Fashion and Sustainability

I recently watched this TedxTalk given by Clara Vuletich, a fashion designer and sustainability expert, and found it insightful and inspiring. Vuletich discusses the links between fashion and sustainability while also emphasizing their obvious differences. She describes the experience of leading a sewing workshop in her neighborhood, where she demonstrated clothing repair techniques to women interested in lengthening the life cycle of their clothing items, and then watching a group of those same women leave her class to go shopping at a local fast fashion retailer. They hadn’t made the connection between fashion and sustainability, she realized, and there’s got to be a better way to educate people about the harsh realities of the fashion industry.

At the same time, Vuletich also recounts visiting garment factories in China, and being struck by the happiness of the young female employees there. Many of the women came from rural areas and were able to earn larger incomes, often sending money home to their families. They enjoyed the friendships made and the experiences of life in a larger city, and Vuletich soon realized that the assumptions she held about garment workers were, in this specific case, false. Vuletich was able to meet with a small group of employees, and while she had initially planned to listen and discuss the problems within the fashion industry, she decided instead to share a sewing technique with them. Her meeting transformed into a group of artists sharing their love of a craft together, and it was a more meaningful experience than she could have imagined.

After returning home, Vuletich designed and created a jacket that took three weeks to sew by hand. The process for her was cathartic, and she describes how she came to a resolution during this time. Sustainable fashion, according to Vuletich, is really about values. Designers must decide what’s important to themselves and their work before they can conform to the larger standards of the industry. Garment workers carry their own sets of values based upon cultures and traditions that might differ from our own. And consumers must decide what we value and take responsibility for our choices when we shop. It’s not enough to call out brands or blame manufacturers for unethical practices when we ourselves are part of the problem. I especially love this point because I believe we as consumers have the power to change things with our own actions.

Vuletich is a huge advocate for the art of hand stitching and encourages her audience to try it as a way to reconnect with our value systems and with the clothes we wear. I’m intrigued by this idea and I’ve realized in recent months that I enjoy those short moments of time when I’m sewing a button back on a blouse or repairing a ripped seam on one of my boys’ stuffed animals (which happens a lot!). I’ve never considered the idea of sewing by hand as anything more than a chore for me, but after watching this talk, I’m curious to explore it more as a mindful exercise.

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