slowtextiles

The Kediyun: A Slow Turn for Fast Fashion

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Packing for a fortnight trip I carefully edited to what was essential. I calculated the number of days and the luggage allowance permitted by the airline. But, what would I carry if I had to go for a journey that could last a few months? And what if it this journey was on foot!


The Rabaris of the semi desert region of Kutch, West India, believing they are divinely designated to take care of the camel, migrate seasonally, looking for green pasture. The men of the Rabari community wear an upper garment kediyun (pl. kediya), always white. Regional garments including the kediyun were traditionally made by the women of the family. “Where would you find a tailor in the jungle?” commented Harkuben Rabari. So, it was essential to carry the knowledge and the skills, while making distant journeys. The women learnt the art of making the garments by observing the elders.

With my background in fashion, the dramatic cut of the kediyun had fascinated me. So for my masters research I found apprenticeships under three different makers of kediyun. I learned that long ago men of many ethnic communities of Kutch wore kediya. A few decades ago almost all the women in the local Rabari and Ahir communities could stitch the garment, however only a few could cut it. Cutting involved the understanding of body proportions, taking measurements and cutting the actual fabric. The approach in cutting was zero wastage. Everything was economically used. Understanding the fabric quality in relation to body and stitching is also integral to the process. When regional hand weaving became unaffordable and mill cloth replaced it, the women adapted the cut to fit the width of the mill cloth.

Religious and spiritual beliefs too are central to the making of the kediyun. According to a local tailor, hand stitching is not the same as machine. “With hand stitching your thoughts get stitched with the cloth too.” One day during my apprenticeship, I was told that in honour of Shetla mata, a goddess who has the power to cure or bring small-pox, activities which involved knotting, such as combing of hair or knotting the thread end for stitching, could not take place. It is believed that the Goddess could get stuck in the knot, bringing disease to a child in the family.

Even wearing a kediyun has cultural implications. The first time I wore a kediyun that I had stitched, I didn’t know how to wear it, particularly how to tie the garment. So I discovered how the garment brings two people together in an intimate way. The wearer is brought close to the person who ties the strings, as they stand close, facing each other. This relation is “equal”, as opposed to the feeling of hierarchy when a person stands behind a wearer, assisting him to wear a (Western) jacket.

After the earthquake of 2001 in Kutch, communities’ lifestyles and relationships with the environment saw a drastic shift, at a faster pace than ever before. Industries were introduced in the rural region with the dream of economic growth, often ignoring the local culture. According to Lakhabhai Rabari, “men from our village used to leave for work wearing a kediyun. On reaching the gate of the factory, they would change to pants and shirt as they were told that traditional clothes were not practical. This continued for a few months, after which the most of the men stopped wearing the kediyun altogether.” Kediya for special purposes such as weddings were adorned with embroidery in traditional styles that were distinctive of communities, as were the specific cuts of the garment. Traditionally one style of kediyun worn by the groom was made by his first cousin: the garment became a way of introducing her to the community. Among the young generation, the kediyun is now reduced to ritual wear.

One Rabari women complained that she used to stitch all her family’s clothes—juldi, kediyun, ghaghari. But her daughter in-law does not even know how to stitch a basic ghaghari (skirt); she purchases a readymade version. Machine made ready to wear kediya manufactured in Ahmedabad are available at selected local shops. A few tailors too make copies of the kediyun. However, the approach does not combine the traditional wisdom of the material culture.

Jamanben Ahir, one of the last makers of the kediyun who still continues making and even repairing, was proud to have me as a pupil. Although Jamanaben’s husband wears a kediyun, her son has never worn one. Her daughter, who uses a sewing machine, had previously never recognised her mother’s knowledge. She became curious and started to observe her mother teaching me.

Most of the Rabaris don’t have camels anymore; there are only a few exceptions of families who still migrate with their herds. What these communities do carry is the knowledge, skills and most important concepts of sustainability, slow fashion, well made objects and of style—an approach that could open new ways of thinking if applied in mainstream fashion design education.

Author
lokesh-image-2Based in Ahmedabad, India, LOkesh Ghai is a textile artist, researcher and academician working with traditional craft practice. His work has featured at the V&A Museum of Childhood, London; Harley Gallery, Nottinghamshire; Gallery of Costume, Manchester and Ahmedabad International Art Festival. He has been visiting lecturer at numerous institutions both in India and the UK including the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Gandhinagar, Royal College of Art, London and Somaiya Kala Vidya, Kutch, India’s premier design institute for traditional craft communities. Recently LOkesh showcased his work as part of India Street in Scotland; the show was a runner up for the most sustainable design practice award in the Edinburgh International Art festival. Currently he is working with the Warli tribes of folk artists as part of Re:imagine India, towards the 70th year of Indian independence.

*This story first appeared on Garland

Meet John and Miriam, Levi Strauss & Co Collaboratory Fellows

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Now through October we are highlighting the first class of LS&Co. Collaboratory fellows.  These ten next-generation apparel leaders are making an outsized impact on their communities and we’re excited to take them behind our doors to expand their commitment to sustainable practices and reducing their water impact.

John Moore, co-founder and creative director of Outerknown, a sustainable menswear brand that blends function and style starting at the supply chain.

 

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Tell us about your business and the work you do.

Outerknown creates responsibly-made clothing. We began working on the brand in 2013, but only shipped our first products a year ago.  Along with my partner, Kelly Slater, we have a long history within the clothing business.  I’ve spent almost two decades designing clothes, so being on the front lines of manufacturing all over the world, I have seen how dirty the process really is.

For Kelly, clothing endorsements have been something that supported his storied career as a professional athlete, and one day he realized he had no idea how they were being made, which didn’t sit well with him. He’s still competing at the highest level, and clean living is part of his daily routine. He thinks about everything he puts in his body, so why shouldn’t he take the same approach to considering everything that goes into the clothing we put on our bodies every day?

What does it mean to you to create a more socially and environmentally responsible apparel industry?

It means making mindful decisions in everything we do. We look deeply into the suppliers we partner with, vetting them to make sure they meet our code of conduct and have the same high expectations and commitment to responsibility that we do.  This also means sharing the information we discover not only with our customers, but also within the industry in the hopes of inspiring a new normal around responsible manufacturing practices.

How important is water to what you do?

As surfers, we spend most of our lives in, and around, the water.  As clothing manufacturers, water is essential to the entire process… the growing of fibers, the processing of materials and the finishing of goods. It’s in our best interest to conserve wherever we can and do our best to limit pollution, keeping the water clean for future generations. We want to surf clean oceans and drink clean water – the latter is something that many of us take for granted.

What do you hope to get out of participating in the LS&Co. Collaboratory?

In the three and a half years since we began the Outerknown journey, so much has changed.  There were very few resources available to those of us that had a desire to build clothing in a more responsible way in the beginning of 2013. In our earliest days, you could say we were literally winging it with good intentions.  We discovered that most of our existing relationships in the fashion business could not deliver on our responsible standards, so we had to construct an entirely new supply chain.

Further, as a start-up, we don’t have the buying power to persuade suppliers to think more responsibly. So it’s pretty special that LS&Co. has opened up its doors and created the Collaboratory to bring different minds and talents together around the common desire to do good. By allowing us access to their innovation, leadership and resources, we are increasing the dialogue amongst peers, and advancing our understanding of what is possible.

Water is at the core of this first fellowship, but this is so much bigger than water. It’s about sharing information and inspiring others. The big guys sharing with the little guys.  I hope to come out smarter and better equipped for the road ahead, and if there are some tangible developments around product and process that we can fold into our business, even better.

What’s your Levi’s® story?

On a trip to the Rose Bowl flea market with my girlfriend when we first met 14 years ago, I bought a Levi’s trucker jacket for 10 bucks, ‘cause I loved the fit. It was vintage, but I don’t think it was worn much before I got it. It was basically rigid, deep blue, and had no discernable holes. Over the years it’s been the one item I’ve taken with me literally everywhere I go without fail. It’s been stained, torn, lost and then found (twice), and repaired so many times I can’t keep up.  It just keeps getting better and better.

Miriam Dym, Founder of Dym | california textiles, a workshop focused on producing local, “slow” textiles.

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Tell us about your business and the work you do.

My business produces hand block printed fabrics in California. I created it because, as a fabric designer, it was important for me to directly oversee how the fabric got produced. I also wanted to see if it was possible to use an ancient craft-manufacturing method (still used in parts of India and West Africa) here in North America. Our fabrics are typically used in interiors.

What does it mean to you to create a more socially and environmentally responsible apparel industry?
To be more socially and environmentally responsible, the whole supply chain needs to be brought into a sustainable model, with a focus on how and where fiber gets produced and processed, as well as an equal focus on educating consumers on how they take care of their clothes (and other soft goods) once they own them. Frequent washing and treating clothes as disposable are huge obstacles when it comes to reducing water and energy in apparel.

The next step, a difficult one, is to figure out an economic system that demands far, far less use of (new) apparel, textiles, and, really, all materials.  If we use radically less, what does that look like for the viability of apparel manufacturers and for peoples’ livelihoods? How does localism play into this?

How important is water to what you do?

Water is hugely important. The process I use, printing with transparent dyes —which makes the fabric so beautiful —relies on water to work. When I started this project, I knew that I wanted to not only re-use water (for my water bill) but also not put any waste into the water system. Because my scale of operations are small, this part of my project has eluded me for a combination of logistical (time and energy!) and financial reasons. Yet I’m interested in using as little water as possible, here in Northern California, given the drought conditions.

What do you hope to get out of participating in the LS&Co. Collaboratory?

I’d like to find out what solutions others use, and to connect with people who share my combined passion for being in a product business and wanting real environmental solutions. Water use and materials’ extraction and manufacturing tend to be invisible, as they happen in fields and factories geographically distant from shopping malls. Which means I’m also interested in how the people who buy textiles and apparel can become more knowledgeable and become invested in their clothes to help the planet.

What’s your Levi’s® story?

Oh, wow, Levi’s®. In middle school and high school, we’d buy utilitarian clothes at a workwear store in my small hometown (pop. 25,000), always choosing Levi’s®, though I never did get the shrink-to-fits to fit the way I wanted. I now have a pair of gorgeous Levi’s® jeans that fit like a glove. I’m looking forward to mending and keeping them around as long as they fit.

*This story first appeared on Levi-Strauss