On April 24, 2013 the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in Bangladesh killing 1,134 and injuring over 2,500 people. This week, to raise awareness about the global fashion industry, in memory of this terrible tragedy, and to ensure that it never happens again, I am participating in Fashion Revolution. (Look I even got instagram so I could take part!)
The idea behind this event is simple: look at your labels, ask the brands of your clothing #whomademyclothes? We need to be aware of the fact that all of our clothes are made by someone, somewhere, and we play a part in ensuring that those people work in safe and fair conditions. We can demand better care and safe working environments for the people who make the world’s clothes.
Personally I never used to think much about where my clothes came from, or who made them- they just appeared at the store as far as I knew. Who spun the threads? Who dyed the fabric? Did the people who sewed them work in safe and responsible conditions? These were not questions that crossed my mind. I thought that sweatshops and horrific tragedies like the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire of 1911, were a thing of the past.
I first became aware of the reality behind cheap fashion, when I read Elizabeth Cline’s book “The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion”, but it was the Rana Plaza collapse that changed my view of the fashion industry and really made me aware of the secrets that lay behind the tags on our clothes. Suddenly tragedies were not outdated, and the fashion industry had a face behind it. 1,134 people died that day. These were mothers, sisters, brothers and families suddenly gone, because of unsafe working conditions, in order for wealthy consumers to be able to buy cheap clothing. The garment and textile workers are the ones who ultimately pay for the insatiable appetite consumers have for fashion.
And that is why I decided that day, that I would not participate in the cheap fashion trend anymore.
Yes, it can be depressing to hear about the devastation taking place in the name of fashion. Yes, it can be difficult to find fair trade clothing. Yes, it can cost you more money. Yes, it can be frustrating to try and fill your wardrobe while avoiding cheaply made clothing.
But can we really afford not to?
We each have a voice, and by the choices we make each day, we are shaping the world we live in. Each one of us is personally responsible for the choices we make.
So, even if you aren’t taking part in Fashion Revolution, I encourage you take responsibility for the choices you make each day regarding the clothes you wear, be a conscious shopper and help to create a world of safe, ethical and responsible fashion.
The skirt in my last post was a refashion of a dutch wax print wrap skirt I found in a thrift store last year.
I have had my share of thrift store “remakes”. You know the kind where it “only needs to be hemmed”, or it “needs to be fitted”, or “the fabric is so pretty, but the style is so outdated, but if I just did this” then it would be the most perfect dress/skirt/whatever. I go thrifting quite regularly and come across many such garments needing to be saved, and I used to buy them all, until one day I looked around and saw the abundance (translation = piles) of 1/2 finished projects lying around and I realized that I actually hate altering clothes. As much as I love salvaging, as much as I hate throwing things away, and as much as I love breathing new life into old garments, I just absolutely hate adjusting and altering.
So I created a new rule for myself that unless those “almost perfect” garments only needed an adjustment that would take me less than an hour to complete, or there was enough fabric to cut a new pattern out of it, I would pass it by.
So, when I found this wrap skirt I didn’t hesitate to pick it up, as I knew there was enough yardage to make something new, and I loved the African wax print material so much that even if I could only have made a pillow out of it I would have gotten it. 🙂 African or Dutch wax print fabric is hard to find (where I live), so it was nice to find a piece.
This skirt was kind of strange in how it was constructed- the front and the back panels had been completely sewn, lined and finished separately and then topstitched together right where the flange down the back is, with a triangular piece set in to create almost a train or kickpleat. The yellow ribbon was topstitched to the material, and fortunately was easy to pull apart.
Once deconstruction was finished, I was left with two large rectangles of fabric, minus the shaped cut away piece on the front. This was perfect as it gave me enough excess to make a waistband. Originally the fabric had been turned sideways to create length, but I turned it back to give more volume, since I had already planned for a pleated skirt.
I didn’t use a pattern for the skirt- I just cut the two rectangles the same size, and then it was a straightforward process of pleating the fabric into the waist circumference. I just played with it until it was the right size.
First mistake: I made a slightly curved waistband to prevent it from gapping, but I forgot that the top of the curve would be smaller than the bottom (duh!). So, when I went to try it on after basting the pieces together- oof- it was a bit tight!! Of course I had measured once and cut twice, so I had to add a piece to my waistband. Good thing the fabric is so busy, because you don’t even notice it. Except that I just now told you about it. . . oops.
The only other mishap- which I might add was my machine’s fault- was that I did a practice buttonhole, which turned out beautifully, then sewed onto my waistband and the machine jammed creating a huge zigzag mess. Sigh. I could have left it, as again the fabric is so busy- but that would just be a disgrace. So I spent about 45 minutes picking that mess out of the fabric. At least after that, the others went in properly and neatly.
(I would have been embarrassed to have this photo taken, if I had not corrected the error of my ways)
When thinking about what buttons to use, I thought that metal ones would look nice, and then I found these unique buttons in my mom’s stash. I stole them (thanks mom!) and they are perfect. So all in all, the skirt is exactly what I envisioned, and I love it to bits.
When I took the skirt apart I discovered that on the selvedge was printed the manufacturing details. Now this was exciting, since I am interested not only in the “look” of African Dutch wax print fabric, but also the origins and history of it. Dutch wax print fabric was originally inspired by the Batik fabric from Indonesia and southern Asia. At some point along the way, it was adopted by West African countries, and the designs and patterns were tailored to suit the African market. The majority of the fabric was, and still is, made in Holland. So I looked up the manufactures name of my fabric, wondering where the fabric was from.
Ironically, I discovered the fabric was Made in China.
HiTarget is a Chinese factory creating wax print fabric, with traditional designs, to sell in African markets, at a lower pricepoint. In essence it is “cheap fashion”. Somehow I had just never thought about cheap fashion in places other than Western/North American markets, and I was a little bit surprised by the discovery that my “authentic” skirt, wasn’t so authentic after all.
However, after I thought about it for a while, I decided that even though the fabric itself is not Dutch or West African in origin, judging by the style of the skirt, I am guessing that this garment was sewn and worn by an African lady.
I read a bit about Chinese wax print fabric and found out that many African women buy the fabric, since it is cheaper for everyday wear, saving the good stuff for special clothes. So, I don’t think it is the same as me, a non-African woman saying, “I want the look, without the price” and purposely buying cheap fabric, or worse simply buying a “tribal print” garment from a chain store, which certainly doesn’t respect the cultural significance of the designs, and comes with a host of other issues (sweat shops anyone?)
Also, I decided that as this was a cast-off garment, which I found in a thrift store, I was able to give it a new life, and keep it out of the textile waste cycle. The fabric came from China, the dress came from Africa (in style at least if not physically), and I found it in Canada. 🙂 Taking something that already exists, and creating something new from it, I believe, is a good thing anyways, which is why most of my wardrobe is secondhand or handmade. This skirt lands squarely in both categories.
So, ultimately, how do I feel about my “non authentic” skirt?
While I won’t deny that I was disappointed at first, the more I thought about it, the fact that it appears to have been made and worn by an African lady, validates it’s authenticity, though it had a circuitous route of arriving there. I am going to wear this skirt with pride and enjoy and appreciate the beauty of the fabric and designs.
If you want to find out more about the history of Dutch wax print, I found these two great articles: Know Your Wax by Madame Tay & African Fabrics by Beyond Victoriana