sarah crawford keeps going
celebrating five years of the fluf
by tavis gray
We’re told the ceiling may come down. It’s a Wednesday and I’m sitting in the guest area of The Wing SoHo with Sarah Crawford, who would really prefer I weren’t writing this profile. She smiles at the team member who has just given us the bad news. We’re definitely going to want to move, there’s water damage, things could get messy. We move two inches to the left.
Anyway, the reason Sarah doesn’t want me to write this profile is modesty. She’s suggests we publish a joint conversation, something less Here I Am Remember Me I Started All Of This. Of course that won’t work. For one reason: I don’t want to. And for another: modesty hardly ever makes for a good story.
Here’s a good one.
Sarah started the site you’re reading five years ago. It was the fall of 2014. Two years into the second Obama administration. Hilary Clinton was in preproduction on her campaign announcement video. Many things, progress things, seemed inevitable. Sarah wasn’t rollicking in progress, though. She was going through a messy breakup, which is a word we hear about breakups, but it’s true here. She was afloat in crisis because what did it mean when your identity wasn’t tied to a man? Sarah felt at home being someone’s girlfriend. It’s what the world around her wanted; it was the perfect training. She had done the job right, too. She had coddled and shrunk and dreamed up perfectly fragile ways to exist in the company of future-husbands. The boxes were checked, and though she was not yet engaged, the train blared in the near distance. The station was coated in porcelain white. Sarah clicked her heels, ready to transform. And then everything cracked up.
Sarah would want me to remind you that this is common, this late-adolescent tearing out from underneath. Things break apart all the time, there are greater tragedies, it’s just growing up! Maybe. But how many of us think to so quickly break out the tape?
And so was born Styled By Sarah, a place for, well, the eponymous Sarah to come to terms. With the help of her best friend Catie as photographer, Sarah began to re-craft her image. Together they ventured out into fields of tall weed grasses and broken fences and they made a new woman. She held dandelions and beamed behind tossed hair. She wore long tartan skirts and kill you eyes. She caught the sun where it fell.
Through all of this re-making, Sarah realized that the things she enjoyed most in life were the fluffy things, the “guilty pleasures,” the things young women value and the world blows off. She wanted to encourage and collaborate with others who were realizing this too. She knew this space she was finally taking up owed its creation to more than just her story. Others saw themselves in her invention, were part of her invention, and wouldn’t it be nice, be good, to do something about it? After all, where but the internet could you flip a mountain upside down? In February 2015 Styled By Sarah became The Fluf.
Back at The Wing I order the “Macro Bowl” from a cafe on the second floor (there are two floors). So does Emily, who is with us, patiently dealing with my pestering as she pours through conference calls with social media clients. Sarah orders the hummus plate. She dips carrots and hums as she sketches Kacey Musgraves for an upcoming album review. I watch a man on the other side of fifth floor windows. He works on the facade and I doodle notes for this profile. I look at the cafe menu again. I could have ordered “Fork The Patriarchy,” an egg dish, but I haven’t had eggs in eight months and, beyond that, the lights flickered earlier when I joked about how the security system here is named for a Thelma & Louise character (it’s Thelma). I look around. I am acutely aware of the thin line I’m riding just by entering this space. But Sarah was excited to show it off, to demonstrate how incredible it is to be surrounded by so many hardworking women, only women! I remind her, despite the inconvenience, that I identify as a man. She throws up her arms, so what! Everyone is welcome. You’re absolutely welcome! Plus, you’re wearing women’s pants.
The Wing was started in 2016 by Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan as a space for women to work and grow together, a social club and a get-stuff-done club. Behind its closed doors and cliff-jumping security system it feels exactly like that. A space claimed by women for women to just be women, future women, reminders of 2016’s political horrors more or less checked at the door. But that refuge was interloped this year when a man, feeling left out, sued on the basis of gender discrimination to the tune of twelve million nutty dollars. The New York City Commission on Human Rights opened a still-ongoing investigation. The Wing has since altered its membership policy to allow applications from people of all gender identities (a spokesperson for the The Wing has said that the membership policy was codified before the lawsuit). We spend six hours at The Wing.
More and more men appear in the guest area throughout this time, taking meetings with women wrapped in blankets and wearing incredible shoes. Sarah convinces me of this practicality: most of the women here are starting or running businesses, and they are inevitably going to have to interact with a man at some point in that pursuit. Sarah has been been a member since moving to Brooklyn earlier this year. Touring through the SoHo location at the beginning of our day, past the color sorted bookshelves and velvet sofas, it was difficult not to notice the juxtaposition of mostly white women ordering pun-forward lunches from POC employees. Sarah brings the issue up before the lights can flicker at me again. She’s hopeful about the possibilities for the future, and looks forward to participating in the education around those possibilities. She shows me an email from Gelman and Lassan about adding “a mandatory section of member orientation…that focuses on race and racial empathy, and the experiences of members and employees of marginalized identities.” I eye a call booth named for Blanche Devereaux on the way back to the guest area.
We leave The Wing and head out into the street. Sarah spins over SoHo cobblestones as Emily takes pictures, dodging passerby and fashion police. Sarah lives easy in front of an audience. A week before, I watched her belt The Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” to a full karaoke bar. Untrained eyes may see a life made for the breeze. Careless, free, spinning. But Sarah is careful with herself. With what she puts out into the world. And with the philosophy of how she does it.
I suppose a real journalist would have told you earlier that throughout reporting this profile, I slept on Sarah’s couch. Before that I was her roommate for two years. And before that I cast her in a thesis web series (real) where she played my only friend. This is to say, I’ve seen what things look like backstage. I’ve meddled. I’ve passenger-seat managed. In a rapid-fire text exchange after I leave New York, I ask Sarah what The Fluf would look like with a million dollar investment. It’s exactly the sort of thing *I* would ask, and she answers me graciously at first: there would be a print version, a fashion line, a publishing house, a film studio—empire stuff. But she reminds me she didn’t start The Fluf with monetary value in mind. In fact she’s suspicious of that very idea. After all, the root of all this is about community, about creativity, expression, the versions of ourselves that exist inside our minds translated onto the internet. She chastises me, as she often has, on the importance of slowing down. Money begets ownership, not value. We should walk around with intention leading, not influence. She texts me later worried that sounds too “woo-woo.” I don’t think it does.
Now it’s Friday, my last full day in New York, and Sarah’s day off. We have a packed schedule: garden tours, museums, climate strikes, all that. Instead, we spend the morning solving the world. If any of the values Sarah started the Fluf to pursue persist, her effort to center and understand what it means to be a woman in this moment remains strongest. We are both militant about pay parity within our peer group, but the issue makes Sarah red in the face. Though money may muddle her creative philosophies, she recognizes the very real day to day independence and power it provides women who have it. To her, it’s about a lack of information. Women aren’t given enough information. They deserve better information. We talk about money in marriage, about what it means to go into a relationship as someone without traditional wealth. She wonders how much of today’s marriage story is a trap, and then how much of being a woman is a trap. “What the fuck is keeping everyone from walking into the sea?” Later I ask her, joking, “Why do anything ever?”
She takes it seriously. She says, “Don’t ask, just do. Something is better than nothing. Done is better than perfect. Expand your mind, share with others, let go!”
We do make it to the climate strike. I watch Sarah as she takes in the crowd, the young speakers. She wants to hear the activist Greta Thunberg speak, but we don’t have time; there are other places to be. As we leave, I can’t help but feel cynical. I hear the numbers, the limited years we have to do something about all this, and I know we won’t. Sarah doesn’t see this at all. She sees possibility. She sees people leading with intention. She’s energized by all of it. And why shouldn’t she be? She has the information. She’s made it to the other side of reinvention. And she intends to keep going.
It’s Saturday and I’m about to board a plane to cross the Atlantic. I text Sarah that we’re about to go off the record and I could really use another quote. Is there anything she wants to add? Rapid-fire, of course.
She messages me the French flag (I am, incidentally, going to France). I’m about to text back, I’m boarding, talk to you on the other side. Then three dots blip and she gives me the kicker.
She tells me, “I just want to live. And create. Create and live. They’re the same thing at the end of the day.” Dove emoji, dove emoji, heart.