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High Profile Magazine

How Clothing Can Preserve Our Culture

Our current social paradigm promotes the value “novo philia” - the love of something because it is new – to an unimaginable extreme. Within such a society, we cannot change behaviour without first changing our values and perception. It is time to start talking about those values – those we should be putting first, not those that rule the market, but values that help us discern what is truly important for us and for our planet’s future.

Today, the fashion industry is one of the worst global polluters, second only to the oil and gas industry. Many brands manufacture cheap, throw-away fashion that isn't designed to last for more than a season; others use fabrics manufactured exclusively from non-renewable, petroleum-based products that wear out quickly but won’t biodegrade for centuries. Still others employ cost-cutting manufacturers who outsource production to sweatshops with awful working conditions and poverty-level wages. In a perfect world, we could provide the highest quality natural fabrics, milled ethically, sourced responsibly, and still compete with the cut-rate competition for low prices. But the reality is that ethical branding comes with many trade-offs and requires big perspective shifts.

Today, more people are aware of the crafts, artisans, and the imperative to revive, sustain and nurture them. As the demand for sustainable, contemporary fashion increases, we must ensure both the authenticity of crafts and the empowerment of rural artisans. Creating designs that are global but at the same time embracing their roots should be the way of interpreting contemporary fashion. Reimagining the craft by synergising modern designs with ancient handcrafts should be the contribution to an enhanced awareness about the ethnic nations and the craft history. We as a community need to promote sustainable ethical fashion. Harnessing the talents of rural women also empowers their families and communities. I see those talented women as custodians and transmitters of traditional knowledge, designs and manufacturing techniques. Their craft tells a powerful story.

Preservation of culture — cultural sustainability — is perceived as the ‘luxury pillar’ of the sustainability movement. Cultural sustainability is defined as the preservation of culture — beliefs, practices, and heritage among other aspects. “What happens to culture when we are done dealing with the more pressing sustainability issues? What if there is no culture left to preserve?”
As fast as we are losing traditional cultures, we are also becoming disconnected with our past and what we aspire to as human beings. The Ethnic Indian Tribes don’t need to hunt for their food, sew their clothing or sing their tribal songs to teach the next generation about their culture. They can buy their clothes, order their food from any online store, let the iPad babysit and teach their kids.

Let's be honest here, this is a tremendous loss to the world. Nobody can deny that we all love the cultural diversity and unique beauty in each time-honoured tradition around the world. Our stories and fairy tales are filled with it. It is heart-breaking to see the loss of that. According to Wikipedia, “Cultural universals are found in all human societies; these include expressive forms like art, music, dance, ritual, religion, and technologies like tool usage, cooking, shelter, and clothing.” The clothing we wear preserves culture and diversity. The clothing we wear simultaneously connects us with community and identity. What we choose to wear has impacts deep within the psyche and as far reaching as the communities we are a part of. And every single day we make a choice what this will be.

I came across a beautiful concept by Kusuma Sparks (a fashion designer and environmentalist who fought the urge to create beautiful things with textiles) about the considerations we make when faced with ‘What to wear?’. Those are emotional (what we want to communicate), psychological (self-image and self-esteem), physical (the laundering requirements, etc.) and moral (How we feel wearing this garment impacts others adversely or positively. Alignment with personal ethics of manufacturing and conduct, etc.) considerations.

With every choice, there are very private and personal impacts as well as social impacts. For example: how will others perceive us? How will we be treated? Will I feel safe?

What is worn should reflect and convey a truthful essence of what is inside. Beauty and happiness do come from within. And yet, we all wear clothing. Across every culture in place and time, humans have adorned themselves distinctly, artfully and often, lavishly. Why? Clothing is part of what makes us human.