June 23, 2018

Ecological, Sustainable & Colonial Footprint

Huge mens blouse made of discarded mens blouses, apparently one of the most discarded items of clothing, by Marlene Haase at Fashion Colloquium, 2018

'Tower of Babel' by Kasper Jongejan at FashionClash

For those who follow me on other Social Media, know I'm researching a lot at the moment. In the form of actual archival research, going through page after page of handwritten documents. Research in the form of going to lectures, symposium and events. About textiles, Indonesian culture, Colonial history and Fashion. From the outside maybe it doesn't look that connected, but to my surprise, the more I see the more connections I can make.

I think about and try to maintain a sustainable lifestyle. I make temporary artworks. I try to shop as much plastic free and organic as possible. I eat no meat, travel by train and try to buy less or secondhand stuff. I try to look at my wardrobe in this same way. I've never been a Fashion victim and always loved buying secondhand 'vintage'. Yet thinking about ones Ecological or Sustainable footprint should include what you wear. During my last visits to Java I had some clothing custom-made out of Batik Tulis. I wear these items so much that I need new "professional outfits". So I asked Guave to make wonderful Slow Fashion pieces for me. Their Summer collection was launched recently and it's such a wonderful combination of Batik Cap from Java (Indonesia) with woven textiles from Enschede (NL)! I asked them to document 'the making of', so that will be on my blog later!

In Fashion the subject Sustainability is now a very populair, almost trend-like, theme. For collections, exhibitions, symposiums and pop-up shops. And many of the Fashion things I've been to, had that same theme going on.
For example The Fashion Colloquium, a two day symposium Searching for the New Luxury; explored new definitions of ‘luxury’ against the backdrop of urgent environmental and social issues. Fashion is in dire need of more value-based critical thinking as well as design-driven research to thoroughly explore, disrupt, redefine and transform the system. I only attended on Thursday 31st of May, but was really inspired by it.
Orsola de Castro of Fashion Revolution shared their growing reach, yet spoke the strong words that kept ringing in my ears “The noise can be louder”. We must be louder, we need to change now or "ASAP; As Sustainable As Possible" as Oskar Metsavaht of the ASAP brand puts it. Pascale Gatzen, the new head of the Fashion Design Master’s programme at ArtEZ, talked about changing the way we talk & think, making our vocabulary fitting with a less growth-minded, negative system in order to create positive change within the Fashion industry.

Opening of the Fashion Colloquium with 'The new Luxury' Manifesto

'Repairing our clothing is a revolutionary act' 
Orsola de Castro of Fashion Revolution during the Fashion Colloquium 

Last week I went to FashionClash in Maastricht. I wrote an article for them fitting with this years theme 'Fashion my religion'. It was already their tenth edition and don't know how I missed it till now. It is the perfect combination of enjoying the city, seeing shops you normally wouldn't find that easy and getting showered with Fashion & Art. My favourite work was by Kasper Jongejan. His version of the 'Tower of Babel' consisted of a pile of discarded textiles from a sorting company with on top a collection of clothing made from rejected fabrics. The hearts on it were to remind us we still “like” new things better then taking responsibility for the mess we make. Another strong advocate that we have to stop with Fast Fashion and go for more sustainable choices.

This week I spent some days researching at the University Leiden. In their wonderful Special Collections library I'm going through texts written and collected by G.P. Rouffaer (1860-1928). He was one of the first Dutch Batik experts and wrote a big book 'De Batik-kunst' that got published in 1914.
I was going through handwritten documents about imitation-batiks, Batik Cap and other printed cotton on the Dutch East Indies market around 1870. The text was about how low the quality was of the imitation-batiks compared to what was already on the market. Not only compared to the much more detailed handwritten Batik Tulis, but even compared with the fast growing Batik Cap, Wax stamped printed cottons, on the Javense market. It went on about how much printed textiles were being sold, huge quantities of thousands and thousands of pieces. And even though the quality of the imitation-batiks was questioned, still the main reason for this correspondence was the money they thought they could be making by importing more of these cheaper, imitations to Indonesia.
So reading this, I was thinking about all the things I have been to these last few months. During the Fashion events, the discussion on Fast Fashion, but also on Cultural appropriation. But also the talks, meetings and events about our Colonial past I have been attending these last few months. Here the questions are raised, how do we teach people about Colonial history and how do we deal with postcolonial realities; a world shaped by this past?
The event at the Museum Volkenkunde about our 'peppered past' was about how people with connections to the Dutch East Indies have different stories to tell then other groups that are seen as 'foreigners' here, yet they still face the same negative hurdles. Another returning subject is how we show objects from this past in an appropriate, correct, full story-telling way in which all parties feel comfortable and respected. Subjects which are very interesting to think about and to hear more of, but are not heard by the group who needs to change the most...

Two weeks ago I got interviewed for the film Wax Print: 1 Fabric, 4 Continents, 200 Years of History. The film is about the role that ‘Ankara’ - a vibrant cotton fabric print typically associated with Africa - plays in the world economy and the fashion industry today.  The film will be premiere next week, more screening dates coming up so check their website regularly.
I shared my thoughts on Batik, imitation-Batik and of course Wax Print. Me and director Aiwan Obinyan talked about so much more when she was here. It made me realise how much work still needs to be done before the subjects mentioned above are not just subjects, but actually things we work on, with and passed.

I started realising that all is connected. Our Fast Fashion problems and ignoring Colonial History. From how the system of Fast Fashion has its start in our Colonial past, the products used to make the actual clothing, the demand and the claim. The trade routes on which products and people, willingly and unwillingly, were moved on across the world for centuries. Money was made and people were being exploited. It seems it doesn't differ so much from what is happing today in Fashion and other industries.
We can't keep on pretending the past didn't happen and keep ignoring what is happing now. We can learn from our past.
I think next to working on my Ecological and Sustainable footprint, I need to work on my Colonial footprint; What is it, what is made of, and what does it mean for me and others?
History repeats itself and so forth, but lets just break the cycle!

To follow in my footsteps ;), check out these {upcoming} events:

Till 24 June We Make M-ODE in Amsterdam

Till 22 July you can visit 'State of Fashion: Searching for the new luxury'

Till 2 September ModeMuze@OBA: Innovation