Fashion

Ron Finley, the “Gangsta Gardener,” Wants You to Think Green

When I log onto my Zoom with Ron Finley, the self-described “Gangsta Gardener” of South Los Angeles, I’m surprised to find him sitting right in the middle of his garden. Finley’s property was once home to an Olympic-sized swimming pool, but he has since turned it into a green oasis filled with hundreds of different plants, vegetables, and flowers. Behind him, there is a blossoming tangerine tree, and the birds are chirping all around. It is also, admittedly, a fantastic Zoom background for a work meeting. “Where else would I be?” he says. “This is my office.”

Finley, who has worked as a fashion designer and fitness trainer in the past, is now a full-time gardener, using horticulture to build communities. In addition to establishing urban green spaces, he works to teach community members about the importance of growing your own food—and why doing so can even lead to a spiritual awakening. “When you learn how to cultivate your own food, that’s freedom,” Finley says. “The way I see it, we are gardens. We are nature. I’m trying to change what people value: what we value in each other, and in humanity.”

Finley has taught a MasterClass series on this subject, and his Ted Talk on guerrilla gardening—where he’s grown gardens in abandoned alleyways and more—has almost 4 million views. For him, the act of gardening is not simply just a hobby. It can teach us valuable life skills, including patience, empathy, and resilience. Now, Finley is also using fashion to promote the power of thinking green. Today, his collaboration with Everybody.World—a sustainable, gender-neutral basics line out of L.A.—launches, and a portion of the proceeds will benefit his non-profit, The Ron Finley Project, which includes programming to educate children on how to grow and cultivate their own gardens.

The Everybody.World by Ron Finley collection includes comfort-oriented pieces featuring original artwork designed by Finley’s son, Kohshin, that takes cues from—you guessed it!—the aesthetic of Finley’s garden. There’s a lot of floral prints, and a tee with positive affirmations such as, “All We Need: Air, Light, Beauty, Soil, Water, Patience, Love.” (Stakes throughout Finley’s garden feature the same words). “The flower [prints] we used were also based on a flower that Kohshin drew on Ron’s Father’s Day card last year,” says Everybody.World co-founder and creative director Iris Alonzo.

Fashion isn’t an entirely new venue for Finley. His former line, Dropdead Collexion, was sold in major department stores during the 2000s, and he has studied tailoring since he was 15. The Everybody.World collaboration, then, aims to go back and pay homage to some of Finley’s early design work. “It’s a mash up of styles that he had done back in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s,” says Alonzo. Finley adds, “I wanted clothes that move with you and aren’t constricting. We have a pant based on a design that I did years ago that has a gusset on it, and it’s comfortable as hell. If you need to kick somebody in their throat, you can with these pants on. The pockets are also big enough for people with big ass hands.”

While it’s a fun, upbeat collection overall, Finley says he wants the new line to make people think seriously and differently about gardening—and he plans to continue spreading this message through his own organization and work, too. For him, the art of gardening is a path towards truly living freely and sustainably. “This is my revolution. This is my protest,” he says. “Everything on this planet is alive, and everything that Mother Nature produces is a resource. And what she doesn’t need? She don’t need us!” As our Zoom comes to an end, I have to ask him how long he spends in his garden each day—“hours”—and if he has any idea of just how many plants or flowers are in it. “Are you kidding,” he says with a laugh. “Hell no!”

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