Over the last five years, the above article link explains, safety measures have been implemented and working conditions have improved for the stitchers, but the pay is so low it doesn’t reach the minimum monthly wages of Bangladesh. This low pay traps workers, mostly women, in a poverty cycle. These are the people who pay the price of our cheap clothing. All of the big fast fashion names: H&M, Gap, Zara, etc. have garments manufactured here. And while many of them signed on to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (http://bangladeshaccord.org/), some of these companies are reluctant to pay a living wage (about triple what the workers currently receive).
As you make your shopping choices, even on a budget, check the label and remember Rana Plaza, remember the workers who are currently trapped in poverty. We vote with our dollars. If we are willing to pay a little more for our clothing (to worthy brands), we can put the squeeze on the corporations that are exploiting people for profit. Fashion Revolution asks “Who made my clothes?” Are your brands worthy of your dollars? Are they doing right by the people who make our clothes?
This story is about the end of my clothes making/sewing career. It began in 2001 at Sea World Orlando, where I made costumes for over a decade. My favorite creation was the pink-tailed Mermaid costume (see below). When I moved to NYC in 2012, I knew I wanted to return to my first love: Fashion. My plan was to work in ethical/sustainable fashion making patterns and samples, while creating my own line.
Fortunately, I was able to do the first half of that: developing a designer’s collection in Brooklyn, and then working at the prestigious Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator. There were many designs and textiles to get excited about and I learned a lot through these experiences. I also took on a lot of freelance work, because I couldn’t seem to sustain myself in sustainable fashion jobs. I had many wonderful clients, including a singer/songwriter from Texas who would bring me piles of vintage clothing to tailor down to her petite body. And there is an elegant designer from Detroit (a dear friend) who contracted me to create her pieces for a Detroit art event. Not only did the collection turn out beautifully, I was treated to the event in Detroit and had a blast! This was easily my most successful project. Here’s a pic of one piece, I’ll post more later.
While I have loved working with creative people and enjoyed honing my stitching skills, I realized I would be buried alive under sewing work in order to pay the bills. This would leave me no time or energy to work on my own designs and ideas, and I found that to be true over and over. This week I finished my last project for a client: some cushions covered in a lovely, traditional Chinese wax-resist indigo-dyed cotton that kept my fingers blue. (I dream of piecing all the fragments of the various creations I’ve made for clients into a strange quilt. Yes, I’ve been hoarding fabric scraps. We’ll revisit this another day.)
For now, I’m happy to close this door, so I can open another. One that will provide plenty of fodder for my clothestories…
The fur industry is scary. I’m not talking about fur used by indigenous peoples for warmth; I’m talking about fur for fashion. Apparently, there is no way to do this humanely. I was looking at a few anti-fur/animal rights sites for just a moment and I am sick to my stomach. A few years ago, I got through the documentary, Earthlings (trailer link), but not without crying my eyes out. I haven’t been the same since. Fashion is just one of the ways we abuse animals, but the fur industry is unconscionable. Here is an article that gives information on “ethical fur“, but I don’t know how animals bred in cages just for their pelts can be truly ethical. I will have to do more research on the topic…
In the meantime, I am in favor of using what is already in existence. There is a lot of fur already in circulation. There are many opinions on the subject of fur, but I value the tradition of passing on clothing. I received a Persian lamb swing coat that my great Aunt Norma had made for her in the 1950’s. It’s a lovely piece in my vintage collection and so well crafted.
My story of this coat: I was working at that suburban fabric store that wiped out all other fashion fabric stores in my area in the 90’s, and continues to dominates home sewing commerce. I was in charge of restocking fabrics and so I often got to help customers with their ideas and projects as I worked the floor. Around December, a woman wanted to make a dressy coat for a company party. We looked at patterns, fabrics and talked styles. As she described the coat she wanted, my swing coat came to mind. I was shy about offering it, because she would have thought me crazy to lend my coat to a stranger. But the idea kept surfacing, so I finally said that she was describing a coat I have in my closet, and she was welcome to wear it to the party. She jumped at the offer! She wasn’t a seamstress and couldn’t afford to buy something fancy. I brought her the coat- she loved it, wore it to the party and then returned it with a small gift. It was one of the best clothing exchanges I have experienced.
A few years ago, I worked at a boutique that carries ethical fashion. The owner said she had to often avoid buying yellow colors when selecting styles. Even if the clothes looked really good, she had trouble selling them. Perhaps many women don’t think they look good in yellow.
I don’t know if I look good in yellow, but I enjoy wearing it. I also notice that yellow really catches my eye when I see someone else wearing it. It’s brave to wear such a bold, attractive color. The yellow may be ochre or soft; I still think it’s bold and beautiful to wear.
This time of year is a yellow color for me- this transition from summer to autumn. The light has softened from bright white to yellow. The tree-top greens become yellowed, then golden. Some of the first leaves to change are bright yellow. The tulip tree and silver linden. (I notice that Spring happens the same way: one of the first colors to pop is yellow- forsythia, daffodils, etc.)
I like to pull out a certain outfit around this time of year. A pale ochre dress I bought at the above mentioned shop. It was designed and made here in NYC by two artists who created a line (recently put to rest) called Feral Childe. I love everything they designed, because each piece spoke to the dreamer in me. I pair this dress with an Afghani cotton scarf I got from a friend who was stationed there in the military. I think the patterns look so good together.
‘As a clothes maker and textile artist, I commit to living and applying practices that take into consideration the well-being of my community, both local and global, as well as my planet.I believe that what I choose to consume has an impact on many levels, and that this impact matters.
I care about the people and families who are working in all areas of manufacturing; I care about the resources and beauty of my planet. I believe that there are choices I can make that lessen environmental damage, and that can improve economic conditions around the world, such as using sustainable, natural textiles and reclaiming existing clothing and textiles.Recycling, reusing items, reducing my consumption, choosing ethically produced fashion and products that are made to last:these are and should be a given in our society at this point.I commit to implementing these practices, to being conscientious about with whom and for whom I choose to work, and to educating others through word, action and product.
To borrow a saying, “beauty is as beauty does”.In fashion, and in my life, beauty matters:what I say, do, choose, consume, create, matters!’
I wrote the first draft of this in February 2013 while taking an ethical fashion course at FIT. I consider it to be a fluid statement that continues to evolve throughout my journey. Since moving to NYC, I have added ethically produced fashion to my wardrobe, as well as thrift finds that I have upcycled.
Case in point: Today I am wearing a skirt I made from an oversized dress I found at Beacons Closet. It’s kind of perfect for St Patrick’s Day. I wish I could tote around the Irish daffodils as well…
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.
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.