Musings on Fast Fashion and the Meaning of Making
As a home sewer, I'm constantly in search of a better, more professional looking finish for my garments. Until recently, in my mind, professional meant unswervingly neat; pristine seams, imperceptibly tiny stitches, and perfectly concealed raw edges.
It was this Dior bodice I saw in the V&A that really got me thinking. Beautifully laid open so museum visitors could see the inside.
It was just so… messy. It took me by such surprise that the garments that we lionise with such fervour, on the inside, look so - well - handmade. And I suppose as a hand-maker myself, it made me feel a little better about my not-so accomplished creations. But more importantly, it also made me think about a much deeper and more important issue at the centre of the fashion industry.
If you're wearing custom-made clothing, it has perceived value because it's crafted. If something is handmade, you treasure it. Time and effort was expended on the part of the maker, so why wouldn't you appreciate it?
Sadly, we do not treasure our fast fashion clothing in the same way, even though it was made by someone. It seems a silly thing to become aware of, but everything you wear has, at some point, been handled, stitched or made by a person. Flaming obvious, really. It seems both selective and bizarre to value a garment more just because you know the maker.
The stringent values to which I hold myself and my own sewing are a product of our complete detachment from the fashion industry. Even our clothes belie the fact that a human made them. Their machined precision is totally misleading, and of course so very difficult to recreate at home.
The garment workers who make our fast fashion clothes become obscured - both by the machined quality of the clothing itself – as well as lost in convoluted supply chains, retail stores so removed from the origin of the clothing itself, and more often than not poor working conditions and wages.
So really there are two lessons here. One far more serious than the other.
One: event Dior cannot fully transcend the imperfection of crafting by hand, don't be so hard on yourself.
Two: it will do us well to make more considered purchases, and treat the clothing that we do have with as much respect as we would give pieces from well-known makers.
Note: this Dior piece has a very interesting history and has been labelled as a piece which set the model for the commercial considerations of couture; turning catwalk fantasy into saleable product. Read more about it here in this Guardian article.