Basking in the early afternoon sun here in Tulum, I sit down with AMARA’s Founder and Creative Director, Lisa Jackson, to sift through her cookbook of feminine magic, strategies and creative expansion in pursuing a conscious lifestyle. This interview sheds light on some of the more intimate aspects of Lisa as a business owner and human being- and with that, reminding us it takes love, dedication and self-realization to paint our world as we want it to be.
~ What inspired you to rethink AMARA’s core message in the fashion business and start to encourage a conscious lifestyle? ~
I feel like I have been playfully lead down a path and have had almost no control in arriving at the overall concept of AMARA. I have merely been a receiver and a channel to relay a message to as many minds as I can possibly reach through this brand. There have been many signs that presented themselves along the way that have encouraged me to move towards living consciously and having the brand exemplify that; reflections from my own thoughts and experiences, and conversations with like-minded individuals in the Tulum community and worldwide.
While my home base was Toronto, the people I’ve encountered since I left home, were enriching me with very different ideals than I had been exposed to previously. Although Toronto contributed so much to my creative talents and intellectual development, for the most part, it is a conservative city, and being the wild child that I am, I began to feel very unhappy and unfulfilled there. I needed to stretch my wings.
So when I finally took the leap to move my life to Brooklyn at 27 years old to start production on my ethically focused, made in the Garment District swimwear brand, I was opened up to a Universe of possibility and influence. I found myself surrounded by artists, musicians and hippies that were challenging the status quo in positive and meaningful ways. Through the struggles I faced in my new life as an immigrant entrepreneur with very few resources, I began to imagine a world where everything moved in harmony; where all these inspiring, talented people, that were enriching my life so deeply, didn’t have to put forth such unnatural effort for the very basics of life, when really, they were put here to create and expand human connection through their art.
I arrived in Tulum two years later searching for something closer to the vision that had begun to reveal itself. By this time, Hotcakes had become an Instagram sensation, I was earning an income online, hired a fashion student to keep an eye on production in NYC and a fulfillment warehouse to ship orders. At the suggestion of Timothy Ferris and The Four Hour Work Week, my cost of living had gone down by 75% by heading to paradise. Not to mention being submerged in a world reserved for the most beautiful women and never-ending aquatic backdrops. My lifestyle elevated and I became more aligned with my mission instantly, simply by changing location and being amongst nature for the first time. I’ve always desired to help people to see we are meant to experience a much more positive and fulfilled way of living, and Tulum has been a huge catalyst in solidifying that dream from thoughts to reality. Coming here, I had fallen into this beautiful rabbit hole of an expansive sense of freedom and possibility- by experiencing spiritual ceremonies, being exposed to Mayan culture, and meeting a self-replenishing stream of like-minded humans from all over the world, daring to break all the rules. Those were formative moments for me. I came into myself truly and deeply. I allowed myself to just be. I stopped wearing a bra and shoes most of the time, I listened to psychedelic rock and roll, I danced under the moon; I swam naked for all to see and took lovers from far reaches of the globe.
But most of the transformation, within the brand, and myself, I attribute to the early days, where I lived in complete solitude in a perfectly beautiful luxury condo in the heart of the peaceful, magical jungle. This was in Aldea Zama back when there was nothing else but trees and a handful of other entrepreneur neighbors in our 6 unit building, who were developing Ahau, Gitano and Calo- now some of the most renowned brands in town. This was a massive upgrade on my railroad shoebox in Greenpoint that I shared platonically with a 40-year-old comic book nerd. That’s another story though… For the first time, I had the means to create and dream on my own terms, without limitation, in an absolutely inspiring environment. And I gave myself permission to indulge in it all.
Tulum, without the people, is a place that truly reconnects you with nature and brings you back to your center, encouraging mindfulness of how you live. One only needs to observe nature to learn how to live in harmony with it. And here I was in the jungle, all the answers there before my eyes and coming through all channels of my existence. Through this observation, connection and solitude, my vision began to rapidly expand.
~ What were some of the things you struggled with in trying to manifest your brand being based in Tulum? ~
Looking back, I realize I was quite naive in the process of transitioning production to Mexico, and that, unfortunately, is a state of being that comes easily to someone living in a place like this for the first time. Tulum comes with its own hurdles, which you have to jump over on a daily basis. Rolling blackouts, spotty internet, and nonexistent mail service are just a few things that make it difficult to run a business from here. You have to learn to go with the flow. It was a new experience for me hiring a team, and through that process also learning what my rights were as a foreign business owner. Navigating the entrepreneurial waters while also learning a new language is a whole other ball game with communication errors causing problems you can't fathom. Although, the gift of living here is worth the challenges, as challenge breeds change.
Tulum was growing as a hub for entrepreneurs, models, hoteliers, restaurateurs and the like so I was exposed to an abundance of eager investors and creative friends, with their own ideas for AMARA and more or less, lighting stars in my eyes with ways to elevate the brand and business. At that point the business was entirely online, and having exposure to this amazing community made me realize the unique opportunity and reach I had in spreading AMARA across the globe, which is when I set my sights on opening a brick and mortar store here. I had come across some incredible people with solid ideas, coming from a place of love and encouragement. I felt incredibly fortunate that these individuals were excited about my ideas and wanted to show me the ropes. Their business concepts and ideas for the future, of Tulum and the planet, were on par with what I wanted to manifest, and I was feeling extremely lucky to have crossed paths with all of them in perfect synchronicity.
However, as obstacles have continued to persist over the last few years in seeking an aligned location for our boutique, one of the people I looked up to most for being visionary, essentially told me I should just rent any storefront available and offer what other boutiques were selling in order to satisfy business income; an extremely disheartening piece of advice for someone who so deeply values innovation. I had connected with this mentor initially for precisely those ideals I thought we shared.
And the sad truth is, this kind of entrepreneurialism seems to be happening a lot here now. People are selling out, creating carbon copies or exploiting and destroying the natural beauty that has provided us so much. All to get in on the gold rush of Tulum’s ever-growing tourist culture, decisions focused solely on profits. Right now, we are losing the jungle to it, we are losing the quality of life and moving farther and farther away from the dream that revealed itself to me when I first arrived.
While of course profitability is a core part of a sustainable business, through AMARA I really strive to consider a broader perspective and break the mold at every opportunity. Otherwise, my heart's not in it. Innovation is what the world needs right now more than ever. Dismantle every status quo. We need to rethink society from the ground up if we are going to solve the problems humanity faces. My beliefs are strong so I want my actions to resonate that and set an example. What we hope to accomplish with any space, experience or product we create for the brand from here on out, is to highlight the beauty and luxury of nature and show how we can work with it, to enhance the quality of our lives while maintaining the Earth’s natural abundance. This past year, in addition to developing 8 new product lines to create an all-encompassing lifestyle brand, we have designed an architectural concept for our flagship boutique experience that will highlight jungle preservation. We have recently found the perfect location for our project and are beginning to bring this concept to life.
~ What have you drawn your creativity from in order to curate your own way of living that fuses with AMARA? ~
Roughly 2 years ago, I began to experience one of the hardest periods in my life personally and professionally. I had spent 3 years growing the brand with workaholic fervor and striving towards a certain level of what I perceived to be success. I finally had the insta-worthy jungle penthouse, the beach road boutique in the most sought after eco chic travel destination on the planet, the cool car and the beautiful, exotic, artistic boyfriend attached at the hip. All of a sudden I found myself more miserable and less connected than I had ever been. Surrounded by people that were, quite literally, sucking the life out of me.
I am an empath and naturally want to help people in any way I can, always more than happy to share everything I have with the people around me. But in my kindness, I forgot to enforce boundaries and left myself susceptible to being taken advantage of. Without true connection, spiritual practice or clarity, in my success I ended up drawing to me all kinds of characters that wanted to come along for the ride but didn’t intend to contribute towards keeping the success rolling. It was such a whirlwind in getting there, that I wasn’t present enough to realize I was making all the wrong choices; the wrong business partners, the wrong employees, the wrong location, the wrong lover.
The Universe, being the precise, all-knowing, calculated genius that she is, was quick to rip it all away from me. In the course of 3 months, I pretty much lost everything that I had spent 3 years building. Minimalism by force. I found myself homeless, directionless, massively depressed and alone. Naturally, I was torn about how to move forward, I had very little confidence in myself and really no desire to continue with the business but feeling a sense of obligation to my new investors to keep moving. I had to swallow my pride hard, because for a moment there, my ego was prominently in charge.
I headed back to Toronto defeated, to seek shelter in my childhood bedroom, get behind my old bar and float for a while. Thankfully, the failure I was experiencing sparked another huge transformation and lead me to this emotional quest of personal discovery, healing and growth. Through these trials of gaining and then losing everything rapidly, I finally stopped, took stock and learned to consciously curate my life to begin to transform it into the masterpiece I have always known I am destined to create.
When we look at the world as a whole, or take a glimpse at our Facebook feed, we see such massive problems and begin to feel helpless against the sheer enormity of it all. But if we begin to break things down to a manageable level, you realize we only truly have control over ourselves. To me, that is an empowering thought. I arrived at the newest evolution of the brand and the will to keep pushing forward, no longer with the intention of saving the world, but simply by asking, what do I need to be truly fulfilled and live in harmony with nature? By shifting that focus inward I realized that my only “job” is to be my best self, an ongoing, evolutionary process, and through that focus would be able to offer my best self to the world around me and naturally align with my vision.
To make sense of it all, I started to write a lot of lists. I listed my values, things that made me feel happy, lessons I’d learned from particular relationships or business experiences, down to every little physical thing I would need to live a fulfilled life, from creative tools to wardrobe to self-care essentials. The root of it stemmed from looking into philosophies within the umbrella of utopian futurism, which for me also included minimalism, sustainable architecture, refinement, radical economics and spiritual enlightenment. I am very fortunate that I was blessed with such a grand vision so early in life but now understand, through the process of dissecting fulfillment and sustainability, the baby steps it’s going to take in getting there.
Up until this point I was handling everything for the brand from design to photography, customer service, marketing, accounting, even web design. In the midst of burnout, it became apparent that if I was going to grow as large as my vision, I could no longer do it on my own. Especially if I wanted to maintain my sanity or social life. Through an intense self-discovery and healing process, I began culminating people in my life who encourage what I am creating and see the vision clearly. I had the opportunity to collaborate with Walter Frías on a few creative projects outside of the brand and saw the potential of our combined work so I decided to invite him to join AMARA at the beginning of 2018. We immediately saw the alignment in our talents, ambitions, vision and work ethic and began taking steps towards building what has become a much grander and more holistic picture of our mission.
~ Can you tell us a bit about the team you’ve been curating to help you strengthen the core of AMARA?
We now have a 3 person creative team, including my partner, Walter Frías who has a background in health-focused restaurants, ecotourism and wellness practices such as Ayurveda and therapeutic massage. He is now also currently in training to perform acupuncture. Walter contributes to the overall concept and strategy as well as sustainable product development and sourcing. His outlook is the perfect complement and his work over the past year has been integral in defining and refining our mission. Dajana Radovanovic, one of my closest friends, fellow Toronto native and brand in her own right with a massive and dedicated following, is the newest addition to the creative team. Contributing to branding and product development, Dajana will release her first swimwear collaboration in the New Year, followed by curating additional lifestyle categories, AMARA skin, and AMARA care. Of course you, our BC babe, developing the voice of the brand and curating the blog, along with our customer turned travel contributor, Jennifer who lives in Montreal. Some of our long-standing teammates include our Film Director Jerome Kruin and Cinematographer Axel Villamil, also buddies from my hometown where I used to work as a professional makeup artist on music videos and commercials. The boys and I have been collaborating for over 10 years. They visit us in Tulum sometimes to escape the cold and hang out, as well as shoot my pretty girlfriends. Which leads us to Allison, the primary face of the brand, who I initially found through an Instagram contest, but who quickly turned into someone I regard dearly as a friend and plan to create with for a lifetime. Last but not least my best friend Lara, owner of Wildsea Boutique (where you can currently find our collection in Tulum) and creator of Everelse, two of the prettiest brands I have ever encountered. We bonded over fabric hunts, simplicity, folk music and girly things. I gained a lot of the softer feminine side of the aesthetic through her influence and I wear her dresses religiously. She is my rock and has been by my side in my darkest times when all I could do was cry. She never made me feel like I was a burden and was so nurturing when I needed it most. I’m helping her out with Wildsea while she’s away on maternity leave and she’s been known to jump in front of my lense on occasion too. When you know, you know. And with all of these people, I have felt an instant, divine plan sort of connection. They are my greatest inspirations and allies. Together we are creating our own world, our own family, with our own rules and we are so excited to start sharing some of the projects we have been cooking up this year behind the scenes.
~ What empowers you as a female in this industry? ~
I, fortunately, have never felt or experienced any limitations being a woman. I always felt my femininity to have many advantages actually and have acquired many male allies along the way with this outlook. I have had an inherent knowledge that we are equal, which I think is quite a rare perspective in the cultural landscape of the past nine thousand years. And where we are not equal as men and women, we are complementary; we were made differently for a divine reason. Female energy is the creative force that flows through all of life. That is power that cannot be denied, so we don't have to fight for equality, we simply have to believe it for ourselves to take back our power. I think I was given this outlook to aid in realizing my dreams and I believe that more and more women like me are beginning to appear in this specific time in history. I think we are witnessing the beginnings of a revolution that will see women coming back into balanced power with the male figure in all aspects of society, which in turn will breed peace, abundance and correct focus for the human race to move towards the natural evolutionary process of spiritual enlightenment. We must be in balance to achieve it. It’s exciting to me that I can now confront these ideas and ideals directly through the brand I have created. The fashion industry is arguably the single most female-driven industry worldwide.
I don't think it's a coincidence I ended up here. We are not bound by limitations in this creative field, we are given room to grow, explore and be ourselves and that feminine power we all have inside of us is a massive asset. I feel that as women being at the forefront of such a forward thinking and rapidly growing industry as sustainable fashion, we have the capability to spearhead great changes in the world. We have the influence to bring people together in community, to think differently, focusing on the small details and making life a little more kind, caring and inclusive.
Lisa and I ended this interview as the stars were coming out along with light, aural hints of Janis Joplin’s hauntingly beautiful voice. Thinking on it now, I don’t believe that was a coincidence. As we say in Spanish, “Larga vida a las mujeres.” Long live women.