Saturday, May 31, 2008

Fair Trade Fashion, or "who are you REALLY wearing"?

I've agreed to present a sermon on sustainable fashion this summer at my church, and have been mulling over possible angles. The underlying challenge is that I really want it to be a sermon, with actual spiritual content, not a lecture. So I've decided to focus on fair trade fashion, and issues of labor and human rights. There's no question in my mind -- this is fashion's really "dirty little secret", and has been for centuries. When this Angelina Jolie is asked "Who are you wearing?" on the red carpet, the expected answer is the name of the designer. But designers don't grow cotton, or sew clothing. People do -- anonymous, hardworking people.

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 the voice of dolorous pitch

She sang the "Song of the Shirt!"

Poet Thomas Hood wrote "The Song of the Shirt" in 1843, three years before Elias Howe patented the first successful sewing machine in America. Instead of easing the seamstress' load, the sewing machine multiplied it. More to come...


Quail said...

For my label, I coined the phrase "Product Provenance" to help me combat greenwash. I've shook the hands of my suppliers and seen their organic and Fairtrade cotton estates -- I have a relationship with them. I choose to put as many ticks in as many ethical and green boxes as I can. And still, the Greenwashers win 99.99% of the time. I'm in it for the long, rough haul. Good is supposed to win...eventually.

Jo Paoletti said...

Great idea (and very wearable clothes, too!)

Laurie said...

Have always loved that poem, as sad as it is. I am astounded by the number of people who do not realize (or just don't think about the fact) that clothing used to be VERY expensive because every step was done by hand. That every inch of fabric used to be produced by hand on a loom. That clothing is STILL produced by people putting it together one stitch at a time, albeit on a machine.

Hi. I'm Laurie in MN. I'm a custom seamstress myself, and you kind of remind me of my college costume shop supervisor. In a really good way. :) I remember growing up in the 70s with clothing that wasn't SO ridiculously gendered, and living mainly in garage sale finds. I'm adding your blog to the ones I read regularly.

Jo Paoletti said...

Welcome, Laurie! I wanted to be a costumer in my student and post-graduate days, but a couple or horrific summer theater gigs cured me. (Long hours, lousy pay and no benefits except the free drinks at the cast parties.) I actually did low-paid piecework once, but now some kid is probably sewing those scores of buttons on for a few dollars a week.

Cheap clothes are the wearable version of cheap gas, paving the path to over-consumption and waste.