In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I'd like to reveal a love while confessing a sin. With much of the focus on romance this holiday, I would also like to shine a light on that which sustains love: redemption. What is love if not the allowance for redemption, that ability to forgive, make amends, and clear the path for the heart to be present once again?
Love begets love, and redemption sustains love: love for thyself, thy neighbor, and thy planet. You see, I believe there is a win-win sweet spot that exists for humanity, even within the startling conditions we find ourselves, our neighbors, and our planet in today.
Like many of my queer brethren, I have a love of underwear. So much so that when I was a young boy in the height of puberty, training at the San Francisco Ballet and then being mentored by Baryshnikov at the American Ballet Theatre, I stole some intimate treasures. Literally, I used to steal the older male dancers' sweated dance belts and underwear, coveting them in a box that once contained the biggest nutcracker I was ever gifted. For a young, sexually curious queer boy, this was understandable, right? Gentlemen of the dance, please forgive my trespasses against you.
Cut to years later. I'm performing the incredible lead role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the first San Francisco Equity production. While in the heels of one of musical's theaters most compelling LGBT rock stars, inspiration struck. I bugged the wardrobe designer into teaching me how to make a pattern. Then I borrowed my sister's old sewing machine and rescued a bunch of soft, classic vintage T-shirts from the local thrift store. I taught myself to cut and sew those T-shirts into Speedos -- or, at least, a Speedo-shaped garment. The first pair was unwearable, but completed. The second and third -- more lessons learned. And by the time I got to number 33 of those dream pieces of underwear ... well, let's just say, some of those beauts have lasted me over a decade now. Having redeemed the memories that other people let go of or donated, I turned them into something I Ioved. Then, to love thy neighbor, I began repurposing more of those cherished memories into sexy, one-of-a-kind wares, selling to prominent boutiques like Fred Segal in Los Angeles and New York's gone-but-not-forgotten Patricia Field.
Note: My entrepreneurial father was one of the first distributors of edible underwear in the 1970s, so could this particular garment be my lineage's inspiration? Perhaps.
Love thyself, check. Love thy neighbor, check. Now... love thy planet? In the early days of my dream underwear company, I was initially motivated to preserve and repurpose people's memories by making some awesome, sexy underwear. Back then, people weren't as conscious of global warming (a.k.a. global harming) and the value of fresh water as they are today. Over the years, having had many artistic adventures (including dancing, singing, acting, and producing the Another Gay Movie films), I have come to realize that if we do not protect our planet and its water supply, there will be nothing left to dance, sing, act or produce for.
Humanity hangs by a thread, awaiting a sustainable answer to redeem the sins of the second largest consumer and polluter of water in the world: the global fashion industry. According to the American Apparel and Footwear Association, one brand-new T-shirt takes between 700 and 2,000 gallons of water and two pounds of carbon dioxide to produce. Astoundingly, that's what it takes for just one new T-shirt! Americans throw away an average of 68-70 pounds of trash per person a year -- 85 percent of which can be recycled. With over 1 billion people on the planet without fresh water, where is the love to redeem sustainably?
In the closet, everyone has those T-shirts they love and save for one reason or another. Perhaps they are printed with branding of a favorite sports team, alma mater, or that first Madonna or Backstreet Boys concert. They may be too big, too small, or have too many holes. So what are you saving them for? Is there something to redeem here?
This year, I have expanded and rebranded my sustainable fashion company into what is now known as Threads of Humanity. At ThreadsOfHumanity.org, you can repurpose those sentimental T-shirts and give them new life as sexy, comfy, one-of-a-kind underwear for men, women, and even babies, all while doing something good for the planet. And to complete the circle, with every garment repurposed, Threads of Humanity will match in giving a recycled garment to the homeless, sustaining love for thyself, thy neighbor (or lover), and thy planet. It's a win-win!
Might it be miraculous that a little dancer boy's secret sin could birth a possible solution to loving our planet? Redemption. Don't throw away the possibility for love, America. Bring your darkness into the light and repurpose that sin into a new, glorious, sexy salvation. For yourself, your neighbor, and your planet, redeem your love sustainably.
JONAH BLECHMAN is an alumnus of the American Ballet Theatre and actor who has appeared in the films This Boy's Life, Fall Time, Treasure Island, and will be the upcoming movies Flytrap and For Spacious Sky. He was executive producer and star of Another Gay Movie and Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild! His fashion label Threads of Humanity, as seen on CNN and in New York Magazine, sells in over 85 markets internationally and is available at ThreadsOfHumanity.org.