 (Photo Credit: Vogue.com)

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Louis Vuitton FW21(1) (Photo Credit: Vogue.com) and Dries Van Noten SS24 (2,3) (Photo Credit: Vogue.Com)

Although men wearing skirts and garments with non-bifurcated bottoms (garments with one opening, such as dresses, caftans, robes, etc.)  is not a revolutionary idea as one surveys men’s historical costume throughout history and culture, what I love about its manifestation in our present day is its coexistence with the strength of our current  conversations surrounding gender politics and an individual’s autonomy to “present” oneself. What’s great about what has been presented on runways is that skirts on men feel less subversive in effect than they did prior to 2020, styled in ways that feel organic, and befitting for men’s everyday lives, and less like an outlandish fashion statement.  They are being styled in ways that highlight a masculinity that is simply cool and matter-of-fact, harboring a sense of unbothered ease and changeless peace that begs the question, “What does this  shift in adornment allow men to access within themselves?”

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Fendi SS24(Photo Credit: Vogue.Com)

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Ludovic de Saint Sernin FW23 (1,2) (Photo Credit: Vogue.Com), Terry Singh FW23 (3) (Photo Credit: kolormgazine.com)

Of course, these days we are seeing bold, liberated and self-assured men who consider themselves part of the queer community wearing non-bifurcated looks in everyday life, but one shouldn’t have to be queer, or seek to highlight any sense of sex orientation through the act of wearing a skirt. To me, this “trend” signals an invitation to update our societal perception of masculinity,  inviting men and masculine beings to free themselves from the confines that have always dictated maleness. Considering women throughout time have sought (and even fought for) general acceptance of their ability to wear menswear, I  see the men in skirts phenomena as a moment in time where men are being prompted to avail themselves access to the same practice women have utilized for centuries. In the ways menswear helps women to access their masculine inner being, womenswear avails the same respective access for men. What the latter makes us consider is why does our society assume that wearing womenswear diminishes one’s internal access to masculine energy, and why don’t we allow men to freely explore qualities of feminine energy or encourage them to do so?

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“The world is looking for people who are able to make space for people to feel truly cherished and safe.” (Photo Credit: Kim Frost Photography)

‘Men-in-skirts” is a hint that a revolution toward a higher development of male empathy is upon us. The world is looking for people who are able to make space for people to feel truly cherished and safe.  In this age that is defined by rapidly evolving technology, we are literally entering into a new “portal” of existence, and our connection to our humanity is in question as the tools we need to survive are becoming more cerebral and interpersonal. After watching ‘Barbie the Movie’ and how it playfully indicated that men are falling short of recognizing the need to evolve emotionally, I think it’s imperative that we acknowledge that our understanding of masculinity needs an update.

In Barbie the Movie, Barbie tells Ken that he has to figure out who he is without her. “You’re not your girlfriend. You’re not your house. You’re not your mink,” she states. Our capitalistic and materialistic worldview would have us all to believe that in order to experience happiness or joy we need to seek outside of ourselves to do so. Men have historically been seen as “providers” and “conquerors”, and have been conditioned to believe that our value in being resides in our ability to “go after what we want”, make the proverbial “IT” happen, and be glorified for “attaining” it. 

Why is the idea of joy for men so heavily defined by the acquiring of things outside of ourselves? Perhaps life in decades prior to our present day technological revolution warranted such a distinction when the acquiring of resources for living was more of an exclusive task of men in society; but now in an age where humans, regardless of sex, can provide for themselves, men can no longer base their superiority on their ability to conquer or provide resources for survival. For many of us, disassociating ourselves from material and external accomplishments is a harrowing task because it forces us to strip away flattering senses of ourselves. These tokens of “self” deemed attractive by a society obsessed with looking the part, and/or adhering to gender roles, does little for our sense of self-respect when we consider the part of us we had to give up in order to attain these labels. 

In her book Radiant Rest, Tracey Stanley mentions that,  “It might be scary to think about what life would look like if you were living in a way that honored your potential.” She also names, “…that [our] history, lineage, and social location have so much to do with the messages that have infiltrated [our] beliefs about what [we] are capable of and what [we] deserve. They also factor greatly in [our] actual ability to access the resources that can help [us] step into [our] birthright of abundance, empowerment, and true freedom.

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Bell Hooks’ book, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love, very poignantly and lovingly addresses the heart of why our society has such a controversial relationship to feminism, gender expression and sexual orientation. ” (Photos Credit: Julie Adams Portrait)

To begin understanding the messages that have infiltrated our collective psyche around masculinity and maleness, Author Bell Hooks helps to dispel the insidious nature of patriarchy and how all of us contribute to patriarchy, consciously and unconsciously through our learned behavior surrounding the glorification of masculinity. Her book, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love, very poignantly and lovingly addresses the heart of why our society has such a controversial relationship to feminism, gender expression and sexual orientation:  

Our sons learn the code early and well, don’t cry, don’t be vulnerable; don’t show weakness—ultimately, don’t show you care.” She also states, “Patriarchal boys, like their adult counterparts, know the rules: they know they must not express feelings, with the exception of anger; that they must not do anything considered feminine or womanly.”

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How many of us wonder how wonderful it would be to still be connected to that child-like feeling of being alive that isn’t dependent on “checking the boxes”of an antiquated notion of how to show up in the world as a male. How many of us just want to “be”?  (Photos Credit: Julie Adams Portrait)

Another astute assertion that Bell Hooks offers is that women and femme people, through the cultural narrative of  patriarchy, are complicit in contributing to patriarchy’s narrative, even if they don’t realize it: “We need to highlight the role women play in perpetuating and sustaining patriarchal culture so that we will recognize patriarchy as a system women and men support equally, even if men receive more rewards from that system.”

Whether men can admit to how patriarchal socialization has traumatized them or not, Bell Hooks observation, research, and constructive criticism on the complex effects of patriarchy beautifully articulates ways we can rise above patriarchal conditioning and acknowledge ways in which society has been harmed through the system. She also details thoughtful steps we all can prioritize living in ways that support masculine divine healing within us all and supports our yearnings for connection—connection to others, and especially ourselves. 

This is why I emphasize fashion and style development to be a tool that helps to anchor men to the specific vibration of life that resonates with their continuous expansion to our highest ideal. The looks created in the ‘Portal333 Ken’ fashion spread are conceptualizations of a real-life version of man comfortable with merging his inner feminine and masculine divine as he releases himself from the confines of traditional gender roles and sexual orientation labels, availing him access to his full humanity and limitless ability to explore and present the multiplicities within. 

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“In a series of intimate man-to-man chats, Cox and I turned the dial back on his past to discover the inner child Brad left by the wayside on his road to manhood.” (Photos Credit: Julie Adams Portrait)

This shoot is a special shoot to me in that it allowed me to get to know my friend through a practice of male-to-male empathy. In a series of intimate man-to-man chats, Cox and I, turned the dial back on his past to discover the inner child Brad left by the wayside on his road to manhood. We dove into what connections of his childhood innocence were severed, and we brought them back to the surface in looks that celebrate his unique personality rooted in his own authentic life perspectives that ground him in inherent truth and power—not an external sense of truth and power that society would impose he should live up to.  

When we think of intimacy, we tend to associate the word with romantic sexual partnerships. While there is no sexual energy shared between us, the intimacy that was derived from confiding in one another, and creating safe and brave space for us to explore our deepest yearnings was an intimately healing experience for the both of us.   My opportunity to become closer to Brad through our respective individual needs for emotional support led us to have many conversations with each other to voice insecurities and express honesty in the ways we authentically want to show up in the world. We provided each other assurance, affirmation, clarity and a space for each other to derive conclusions about ourselves on our own. 

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“[Brad] is very much expanding into a territory he never thought would bring him a sense of internally derived alignment of talents he hadn’t thought he had.” (Photos Credit: Julie Adams Portrait)

Outside of being Brad’s friend, it has been interesting to witness him expanding into his truth and power through modeling. The first day I met him was at a VA Pride event on the rooftop of what used to be the Hof Garden, (Remember those days, native Richmonders?): I glorified him with compliments about his modelesque attributes–attributes that he passed off as unsettlingly flattering and unsolicitedly imaginative. Years went by before he even gave himself the permission to try out for RVAFW in 2022. And just like that, he is very much expanding into a territory he never thought would bring him a sense of internally derived alignment of talents he hadn’t thought he had. A medium of creative expression that avails him an internally derived sense of success. He is now signed with two agencies, one in DC and the other in New York.  

What became most intriguing to me about how Brad and I worked together to create these looks is that they were derived through a process similar to the group therapy approach of The Confident Man Ranch, in Colorado. In the October 2023 issue of GQ, writer Roecranes Baldwin reports on this ranch in his article titled, Do You Need a Weekend at the Confident Man Ranchwhich seeks to reconcile the particular epidemic plaguing men in our society: male emotional disconnection and development.  He reported that two thirds of divorces in the US are initiated by women, many of whom say their ex-husbands are emotionally inept.  In this article Baldwin reports on a retreat group therapy experience for “men in crisis, helping them find a suitably modern kind of self-assurance.” 

At a ranch in Colorado, under the guise of a “cowboy vacation”, men, most of whom are over 40 years of age, find themselves in an environment in which they are able to process their emotions, commune with other men, and learn how to understand the dynamics of energy transference by building relationships horses. Baldwin describes how the owners, Steve Horsmon, and Tim Wade  approach aiding men in attaining a secure sense of self: “A big topic was how to say fuck off to the classic American model for straight men’s lives…a sort of Franenstien of machismo and hypercapitalism.”  It was a masculinity focused on “have, do, be,”…where men were taught to acquire things that supposedly built a life (partner, job, fancy car), which enabled them to do things they desired (start a family, build a career, project an image of success), and therefore became the humans they’d always imagined.” 

This ranch made me think of the funny line in Barbie the Movie when Ken expressed a sentiment that I feel many men can probably relate to, “It was hard running stuff. I didn’t love it…When I found out the patriarchy wasn’t about horses, I just lost interest anyway.” How many of us men resonate with Ken’s statement? How many of us wonder how wonderful it would be to still be connected to that child-like feeling of being alive that isn’t dependent on “checking the boxes”of an antiquated notion of how to show up in the world as a male. How many of us just want to “be”? 

Baldwin further explains the logic exercised by Horsmon and Wade to upend our conventional understanding of manhood: “…What if a man flipped the order, focused on “be, do, have,” by putting effort into becoming the type of man he admired (kind, confident, self-reliant), which then led to doing the kinds of this things such a guy might do (attract others, find purpose, feel comfortable in his own skin), which then could result in desired outcomes.” 

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“It’s not the femininity that makes you more fashionable as a man. It’s the disregard for the gender binary that gives you permission to broaden your horizons and find what you truly enjoy.” (Photos Credit: Julie Adams Portrait)

Circling back to Bliss Foster’s statement, the beauty of his observation is that through the “osmosis” of presenting varied external visual expressions of ourselves we can expand our viewpoint on life, and potentially, our lived experience. To cosign this sentiment further, a comment  that has received over 500 comments since the video’s release in early November 2023 by the handle, @grunny00, remarked, “It’s not the femininity that makes you more fashionable as a man. It’s the disregard for the gender binary that gives you permission to broaden your horizons and find what you truly enjoy.”

The operative word in the latter quote is “permission”. In an post-photoshoot interview, Brad and I found ourselves repeatedly examining the concept of “permission” and how it plays a part expanding our lived experience. As we dissected the looks presented in the photoshoot, we kept thinking more and more about how our own perception of how we can experience life is governed by the permissions we avail ourselves when it comes to expanding into our full humanity and autonomy to enjoy life in a way that supports or deepest desires and connected to our most authentic selves. I invite you to listen to our chat and let us know what you think about using fashion to redefine masculinity. Below you will find individual explanations for the conceptualization of each look we photographer for “Portal333 Ken”, along with the looks that didn’t make it into the RVA MAG #41

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Clothing and Accessories: Earrings – Sun & Selene, Ring and Custom Harness – Obscuro, Lab Coat – VICTIM15, Gunmetal Tank – Ap0cene, Space Pants – Ap0cene, Gucci Boots – It’s a Man’s World (Photo Credit: Kim Frost Photography)

Brad’s sun sign is in Aries. Brad, like many people who are less informed of the nuances of Astrology, never put much reverence in what his natal chart revealed about qualities of himself that might be articulated through Astrological knowledge. This look embodies the energy of the Ram of the Zodiac: bold, trailblazing, unapologetic, and direct, aspects that he applies more in his everyday life as he pursues his burgeoning modeling career. 

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Clothing and Accessories: Earrings – Jera Lodge and Dransfield Jewelers, Faux Septum – Sun & Selene, Custom Harness – Obscuro, Leggings – Ap0cene, Standing Crystals and Crystal Bracelets – The Hummingbirds by Vanessa Cowles (Photo Credit: Kim Frost Photography)

Considering Cox played basketball, ran track, and even rowed while he was in high school and college, Cox’s physique suggests a healthy relationship to athletics. This year, Cox tried his hand at the healing effects of yoga and meditation. After one class at The Well Collective, a black women owned yoga and wellness studio in Richmond, Cox promptly became a member and became enveloped in the effects of crystals, meditation, and community fostered in love and kindness. He practices yoga not just as an exercise but understands the practice supports him in pathways to deep self-discovery. It’s a way to listen to his inner voice, discern what resonates deeply and brings him a sense of peace, clarity and joy.  

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Clothing and Accessories: Earrings – Sun & Selene, Laura Jakitsch Ring – Dransfield Jewelers, Choker Necklace – VICTIM15, Bryan Parnham Broach – Dransfield Jewelers, Sweatshirt and Shorts – Jessica Meiko, Vita Classic Boxer – Ap0cene (Photo Credit: Kim Frost Photography)

How many of us as young boys enjoyed drawing, painting, and creating art? For myself, when I made time to paint as I used to do to entertain myself as a child, it brought me a certain relaxation and calm as I fully enveloped myself in the process of using my creative juices to produce art for art’s sake. It was a great way for me to connect to my capacity to create and realize contentment is within me. If I need a moment to calm my nerves and come back to myself, it is nice to know that I can do so through painting and drawing. 

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Clothing and Accessories: Cattie Sellers and Emily Rogstad Earrings – Dransfield Jewelers, Cattie Sellers Necklace – Dransfield Jewelers, Rings – Sun & Selene, Safety Pin Blazer and Kundalini Death Dress – IMF DESIGNS, Jumpsuit Stockings – Savage X Fenty, Boots – Dolls Kill (Photo Credit: Kim Frost Photography)

Dancing is a way to cultivate uncaused joy and this look supports this feeling. I have found that releasing our legs from the confine of pants is empowering. While pants tend to imply structure, skirts imply fluidity. On an energetic, more proverbial level, non-bifurcated garments imply a sense of surrender, flow and letting go. They help us to release our grip on ourselves to relinquish control of our true essence. Unfortunately, men only seem to give themselves permission to dance if it’s with a woman or partner. But dancing is an act that doesn’t require anyone else but ourselves, and to allow yourself to move however you need to is an act of self-love. No matter what that movement looks like, dance is a way to move stagnant energy throughout the body and to feel re-energized. How many of us know a man who says, “I’m not a good dancer.” This is a disheartening statement to hear because if you can move, you can dance! Dance is movement and dance connects us to our heart. It’s a moment to allow our bodies to feel more connected to our ecstatic being and realize our capacity to move however we choose. To move one’s body to the beat of music is healing on so many levels, and it’s sad when masculine beings deny themselves this act, whether it is with a partner or not. 

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Clothing and Accessories: Earrings – Sun & Selene, Skirt and Blazer – CHANEL, Custom Harness – Obscuro, Boots – Dolls Kill  (Photo Credit: Kim Frost Photography)

This look is a call to normalize skirt suits as appropriate attire for men in the workplace. I styled Cox in a Chanel suit because of the very masculine way the style of Coco Chanel allows the feminine divine to shine resolutely. A Chanel suit inspires a feeling of being streamlined, and efficient while exuding a level of sophistication that isn’t stuffy or fussy. Because of the delicate yet strong soft fabric choices, and sewing techniques employed in its construction, it has a way of encouraging poise in movement that requires a certain fluidity and bodily awareness. The softness of the fabric encourages spirited movement because the friction between skin and fabric feels luxurious and soothing.  As I have discovered wearing this very Chanel suit in my everyday life, while the suit is streamlined, the light color of the fabric, as well as its physical softness, inspires a sense of relaxed intention towards movement. 

Clothing and Accessories: Bryan Parnham Earrings – Dransfield Jewelers, Necklace – Dransfield Jewelers, Mesh Cowrie Shell Top – Kamala Bhagat, Flowers Provided by Vogue Flowers (Photo Credit: Kim Frost Photography)

I’ve come to realize how caring for plants has this immense ability to help us get in touch with our natural feminine nurturing abilities regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Committing yourself to be a part of a plant’s prosperity triggers our attunement to gentleness and forces us to pay close, loving  attention to various factors that contribute to plant growth. Plants are the great neutralizer of ego and they force us to slow down and recognize the natural order of life. If you force a flower to open prematurely you will destroy it. It grows with its own intelligence and its own self-organizing direction. The ways in which plants sustain their lives serves as a great reminder of our own birthright to live at our own pace and give ourselves the right nutrients to support our being, physically and mentally. It’s very much a practice of how to have empathy, because plants make us put ourselves in their shoes so we can understand what it takes to sustain their living.

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Clothing and Accessories: Earrings – Sun & Selene, Choker Necklace – VICTIM15, Megalodon Tooth Necklace – Obscuro, Hooded Top and Skirt – Jessica Meiko (Photo Credit: Kim Frost Photography)

When it comes to exploring our personalities, in my fashion, a good place to start is by examining some of our favorite animals that we connect deeply with. Animals can serve as archetypes that we lean into that can help us feel more connected to the energy we feel most comfortable embodying in our everyday lives.  This custom look designed by Jessica Meiko was born from Brad’s childhood “Shark phase” and obsession with marine life. Shark’s spiritual meaning is associated with the words, precision, fearlessness, power and adaptability. They also carry an air of mystery and seduction. By bringing these elements to the design, it was fascinating to see Cox assume these qualities immediately when he wore this look for the shoot.  

Huge thank you to the following for their participation in creating the images for Portal333 Ken:

CREATIVE DIRECTOR/ STYLIST: Jon Cope, PHOTOGRAPHER: Kim Frost, MODEL: Brad Cox, STYLING ASSISTANCE AND DESIGNER: Jessica Meiko, PHOTO ASSISTANCE: Steven King, MAKE-UP: Meeshell Von Offenheim, HAIR AND FASHION DESIGNER: Kamala Bhagat, FLORAL STYLIST: Rita Hill 

What I am Interested in this weekend:

Here is a list of events and spaces to dress cute and expand one’s mind…or wardrobe *wink! 

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Cobra Burger extended hours til Midnights on Fridays and Saturdays
Open til 12a Fridays and Saturdays
400 N 27th St, Richmond, VA 23223

One of my favorite items to eat is a burger, and Cobra Burger is my favorite place in Richmond to have one! They extended their hours to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and is a chic yet down-to-Earth space to eat a burger and listen to metal music while you do so. Their unique signature flavor combinations take the burger experience to a new level with their hormone free, grass-fed in-house ground beef from a local farm. Eating at Cobra Burger is a quintessential Richmond dining experience if you just want to hang out, eat, and drink til midnight! I heavily suggest you try the ‘Weef Burger’! The atchara is to DIE for!

Main photo: Cover model, Brad Cox, photographed in a Chanel Skirt Suit and Obscuro Custom Harness for ‘Portal333 Ken’ fashion shoot for RVAMAG #41 (Photo Credit: Kim Frost Photography); Margot Robbie photographed as President Barbie in Vogue, Summer 2023 (Photo Credit: Vogue.com)

Jon Cope

Jon Cope

Jonathan Copeland (Jon Cope) is a Multi-hyphenate Fashion Stylist, Creative Director, actor and host based in Richmond, VA. Copeland has over 10 years of experience in fashion retail, visual merchandising, blogging, magazine publication, public speaking, fashion event planning and hosting. Copeland has recently established a media company, In My Fashion Media (IMF MEDIA), geared towards social impact for BIPOC, Queer, and marginalized businesses by creating uniquely heart-felt and resonating content that engages audiences towards inspired action to support businesses that aspire to contribute to social equality and wellbeing.




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