We are still in the stretch of waiting for the digital pattern adaptation work to finish. For me, the time when things quiet down, before the next stretch of craziness, is the hardest. But the quiet time, the down time is important. It allows you to gather you thoughts, take stock of what you have done and visualize the next steps, brainstorm the next set of needs. Really sense what is and is not working. Yet so often, during this quiet time, our thoughts muck up the space for quiet reflection. Perhaps our culture tells us that if we are not working at a frenzied pace, knocking out todos, showing others our progress, we are not valuable. Debunking that, realizing that reflection is important, and winter an excellent time for it, is easier said than done.
But last night I watched “Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry” on the writer and back-to-the-land farming advocate, who held sacred quiet reflection on nature and the communion with nature formed when we work with the land. He brings us vivid and emotionally resonate writing to form a counter-narrative to the media propagated image of the superiority of technologically intensive farming. He observes that it taxes the land of it’s vital resources, harms people and the environment, our health, our connection to each other and the Earth, and our natural treasures: rivers, trees, animals, soil.
The bright light in what would otherwise be a sad story of the loss of small-scale farms, and the depletion of the land caused by industrial agriculture, is the movement of local agriculture, farmer’s market, and organic farming. And it got me thinking about apparel. Lots of us know at least a little bit about local foods. Its merits are celebrated in many of our favorite restaurants in cities throughout the country. But what is the corollary for apparel? Do we extend the values for the provenance and treatment of our food to apparel?
Just like industrial farming hurts the land and the animals, the materials in our clothing, either work with ecosystems or hurt them. Industrial cotton, pulls nutrients out of the soil and requires huge amounts of chemicals and water. Synthetic materials pollute our environment, demolish old growth forests. Small particles of plastic from petroleum based garments like spandex and polyester end up in our oceans. Chemicals leach into the ground when we discard our clothing. Clothing is made with a disregard for the people crafting it. There are quite a list of distressing things I could say here about how our apparel choices impact people and the environment. But ultimately, the thing that always interests me is the solutions.
There is a key similarity between agriculture and apparel. The root of the problem in apparel, as in agriculture, is the layers of separation between a person and the apple they are eating or the sweater they are wearing. At one point that sweater came from wool that their neighbor sheered from their animals, that they wove at home, and knit in their living room. Today we order it from Amazon, with no knowledge of how the animals were treated (were they packed in a poorly ventilated room? were they deprived of food as a cheap method to make their wool finer?). We have no idea how the people were treated. Do they get paid enough to be able to take their sick child to the doctor? Do they work hours that allow them time with their family? We just can’t answer any of these questions because we are many degrees removed from this process. Without handling the goods, the only differentiating factor is price, a bit of information that often indicates the care with which a product is made. When we choose one product over another, we are giving that company more power to continue and grow their method of production for better or worse.
But, little by little, apparel companies are beginning to reveal where their products come from, who makes them and how. And soon enough those that do not will stand out as withholding this sort of information to cover up for fowl play, rather than as part of the status quo.
So in the quiet moments, Wendell Berry’s inspirational work pushes me to reflect on the non-negotiables of what I am building. I want people to connect to their clothing the way we connect to the food we eat from our favorite vendor at the farmer's market. I want people to know its value, where it came from. How it connects with people and our natural resources. What is taken, what is left behind. To know the importance of taking good care of it, valuing it as a precious point of interaction between us, the craftspeople who made it and the world we want to live in.
I think back on the men and women who use a pedal powered loom to weave the Harris Tweed, from sheep who range freely on some of the most beautiful land in the world, of my sewing partner that let’s the workers go home in time to pick their kids up from school. Would Wendel Barry approve of our use of technology to bring the price down, so a penny-wise woman with a good job can afford it? Perhaps not. But our intent is not to make as much money as possible for a banker in an office far removed from our work. It is to create a new sort of value. It is to make space for the craftsperson, by making their craft more accessible.
Thank you for your support.