what to wear

I consider myself to be environmentally aware. We grow our own vegetables, I ride my bike or walk whenever possible, I turn off the tap while brushing my teeth and we keep the temperature low in the house. We recycle, nourish a thriving compost heap, and use eco friendly soaps and detergents...

Still, when it comes to my own wardrobe a majority of it originated in a foreign country, produced under circumstances that I am sure were less than ideal for our environment or for the people working in the production facility. Todays fashion industry and clothing manufacturing is responsible for almost 20% of all industrial water pollution, just from commercial textile dyeing and treatment, according to the World Bank. Add to that number all the waste (leftover remnants, discarded mass produced garments, and so on) that ends up in our landfills.

A discussions on the topic is starting to gain momentum. A recent post by Take Part highlights the problem as well as the growing number of organizations, corporations, and individuals working on a solution. At the same time there is an increased interest in the domestically made products, as people realize that promoting and buying things made in our own country, or even better in our own region, will further our own economy while creating jobs and opportunities in our back yard. Made is one organization devoted to promoting American made goods and work. 

Another solution is to return to the tradition of making our own clothes. What we wear does not have to be highly tailored or complicated to be beautiful and functional. A simple skirt or a tunic is well within the ability for most people, and imagine the satisfaction of wearing something truly unique.

Alapaca scarf by State©State, all rights reserved.

Noting the benefits of choosing hand crafted, domestic, or home made, I am also acutely aware that this is not a viable financial option for many of us. These products are expensive and I can understand that someone working two jobs and caring for a family may not find it realistic to invest in a sewing machine or spending time making clothes. It is difficult to bring up the distain for cheap mass-produced garments without seeming elitist, much like the organic food movement mostly has become a reality for the privileged.

Colorful frocks, by India Flint, ©India Flint, all rights reserved.

So what can we do on an affordable scale to make a difference? Personally I am starting by following my friend India Flint's advice from her wonderful book Second skin: "recycle, reuse, rethink, repurpose, and repair."

Long grey wool tweed jacket, by 13 threads, ©13 threads, all rights reserved.

I have sorted my closet - things I don't wear or don't like have been given away for better use by someone else, a few items are awaiting minor adjustments or repairs, some things will gain a totally new life after a short hiatus in the scrap fabric pile. I vow to take care of the things I already own, by not washing them too often, air dry them once they are clean, and to mend them if needed. As for new acquisitions, I will try to only buy pieces that are US made or hand crafted by someone I know this upcoming year. Truthfully, I can probably live quite happily for a long time without buying any new clothes. Like most people in our culture I already own more garments than I can manage, even after the sort-through.

Dress 98, by Sonya Philip, cotton print and African wax print, ©Sonya Philip, all rights reserved.

I will start to make clothes. When I was in my early 20's I wore nothing but hand made or vintage clothing. Back then it was more out of rebellion agains the mainstream, a protest against mass-production for other reasons than conscious regards for environment and community. Once life caught up with me, introducing kids, career, and responsibilities, my clothes sewing projects became few and far in between. After recently learning about artist Sonya Philip's project 100 acts of sewing, I am inspired to pick up the thread again - literally.

DIY Anna's garden swing skirt, by Alabama Chanin, ©Alabama Chanin, all rights reserved.

Naturally, sewing clothes and knitting, will become an artistic challenge for me as well. I am already imagining eco printed appliqués along a skirt hem, and eco dyeing my own yarn for a new sweater. I will not make predictions about my production, but I plan to document my efforts here. I have also started a pinterest board featuring sustainable clothing, my own and others'. I would love your input, ideas, and suggestions as well.

Jacobs wool sweater, by Fibershed, ©Fibershed, all rights reserved.

This post is illustrated with photos of some of my own clothes, but mostly I have borrowed images from makers from all over the country (and the world). All of them share a love for sustainable, sensible, and beautiful living. They are credited with links to their web sites if you want to take a peak. I will also feature them and their work here on this blog in the near future. Thanks for sticking with me to the end of an unusually long post! Happy making!