CEDE: to surrender, to yield
A journalist asked me where the name CEDE came from, the name I chose for my clothing design and creative advising company that I launched this summer. The easiest answer is that it’s a mashup of my name and initials (Elizabeth de Cleyre). But there’s another, more expanded answer that I thought I’d share here.
According to the dictionary, the verb “cede” means to “give up (power of territory).” The root of it is the Latin cedere, which means “to yield.”
The first synonym for cede is “surrender,” a term that means to “abandon oneself entirely to (a powerful emotional or influence).” To surrender is to give in. To cede. To yield.
At first, to cede or surrender felt like giving up and giving in. But when I came across the synonym “yield,” it made me think twice. To yield can mean to give way, but to yield can also mean to produce or provide—like crop yields, earnings on investments, or reaping what you sow.
A few months after I officially launched my brand, my brother said, “You know what I find so interesting about you making clothing? That’s what you wanted to do when you were a kid.”
In eighth grade, a friend and I swore we’d start a clothing line someday, and I spent class time drawing skinny figures with oversized eyes and funky clothes. As a freshman, I enrolled in my high school’s only sewing class my very first semester. My friends and I went thrift shopping and I upcycled garments. I had learned how to sew quilts, clothing, and costumes from my mother when I was a child.
And then, like many creatives, I stopped. Sewing was miscategorized as home ec, which was miscategorized as domesticity, which was miscategorized as women’s work. Clothing and sewing were integral to my upbringing, my childhood, my joy, and yet I set it aside. Instead, I adopted outdated societal notions that to be a “serious woman” meant to not give any serious thought to clothing or anything remotely vain (I even went so far as to shave my head at nineteen). Sewing became something “domestic” that little women did when trapped in the home and I was categorically allergic to domesticity. It was not lost on me that to become a spinster meant to be an unmarried woman whose occupation was to spin yarn, which society told me was something to be avoided, perhaps the worst of all fates.
Nevermind that a man could have a respectable career as a tailor, while women were relegated to terms like “seamstress” and “spinster.” Though couture garments are largely constructed by skilled women in ateliers in Paris, it took until 2016 and 2017 for well-known fashion houses like Dior and Givenchy to appoint their first female directors: Maria Grazia Chiuri and Clare Waight Keller.
Although I intellectually knew that these were outdated methods of oppression that robbed women from viable careers for centuries, I still emotionally registered this diminishment as valid and internally oppressed myself.
For years and years I was obsessed with clothing—with finding it, wearing it, making it, figuring out how to make it—but I felt ashamed by my obsession. It felt like a trivial subject. I downplayed its importance and never fully owned it. For years I only sewed garments for myself. And I did it in secret, like it was shameful, so when I actually launched my brand a lot of people who knew me had no idea that I made clothing. I was afraid to own it for fear of being seen as stupid, trivial, or silly for caring about and making clothes. Or that what I made wouldn’t be “good enough.”
I even subconsciously attracted friends and partners who mirrored this low self-worth and reinforced my belief that my obsession with clothing was something to be ashamed of. When I tried to show one partner something that I made, he teased me so badly I stopped talking about it with him altogether. Another friend of mine was learning how to sew, and when she became frustrated with her progress I took it personally, thinking that if I dimmed my light a little she wouldn’t be so upset. Instead of focusing on how well I was doing, I’d focus on my mistakes and failures, or on how stupid everything looked.
But I also had some expanders, people who were there to show me that what I secretly wanted was possible. I met a woman who started a small-batch tea company, and she carried a gorgeous line of clothing from a friend of hers. As a writer and editor, I helped women craft business plans and launch businesses that were totally authentic.
There wasn’t a neat, epiphanic moment where I realized that I wouldn’t be happy until I owned this part of myself. The surrendering didn’t happen all at once. It was a slow process of letting go and giving into what I loved. I started by watching documentaries, reading blogs, and window-shopping in more expensive boutiques that carried brands made in the USA. And I showed up; sitting my butt in a seat at the mercy of a sewing machine.
Over time, I realized that clothing is actually one of the more serious topics worthy of our attention, and something we give too little thought to. We get dressed every day, but we hardly stop to question what we are wearing, where it came from, and how we could improve the practices of manufacturing and consumption. Even now, I have to catch myself when I try to trivialize a social media post about a garment when there are other more “serious” or pressing matters to be discussed in the world. I’m still working through the emotional blocks that I constructed. (For those looking to do the same, I recommend Women Who Run With the Wolves, The Artist’s Way, and the Shadow and Reparent workshops with Free & Native.)
Once I surrendered to my love of clothing, everything started to flow for me. I was invited to the Red’s Back Alley Market, and the rest of the summer I was busy making garments for some incredible women.
I won’t waste too much time wondering what could have happened if I hadn’t forsaken sewing for other, more societally acceptable forms of creativity, because the circuitous path I took to get here taught me skills I mightn’t otherwise learned. I studied photography as an undergrad, which gave me an eye for visuals, and received an MFA in creative writing, so I became more comfortable expressing myself and the ideas behind my designs.
I had no idea where my obsession with clothing would take me, which was part of why I was afraid of letting go and giving in. And I still don’t know where I’ll end up, but I won’t yield any results unless I surrender.