3 April 2020
Most of us can remember our mothers or grandmothers mending clothes or at least you would have heard the stories. My mom often tells me how they had to repair their clothes by darning or sewing patches onto worn out garments. I can even remember her mending our clothes when I was little, but as time went by it became something to be ashamed of – you only repaired clothes if you were poor. Fast fashion made is very easy to replace clothes. You can afford to buy a dress of low quality, that looks tattered after a few wears and washes, and then replace it with another dress of low quality. And so the cycle can continue on and on. The big issue isn’t even the quality of fast fashion clothing, but of the cost to the earth and the people making the clothes. I think it is time to remember how to take care of clothes and how to keep them in our closets for longer.
In New York, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, the Japan Society has an exhibit called “Boro Textiles: Sustainable Aesthetics” showing century-old garments suspended in mid-air. Boro, an over 200 year old handicraft, is the practice of mending or patching clothing. The term is derived from the Japanese word boroboro, meaning something tattered or repaired. Hemp was more widely available in Japan than cotton and scraps of old hemp fabric were often pieced together into coats, gloves and blankets. These were made by repurposing carefully saved garment pieces and other handspun and indigo-dyed fabrics. They were sewn together as a patchwork built up from many layers providing extra warmth.
Boro, then, wasn’t an aesthetic choice but rather a necessity for survival. The women who made these coats and blankets took whatever they had and transformed those things into functional items, and this sounds exactly like so many stories from all over the world. Women doing what they must with what they can find to take care of their families, and the result frequently ended up being beautiful as a byproduct of the process. This is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is a testament to their creativity.
For most of us maximising the life of our textiles is no longer a necessity. These same values, however, are making a comeback now that conservation of energy and resources is becoming a bigger and bigger issue. As we move into a new age of living more responsibly, taking care of the earth and one another, we can glean some style lessons from the designers of sustainable fashion.