Last week marked a very important event on social media. It marked the tremendous organizing efforts of the eco fashion advocacy group, Fashion Revolution. It marked the creation of a virtual sustainable fashion community consisting of designers, artists, makers, crafters, hobbyists, advocates, and otherwise concerned citizens looking to engage in the conversation regarding ethical fashion. These are the very best moments in social media. When online platforms are used as a tool for community organizing, public dialogue, and political advocacy. And the moments when this tool actually wants anyone and everyone to participate. People like me. And people like you.
This week marked the three-year-anniversary of the collapse of the garment factory known as the Savar building or the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh. On April 24, 2013 the building collapsed killing over 1,100 people and injuring over 2,500. The building collapsed because of a structural failure that could have been avoided. It resulted in the deadliest garment factory accident in history.
From this tragedy grew an urgency in the grassroots Slow Fashion movement that was already gaining momentum with environmentalists, textile artists, and select fashion leaders worldwide. But the collapse created an urgency. An outrage. An international call for action. Slow Fashion called for a revolution in the fashion industry to better consider the welfare of people and the planet involved in the making of our clothing.
Fashion Revolution had a simple premise, to draw attention to the horrible conditions of garment factory workers by asking fashion labels one question: Who made my clothes? This question quickly inspired droves of concerned consumers to turn their clothing inside out, show their labels, and take a selfie on their cell phones that they'd post to social media outlets with the hashtag #whomademyclothes.
It was effective. It was instant. It was an inspired action to convince participants to share their labels and charge factories with a responsibility that was missing after Rana Plaza collapsed. It also humanized the movement by forcing us to consider the humans in the factories making our clothing. And remember the lives of the workers who were killed in the avoidable collapse. These images quickly flooded the Internet on the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, April 24, 2014. And again on April 24, 2015.
Along the way designers and makers turned the phrase around to declare, "I made my clothes". And from this declaration other sustainable fashion advocates and artists added their own spin on how they were not only calling for a fashion revolution but participating in one. This year at the third anniversary Fashion Revolution organized worldwide events and increased the daylong memorial to a week long event.
This year the advocacy group took a longer approach and asked "makers" or designers, crafters, seamstresses, and other fashion enthusiasts to spend the week considering the potential of a fashion revolution from seven different angles. They invited followers to post on a different prompt each day for seven days. The topics included: 1. I make my clothes; 2. By hand; 3. I mend my clothes; 4. Upcycled; 5. Second hand first; 6. Skill up; and 7. Goals.
It's impossible for me to participate in this work for Fashion Revolution without considering my own fashion fast that started three years ago. One of the goals of my project was community engagement and sharing resources and techniques I learned through the project. So this organizing effort is close to my heart as I continue to focus on these interactions and conversations outside of making, mending and teaching. It's incredible, the momentum that the Slow Fashion community has gained in the past three years since I started my project. It's thrilling to witness.
As many of you know, on August 1, 2013 I started a clothing fast, Make Thrift Mend, with the intention of abstaining from purchasing any new clothing for one year while I focused instead on making simple garments, buying secondhand, and mending. My fast was also largely inspired by the Rana Plaza factory collapse. It was also influenced by Natalie Chanin's writings on slow design and the book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline. I wanted to DO something about fast fashion. I wanted to change my shopping habits. I wanted to challenge myself to go deeper in the name of eco fashion. I wanted to align my wardrobe with my values.
Through this journey I also discovered mending as a form of art. I studied Japanese Boro and Sashiko and developed my own techniques for mending clothing. I started teaching mending workshops because it was part of my Make Thrift Mend project goals. With a background as a textile artist and an arts organizer I wanted to push myself to focus on what's known as "social practice" or community engagement or finding a way to work outside the structure of galleries and shops to engage community. I hosted mending circles, I won a grant to offer a free mending workshop online, and later I organized textile artists on Market Street in San Francisco in lunchtime demonstrations.
The first year of my project turned into the second and I shifted the parameters to include the purchase of new clothing from local brands or independent makers. The third year suddenly appeared and I included the purchase of select new clothing from ethical brands. I taught more mending workshops.
I wrote about Slow Fashion. I published an article on what I like to call, Mendfulness, and I gathered in community with other artists, makers, designers, and authors working for eco fashion. My interest in the project only continued to grow as the years gathered--I can hardly believe I haven't purchased new clothing from a big box store in three years. If you had asked me if that was possible before I started my fashion fast I would have said, "No way. What would I wear? I don't have the money. I don't have the time".
Somewhere along the line I surrendered the rest of my studio practice to my Make Thrift Mend project. I had a second baby. I bought an ancient farmhouse 3,000 miles away from my apartment and studio in Oakland, CA. And I moved my growing family from that small apartment in a beautiful urban center to a sprawling old farmhouse in the beautiful rural community of the Hudson Valley.
But somehow mending and Slow Fashion and this combining of sustainability and fashion and textile arts centered my creative work in a time when my life was arguably busier and more demanding and more chaotic than ever before. The mending practice became metaphor for mending in general. For repairing. For focusing. For accepting imperfection. For experimenting. For embracing the natural process of breakdown and reinforcing what was torn with my stitches. It became a meditation, Mendfulness.
I taught more mending workshops. I bettered my techniques. I listened to my students about what they wanted and what was working and what wasn't. And I started teaching at new venues and considered multiple requests to travel to teach in locations across the US. I admitted to myself that this one-year-project had not just turned into a three-year-project but it had turned into the core my creative studio work. And it had altered my relationship with fashion so deeply that there was simply no turning back to the sales racks of my favorite boutiques of yesteryear. Thankfully.
But this week brings me back to the catalyst for this project that quite frankly changed my life. It brings me back to the people. To the humans. To the lives lost. To the photographs of the factory collapse that could have been avoided. And to the aftermath of various mega fashion brands refusing responsibility and refuting pressure to shift their manufacturing practices.
But it also brought me back to the makers. To the designers. To the advocates. To the activists. To the community of people around the world that are so dedicated to this cause that they cannot, not do something. They are motivated to create change. And they are inspiring. They are designing, making, selling, mending, altering, plant dyeing, and otherwise creating an alternative fashion industry that aligns with their values. They inspire me to keep moving my own project forward too.
They remind us that we do have options. We can buy less. We can support independent makers. We can consider the fibers in our clothing and educate our selves about the journey from farm to factory to retail. We can decide to take a break from the fashion "trendmill". We can say, enough is enough.
We can find other outlets besides impulse shopping. We can mend our clothing. We can buy secondhand. We can even consider the design elements in mending and making to create repairs that actually add value to our existing garments. And we can release our selves from the pressure to make perfect seams on handmade garments and instead just go ahead and begin. Where we are. With the skills we already have. We can say, "I'll start right here, right now."
The three-year-anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, the organizing efforts of Fashion Revolution, and rounding the third year of my own fashion fast offer an opportunity to reconsider choices. To confront the system I support in my garment purchases. To stop focusing on what I can't do to support sustainable fashion and instead decide what I can do to better align my values and my closet. At the end of the week of online activity the prompt was "Goals".
I took a few moments to jot down my goals and realized that advocacy is still my number one priority as I move ahead with this project. And by advocacy I mean social practice, community engagement, public dialogue, and reaching outside of my studio and classrooms to support change. I also want to continue to step outside my comfort zone in making garments--approach sleeves, pants, and other contours I've been avoiding. And to develop a handful of projects that use castoff fabrics because let's admit it, sometimes the garments are beyond repair but the fabric has so much potential.
This week, this anniversary, this tremendous organizing effort by Fashion Revolution allows us to pause and notice our habits. That's how my fashion fast began--I wanted to notice my shopping habits by abstaining. I wanted to create a break in the habitual and this came through fasting and ultimately re-approaching fashion through an intentional lens, Mendfulness. This week allows us to just decide on one thing we can shift to better align our wardrobe with our values. Just one thing. Anything. Just a specific place to continue. Or to begin.