Tag Archives: fashion studies

Textile Traditions – The Hmong Tribe and Kantha Quilts

Native, traditional, Eastern, or often times called, “fixed” dress, that of the indigenous peoples of East-Asian territories, may seem to be the antithesis of the current Western standard of the sartorial etiquette which relies on constant fashion change and the unwavering push for newness. However, these precious, contextually and sentimentally loaded, incredibly detailed traditional textiles are finding their way into the hands of Western designers and customers. Either sold as the authentic pieces of culture they are, straight from the indigenous hands who made them, or upcycled/recycled into fashionable accessories, traditional textiles from the Akha Hill tribes of East Asia are popping up in the homes and closets of savvy, socially conscious consumers around the world, particularly in the UK and US.

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Photo from Laos and Ethnic Minority Cultures: Promoting Heritage

For some of these tribes, like the Hmong who live in the hills of Laos, Thailand and China, the dissemination of these handmade textiles (which they have every part in making from growing the hemp for making the fiber to sewing the end product into garments) is one of the few tangible ways of preserving and sharing their cultural heritage. As Western influence and inexpensive materials make their way to the remote areas of this purely oral-tradition tribe (meaning they have no written language), the skillful art of the traditional Hmong embroidery technique becomes threatened.

For others, such as the Bengali women of India, opportunities to create handmade kantha quilts in their home to sell abroad provides them with financial freedoms otherwise denied women residing in such areas. With a salary they can afford to put their children through school, combatting the sex-trafficking epidemic that is so prevalent in this area, affording independence and stability for at-risk women.

kantha quilts

Kantha Quilts

No matter how they reached the Western markets, the story behind these intricate pieces of textile art, and that of those who made and wore them, need to be preserved. H. Leedom Lefferts Jr., a Lao cultural expert, says in his article promoting the importance of the conservation of Lao material culture, that “Textiles weave indigenous cultures together; they thus provide strands of meaning and action which can be picked up by observers to understand cultures and assist them in coping with the pressures of modern life.” Designers are taking note of the customer craving authenticity and history in their adornments, and what better way to satisfy that need than highly intricate, handmade traditional and ceremonial textiles from age-old tribe techniques.

Sometimes classified as “vintage” fabric, these recycled textiles can be found in mainstream stores such as in the furniture upholstery of Anthropologie, West Elm, and Sundance Catalog. They are also often upcycled into fashionable accessories such as bags, shoes, and garments as in the case of Elliot Mann and Sophia Costas, and the Etsy sites Dazzling Lana and Fairlyworn, to name a few.

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Transparency Tuesday – Fashioning Change

 
Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 4.41.21 PMFinally, the myth that sustainable clothing is harder to find and more expensive than normative fashion brands has been dispelled. Introducing Fashioning Change, an amazing, innovative eCommerce platform based in San Diego that finds less expensive, yet equally trendy, sustainable alternatives to the large brands you usually shop. Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 4.41.46 PMFashioning Change builds your own virtual changing room by asking you a series of questions including your budget for fashion products,

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Personality,

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style,

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brand preference,

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and which donations you care about most.
Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 4.45.34 PMYour changing room is then formulated and you can browse items by your personal style, causes, personality, or “likes”. You can also explore larger categories like Women, Men, Children, Brands, and Looks.

We want to thank Fashioning Change for making sustainable fashion more accessible to the masses and starting to change the idea that sustainable = expensive. I.F. gives Fashioning Change an A+, be sure to check them out at http://fashioningchange.com and build your personal changing room for free!

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“The importance of studying the body as a site for the deployment of discourses is well- established. By contrast, the study of dress has traditionally suffered from a lack of critical analysis. Fashion Theory takes as its starting point a definition of fashion as the cultural construction of the embodied identity. It provides an international and interdisciplinary forum for the analysis of cultural phenomena ranging from foot binding to fashion advertising. Fashion Theory provides a vital contribution to cultural studies, art, history, literary criticism, anthropology, fashion history, media studies, gender studies, folklore studies and sociology.” – Fashion Theory, Editor’s Introduction of the Journal, Valerie Steele, 1997

“The importance…

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