mercredi 20 avril 2016
I had just been cast in an avant-garde British play and realized that my carefully curated, and in all manners, as ethical as possible wardrobe was just not going to do during the rehearsal process. This theatre thing was going to involve rolling around on the floor and making out with perfect strangers. Wincing, I thought that this was probably going to consist of sweatpants. Like any self-respecting Canadian on default survival mode, I strode into the nearest mall and picked out the least ugly looking pair of cotton jersey pants I could force myself to find. Last minute impulse buying. Not good. The memory of the put on cheeriness of the Gap girl at the till soon faded to zero. I hated myself almost immediately. What had I done? Bought into human exploitation and the pillaging of the Earth’s assets because I figured myself a last minute actress? But what was I going to do? Rehearsals were in a couple of hours. I had already signed the contract! I forced myself into those cheap cotton sweatpants and proceeded to roll around on the floor and make out with perfect strangers. I also decided that closing night was going to spell the end of this last gasp chance at an acting career; after which I was left with an unwanted and guilt-inducing pair of sweatshop sweatpants.
They got stashed in a forgotten corner of my closet until I pulled them out again one day. Out of defiance. And necessity. Gardening, painting and refinishing furniture, airbrushing, textile dyeing, house cleaning, baking. They soon became indispensable to every dirty task I needed to accomplish. I found that they were much more comfortable than jeans to crouch around in when cutting and piecing fabric together on the floor and to my surprise, became the companion to many memories. I wore them when I stroked and tried to soothe my tired horse cast in Spring mud and slush as he struggled to get back to his feet surrounded by three neighbours, a vet and a tractor. I wore them when I attempted to help shovel the damage out and some life back into fellow citizens’ houses, more unlucky than I, during the Alberta flood of 2013. I wore them when I planted and later, victoriously harvested my very first garden of fruits and herbs. I wore them when I failed repeatedly and finally conquered making macarons. Whether I liked it or not, these unremarkable, cut-rate pants which were at odds with my worldview and which I had written off as a mistake, had become an integral part of my life.
With time, the inferior jersey has broken down, especially around the knees and the seat of the pants. I have mended rips, tears and holes over the years with large patches of straight stitched scrap fabric recycled from other projects. Sometimes, I leave the holes be a little while, to see where they go and when I am too tired to pick up another needle. The mending itself is crude and unexceptional, a far cry from the surface treatments that I usually indulge in, but it has created its own narrative and more importantly, it has extended the lifespan of a garment otherwise doomed by planned obsolescence. I often joke that these pants are my ship of Theseus, that one day I will have replaced all of the original parts with my scraps. Didn’t Louise Bourgeois say, “You repair the thing until you remake it completely.” (Louise Bourgeois: The Fabric Works, Germano Celant)?
Japan’s mended and patched nineteenth century rural indigo rag textiles known as boro encompass the concept of ‘mottanai’ meaning, “too precious to waste”. Borne out of necessity and happy coincidence, the cloth transcends its utilitarian origins. Whilst I am not dealing in hand loomed and hand dyed cotton indigo from old Japan and whilst it might seem, at first, utterly ridiculous and counterproductive to spend any quantity of time or material resources in repairing such a disposable item of clothing, I have come to learn otherwise – a copious amount of the Earth’s resources, human hands and lives were mobilized and involved in the making of this garment and these are far “too precious to waste”. I have taken care of something that should have ended up in a landfill many moons ago and in so doing I feel that somewhere, I have sought to honour the work, the skill and the life of the unknown garment workers who toiled for little to make this pair of pants, the anonymous weavers, spinners, dyers, cutters, machine operators and cotton farmers who produced the material and the finished cloth; the Earth and her wealth that we plunder mindlessly every goddamn day. I have also made these pants mine, outside of consumption heavy marketing and advertising schemes. In many ways, this humble, patched beyond belief, stretched out and past their prime pair of sweatpants is my personal “fuck you!” to the fat cats at the top of the inhuman heap that is the fast fashion industry. That feels good, so unbelievably good.
I am further buoyed by Kate Fletcher’s recent “Craft of Use : Post-Fashion Growth”…
“For maintaining what we have, keeping garments in active use, can involve something as simple as approaching a piece with attention and imagination. There is also some ‘inconspicuous consumption’ of resources involved in on-going use, including that associated with laundering garments. Yet, perhaps, because use practices are enabled by, but not rooted in industry and commodity products, perhaps because they are distanced from the drivers of economic growth, they are often resource effective over time.
The activities embedded within the paths of use are also human-scale. They are pragmatic and within the realm and reach of us all. They cast their narrators as practitioners, craftsmen and women of use. They are fashion practitioners not because they are designing a new collection, but because they are using what they have with dedication and passion. They show insights, ideas and new ways of wearing and thinking about clothes that builds towards a satisfaction with what people already have. They draw on well-established practices of thrift, of domestic provisioning, of care for others, on the gift economy, on the informal channels through which clothes pass between friends and family. They stretch resources qualitatively and quantitatively, making them go further, appreciating them in greater detail, infusing them with human warmth and memory, folding them into others’ lives. This gives satisfaction: aesthetic pleasure, social regard, an ethical concern for others, the taking of responsibility for material effects.
[…] The craft of use is replete with material and ideological manipulation of garments and the agency to produce the world differently. On-going use is an affront to the consumer society, a slur on throwaway culture. It is fashion in a space where we choose ‘to want what one has’ and one where we revel in the power, imagination and possibility that it offers. American environmentalist Bill McKibben describes the change in priorities thus: ‘After a long period of frenetic growth, we’re suddenly older. Old, even. And old people worry less about getting more; they care more about hanging on to what they have, or losing it as slowly as possible… your goal becomes to husband that wealth.’