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Why Building Intimate Relationships with Clothing is Key for Sustainability

How we interact with clothing and understand the process impacts how we value it. For BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities, sustainable fashion is just fashion because the production of clothing is inherently sustainable from farm to closet. We have had sentimental relationships with our clothing for a millennia.

Pictured here hand-marbled silk scarves created and styled by Niha

In countries like India, most consumers are aware of and participate in the process of creating their garments.

India has a massive variety of regional textiles using fibers like jute, silk, cotton, and linen that are natural to the region as the product of regenerative agriculture. These fibers are then woven by weavers on a machine or handloom, dyed and block printed or embroidered by artisans. Typically, consumers buy their fabrics and get them stitched by a local tailor with custom measurements in their desired silhouette. This is accessible in many BIPOC countries around the world and supports local economies without exploiting labor. People participate in the creative process and understand most steps of the supply chain. BIPOC cultures also took great care of clothing and would pass them down as family heirlooms from generation to generation without throwing them out. The definition of slow and transparent fashion.

This intimate process affects the way you interact with clothing. As a South Asian I can go into my mom’s closet and she knows each sari intimately, where in India she went to purchase it, what type of handmade work is on it, everywhere she wore it, where she got the blouse stitched. It's a deep and intimate relationship with clothing that the is missing in the Global North. Growing up surrounded by rich South Asian textiles, fashion was a vehicle for not only self expression but a relationship with my culture as well.

With the rise of colonialism and the Industrial Revolution, our relationships with labor and the planet were cut and we became dissociated.

Western clothing on the other hand was forced through colonialism. We were taught that our native dress was incorrect and that we needed to dress to be accepted by the colonial power. Over generations this made us devalue our native style to the point where our youth have lost appreciation for their culture and are unfamiliar with the value or process of creating clothing. Even now all that is portrayed as fashionable are minimal silhouettes, European aesthetics are what is considered luxury. This is all we are shown in media, all our stores shelves are filled with and all we want to own to attain that "luxurious" look.

The luxury in our own rich textiles is not valued beyond occasions. At the same time western garments have evolved into something disposable with the rise of fast fashion.

The Global North on the other hand is focused on E-commerce, the general market is fast paced with new trends every week and people consuming clothing quickly and then donating it quickly. Theses “donations” are exported to Global South second hand markets with the burden of waste management pushed on them.

How can we create intimate relationships with our clothes and the process of creating them?

Creating marble-making with water medium, tempered paint and silk scarves at a boutique silk art workshop in Dallas, Texas.

We need to form connections with our clothing. Upcycling or participating in creating your clothing is one of the biggest ways to understand the different parts of the process and supply chain. I am challenging myself everyday to learn more about tailoring, the process of natural dying, and how plants are spun into fibers.

We must make systems we have in the Global South accessible around the world with weavers, tailors, available on site in stores. Creating environments for boutiques to create custom made creations that are accessible in price and location.

This care and connection with clothing and the process of making it could be the biggest tool to reframe our relationship with fashion.


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