World Textiles on the Runway and Beyond

With September’s fashion week calendar now more than halfway complete, there is quite a bit of buzz about the role that globally inspired prints and textiles play in upcoming Spring/Summer 2012 collections. This might be no surprise to fashion followers who are already supporters of ethical design initiatives and the sourcing of sustainable fabrics from fair trade suppliers, artisan collectives, and responsible manufacturers.

As someone who is an advocate for the slowing down of fashion and the resurgence of handcrafting traditions, I view this new ‘print trend’ to be a welcome shift towards cultivating more complex, and in turn, perhaps more luxurious ways of approaching style and interwoven beauty.

Mara Hoffman SS2012.

Mara Hoffman SS2012.

Duro Olowu SS12. Photos via style.com

Duro Olowu SS12. Photos via style.com

Living the good life should not come at the cost of mistreated laborers, the polluting or depletion of precious natural resources, or the loss of jobs to garment workers who help sustain our local economies. Global textiles and the diverse threads that make up their weave are critical to the creation of a more dynamic fashion landscape and a unified agenda for the challenges that we need to first unravel and then reconfigure.

Ethereal and earth-friendly designs by Cristina Kim of DOSA Collection.

Ethereal and earth-friendly designs by Cristina Kim of DOSA Collection.

This past summer I was invited to contribute to the World Textiles issue of HAND/EYE magazine, and this assignment really got me thinking about just how disjointed the fashion business is. Do not get me wrong — I love a gorgeous runway presentation and the one stop showcasing of creative talent, but a fleeting parade of garments during a week long frenzy of events completely overlooks all of the hands and cultural ideas that go into the making of these designs. The trends of contemporary fashion also no longer need to be celebrated in only a handful of cities internationally. Fashion weeks are now cropping up in new corners of the globe, and it is with this diverse spirit that I think that a more sustainable fashion agenda might be possible.

Ivana Helsinki SS2012 Indian Summer Collection on the runway at NYFW.

Ivana Helsinki SS2012 Indian Summer Collection on the runway at NYFW.

I am dreaming of a day when the arrival of fashion week in September or February turns things inside out with a celebration of humanity that reveals a deeper story and mission. Runway shows and the bold pieces unveiled might offer or encourage connections to a weaver, an embroiderer, a natural dye expert, or even a tailor who is proud of couture sewing skills that have been passed down from generation to generation. Imagine if laborious stitching and the techniques of garment production were viewed as something honorable — embedded with social value, prestige, and techniques that help us to better understand who we are. What if these makers actually lined the catwalk as reminders of endangered textile crafting and our connectedness?

'Handloom Heritage' of Rehwa Society by Julie Hall.

‘Handloom Heritage’ of Rehwa Society by Julie Hall.

It can be a beautiful thing when hands, hearts, and minds join forces to preserve the traditions of handwork and sustainable crafting. This is what HAND/EYE magazine honors and advocates as a way of understanding where we have been, what we might have overlooked, and where we need to now journey or possibly detour.

HAND/EYE's World Textiles Issue 05 celebrates slow fashion and global textile initiatives.

HAND/EYE’s World Textiles Issue 05 celebrates slow fashion and global textile initiatives.

Their World Textiles edition is a seventy-two page volume that serves as a feast for the eyes, as well as an inspirational guide to socially and environmentally-responsible textile projects and designer initiatives that span countries such as Cambodia, Chile, Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Peru, South Africa, and The Netherlands, to name a few. They have put a face on textile and fashion fabrication, and this is the sort of showcase that makes sense for future tales of global style.

Handwoven textiles steeped in tradition by Raw Mango and designer, Sanjay Garg.

Handwoven textiles steeped in tradition by Raw Mango and designer, Sanjay Garg.

HAND/EYE is devoted to creating bridges between art, design, textiles, and philanthropic outreach through thoughtfully written articles and interviews by invited contributors and guest editors. The World Textiles edition assembled a varied line up of individuals who are united by their passion for curation, sustainable textile production, craft-based knowledge, and artisanal methods. India Flint, Christina Kim of Dosa, Birgitta de Vos, Marcella Echavarria, Rowland Ricketts, Kathrin von Rechenberg, Rebecca Schiller, and Keith Recker, were just a few of the contributors and interviewees who made this issue so complex and timely. My contribution was an article on Raw Mango and Indian designer, Sanjay Garg. “Sanjay Garg’s creative brand, Raw Mango, goes to the source of Indian textile production to create a collection steeped in artisan tradition and hand-woven luxury but at the same time rich with temptation for younger customers.”

WUBET handwoven scarves by designer Arnold Haas.

WUBET handwoven scarves by designer Arnold Haas.

As HAND/EYE’s Editor-in-Chief, Keith Recker, states in his introduction to the publication, “It is vital that we keep the conversation rolling with stories of creative people from every continent whose textile work contains the seeds for a vibrant future… It’s time to buy textiles, treasure them, make them, collect them, and talk about them. It’s time to embrace individual creativity and risk-taking beyond the standard offerings found in our biggest stores.”

Suno NY SS12 on the runway at NYFW. Photo by Nando Alvarez, via heartifb.com

Suno NY SS12 on the runway at NYFW. Photo by Nando Alvarez, via heartifb.com

Gretchen Jones SS12 Custom textiles by We Are After All’s Photorealistic and Afton Hakes’s Graphic.

Gretchen Jones SS12 Custom textiles by We Are After All’s Photorealistic and Afton Hakes’s Graphic.

Gretchen Jones SS12.

Gretchen Jones SS12.

I could not agree more. The topography of fashion’s textiles and in turn the information that we relay to consumers need not be packaged in a manner that undermines their intelligence or ability to decipher the life cycle of their clothes. How will we ever know how to style ourselves if layers of vital information and appreciation are denied to us? At this rate, we will continue missing out on timeless stories and details that provide meaning and texture to our very existence. Without this dimension, the fashion world and certain collections will continue to appear extremely flat, as we strut aimlessly down the runway with no real focus on the horizon.

Images courtesy of HAND/EYE magazine and the respective designers. Top photo: Ivana Helsinki SS12 Collection.

About author
An internationally exhibited fiber and environmental installation artist, Abigail’s eco-textile artwork is featured on Greenmuseum, Art Cloth Text, Landviews, the Textile Arts Center blog, and in the handbook, Green Guide for Artists. She has been a regular contributor on sustainable style and textiles for EcoSalon, Ecouterre, HAND/EYE magazine and her own art and fashion blogs, Ecco*Eco and Lost in Fiber. She is also a curator of exhibitions and events related to ideas about “fashioning self and the environment.” Future dreams of melding art, family, and sustainability include the thrifty recycling of textile scraps from her domestic sphere, teaching family recipes to her twin toddlers, and building a house from scratch in the American Southwest with her very resourceful and dashing husband.
2 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. hi Abigail~ I am so happy to read this. For me, wearing clothes with meaning, an artists hand~made work, value throughout the entire process…now that feels good*! And LOVe bright colors, global prints, and diverse cultural styles. thank You.

  2. “What if these makers actually lined the catwalk as reminders of endangered textile crafting and our connectedness?’ – What a beautiful and thoughtful idea!
    I really enjoyed your article. Thank you.
    I would like to be an ethical textile chooser, wearer and keeper.
    It was a good timing as I just mentioned India Flint’s book in my own blog yesterday. I never knew of the magazine Hand/Eye. I am glad I found out about the magazine and your blog!

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