When sustainable fashion becomes an act of revolution; here’s how to keep disposable consumerism at bay-Art-and-culture News, Firstpost
Fashion Revolution Week offers four Rs for embracing and promoting sustainable fashion: Renewal, Revival, Responsibility and Revolution.
Think of the legendary Danish butter cookie tins found in every home that the internet has memeed about never containing cookies, only sewing supplies. Where are they now?
If you’ve still got yours and you’ve been dipping in it now and then to mend a hole in your socks or fix a loose button, you’re on the right track, says Fashion Revolution.
The global non-profit movement, founded after the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh that claimed the lives of 1,134 garment workers, recently wrapped up its Global Fashion Revolution Week, which takes held annually in the week surrounding April 24, the anniversary of the cataclysmic event.
Under this year’s theme, “Money, Fashion, Power”, skilled practitioners in different parts of the world held mending sessions to socialize the message that mending is an act of recovery and revolution.
When you think of wresting power from the fashion bigwigs, the first thought isn’t of a bunch of seamstresses working to mend tears in clothes. However, when a person sews on a loose button, they invariably increase the number of wears on the garment and form an emotional bond with it, given the effort that goes into mending it.
As a result, when they wear more and buy less, they refuse to fall into the overconsumption trap set by retail companies and ultimately limit the number of their clothes that end up in landfill. There is power in there.
As part of the Indian edition of Fashion Revolution Week, Sonika Khar and Ashish Dhaka led a workshop with students and fashion enthusiasts to present different mending techniques. They suggest fixing a hole, for example, by sewing a circle around it before filling it in with concentric band-like buttonhole stitches.
The act of mending essentially arose out of necessity – a tear, a frayed hem, a loose button – to increase the material longevity of the garment. “Except,” Dhaka rightly tells me, “we just don’t wear our clothes so badly that they need mending.” An overabundance of choice creates a large amount of underused clothing in many middle and upper class wardrobes. A 2018 survey of 1,800 households in 20 countries discovered that Belgians had the highest percentage of clothes they had not worn in the previous year, at 88%.
Passionate repairers like Khar and Dhaka believe that linking mending only to repair is a somewhat limited understanding. It’s also an aesthetic choice: we buy more because we get bored quickly, but ‘visible mending’ can prolong the appeal of a garment. Pulling out a white shirt embroidered with running stitches in circular ikat-like designs, they explained how mending could freshen up a faded plain garment. The two have incubated a brand centered around providing repair services and exclusively upcycled clothing for the past two years, and plan to host pop-ups soon.
Visible mending has always been part of Indian craft culture – from Kantha tradition of Bengal, in which worn garments are layered with pieces of old cloth and fastened with running stitches, à la Kheta from Bihar, another quilting technique with distinct geometric patterns. A quick Google search of the phrase “visible mending” reveals the ancient Japanese traditions of Sashiko and Boro, which are enjoying a resurgence among mending enthusiasts around the world.
On the other hand, the very first exhibition of Kheta embroideries by the Shershabad, a migrant Bengali Muslim community, are in progress at the National Crafts Museum in New Delhi. Crowdfunding as the exposure has currently only managed to raise around 30% of the target on Milaap.
Rafoogarithe art of mending garments using threads drawn from the garment itself and replicating the weave, is the antithesis of “visible mending” and has been an integral part of South Asian communities for centuries.
The late textile designer and researcher Priya Ravish Mehra wrote about her childhood spent in Najibabad, Uttar Pradesh, a hub for Pashmina or Kani shawl trade. Come winter, she wrote, and rafoogars I went from door to door, exhausted Kani shawls and dresses.
As the flourishing shawl industry gradually declined in the late 19th century, according to Mehra, “the special skills of darning have (sic) been responsible for preserving these exquisite pieces and rescuing a significant number of these priceless shawls of destruction.Darning has kept them in circulation and in continuous use to this day in different circumstances in (sic) an interesting simultaneous transformation of product and market.
“Qualified rafoogars today are diminishing,” laments Dhaka. “A friend of mine desperately wanted to mend her pashmina shawl but couldn’t find anyone to do it,” he adds. COVID-19 has aggravated the already dwindling artisan population. The mass exodus of artisans from Indian cities to villages in 2020 cause 22 percent of the sector to lose 75 percent of their annual income.
The idea of personally repairing or asking someone else to do it comes instinctively when the object in question is precious – say, a Benarasi sari passed down from generation to generation. But what happens when you have a regular t-shirt bought on sale and it costs more to repair than buying a replacement. Is it worth it?
“It’s this idea of caring for all the things that we bring into your lives,” says Paris-based Jocelyn Whipple, founding member of Fashion Revolution, who has been instrumental in driving global initiatives to raise awareness of organizational repair. “When we choose to wear clothes, we become responsible for them. If you have a £3 (₹300) H&M t-shirt and you wear it three days a week, it’s worth fixing,” she adds.
To fix, then, is to give clothes a sense of permanence, and to subvert the dizzying flow of today’s trends. Stitches, so to speak, concretely preserve the conditions that brought them about: whether it’s a spill of wine on a night of dancing or a quiet summer indulging in old hobbies .
Whipple is the founder of repair assembly, a UK-based space with subsidiaries in France that focuses on local garment care practices as its primary business model, as opposed to retail. As part of her efforts to raise awareness about the entrenched habit of repair, she is also developing training programs for brands to increase accountability across the entire lifecycle of their garments. She thinks brands need to be repairability conscious from the start.
For example, they should consider whether a hard-to-repair zipper is needed. She adds: “Ultimately, we want brands to produce better and less, and we want to stop talking about circularity, which does not yet exist. In the meantime, we need clothes that we can take care of and that will have a long and useful life, not only for the first customer but also for the second and third. Whether they like it or not, clothes go into secondary and tertiary markets, and they have to be responsible for it.
Some brands have incorporated repair into their business models, perhaps the best example being the Swedish company John Nudie, which offers a lifetime free repair service with their jeans. When the brand’s repair shops are not accessible, customers can order a free repair kit on its website. In India, Péro frequently offers mending workshops and includes recycled clothing in its collections.
Khar and Dhaka echo Whipple’s call for mainstream brands to make repair part of their retail services, not just luxury and bespoke designers. “Brands can offer repair kiosks or digital advice to help customers increase the longevity of their garments through repair services or advice,” says Dhaka. “Another way brands can be aware of customers throwing clothes away is to implement creative practices for how clothes can rise and fall with body size. Maybe keep a few rolls of fabric handy of hand when customers have to adjust the measurements of clothes that no longer fit them,” he adds.
Another terrifying stat about clothing overproduction says that by 2030, all over the world we should be throwing away more 134 million tons of textiles per year. In this context, mending becomes a revolutionary act, as Orsola de Castro, co-founder of Fashion Revolution, postulates in her book Last liked clothes. On why we fix, she fondly notes, “to counter disposable consumerism, the only way is to keep. Everything around us is telling us to throw, so we have to rise to the challenge and keep going.
All photos by Ashish Dhaka and Sonika Khar
Swareena Gurung is a freelance fashion and culture writer.
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