State of Fashion Whataboutery Series, ‘This is an Intervention’ 01

On 28 October, Sandra Niessen’s publication entitled, ‘Regenerative Fashion: There can be no Other’ was used as the longread for the first State of Fashion Introspection Whataboutery. Here is that longread in English and in Dutch. The State of Fashion website provides free access to it.

In that longread, I point out that fashion is damaging to indigenous clothing traditions and the reason is rooted in the colonial understanding of fashion, viz. that it is found only in the West. This explains why non-Western dress systems have simply been erased from the fashion map — except to appropriate designs and exploit indigenous makers.

The article was informed by my last ten years trying to encourage the Batak weaving tradition. Those years taught me why my goal was so difficult — if possible at all — to achieve. I had hoped to make a difference in North Sumatra, but I am now wondering whether having been featured in the State of Fashion may have accomplished more than all my struggles in the field. Time will tell. It will depend on what the attendees do with the ideas that I presented.

In my article, I urge fashion to ‘redress’. This goal was inspired by the insights of LEAP in Canada (allied with the efforts of Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis) and their emphasis on ‘repair’. I was also inspired by ‘regenerative agriculture’ and  ‘re-wilding’. In all of these the emphasis is on cleaning up our mess. With the concept of ‘redress’ in fashion, I would like fashion not just to reduce its ecological footprint, but repair the damage to ecology and cultural systems that it has wrought especially during the last half century. 

I am grateful for the professional and expert guidance from State of Fashion staff and the thoughtful participation of my fellow speakers on the evening itself: Clare Farrell co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, Monica Boța-Moisin (Cultural Intellectual Property Rights Initiative) and associate professor of sociology Rolando Vázquez

A record of the event is available on the State of Fashion website.

Sandra Niessen is a cultural anthropologist and one of the founding members of RCDF. Her primary research focus has been the weaving arts of the Batak people of North Sumatra. She is freelance and lives in The Netherlands. 

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