Mar 6, 2010
Since we live in a part of the world where clothes can be had relatively cheaply and few people are forced by economic necessity to make their own, why are we still doing it?
I had this conversation with my friend Johanna (the 10-sewing-machine gal) last Sunday. We agreed that there does seem to be a nascent do-it-yourself crafts movement afoot and wondered what might be fueling it. Johanna wisely pointed out that few of us are doing work that actually involves making anything anymore; we're writing at a computer, or processing numbers, or providing services. It feels good to create something with our own hands. It's an expression of who we are.
Thinking more about it this week, I began to realize that for me there is also an element of resistance in my choice to make my own clothes. It comes out of the awareness that so many American companies, in their quest for ever-higher profits, pursue a strategy of chasing the lowest labor costs they can find -- first in the USA, and then wherever in the world they can go. Most have no qualms about outsourcing jobs to countries that use child labor, have weak environmental regulation, are virulently anti-union, and have unsafe working conditions. It means they can make money faster, which is what their stockholders demand.
Factories are often located in places -- and this is no coincidence -- where labor organizing is outlawed and can get you killed. Outsourcing is done without regard to the effects these practices might have on the communities here in America that have watched jobs go first to the South, and then out of the country entirely. You can see the effects of it everywhere, in nearly every American city that used to rely on industry for jobs. Many American cities are wastelands -- literally in ruins.
I don't want to support these companies anymore. Obviously, 100% purity can be difficult to maintain. Sometimes you need a pair of underwear and there's no American Apparel nearby. Or you buy a few yards of Chinese cotton knit because it's cheap; you really don't want to know who wove it or how.
It's a lot like our food. Do you ever wonder how those grapes ended up in your fruit salad, under what conditions they were picked, sorted, and shipped and by whom? The answer can be alarming.
Clothing corporations have, furthermore, branded us to death, marketing their clothing as symbols of sex, youth, escape -- even anti-consumerism. The message is that if we wear a certain pair of jeans we'll look like Che Guevara or John Lennon or James Dean. Real people are reduced to symbols of cool.
I don't care what someone may or may not think of my brand of sneakers or underwear or what assumptions they make about me based on how I dress. I'm not in high school anymore. My goal in life is not to acquire the symbols of status that represent power in our society. My power lies within me, not my brand of sunglasses.
I understand that it can be hard to resist the culture and pleasurable to participate. And goodness knows, in many ways I participate too. But it's nice to know that my jeans are original Peter Lappin's, and that a week ago my tee-shirt was just generic knit yardage on a bolt. The only person who had to like it was me.
So how about you? Do you sew just so that you have a nice-fitting pair of pants, or is something else going on?
When you wear your own handiwork, are you hoping to blend in, or are you saying something about who you are and what you believe?
Labels: sewing and culture