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Today is Fashion Revolution Day, and like last year, I’d like to spend some time thinking about all those expert skills hiding behind all those cheap clothes we expect to see on The High Street.

Fashion Revolution Day - Who Made My Clothes?

Fashion Revolution Day: who made my clothes?

When I was writing my new artist statement, I spent a lot of time thinking about motivations for repair, captured in the following sentence:

By exploring the motivations for repair Tom shifts the emphasis from the new and perfect to the old and imperfect, enabling him  to highlight the relationship between garment and wearer.

There are manifold motivations for mending, ranging from societal issues through to the very personal: concerns about environmental impact of the clothes life-cycle, concerns about living conditions of people making cheap clothes, budget constraints, sentimental value; I’m sure you can add more to the list.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 02a

A darning sampler in the form of socks from a time that repair came natural to people; from the Fries Museum

The people behind Fashion Revolution Day ask you to think about who made your clothes. For me personally, this question can more and more be answered by: I made my clothes. I have made my own boxershorts, trousers, numerous socks, cardigans, and sweaters. With less success I’ve also attempted to make some shirts, and it’ll be some time before I feel happy to tackle a jacket or coat.

Making my own clothes has made me realise that it takes a lot of time, skill and effort to create garments I’m happy to wear. Of course, I’m not a professional tailor, so I’m happy spending my whole Christmas holiday on one pair of tweed trousers. I don’t know any shortcuts or tricks to make things go faster and I don’t feel the need to use them, either. Every time I make something, I learn something. How to make a nice welted pocket; how to bind edges on knitwear; how to copy a pattern from an existing garment.

boxershorts from old sheets

Boxershorts made from ripped sheets: the softest cotton you can get your hands on! The pattern was copied from a pair of boxershorts I already owned

Making my own clothes has made me realise, too, that those cheap t-shirts, jeans, and other items were made under very different circumstances. The shops we buy these from are mostly trying to get a decent profit margin. At the same time, their customers demand a low price for these items. Something is going to get squeezed somewhere. You will notice that when you buy cheap clothes, their material quality might be poor, seams might fall apart easily, or the finishing isn’t great. This is not because those people in sweatshops like Rana Plaza don’t have the required skills, but because they are constrained by time or poor quality materials.

I believe therefore that clothes made by those people deserve the same respect as that carefully hand-knitted sweater you made at home. When I do buy new clothes (I mostly shop secondhand now), I try to buy something made to last, but I know that’s not always possible. And I myself have not always been in the position to buy less, but of higher quality. It happens. I try not to feel too bad about it (some people in the sustainable fashion corner worry about what might happen if suddenly nobody buys cheap clothes anymore: thousands of people in developing countries would suddenly be without a job.)

Visible Mending of a Cardigan

An early Visible Mending example

There is no one solution to these ethical questions, and I think we should all do what is within our reach. For me this means I will repair my clothes, including cheap ones. When repairing clothes, my mind often starts to wander and I think about who made the item. It might be me, a dear friend, or indeed, it might be an anonymous seamstress.

So, even if you will never find out who made your clothes, you can still think about this person.

Pay them respect and repair your garments.

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