Republishing: Original post January 29, 2013 How far have we come?
"The only things that do not change are dead things. Clothes are exceedingly vital and alive."
-Jacques Worth, 1927
|And this leopard?|
I have written many posts over the years on this very topic (see my old blog to follow the path this post will lead), trying to wrap my head around all of the complexities of treating people fairly, compensating them for their work, and consuming resources responsibly. I know these things are important. I know that people are passionate about these things. I know that everyone, every single person on the planet matters equally. I know that we need to take a good look at ourselves, how we fill our closets and bellies, and how we treat one another.
The caption of the original photo above, (from my family's collection) originally from TWA Aviation Press Pictures, reads, "NY International Airport, February 11, 1960. Glamourous Eva Gabor, who appreared on the Jack Parr Show last night, is pictured wearing a leopard coat prior to boarding a TWA Jetliner to Los Angeles where she will enjoy a brief visit."
The airport had not yet been renamed JFK, for obvious reasons... but notice the mention of the leopard coat? My, how times have changed.
Or... have they?
This coat would have been quite a status symbol in those days, but would now be a very unpopular item (to put it mildly), if worn by any celebrity. While such a coat, which once turned heads, now turns stomachs, are animal rights just the popular issue right now, due to the marketing efforts of groups like PETA? Does it matter that her coat was once an actual leopard? Yes, it does.
This got me thinking (again). We celebrate the person wearing the item, cooing and sighing as they float down the red carpet, as the TV correspondent breathlessly calls out, "Who are you wearing?" The name assigned to the garment is almost always a brand or a fashion icon, but what an interesting experiment it would be to try those interviews on the bustling streets of midtown Manhattan, or Boise, Idaho, or Phoenix, Arizona. Would they know? Would they care? Would you? Do we?
I know there are always other fish to fry, but I want to specifically turn your attention to an article on sweatshop labor, offered by BBC News. Do we think about the human price paid when we buy $5 T-shirts? According to the article, workers in Burkina Faso would love to stop laboring for such low wages, but, unfortunately, cotton is their only cash crop.
I also noticed an article online this morning about Riker's Island inmates wanting to learn about fashion theory. This is said to be the most popular of the course offerings for the prison population's female inmates. Students also learn, as part of this course, about third-world sweatshops and fast-fashion retailers, in addition to exploring their own potential.
It seems that when we talk about making clothing, we inevitably end up talking about bigger issues as well. Here in the US, we talk about outsourcing, and how low wages are being paid to foreign workers to keep our clothing prices low. But we also talk about social consciousness and a more global perspective on how our decisions impact all of us.
Excerpted from a Times Style Section article on the same topic:
"Chyiome handbag designer and Project Runway alum Anna Lynett Moss teaches the class, which tackles cultural identity and design process by narrowing in on provocative style and design approaches. “People with creative training are in a unique position to envision innovative alternatives to some of our deepest social problems,” she explained to Of a Kind. The designer and humanitarian—she is developing a socially—conscious accessories line with the UN–chooses talking points that range from fashion shows to magazine spreads to educate and enlighten."
Read more: http://style.time.com/2013/01/23/rikers-islands-most-popular-class-fashion-theory/#ixzz2JNI8NIaF
Here's the kicker, on Facebook this morning, I was inspired to click on the face of a person I vaguely recognized from high school, who is connected to another friend from high school. We weren't friends because we were in different grades and didn't hang out with the same groups of people, but I recognized her name, and noticed she had become an author. Because we (my family) are avid readers, I clicked through the link to her book, and was just FLOORED... positively FLOORED by the "Jean's Story" section of her profile, and then downloaded the book to my Kindle immediately. I hope you will click through to the link, but if you don't choose to, just know that she was actually going to the same high school I was every day, just after climbing out of miserable conditions, and assisting her mother in a Chinatown sweatshop. Her name is Jean Kwok, and a video of her discussing the (fiction) book can be found here.
So, I'm having one of those astounding "You mean, right here? In my lifetime? My peers?" kinda moments.
Clothing. Everyone gets dressed everyday. But it symbolizes something far greater. Bigger stories can always be told surrounding the process that results in a wearable item. Heads are needed to design it, hands are needed to create it, and hearts are needed to appreciate and love it. In our Project Runway culture now, we should be more aware than ever what it takes to make our clothing.
So now, here's my bigger point... as you read this, "Who" are you wearing? You pulled on a sweatshirt you randomly snatched up for a few bucks at a huge discount store. Or maybe you made it yourself. Or maybe a well known artist or designer made it. Could your clothing be made in a prison work program, a foreign work camp, a local sweatshop? Does it matter where it came from, and who made it? Yes. Clearly it does. More than we realize. And more than we are willing to admit.
Let's make something ourselves, shall we? With our own hands, head, and heart. Need to go fabric shopping? I've got you covered. If you want to find fun places to shop in the garment district, sharing the creative energy of a group, come along on a Speakeasy tour.