On our way to the New-York Historical Society’s evening exhibition hours **, we stopped in SoHo to visit the new REI Co-Op in the former Puck Building. If you have read my earliar posts on Credit Unions, you’ll know that I am a fan of cooperatively owned business ventures. REI is another fantastic example.
As an REI Co-Op member you receive annual dividends based on the previous year’s purchasing history. The Co-Op keeps a record of all of your purchases and everything has a lifetime guarantee. If it breaks or tears, bring it back to the Co-Op and get a new one, free of charge, no questions asked. REI organizes classes, some of which carry a fee, but many which are free, on a variety of topics related to the outdoors. We’re hoping to participate in one of the compass classes.
I first stumbled into an REI eight years ago, not for hiking gear but for a second layer of skin. I found my way to REI in an atypical, circuitous fashion through a militantly feminist grad school professor. My professor’s philosophy on make-up was that if you were wearing any, it meant that you hadn’t spent enough time on the assigned reading. In her words: there is no time for frivolous adornment; we are reading Derrida!
This might have annoyed some (ok it annoyed many) but for me it was a moment of liberation. Not a first-wave feminist awakening, but rather a moment where I felt empowered to come to terms with Ichthyosis, my skin condition, which worsens every year with age. At 16 I could pile my face with concealer and foundation, adorn my eyes with liquid liner and create a beautiful face that I keep in the jar by the door. At twenty-two, I was begining to lose parts of my face to Ichthyosis and makeup was accelrating the process of dehydration and scaling. I stopped wearing make-up as ritual at twenty-two to preserve what was left of my skin. Rather than feel defeated that I could not use the products that for many women define their identity, I felt empowered: I was choosing not to wear eye shadow so I could read Derrida!
At twenty-two the pain was becoming more chronic and this same professor, who loved to ski, suggested that I invest in some Smart Wool, when she learned of the physical limitations of my condition. As someone who never spent much time outdoors, let alone participating in winter sports, I didn’t have a clue what the differences were between Smart Wool and cotton. She sent me to REI.
When I arrived at REI, the land of protective base layers, water-wicking merino wool, and wigwam 30 below socks, I had found my fleece covered Louis Vuitton! As I age, I am comming to a better understanding of my body’s unique needs and pretty much, it needs to be covered head-to-toe in soft fibers for about 10 months out of the year. To keep my body insulated and to protest my withering skin, I am dressed in Smart Wool turtlenecks until the temperature hits about 80 degrees.
The best part of discovering the REI aesthetic, for me, was that everyone in the West wears this look. So when I lived in Oregon, I could feel comfortable AND wear something fashionable. The difference was that the Oregonians were on their way to hike in Bhutan or to climb Mt. Hood; I was simply trying to walk from my car to my classroom without taking in enough erratic air to lose my range of motion for the rest of the day. Now that I am back in NY, no one wears Smart Wool on a day-to-day basis, so when I walked into REI SoHo, it felt like coming home.
We haven’t made any purchases yet, but are beginning to investigate our footwear options. If you have any suggestions about footwear, we welcome your input.
** It’s probably super nerdy that I wish WordPress had a footnotes feature. Anyhow, the New-York Historical Society is one of the best kept secrets on Museum row. Located next to the Museum of Natural History on the west side of the Park, the collection is housed in an elegant Beaux-Arts building. The exhibitions offer sharp revisionist depictions of the narratives of the Americas in an interactive contemporary format. They have a children’s component that I have not visited, but the general museum, in attempt to be inclusive of dis/Abled visitors presents dynamic exhibitions that incorporate the needs of visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile learners. While you’re there, pop across the street and visit the North Woods. There are so many wonderful places in this city.