A sustainable textile heritage: What happened?
While our ancestors grew, spun and wove or knit their own clothing, today we buy it in a store or online. Our clothing travels many miles, touches many hands and assaults the water quality and air quality of many countries world wide, during its growth, manufacture and waste. People are also harmed by the creation of clothing with subsistence income being the norm. Exposure to dangerous chemicals that colour and coat the fabrics, degrade their health, while harming their offspring. Home seamstresses are also implicated through sourcing their fabrics from China and India, where environmental regulations are less stringent than in North America. Does this make us less responsible because we can’t see the degradation that our need for covering causes?
Then there’s the human cost of outsourcing our clothing needs. We lose so much by picking out our clothing at the store, rather than creating it with our own hands. We lose in individuality, self-expression, satisfaction, and skill development, as well as self-sufficiency and autonomy. We are forced into fashion that changes on the whim of the multinational corporations. Fashion sucks our bank accounts dry and limits our choices. Oh, the frustration of looking beautiful in chocolate brown when black is what’s “in”.
Feeling trapped? Gandhi had a secret weapon.
But there’s nothing we can do about it. We’re trapped and we know it. Yes, that’s true — unless you want to see change. “Be the change you want to see in the world”, Gandhi said. And Gandhi knew how to change people’s clothing choices. In Gandhi’s India, Great Britain was taking sovereignty from the Indian and Pakistani people. Making salt was a crime. Cotton grown in India was sent to Great Britain to be processed, dyed, spun, woven and taxed and then sent back for the Indian people to purchase at high prices. We call this “colonialism”. Indian women wore British cloth. A country famous for its textiles, dye processes, spinning and weaving for centuries was made poor by the want of imported cloth. And cloth became the symbol of their freedom.
“Mahatma Gandhi urged Indians to throw out their British colonial rulers with two weapons — non-violence and handspun cloth. A middle aged man when he realized the significance of Khadi as a symbol of independence and self sufficiency, Gandhi did not know how to spin or weave. With great difficulty, he found someone to teach him the skills of the spinning wheel, and spun every day of his life thereafter.
His plan was audacious – not only did he eschew Western wear himself, he also proposed a complete re-clothing of the nation. In its 1920 Nagpur session, the Indian National Congress first stated its aim to promote Khadi, the nationalist fabric. Gandhi henceforth referred to it as the “Livery of Freedom.” Overnight, Khadi became the symbol of defiance as thousands of bonfires were lighted across the country and Indians rose up against colonialism by throwing their Manchester textiles into the flames. Thus, Khadi’s growing importance caused a full scale reorganization of India’s textile industry.” (Khadi – CopperWiki)
The change began when people started spinning. Gandhi designed a charkha that would allow every person to spin cotton. The looms were back in use and the population embraced their own clothing again. It was a revolution. And India won.
Sounds like us?
Did you notice that we are in the same position that India was in a century ago. We are made paupers by our wants, fuelled by advertising. Forced to work longer hours for less money, we mindlessly buy without thought to our values.
Now we find that our clothing choices are harming our own health — polyesters, the standard everything fabric, disrupts our endocrine system, like all plastics. Pesticides sprayed on cotton crops remain in the fabrics after manufacture and are absorbed by our skin. Fabric coatings to reduce wrinkling and soiling, like formaldehyde, are absorbed through our skin, as well, even after washing, with devastating effects on our well being.
Hope is around the corner
There is hope. Tons of flax fibre, from oil seed flax production are burned on the Canadian prairie every year. Tons of wool, alpaca, llama, and mohair are tossed into the landfill or composted every year from North American farms. The sheer enormity of the wasted fibre is mind boggling. We have the raw materials to radically transform our wardrobes, our minds, our health and our cultures. We can promote local industry once again, as we did a century ago. We can support local fibre farms and spinning mills, learn new skills, wear our activism — not with a tee-shirt slogan but with our wardrobes.
By choosing to limit our choices and we can thrive. Hand-spun, handwoven clothing dyed with natural dyes is more durable and more flattering than off-the-rack, big box clothing.
Change is in the air
The change has already begun. Small organic growers and farmer’s markets are giving you and I the choice to buy locally grown food. Gardening is expanding to the cities, apartment balconies and roof tops all over the world as people yearn for more self-sufficiency, and control over their food supply. Its time to tackle the clothing issue. Are you ready to “be the change?”
I have two beautiful women staying on the farm this weekend, to learn about making linen clothing. Last night we spent an hour together, talking about Khadi, Gandhi, and organic cloth. We broke flax, scutched it, and hackled it for spinning. And I spun linen thread. Its a start. In 2 days the Joybilee Farm Linen Festival, an annual celebration of self-sufficiency, sustainability and cloth, happens. Make a trip to the farm on Saturday. Join the revolution.
For further enrichment:
Clothing Gandhi’s Nation: Homespun and Modern India
What do you think is important in our efforts toward sustainable clothing? What steps have you already taken? What are you planning to work on in 2011? Tell me more in the comment section.
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