I am a clothesmaker and ethical fashion advocate in Brooklyn, NY. I have the opportunity to work with and be inspired by designers in the ethical fashion community who are making a difference in the way we experience clothing. In this community, there is a positive story about how a piece was made, how the company is giving back to people and the environment through their practices, and how we should care about what we wear. I believe in caring about what I wear, and making the best choices for, not only my style, but the people and world I live in- we are all connected. Why would I have clothing that I don’t completely love and trust? Why would I have pieces that don’t represent who I am and what my values are?
I am aware that this endeavor- an ethical wardrobe- is a process. Despite being committed to buying only clothing that is ethically sourced or second hand, I do have clothes in my closet from before that I can’t be proud of. The idea, though, is not to throw everything out (waste) and start from scratch. A better idea is to “use it up, wear it out”, and then to buy conscientiously until I can boast a closet full of ethical, sustainable, handmade, organic and natural fiber clothing- a thrilling prospect!
While I’m on this path, I want to tell the stories of the pieces I have that do honor my principles, my history and my eclectic style. I want to share the experience of clothing that shapes my life, and to bring importance to those things often taken for granted in our throw-away consumerist world.
Story N˚1: Argentinian wool + Polish handicraft
In 1995, I served a mission for my church in Argentina. I was so happy to be sent overseas. Not only did I start to break down my U.S. ethnocentrism, I fell deeply in love with the Argentines and their culture.
As vast and diverse as it is geographically, the area of the central sierras and south along the Andes to Patagonia relies on warm knitted handicrafts. Sheep and wool production are thriving industries there. I saw many women taking their knitting projects wherever they went, often making an income on their skills and products. Many men are skilled knitters as well. I saw my first knitting machine run by a man proud of his own sweaters. I was amazed to learn that most of the sweaters and baby clothes my friends had were handmade by someone.
The town centers always have at least one major yarn shop. In downtown Córdoba, I remember a shop with floor to ceiling colorful skeins. I wasn’t a knitter then, but I couldn’t help going into every yarn shop I passed. I was mesmerized by the textures and colors. I ended up buying several skeins of a heathered mauve wool. I must have bought it promising myself to learn knitting, although I can’t remember what I thought I would make, perhaps baby clothes…
Back in the U.S., I packed those skeins around for roughly a decade, moving them from place to place through college and beyond. I made a few half-hearted attempts to learn to knit, but the skeins remained stashed in my ever growing pile of some-day projects.
Finally, I met a Polish woman, Eugenia, at work who is a crochet master. She was continuously creating adorable clothing for her granddaughters. I mentioned the yarn I was hoarding, and she jumped at the chance to turn it into whatever I wanted. I couldn’t believe my luck. I asked for a cap with ear triangles, a sleeveless sweater top and a scarf- I had that much yarn and then some. The resulting pieces weren’t as I imagined them, despite my notes and illustrations. The cap was a puffy beret with a strange ruffle and, yes, ear triangles. The crocheted top was also ruffling in an unflattering way. Polish crochet master and I clearly didn’t share the same vision. But the scarf, which was actually more like a shawl, turned out beautifully, and I still have a large skein of yarn left to adorn my stash. I didn’t appreciate Eugenia’s work until I moved to New York. Now the shawl is my cuddly wrap on cold nights. The merino wool is so warming and comforting, and I’m proud of its Argentinian origins and Polish crafts(wo)manship.