When I started making pouches and accessories, it was never my intent to set out to do something eco-friendly. While I certainly do my best to recycle, conserve power and water (especially living in LA), or other small things that help our earth and natural resources, I’ll be honest – I’m far from an environmental activist, and I’m sure there’s plenty more I could be doing. However, after viewing the SCRAPS exhibit during a recent visit to the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York, I realized I’m not giving myself enough credit.
As I read the exhibit introduction, I immediately thought… hey, that’s not far off from what I’m doing. The exhibit showcases three designers “who use textile scraps as the impetus for their work” and goes on to explore how modern recycling can still incorporate local and cultural craft traditions. Although my process and techniques are far less technical than some of the innovative approaches these designers take, I began to see that my reuse of vintage fabrics contributes to sustainability as well.
“Sustainability: the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.”
When you look at it simply, my methods certainly support the cause. Upon further reading, and as the exhibit points out, unwanted clothing and textiles account for a major portion of US landfills while textile and apparel industries are some of the most polluting in the world, second only to oil. We’ve become and throwaway / disposable culture and “fast fashion” retailers are a major contributor. They encourage consumers to buy, buy, buy as they constantly offer the latest “trends” at affordable prices. Meanwhile, factories are pumping out more and more to fuel the clothing cycle. Textile manufacturing consumes a large amount of energy, water and raw materials. As I see it, my fondness for old textiles and reuse of vintage clothing is an aesthetic preference that actually turned out to be doing something good. By giving these potentially unwanted items a new identity and purpose, I’m not only extending their life and usefulness, but avoiding contribution to the manufacturing of new materials.
This mentality may also explain a little of my affection for Japanese Boro fabrics. In 19th century Japan, little – if nothing – went to waste. Clothing and futon covers were repaired and patched over and over again, often though multiple generations. The end result of many indigo layers hand sewn with sashiko stitching is now seen and valued as pieces of Japanese history, art and even fashionable. However, this practice came from necessity and a place of investment or commitment to one’s belongings.
My current project, which makes use of a vintage quilt, is essentially transforming fabrics into their third life stage. While there is extensive history spanning many cultures that traces back to various form of quilting, many common quilting techniques in the US made use of repurposed and scrap fabric. Although “modern” quilters use brand new fabrics (which honestly, to me, feels a bit like cheating), it is the ones that mange to create beauty out of odds and ends and limited resources that really impress me.
Repairing our garments and repurposing fabrics within the home seems to be a bit lost in today’s culture. If everyone was a bit more invested in the longevity of their clothing (and even other material things) the environment might be in a better place. Until then, I’m happy knowing that I’m doing my little part to prolong the life of fabrics by creating new, more useful items… one scrap at a time.
All images taken at the SCRAPS exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, New York
Exhibit runs through April 23, 2017