When I log into my Zoom with Ron Finley, the self-proclaimed “Gangsta Gardener” of South Los Angeles, I’m surprised to find him sitting right in the middle of his backyard. Finley’s property once housed an Olympic-size swimming pool, but he has since transformed it into a green oasis filled with hundreds of different plants, vegetables and flowers. Behind him is a blooming tangerine, and birds are chirping all around. It is also, of course, a fantastic Zoom background for a business meeting. “Where else would I be?” he says. “This is my office.”
Finley, who in the past has worked as a fashion designer and fitness trainer, is now a full-time gardener, who is using horticulture to build communities. In addition to creating urban green spaces, he works to teach community members the importance of growing your own food – and why it can even lead to spiritual awakening. Finley says, “Freedom is when you learn to grow your own food.” “In my opinion, we are gardens. We are nature.”
Finley has taught a MasterClass series on this topic, and his Ted Talk on Guerrilla Gardening – where he grows gardens in abandoned lanes and more – has nearly 4 million views. Gardening isn’t just a hobby for him. It can teach us valuable life skills, including empathy, patience, and resilience. Now Finley is also using fashion to promote the power of green thinking. Today her collaboration with Everybody.World – a sustainable, gender-neutral Los Angeles baseline – is launched, with a portion of the proceeds going to her nonprofit, The Ron Finley Project, which includes programs aimed at to educate children on how to cultivate and cultivate their own gardens.
Ron Finley’s Everybody.World collection includes comfort-oriented pieces with original artwork designed by Finley’s son, Kohshin, inspired by – you guessed it! – the aesthetics of Finley’s garden. There are lots of floral prints and a t-shirt with positive affirmations such as “All we need: Air, Light, Beauty, Soil, Water, Patience, Love.” (The stakes all over Finley’s garden feature the same words). “The flowers [prints] we used were also based on a flower Kohshin drew on Ron’s Father’s Day card last year,” says Iris Alonzo, co-founder and artistic director of Everybody.World.
Fashion is not an entirely new place for Finley. His old line, Dropdead Collexion, was sold in department stores during the 2000s, and he has been studying tailoring since he was 15. Alonzo says, “It’s a mix of styles he did in the late 80s, early 90s.” We have pants based on a design I made years ago that has a gusset on it, and it’s comfortable as hell. If you need to kick someone in the throat, you can wear these pants. The pockets are also large enough for people with big hands.
Finley says he wants the new line to inspire people to think seriously and differently about gardening – and he plans to continue spreading that message to through its own organization and work. For him, the art of gardening is a path to a truly free and sustainable life. “It’s my revolution. It’s my protest, ”he said. “And what does she not need? She doesn’t need us! As our Zoom draws to a close, I have to ask him how much time he spends in his garden each day – “hours” – and if he has any idea how many plants or flowers there are. “You’re kidding,” he laughs. “Surely not!”