How long did it take for me to decide to put that word next to The ANJELMS Project, to allow my self to define our project with such a big word?
10 years ago, I founded the project primarily as a people focused enterprise. Nothing else, nothing more. Fashion was just a vehicle to provide employment to communities in need, and allowing them to give their children proper education.
Over the 10 years, it has been a journey of learnings, discoveries, challenges, obstacles, and successes. But there is one thing that has become clear in my mind especially as I have grown our project through the rise of fast fashion, the RANA Plaza disaster, the birth of the Fashion Revolution movement and the discussions born from it, the #WHOMADEYOURCLOTHES hashtag, and the slow fashion movement. While we have so much information, statistics and figures to show us the extent of the damage fashion has had on our environment and the people working within it, I feel that maybe it is time to go back to the basic values. Values that every human can connect to. This value is RESPECT.
To me, ethical fashion can be explained by one simple but extremely powerful word; RESPECT. Respect for the environment we live in and respect for the people we live with are fundamental aspects of our society and to live in an ethical society, RESPECT is a non negotiable. They are both entwined in each other, and are equally as important as each other. It seems so simple in principle yet we make it so difficult in practice. This is one of the reasons I decided to go back to basic practices within the making of our clothing. By using traditional skills and practices, we, as a project, choose to nurture the knowledge gained over centuries. To celebrate and carry on the craftmanship used over centuries because those skills were practised before chemicals were created; those skills were practised with respect for what nature has given us, whether it is plant dyeing, blockprinting, or handstitching. We became skilled to improve our lives and not to accumulate. We learnt to repair, to fix, to mend, and to build to last. Craft was the cement of our community, its glue. Craft was a way for generations to communicate and to learn from each other. Different communities exchanged and traded their craft as treasured wealth and valued possessions dreaming of the day when we would have saved enough to acquire. We yearned for something new, a new cloth for a special occasion.
I remember going to a Balinese ceremony with my French family. My Balinese friends pulled out all of of their batik sarongs and kebayas. Each came with a story; the occasion it was made for and where it came from, each print being like an ID card of what caste or community could wear it. I remember being allowed to choose my first Sunday dress as a kid, white with black tiny polka dots and a Peter Pan collar. I wore it until I outgrew it and passed it on. Now I feel quite old! But the fact is I have remained very sentimental about my clothes. Considering myself a citizen of the world, I have brought with me to my new home country some of my old sweaters handknitted by my mother (some with my maiden name tags on the collar that my mother used to sew on before I went on summer camps). I collect cloths from the different places I visited because they speak to me like precious memories.
So, people might grin thinking that the poor old girl chooses to ignore the ugly truth brought by facts and numbers and living in poetic notions of a long gone past. I certainly don’t, I choose to learn from my past and hopefully through this project bring back some of its goodness. Respect and Value of our environment and the people that live and work in it, is what ethical fashion means to me. To be eco friendly, organic, sustainable and fairly traded are aspects of it and all important but I now prefer the word ethical as our mission because it encompasses both environment and people. To be effective, any change needs to be embraced by people; our voices and our actions are our power of change. We are the carrier of knowledge, and it needs to be passed through our voices, through the teaching of skills and experiences. We all make mistakes, we all fall from time to time but we can learn and become better humans for the sake of our planet and our community.
Let the clothes you choose to wear be the voices for the kind of the world you want to live in.