At Treetops, we thrive off our ability to build meaningful relationships with the New Americans we support and the local community we live in. Every Social Enterprise internship brings a new opportunity for our teens to see their creative ideas come to life and learn from the businesses we partner with.
Elizabeth Usadel is the designer and owner of The Color Forest, a vibrant jewelry and clothing brand that celebrates each woman's unique beauty and style. The Color Forest's bright colors and joyful approach to fashion is the perfect fit for this summer's Teen Enterprise product release: a friendship bracelet kit designed to inspire us to stay hopeful and connected to our purpose, community, and inner strength. We’re excited to have Elizabeth guest writing with us today!
Even as a little girl I was drawn to bright colors. I carefully put together outfits, pairing colors until they seemed to sing. I also chose some weird hairstyles (like wrangling my bangs into a short front ponytail to resemble a unicorn horn) which shockingly never caught on. As kids we intuitively know how to be ourselves and do what brings us joy. Over time, we learn to edit ourselves to please others. Part of it is just growing up (and realizing the world may not be ready for our eccentric hairstyles) but we are also programmed by advertising and visual culture to strive to become the version of ourselves that represents society’s idea of beauty (and to buy what they are selling).
I remember in middle school insisting that I have the same Adidas sneakers and Champion sweatshirt that another girl in my class had, because I thought she was so cool and pretty. That was the start of it for me - trading in what made me happy with what I thought would make me likable. I spent over a decade pursuing a style that brought me no joy. To add to it, I’m pretty tall (six feet) and I was hit with a double whammy: first, clothing at that time was not designed for tall curvy women and fit quite awkwardly, and second, I felt like my lumbering body in the ill-fitting clothes was even more prominently displayed because of height. The girl who once draped herself in bright colors now wanted to be invisible.
It took time for me to find my inner confidence, to like what I liked regardless of trends. Some of it came from doing things that challenged me and proving to myself that I was strong and competent. And I learned more about what I thought looked good on me (on my body, with my coloring.) I figured out styles that complimented me. It got easier to stop wishing I looked like the skinny, perfect girl in the magazines and to start trying to be the best version of myself.
My goal shifted from what would please other people to what pleased me. And honestly, that is the kind of growth that I have to keep working to maintain. It takes gentle reminders to come back to yourself and reassurance that you are enough. It requires checking in with yourself and listening to the voice inside you. It helps that our society has shifted to a more inclusive concept of beauty, but there is still work to be done. Knowing who you are and loving yourself is magic - it's the only way to be happy, and a side benefit is that it makes your beauty shine from within. Embracing who you are can transform your whole life, encouraging you to take new risks, pursue your goals, strengthen your relationships and help you let go of the unhealthy ones.
Starting The Color Forest has been exciting and challenging, forcing me to step out of my introverted comfort zone and learn about managing a business. The pieces I make come from playing with colors and shapes, which is one of the things that brings the most joy to me in life. It has been full of surprises like new friendships and opening up a studio/storefront. I started The Color Forest in January 2019. I’d just completed my Masters degree and needed a project to work on while my kids were with their dad. I was longing to work on something that used my creativity and love of color. I started making polymer clay earrings after finding some old clay hiding in a cabinet in my classroom. I took it home to test out and let’s say the first thing I made was pretty terrible. But after lots of research I quickly fell in love with the medium and the fact that these little colorful things I made could be worn.
Because jewelry gets to travel with you throughout your day and your life, my hope is that when you wear it you hear the voices of women all around you holding you up and cheering you on. It is important to me to offer brightly colored jewelry because I believe color brings energy and confidence. Women should have more options for accessories outside of current trends. Life is so boring when everyone looks the same. We all have unique ideas, perspectives, personalities and styles - why not embrace and celebrate them?!
I was absolutely thrilled to be a part of this bracelet kit collaboration. I love that the social enterprise interns chose to celebrate the qualities of perseverance, faith and gratitude. Cultivating these qualities is important work as we face and conquer challenges, while believing in the power of good and appreciating the good in our lives. I hope that creating and wearing these colorful bracelets reminds you of the amazing person you are, full of strength and beauty.