Preserving Artisan Culture in a Fast Fashion World

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Arts and Crafts should be taken seriously.

In a world of fashion as fast as fries and burgers there is a growing concern about the loss of artisan cultures and techniques. Some of you might be aware of the fact that prior to this global fashion model, many places had distinct and very locally recognisable ways of dressing. While this distinct method of dressing isn’t so easily identified in recently developed countries like Australia (traditional indigenous dress wasn’t well preserved due to the decimation and attempted assimilation of the indigenous populations), it can be very easy to identify others. When one thinks of Japan they may instantly think of kimonos or the sari might spring to mind when imagining Indian adventures. Each culture, region, or even family (remember your Nan teaching you to darn socks) has had traditional manufacturing/artisan/craft knowledge passed down throughout the ages. I still remember when my family and I would make the trip to the Woollen mills to sell the fleece from our merino sheep. My mum would keep some for home spinning and create knitted items for my sister and I from our pet sheeps wool.  With fashion becoming cheap as chips and manufacturing moving offshore many of these traditional practices and knowledges are being set aside either as a result of a lack of demand for traditional dress as cheap secondhand western clothing is available (this is the case in many areas where our secondhand clothing ends up and you can have a read of a paper here), cultural shifts to follow fashion trends or western dress trends, or the availability of fashion so cheap that replacing is easier and/or cheaper than repairing. The demand for quality construction has decreased as speed of consumption has increased, so those who are being trained in cut make and sew now, may not have the same level of finesse and craftsmanship that one would have seen in the past (think Italian boot makers, or handcrafted french lace).

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Why secondhand shopping isn’t the only sustainable option.

Shopping secondhand can be a really great way to update your closet without impacting on the environment. Why? Because buying secondhand doesn’t require any virgin resources (aside from the fuel you used to get to the store if you choose to drive) and you are diverting an item from landfill. In some cases you are also donating to charity if you buy from a secondhand organisation that supports charity. No matter how great this option really is there is a lot to be said for opting to buy from artisans instead of shopping secondhand. When you support an artisan, whether it’s your neighbours jewellery company that uses local sourced wooden beads and indigenous artists designs, or a Peruvian label that fosters traditional manufacturing practices and uses sustainable fibres, the dollars you spend support the development of community spirt and the conservation of traditional knowledge.  Quite often when you shop secondhand you purchase items that were a part of the fast fashion chain (I know that this is the case for some of my seconded gems). While you aren’t directly supporting that label, the dollars that you have spent on their secondhand goodies are dollars that you won’t spend on supporting artisan design (does your brain hurt??? Mine does). You have committed yourself and your closet space to a (second hand) fast fashion item rather than an artisan piece. So each and every time you wear your secondhand goodie you have deprived yourself of the opportunity to wear an artisan piece because there are only a limited number of days in your lifetime that you will be wearing clothing and a limited amount of space in your closet to house it. It’s a bit hard to get your head around, and this post is not intended to scare you off secondhand shopping. Secondhand shopping is fun, good for your bank account, and great for resource preservation. This post is intended to have you think outside the small window that is ‘shop secondhand fashion’ (something that is widely accepted in sustainable fashion literature) to consider making space in your wardrobe for the sustainable future of artisans. Without them and their skills our fashion future could be inundated with cheap, poorly constructed items, and many of the intricate high quality and artistic traditional designs may be lost forever. The following are just a handful of loads of small labels that are doing their best to foster the upkeep of artisan skills. You can do your bit by shopping from labels like these or by going and hanging out with your elderly neighbour and learning how to knit! Keeping skills like these alive is essential for the future of the art of fashion and design.

Indigenous 

Indigenous clothing is made from organic and sustainably raised alpaca. Each piece is either undyed, or colored with safe, low-impact dyes. The artisans who make Indigenous clothes live in some of the poorest regions of Peru, and fair trade wages combined with socially-driven investment makes a huge impact in their lives & communities. The company was founded by Scott Leonard and Matt Reynolds after travels to South America in 1993 that sparked a love of the richness of the culture and the amazing knitting techniques. Indigenous clothing is committed to sustainability, social entrepreneurship and responsible actions by consumers and business alike.

CHOKI

 Choki 

Choki are a label that aim to protect ancient cultures and traditions of some of the most sacred places left in the world that are under the threat of “globalization” for the benefit of humanity. They offer a range of handmade and fair trade unique scarves made by amazing artisans from the last true kingdom of the world, Bhutan. 100% of the proceeds support the Women’s Cooperative and other social projects in Bhutan. It is their goal not to just sell the scarves but to promote the values of an ever smiling culture to inspire others to become better selves. If you are into meditation be sure to check out the Choki Youtube channel.

tibetan-socks

Tibetan Socks

Tibetan Socks stock hand knitted wool slipper socks which are made in Nepal by illiterate housewives in mountain villages around Kathmandu. This handicraft work provides these ladies with a supplemental income for their families while allowing them to work comfortably from their own homes. Tibetan socks work with three NGO charities in India, Nepal and Tibet to help the Himalayan community through education initiatives. One pair of socks is able to give:

  •  12 school lunches to the children at Lama Paljor’s primary school in Sikkim, India
  • 2 weeks of food and lodging in a monastery school in Tibet in partnership with ROKPA International
  • Food, books, and medical necessities for the women and children at Maiti Nepal, a safe house for victims of sexual trafficking in Kathmandu.

When you are on the hunt for some funky socks be sure to check out the Tibetan Socks diary for loads of tips on all things yoga, food, travel and (of course) sock related.

 

Do you believe that artisan work should be supported? Perhaps you have a favourite label? Maybe you don’t agree with this sentiment of cultural preservation?  Let us know all about it in the comment sections below.

Author: Katie

Katie Roberts is a self confessed 'write-a-holic' Environmental Scientist with a passion for Sustainable Fashion.

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