clothes made from the community, for the community
In 2021, my fellow graduates and I are transitioning into a dire fashion industry. We are now well aware that it is rife with polluting processes, worker mistreatment and overproduction. Simultaneously, the world is facing a pandemic, a climate crisis and ever-rising political division. It is no longer possible to go on with business as usual, if we intend on carrying our people and planet through these complex issues. All industries, especially fashion as one of the world's most polluting industries, must act to become not only less bad, but regenerative. This involves utilising the materials we have already made, reducing inequality, and increasing local resilience and care .
In creating this range, I wanted to start as I intend to go on for the rest of my career. I wondered: how can I make clothes that address this multiplicity of issues?
When seeking what the industry at large is concerned about, I found this article from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion. It describes an age-old system that may thoughtfully address some of the problems that have come to the surface during this pandemic:
“Mutual Aid is a system of exchange (resources and services) based on reciprocity, support, relationships and care. As a concept it offers a sharp critique to individual based solutions to a systemic challenge, and for that reason is a system to consider when thinking about sustainable futures. Despite our various and differing experiences of living through COVID-19; it has been emotional, disruptive and revealing. Layers have been stripped back, enabling us to see and feel what is really important. These show us how interconnected and interdependent we are. To one another... To economics and resource use... They show us that the ordinary/normal is constructed and that rapid change is possible. But, we cannot do this alone. In sustainability, we talk of our interconnection and interdependence, but how do we practice this?...
To make this shift, it seems to me that it is vital to acknowledge the role of care in developing and maintaining interdependency and interconnection. This means recognising the work involved. It can be hard, unrewarding, messy. Think laundry, repairing, preparing. There is joy here too but also quiet, private, heavy, cold, monotonous work. Care has always been the bedrock of our societies”. 
In fashion, and in wider society, we are seeking radical solutions for the stark issues we are collectively facing. Consumers are becoming increasingly disillusioned by cycling trends, disingenuous advertisement and disposable clothes . We understand the harm that the production process inflicts upon its participants, like cutters, makers and dyers . In order to address modern problems, we frequently have to look backward to traditional solutions- like mutual aid, as discussed by Fitzpatrick.
I wanted to create a body of work which took resources that people did not want, and return to them resources that they need. I also wanted to create authentic connections with people in my community and garner a deeper understanding of it. I reached out to my community in West Auckland through Facebook, and connected with individuals like N.J, G.S, D.P, H.S and A.H who gifted their unwanted textiles. When offered resources in return, most of them preferred I gift food to someone in need on behalf of them. I gifted two days worth of groceries to a family with 4 children in Henderson, and $60 to the CARE Waitakere foodbank in return. My community was also able to direct me to some waste recycling center's, namely the West Auckland Recycling Centre (WARC) and Tipping Point. These both save resources from landfill, including fabric. After meeting some volunteers at the WARC and buying some fabric, I applied to volunteer myself. You can now find me here once a month on a Saturday. The gifts that this collection has given me in relationships, new perspectives and new avenues for responsibly finding resources are invaluable.
According to MAKE.GOOD , 85% of all textiles made annually are incinerated or dumped. This trend is only set to get worse without industry change. While brands are starting to pick up habits such as using recycled textiles, this is resource intensive and difficult to access. When there is an abundance of perfectly good fabric going to waste each year, I could only accept using the most sustainable material there is- that which already exists, and has been discarded by industry or individuals. A collection that does not use new products and expel waste, but uses waste to create new products, adopting a circular approach.
The fabric in my range ultimately came from the West Auckland Resource Centre:
“The WARC was established to provide an affordable service where recycled materials can be accessed by the community and used to promote ongoing learning through the creative arts. Our dedicated team of volunteers pride themselves on the recovery of all types of recyclable resources that would otherwise be destined for the landfill. We collect these waste materials upon availability from local manufacturers and businesses for art and craft activities.” 
Some of my yarn came from Tipping Point, which is located within the Waitakere Refuse Station:
“Buying from the Tipping Point reduces your impact, supports a community social enterprise and allows goods to keep circulating rather than thrown into landfill.” 
I developed my range using sampling fabrics that I already owned, or donations from people in my community, Te Atatu Peninsula. My designs were largely dictated by the fabrics I could find, with influence from trends within the sustainable and luxury womenswear markets. I had to work within the constraints of each fabric, like the skinny yellow and charcoal fabrics- this constraint is embraced in the exposed panel seam detailing. I decided to create a product range so that I could use as much of each fabric as possible, right down to the headscarf utilising my small scraps. This patchworking is a Korean technique called bojagi. Scraps were also used to create binding and trims, to eliminate the need for new materials like fusing, and fastening which are often single-use. My bras are tied like bikinis for this same reason.
Each garment comes with a care label that tells the story of the collection. When someone chooses this piece, they become a part of the story; contributing to the mission of Mutual. The piece also becomes a part of their journey toward a deeper relationship with their clothes. They know everything about this garment and whose lives it touched. It makes them think, what is the story behind the other clothes I own? Whose lives did they touch? They are challenged to consider the impacts of their purchasing choices, what unspoken injustices could be hidden in their garments. This mindset change leads to an empowered, compassionate individual within the constraints of a capitalist system .
The clothes in this range are for people who are passionate about what they do, engaged in global issues, and strive to live beautifully. They are for you to wear to work, and then to the bars on Karangahape road after work. The pieces are comfortable during your errands and commute, and then sexy for your date or Friday night gig. They make you feel light like the air at the Saturday morning market. They are for you to treasure, to keep for years. Repair them when they get damaged, and then reuse the fabric when it is at the end of its life. Remember where it came from.
Mutual is a concept built from my passions, frustrations and desires. It is a methodology which addresses all of the changes that I want to see in the fashion world, and in the world at large. Reducing and utilising waste. Connecting with the individuals and culture of my community. Making transactions without money. Giving without expecting something in return and likewise. Creating clothes with a story, and then empowering the owner with this story and changing their perspective. It has been difficult and rewarding work to combine these complex issues into a range, and I intend to carry it on past my graduation. This is only a drop in the bucket toward redefining the fashion industry, however, more have picked up the torch and more will continue to. The state of fashion- and of the world- necessitates it.
“Yet in spite of these monumental and in many cases lifechanging disruptions, there is significant reason to consider this strange moment of uncertainty as one of possibility and hope. If you look closely at the human spirit, listen carefully to our collective heartbeat as a species, and learn from our shared past, such optimism is not difficult to find. It is illuminated by the everyday acts of care and a proclivity for compassion that radiate in spite of this pandemic.. igniting the prospect that this could be the beginning of a great restoration for human societies...” 
 Springer, Simon. “Caring geographies: The COVID-19 interregnum and a return to mutual aid”. Dialogues in Human Geography; 10:2, (2020) p112-115.
 Niinimaki, Kirsi et. al. “The environmental price of fast fashion”. Nature Reviews Earth and Environment 1, (2020) p.189–200. https://doi.org/10.1038/s43017-020-0039-9
 Fletcher, Kate. “The Fashion Land Ethic: Localism, Clothing Activity, and Macclesfield”. Fashion Practice, 10:2, (2018) p.139-159, DOI: 10.1080/17569370.2018.1458495
 Fitzpatrick, Anna. “Mutual Aid as a framework for interdependence”. Centre for sustainable fashion (2020). Retrieved via https://www.sustainable-fashion.com/post/mutual-aid-as-a-framework-for-interdependence
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 West Auckland Resource Centre. “Who We Are”. (N.D). Retrieved via http://www.westaucklandresourcecentre.org.nz/who-we-are/
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