Do you know where your shirt was made? If you know that it was made in China, do you know in what factory? Do you know how the workers there were treated?
With the rise of “fast fashion”–a production model adopted by companies like H&M and Forever 21 to cheaply mass produce clothing by employing severely underpaid workers– consumers are more disconnected than ever from the labor chain producing their clothing. A generation ago, many Americans made their own clothes or bought garments from local designers, tailors and seamstresses. Those clothes would’ve been worn, patched, and recycled for as long as their fibers would allow. The paper dresses of the 1960’s (one brand’s tagline was literally “Won’t last forever… who cares? Wear it for kicks – then give it the air!”) heralded an era in which clothes were expected to be disposable, their shelf life only a few wears less than your standard Zara t-shirt in 2015. As the industry changed, our attitudes towards clothing changed too. Instead of repairing and re-using garments, we throw them away and go shopping.
During the October 2nd Art March, Nathan Saludez, Fashion Director of Art Rise Savannah, wants you to think about clothing waste and its affect on our environment, as well as on our expectations of the garment industry. If you’re the type to toss your favorite shirt after it gets one little stain, Saludez and the other artists participating in this month’s Starland Fashion Night events might be able to offer you some alternative solutions. After all, if they can make capes, shoes, and dresses out of newspaper, you can surely learn how to dye fabric using your kitchen scraps.
Meet a few of the designers who are participating in this month’s Starland Fashion Night:
Courtney Crews is the textile designer, artist and natural dyeing expert behind the STAINABILITY Workshop. Crews will demonstrate how you can breathe new life into old fabrics using materials you probably already have in your home, including avocado skins, onion skins, turmeric, rusty objects, and old flowers. If you’ve got all that plus a few old pots and access to clean water you can start dyeing as soon as you finish reading this sentence.
“Natural dyeing is a lot of experimentation,” Crews explained when SAI visited her home studio earlier this month. There are plenty of recipes for natural dyes online, but Crews recommends you start out by simply using what you have on hand; throw it in a pot of boiling water (along with a mordant, i.e. vinegar) and let your fabric simmer in it for a half hour. You might be surprised with what you get. A stained white dress simmered in turmeric for a half hour comes out a vibrant, sunny yellow–no stain in sight.
Well-known locally as a stylist, Borders wants to make sure people recognize her abilities as a designer and artist as well. The DISPOSABLE project proves she’s got the chops to stand out; her Connect Savannah newspaper cape is her third attempt in what has become a test of creative ingenuity and fortitude. She’s had to engineer a way of sewing the newspaper and reinforcing the seams with epoxy to prevent it from ripping when worn. Borders was forced to scrap her first two attempts.
That kind of determination is what we’ll need to see more of if we want to overcome the allure of fast fashion. Borders recognizes that making a change towards more sustainable practices is going to require an overhaul of the industry and its attitudes. “To me it’s about totally changing your mindset,” she says. “The only way people will actually make a change in the long run is if we stop seeing it as a matter of ‘oh, it’s different to be socially responsible’ or ‘oh, it’s different to be environmentally friendly.’ The conversation needs to end and become ‘oh, this is just the way we are.’ We need to innately make choices like that.”
“A living thing died so that you can make art,” Amanda Harris explained when SAI visited her studio earlier this month. “That’s why it’s really important to me to save and use every scrap,” she said as she pulled out a tub overflowing with fabric and leather from her workbench.
Amanda is a leather worker, accessories designer, and taxidermist whose commitment to honoring her art materials includes tanning her own leather. Her history with animal skins inspired her entry for the DISPOSABLE project: a pair of python skin mules made, of course, from Connect Savannah newspapers. The heels of Harris’ mules contain over 250 sheets of stacked and glued newspaper. Visible in the lacunae of the python skin pattern are words and phrases from the newspaper beneath.
DISPOSABLE presented some unique challenges, which Harris met with indefatigable engineering resolve. She molded the newspaper with water to make the soles of the mules, finding such success that she says she might expand the project on her own – look out for Harris’ newspaper flats and compressed paper handbags.
Eighteen-year-old Sami Salas might be a Savannah fashion prodigy. The 2-year veteran of the sustainability-themed Junk to Funk fashion show was more than ready for the challenge of Starland Fashion Night’s DISPOSABLE project. In the past, Salas has made lab coats out of vanilla-scented garbage bags, crocheted purses out of grocery bags, and fashioned armor out of leather sample swatches. If she weren’t a fashion designer, the inventive teen says she’d be a civil engineer.
For DISPOSABLE, Salas says she was inspired by Chanel’s 2014 Paris Fashion Week show. “I wanted to do something short and fun. I folded the newspaper into triangles and layered it to make the a-line skirt,” she explained. “I wanted more volume so I made my own organic lace patterns too. Then I put 45 flower appliques made from newspaper on the back because I wanted a little surprise.” Salas’ chic creation was spray-painted to preserve the light, fluffy texture of the paper.