Perhaps we shouldn’t treat our clothes as replaceable representations of self-expression, as a slew of one-night stands. Perhaps instead we should treat our clothing with special care, selecting what we wear as carefully as what we say or eat while on a date. Courting rules and marriage arrangements vary across cultures and treatment of one’s search for “the one” varies cross-culturally. Furthermore, a society’s relationship to its culture is a natural indicator of its people’s relationship to its preservation of one’s culture.
- The Hmong of ancient China do not believe in symbolism of fate; they believe that a person is born into this world wearing a jacket, that its placenta is its soul mate, “ones’ first and finest garment.” The Hmong people are known for their direct connection to nature and appreciation for rituals. For matters of life and death, they dress their children in elaborately-embroidered garments that communicate with evil spirits and one’s availability to the opposite sex.
- The nakshi kantha stich of Bangladesh and West Bengal is not a symbol, but rather a language: a sewed circle design of four parrots does not merely represent the idea of love. When one sees that particular pattern, the embroidery is actually speaking the innermost dialogue of ever-lasting love. Another popular phrase, the tree of life is more than a motif; it tells the story of community as it’s stitched by women into collections of wearable art.
Speaking of which, the art of nakshi kantha and other hand-crafted items were re-introduced as a community development solution to sustaining the fashion industry in Bangladesh by Aarong and helped solve the problem of rural women’s market access. If only we treated our clothing’s livelihood as a sustainable fashion solution, we could help solve the problem of our shopping excess—it’d be a match! If we make a commitment to be fashainable, then maybe we wouldn’t take sustainable fashion for granted. Maybe we would learn that it’s not just the latest version of luxury or the newest fashion trend, but that like healthy codependency, it is a necessary step in deepening a lasting connection.
Such consciousness of resources is a pillar of Aarong’s foundation. Having repeatedly survived nature’s fatal forces, people in the South Asian nation of Bangladesh are forced to be resourceful and innovate. Bangladeshis themselves, including my former colleagues, are a force to be reckoned with; they are among the bravest individuals I’ve ever encountered. Aarong’s artisans are no exception as it is their heroic dedication and whose proud conviction speaks loudly as they face daily adversity in working to sustain fashion.
Conversely, we Americans don’t face such harsh hardship, so our relationship with sustainable fashion development has been somewhat symbolic of our disconnectedness with the dire nature of the whole situation of sustainability, unlike the intimate interconnection that Aarong has restored. Part efficient retail, part effective development, Aarong has a unique relationship with its founding partner, BRAC, as a social enterprise.
When it comes to relationships, outward appearances are often the first characteristics we as individuals notice in a partner, sometimes including one’s outfit choice; this criticism exists in Bangladesh’s culture, too. However, the shared individualistic nature of American and Bangladeshi culture also coexists with a sense of community as we often ask our friends and family’s opinions when it comes to matters of decision making, like choosing a mate. Now, I’m the first to admit that I have commitment issues, often saying “I can’t” be at the same job indefinitely or “I can’t” imagine being with someone forever, but after seeing a toddler steering a motorcycle atop his father’s lap or a blind man crossing the busiest of streets, the words “I can’t” disappear from one’s vocabulary quicker than an exit from a bad date. I soon realized the disrespect I’ve shown in my treatment of the ones I love, for some aren’t as fortunate to have a choice in such matters and would give anything for never-ending assurance.
Similarly, it dawned on me that we demonstrate disrespect as a nation when we take for granted our relationship to the garments we don. As united citizens, we can easily take the plunge and update our relationship status from fashion-fling to being in it, full-fledged. Free from impossibility and inspired by fearlessness, the other hemisphere has reminded me that actions speak louder than words and when it comes to direct correlation and co-dependence, the other side of the world has influenced me to say that we are together; I am what I wear. Do you dare to care about your wear? Let’s arrange for a marriage between our mindful thoughts and items to be potentially bought.