Strange Material, Uncategorized

What We (should) Talk About When We Talk About Fashion

Earlier this week, my blood boiled at a news story. Mass clothing retailer Urban Outfitters  claimed that they had NO idea that a recent bloodied Kent State sweatshirt that they manufactured had a link to violence.

Zara tshirt and Auschwitz Children

This story came on the tail of another, weeks earlier clothing retailer Zara was under a storm of criticism for producing a t-shirt for children that resembled Nazi concentration camp uniforms. Apparently Zara feigned innocence – citing designer’s unawareness of the historical reference (and apparently the same unawareness among the manufacturers, the sales teams, the merchandisers, etc…etc…who all work for the company. To which I say, really? Hundreds of people are involved in the garment manufacturer process and not a single soul noticed?)

I’ve been mulling over how to write about these two events when I came across this brilliant video by  and  of The Guardian UK:

Urban Outfitters Kent State Sweatshirt video

Do you see the common element in each retailer’s statement? Essentially: the designer didn’t know. The designer didn’t have cultural awareness. The designer isn’t aware of history, or textile history.

Garments, by their very existence can drum up all sorts of feelings, historical significance, and cultural connotations. I want there to be a greater awareness that textiles have meaning – just as much as any other object that we choose to surround ourselves with. This is why I wrote Strange Material – I hope it contributes to a growing body of work around textile conversations and discourse. Collectively, the world needs to know more about the stories that surround cloth and symbols and those who make them – not just those of us who are heavily interested in textiles and craft but everyone. I assume that before Zara and Urban Outfitters got called out, some of those pieces of clothing were purchased and worn, in public.

This rant follows the news that the intelligent fashion journal WORN, is retiring, which is a little heart-breaking. The WORN fashion journal had a mandate unlike any other fashion magazine and it will be missed:

“WORN hasn’t missed the fact that there are scads of fashion magazines out there. But we feel something is missing: opinion and intelligent commentary that’s untainted by advertisers’ demands. 

WORN discusses the cultures, subcultures, histories, and personal stories of fashion. We strive to embody a place between pop culture magazine and academic journal that opens new avenues in art and fashion theory by hovering where these two ideas intersect, connecting with fashion scholars and artists. We pay attention to how what is worn is made, interpreted, transformed, disseminated, and copied. “

Worn’s last issue is available for pre-order* and I’d recommend it, we obviously need more commentary on textiles, and fashion, that create critical awareness.

*I am not affiliated with WORN in any way. I am endorsing this magazine because I think we need to support more intelligent commentary on the things that we wear and purchase, and it was one of the few publications that actively provided this sort of commentary.

Also, I’ll be speaking my mind on this and other subjects on panels with Kim Werker and Betsy Greer over the next month. If you haven’t had a chance to find out about our tour, all events are listed here. One week from today I’ll be Seattle at Schoolhouse Craft teaching a course on subversive textiles and activism. If you are in Seattle, please think of joining the conference! It will be a great time with a lot of interesting people, and I’ll be running a fun making session at the closing party on making Six Word Story Bracelets (DIY to come!).

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