Friday, February 22, 2008

Whose energy?

CBS' The Early Show featured Plenty Magazine's Jessica Tzerman and a green fashion show on Thursday. It's good news that the main stream media is really picking up the emerging story of ethical fashion. What stopped in my tracks was this line "Eco-friendly because it's hand-woven and hand-twisted, meaning no energy use. $180". Whoa. As a student of the industrial revolution, I find that glib assurance pretty hard to swallow. It's not my hands or Ms. Tzerman's, but it's somebody's hands weaving and twisting the silk fiber for Indigo Handloom's Organic Wild Silk Shawl. Human labor also requires energy, though of a different kind than an electric loom. I would be very upset if "ethical fashion" meant denying textile and clothing workers in developing countries the right to use labor-saving machinery.

I knit. It takes me a long time to make a pair of socks (longer if I break a finger mid-project, but that's another story). But I choose to take the time because I enjoy the process and it gives me pleasure to wear things that are handmade. But the maker must enjoy the making. I remember "The Song of the Shirt":

With fingers weary and worn,

With eyelids heavy and red,

A woman sat in unwomanly rags,

Plying her needle and thread —
Stitch! stitch! stitch!

In poverty, hunger, and dirt,

And still with a voice of dolorous pitch, —

Would that its tone could reach the Rich! —

She sang this "Song of the Shirt!"

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it's not just what we consume, it's how and how much. A few people buying $180 shawls and $255 shoes will make a modest impact on the environment, but it does not solve the riddle of how to ethically clothe the millions of less-affluent people, especially if the pace of fashion change continues at its current level.

No comments: