Fashion Revolution Day: Who Made My Clothes?

Spring is typically when New Year’s resolutions go down the drain. Unsurprisingly, the first one to be ignored was my resolution to blog regularly. But the great thing about life is, it isn’t all or nothing, so there’s no reason I can’t recommit to blogging after a two month hiatus.

It isn’t that there wasn’t anything to blog about. I went to Turkey, and Spain, finished a pile of projects and started a pile more. I also got involved with an awesome group of textile artists, and generally conscious, creative people who are leading the campaign for Fashion Revolution Day in Bulgaria.

Who made your clothes?
Who made your clothes?

If you want to know what Fashion Revolution Day is, and why it’s so important, there are already some fantastic resources for you to peruse. For me, it was imperative to use my blog as platform for this movement. Many people in this part of the world are employed as garment workers. As it has everywhere, capitalism has devalued the skills of these crafters and left them subject to exploitation, poverty wages and unsafe working conditions.

Being a knitter, for me, can’t be separated from my role as a community member and a citizen, or as some would say “a consumer.” As I’ve written before, having gone through the process of making garments has changed my entire perspective on all textiles and garment-making. I’m a classic only child; preferring to work on my own rather than in a team. Knitting satisfies all my weird solitary daydreaming needs. However, every knitting project is still a collaboration, between farmers, yarn makers, designers; everyone who contributes to a long and winding supply chain.

For Fashion Revolution Day, I wanted to branch away from knitting and focus on the collaborative aspect of making clothes, by shopping for, co-designing, and commissioning a custom garment. Having something custom-made takes more time and money than buying whatever’s hanging from the rack. However, it doesn’t have to be frivolous or elitist. It can also be an excellent opportunity to connect with crafters and designers in your community.

What I wanted was a summer dress, something I can throw over a bathing suit, but still nice enough to wear to a restaurant. The first thing I noticed is that, when planning the dress, my tastes changed in correspondence to the amount of effort I put into it. I’m not interested in buying two or three cheap dresses, so I need one dress to serve lots of functions. Immediately, my eye went away from trendy prints and fussy details, towards something simple with maximum versatility.

The first step was choosing fabric. I’m pretty picky about the materials I choose. I read somewhere, I think in the Merchant & Mills book, a great piece of advice. To paraphrase: a project is just as much work no matter what you make it out of, so it’s better not to waste your work on something that won’t stand the test of time. Use high-quality materials, and all that work goes into something that will be satisfying to wear forever. I also wanted the fabric to be part of the collaborative process, so I wanted something that I could trace back to its origins, and that was made by people who aren’t exploited.

Öz, camera-shy but super-helpful, at Refik İpekçilik in Beyoğlu
Öz, camera-shy but super-helpful, at Refik İpekçilik in Beyoğlu

In Istanbul I found a rugged, woven silk that was still easy enough to care for. It came from Refik İpekçilik, a textile store that is supplied exclusively by weavers in the far southeastern corner of Turkey.  I originally planned on cotton or linen, but then I saw the grey silk and thought about my materials mantra. It will be the same amount of work regardless of the fabric, so I picked the one I really wanted.

a street kitty snuggles up to the window display
a street kitty snuggles up to the window display

Sourcing the fabric from Turkey also meant that I could keep this project somewhat local, since I’m in Sofia. The next step was to take my fabric to my friend Mila to design my dress.

future sundress...
future sundress…

We sat down and Mila sketched out a design. She understood perfectly when I said I wanted something versatile and simply constructed, and added her own ideas for details that would make the piece really special.

Since I’m all about transparency on this blog, I don’t mind sharing the cost of this project. For two and a half meters of handwoven silk I paid about US$75. For a custom design and pattern, made to my exact measurements, and finished dress, I’m paying Mila another US$115. $190 is a lot more than I’d pay for a knee-length sleeveless dress at H&M. But, it’s a bargain when I consider that I’m getting a unique couture item, one that will fit me perfectly, and that will be an indispensable, all-seasons wardrobe piece for years and years to come. In that time, I could buy nine or ten flimsy dresses that will fall apart or look dated within a few months. More importantly, my dress was made by passionate craftspeople who are being compensated for their hard work. Those people, weavers, dyers, sewists and designers, are sharing their talent and skill set with me.

I’ll post again when the dress is finished, and include more reflections on Fashion Revolution Day and what this little project has done for me. The second installment probably won’t be ready by Friday, so it’ll be posted after April 24th has come and gone. But, to make a real impact on the clothing supply chain, and to change our relationship to what we wear (and most importantly, the people who make what we wear), Fashion Revolution shouldn’t just be one day a year.

There are lots of ways you, too, can be part of the Fashion Revolution. The first step is to ask, #WhoMadeMyClothes? Turn your clothes inside out, and post photos on social media, tagging clothing manufacturers and asking where your clothes came from. If you want to know more about how to get involved, check the site for events in your country.

Fiber Find: A stash of crochet and Bulgarian embroidery

R1012032
To bolster his Bulgarian skills, my husband volunteers at a charity center that helps single mothers. He makes needle felted crafts with the other volunteers, mostly older women, listens to their stories and pushes himself to tell his own stories.

The ladies know I’m into knitting, and invited me to join Lorenzo one day, and to paw through a bag of scraps. Someone’s grandmother had passed, leaving behind her craft stash, and anything I didn’t want would end up in the trash.

There’s something very intimate about going through a stranger’s unfinished crafts after they’re dead. The bag contained sharply creased linens, half-embroidered with pixellated traditional designs. One corner of the linen might be completely filled in, the motif fading outwards into a single thread.

R1012062

R1012059

R1012048

R1012045

Besides embroidery, this person also crocheted breathtaking little bits out of stiff cotton thread.

R1012014

R1012016

R1012015

R1012031

When she was tired of one, she’d stuff it into an empty candy box (which, post-Communism, are now artifacts in their own right) and start a new one.

R1012026

R1012020

R1012010

R1012027

There’s also an unbelievably exact little handkerchief with samples of different hand-stitched patches, which, according to the tag, might have been stitched by a third grader.

R1011993

R1011996

"V. Noshkova 3a class No. 14"
“V. Noshkova
3a class No. 14″

Sifting through this treasure trove has inspired me to blog more examples of local textiles. I’ll be carrying my camera around, so stay tuned for more fiber finds.

I look for crafts
I look for crafts
Emi looks for pigeons
Emi looks for pigeons