Community organizer Françoise Olivas shares how owning her path and embracing the moment (and motherhood) inspired her to get political.
– KEYS SOULCARE
Françoise Olivas is many things: A fashion designer who formerly ran her own label. A creative who helped bring cool-girl retail brand Lou & Grey to life. A sustainable lifestyle shop owner. A mom.
A few of the labels that you might not expect — but, may find just as cool — include director of organizing at North Brooklyn Progressive Democrats, food drive organizer at Food for Brooklyn, and a Judicial Delegate. Read on for the pivotal points in her journey that inspired her to get political.
People see me as an environmentalist — and that is why I entered fashion in the first place. When I had a sustainable lifestyle store (which closed January of 2020), people would always say to me, “You’re so involved, would you ever run for office?” And I was like, “Oh, I’m a mom, I’ve got two art degrees. It’s not something I should do.”
But as people continued to push and tell me, “Your store is more than a brick and mortar structure; it’s a community space,” it stuck with me.
I live on [a block of North Brooklyn] near Transmitter Park, so I heard raves and parties that went on there all night [this past summer]. But, at 7 a.m. on a Sunday, when I’m organizing a clean-up — or just doing it on my own — it’s kind of meditative. It’s not lost on me that the people who [were] partying in the park are young and white… and that our park workers are mostly Black. But, I’m also just a mom not wanting my daughter exposed to garbage at her neighborhood park.
I think there’s a difference between politicians and public servants. John Lewis, for me, epitomized being a public servant — and he also had a political career, in which he legislated for what he believed was right. For most of us, however, engaging with our community is a series of choices that add up to the time we spend, the conversations we engage in, and the lives that we ultimately look back on.
There are a few pivotal moments that inspired me to become politically active.
The first is working in advertising for about a decade and being stuck [on a layover] in London on September 12, 2001. That was a day that gave me lots of reason and space to think. From there, I went back to school for fashion design, freelanced three jobs, and found an incredible mentor in [fashion designer] Nanette Lepore, who has championed not just “fashion,” but the industry and people behind it from the beginning.
Another is becoming a mom about three years ago, under the Trump administration. I woke up one morning and was like, “What am I doing with my life?” But, honestly, becoming a mother changed me. I made a vow to fight for my daughter Josephine from that moment on, and I have. (I find it really interesting that within the movement of women entering politics, [as of fall 2020] only four percent of women in Congress [were] mothers with children under the age of 18 in their home. However, 80 percent of women become mothers in their lifetime. So, there’s this big chunk of women who are not being represented right now.)
And another, which I’m only starting to talk about for the first time, is that after my father died, my own family was homeless for three months. And that my mom, the brilliant woman she was, sent me to summer camp for eight weeks on a full scholarship while she technically couch surfed.
My multi-racial background gifted me a diverse community table. But, my unique upbringing also taught me that being unafraid to speak my truth creates space for others to do the same.
As a community organizer it’s about being observant and creating more room at the table when vital conversations are happening. What’s working? What’s not working? How do we respect the neighborhood and the community that’s already here? My local assemblyman is the best listener. Ask anyone. That’s his strength. And it’s so powerful.
I take the brain muscle I once used to translate trends into colors, patterns, and designs, in a different direction, to accomplish community-level work. I see this as a moment to help identify what’s not working and pivot to figure out how to make it work. If every single person made a little action, it’s one big action.
It’s about how you live your life. Take a little garbage bag and do some pick-up on your own street. Do something. It’s small, but it makes such a difference.
Have an inspiring journey of your own to share? We’re listening in the comments!