In December 2017, President Trump announced that his administration would be reducing the size of two national monuments in Utah (because, you know, slashing and burning the rest of our democratic freedoms wasn’t quite enough). As he stated, the Grand Staircase-Escalante would shrink to about half its original acreage, while the Bears Ears National Monument would be reduced by 85 percent in an effort to free up land for development, as well as commercial activity like oil rigging and mining. It was a devastating blow to environmental activists as well as federal land protection laws, and it drove nearly 5,000 protesters to the Utah State Capitol.
Far away in New York City, a fashion designer was struck by the power of their voices. Chris Leba, the founder of R13, felt a call to action, even if he wasn’t physically present during the protests in Salt Lake City. He decided to base his Fall 2018 collection on the crises at Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears and bought the rights to prints that depict wild animals like bald eagles and black bears, as well as scenes from the protests in Utah. Starting today, the designer is selling a limited run of two of the pieces from this collection on the R13 website, with 100 percent of the proceeds going directly to Ute PAC, which defends the Native American Ute tribe and its land, and SUWA, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. The money will be split evenly between the two organizations, which were at the forefront of the protests and continue to be leaders in the fight against Trump’s anti-indigenous, antienvironmental agenda.
“So much of R13 is based on this inherent sense of Americana,” Leba explains. “When I was designing this collection, I kept thinking about fighting to protect the U.S. national parks and wildlife, but also bringing attention to their beauty.” With everything happening in this country politically at the moment, and the dire straits we are in as a whole, Leba felt that it was important for his homegrown fashion to speak to a larger issue. “The protests in Utah can be applied to a variety of events that we are seeing nationwide at the moment,” he says. “It’s about recognizing unwavering bravery [and the] ideals that we hold to be true.”
Matthew Gross, media director at SUWA, was enthused by Leba’s proposal and also a little surprised that it actually materialized into something real. “We do get approached by people who are passionate about protecting Utah wilderness in their own unique way,” he says. “Often though, the proposals we hear don’t come to fruition, but Chris and the R13 team have been a delight to work with.” Aside from the philanthropic angle of this partnership, Gross believes that the clothing itself is a powerful vehicle for spreading their message far and wide. “Clothing is something people pay attention to,” he notes. “We’re all bombarded with constant online ads and video ads and billboards and we’ve become adept at tuning them out. Clothing presents an opportunity to slip in a message that people might not expect, that they might not otherwise encounter and that will stay with them throughout the day.”
A spokesperson for the Ute Indian tribe agrees: “We are in protest everyday of the year. Every day we confront federal, state, and local governments who attempt to deny our ability to govern and protect our lands and waters. The clothing we wear in these battles sends a powerful message whether we are in the courtroom or on the street.” He adds, “We also encourage everyone to contact their members of congress and get out and vote!” Action is of course key in the fight to save American land (and our democracy as a whole), but Leba’s Utah collection will hopefully inspire the masses to take that next step toward enacting real change. As Gross puts it, wearing one of the R13 pieces is “a way of saying, ‘I care, and I want you to be curious enough to care too.’ ”