#Fashiontruth Monthly Spotlight: All About Amala

Clothes are about so much more than covering our bodies — they represent what we do, who we are, and are a way to express ourselves. But sometimes, the opposite is true. In some cases, clothing can be used to inhibit personal expression, setting someone apart from the rest of the world or hiding their personality. Our newest #fashiontruth monthly feature Amala knows a little about that side of style. In addition to spending her time rooftop gardening in NYC and doing political burlesque dancing (new hero alert!), Amala has also lived part of her life… as a nun.

Check out our Q&A below to learn more about Amala’s joyful journey to self-expression, and if you’re feeling inspired, shop her signature style here, including the All About Amala Jacket!

amala1Photo courtesy of Steve Soblick

Let’s start with the basics. What do you do, and where are you from?

I’ve lived in New York City in Washington Heights since 1999, but I arrived in New York City to go to film school at Columbia in 1995. I’m a full-time video producer in the Marketing and Development department of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Its mission is educating for justice, and I produce videos that advance that mission. I think the most fulfilling part of my job is listening to people’s stories–especially the students’ at John Jay. They are so idealistic and driven by a desire to do good in the world. I’m really honored to be able to carefully capture their stories and share them.

I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio and Louisville, Kentucky, feeling kind of out of place because my parents were Jews from NYC.  Though I loved the natural surroundings of Kentucky, I was always intrigued by the stories my parents told me of NYC in the 1920s-50s. It seemed like an exciting, dramatic place filled with color, characters, and chutzpah–my kind of place, my kind of people. In my teens I gravitated towards mysticism and learned how to meditate and do yoga. It was so liberating that I became a teacher full time as a monastic in that tradition. The work took me all around the world but I spent the longest time in Taiwan where I started yoga preschools.

AmalaPhoto courtesy of Ann Megyas

One of the (many) things that piqued our interest is your former life as a nun. What was that like?

First, I should clarify that I wasn’t a Catholic nun. I was a nun for a yoga tradition–probably the most relatable form of this would be a Buddhist nun, but this was an order that taught meditation and traditional yoga lifestyle along with social service. I started holistic bilingual preschools in Taiwan and also taught in Europe. I loved the community but didn’t want to be put on a pedestal, wearing those robes and set apart from the rest of the world. I fell in love, moved back to the United States, and finished up my education.

How did clothing play a role in your transition from a monastic life to a secular one?

I wore a white sari and an orange tunic for 12 years most of the time. I realized I didn’t need a uniform and a set of hundreds of rules to be a good human being–in fact, at that moment when I had that realization I was stark naked, standing in a cold stream in southern Czechoslovakia. So in a way, removing a uniform and starting from scratch like a baby was like being reborn.

amala2Photo courtesy of Steve Soblick

What’s your style like now?

Joining the rest of humanity and learning like everyone else, I gravitated towards classic and bohemian clothing. My grandfather was a haberdasher and my family on my mother’s side always dressed in classic or bohemian styles. My mom wore her hair like Frida Kahlo, braids in a crown. I have many fashion icons: Frida Kahlo, Lauren Bacall, Martha Graham, the women in the paintings of Klimt and Chagall, my aunts and the way they dressed in the 40s and 50s. Sometimes I ask myself, “What would Jackie O wear?” and sometimes I look at flowers or pigeons and see how exquisite nature is and take my inspiration from there. I always loved vintage clothing and bought them as a teenager in the 70s, before it was a thing. So I tend to wear vintage, vintage reproductions that are classic, simple, elegant, or bohemian-type clothes. Clothing is an expression of how I’m feeling, and I like to let others know I’m a creative person.

Do you have any advice for people who feel “stuck” where they are?

I hesitate to give advice to a generic audience. But I do practice something that beloved Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches and that is to “have tea with your feelings”. The idea is to simply sit with that feeling of being stuck, try to relax, breathe, not judge yourself, and imagine, “if this stuck feeling were a creature, what would it look like?” Offer it tea, and sit together enjoying the tea. Eventually, the creature may get up and leave on its own. Naturally, don’t sit there waiting for an imaginary creature to leave–you can also make it leave. Afterwards, write down what thoughts and emotions arose. I was feeling stuck, too, for awhile, but when I did have tea with my feelings, this lead me to realize that I actually have a lot of meaningful work and relationships, and I didn’t feel stuck anymore.

I also feel that it can help to try something radically different, to get out of your comfort zone. For example, I am trying burlesque. Imagine a former nun (though that is like, really, really former–try 24 years former) learning to peel off her clothes? Of course this is for a cause–for climate change or for racial justice–but it’s sensual and empowering and something I would never have imagined doing.

 What’s your #fashiontruth?

I wouldn’t call it just my “fashion” truth, but my personal truth is “live and let love”. Hopefully the way I am and the clothing I wear expresses my warmth, sense of fun, and my love for people, plants and critters.

Trust us, Amala– we can tell you’ve got love, in spades!

Amala1Photo courtesy of Ann Megyas

+Want to snag a #fashiontruth monthly feature like Amala’s? Tell us your #fashiontruth on Instagram, Twitter, or Tumblr for a chance to win $100 GC and much more!

About Sarah

Sarah is a writer, baker, and all-around trouble maker based in Pittsburgh PA. When she’s not tweeting and pinning for ModCloth’s social team, you can find her thrifting for vintage leather jackets, reading 'Jane Eyre' for the eighth time, or gratuitously ‘gramming her cat Pepper.

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  1. Brittney G. 05/19/2015 at 12:00 pm #

    Way to go, Amala! I really loved reading her joy-filled story!

    • Amala 05/24/2015 at 10:08 pm #

      Thanks Brittney. It’s been a long and winding road!

  2. Laurene 05/20/2015 at 6:12 am #

    “…… Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches and that is to “have tea with your feelings”.” Thank you for sharing this idea, Amala; An intriguing approach to self evaluation.

    • Amala 05/24/2015 at 10:10 pm #

      Hey Laurene,
      I love the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. He has lots of books out there that are straight from the heart and you can study with the Community of Mindfulness if you want to check out the practice of mindfulness meditation. They’re a very warm and open community – not intense – except maybe intensely peaceful!

      • Laurene 05/29/2015 at 11:36 am #

        Thank you, Amala! Will do!

  3. Tuesday 05/21/2015 at 4:41 am #

    So great!!!!!

    • Amala 05/24/2015 at 10:11 pm #

      Hi Tuesday, Thanks! I’m thinking you’re my friend from Florida right? Get on up here and model your fabulous style sister!

  4. Annie 05/21/2015 at 12:24 pm #

    Beautiful piece!

  5. Sylvia 05/28/2015 at 9:56 am #

    This is exaclty what I needed to read today especially the “have tea with your feelings” portion. Amala you are very inspiring!

  6. Nicole 05/28/2015 at 6:22 pm #

    Great piece! Thank you for sharing your Story Amala.

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