7.27.2015

Public Art, Slow Textiles, and Social Experiments


Range Studio on Market Street with weaver, Meghan Shimek.
When I started my fast-fashion fast, Make Thrift Mend, almost exactly two years ago I knew I was embarking on an experimental journey. I knew that I wanted my shopping habits to change, that I wanted to deepen my relationship to sustainable fashion, and that I wanted to better my garment making skills but I didn't know exactly what the journey would entail. I knew I wanted to frame my fast as an art project, to push my work out of the studio and exhibition world and into the sphere of what's known as social practice. I knew I wanted to combine my passion for sustainability with my creative work and that I wanted to focus on making, mending, and buying secondhand.

Range Studio with printmaker, Jen Hewett.

Print samples by guest artist, Jen Hewett.
I didn't know that I would fall in love with visible mending and that I'd spend endless hours researching mending, stitching, darning, Sashiko, Boro, and opportunities for repair. I didn't know that natural dyeing was within my reach as a continued studio practice. I didn't know that I'd find some sense of healing between my usually juxtaposed rural upbringing and the urban spaces I've called home for nearly 20 years now.

I didn't know this fission existed so deeply or that this healing would begin with urban foraging. That as I led my family on urban adventures to collect eucalyptus leaves, fennel fronds, and sour grass flowers I would be reminded of the time spent in the wilderness when I was young. That I'd feel reconnected to my departed father. Or that I'd finally see the connection between my studies in sustainability and my textile work. I didn't realize this work would take on such depth. I didn't imagine I'd focus on teaching mending workshops or amass a collection of reading and websites focused on what I now know to call Slow Fashion.

Range Studio featured artist, natural dyer Sasha Duerr, working with sunflower seed dyes.     



Sasha Duerr working with natural dyes and seasonal flowers.
So when my husband asked me if I'd take a week's residency in our tiny art studio, Studio 1, when it was commissioned by the Mayor's Office of San Francisco I knew I wanted to focus on Slow Fashion. Again, I didn't know what that would look like. I didn't know what shape it would take. Having an infant in my life again meant my studio work would inevitably slow down for an undefined period of time until we found our new rhythm and until I had enough support to accomplish more than the bare minimum in my work. All this meant there would be no major projects this year. Instead this year would be about supporting the work I had in motion before my beautiful baby Jude was born.

But this week long residency provided a new opportunity. It provided the opportunity for a condensed collaboration. To foster new relationships with textile artists I adore and to deepen relationships with textile artists I already know personally but never get to see quite often enough.

And it also allowed this very contained amount of time for me to throw open my studio doors and let the world peek inside. I knew this was an opportunity for experimentation. I knew this was an opportunity to revisit my initial goals in creating the Make Thrift Mend project. And I knew this was an opportunity to push slow craft and slow textiles and slow fashion into the very fast paced downtown scene.

Featured artist, Meghan Shimek, weaving on her custom built loom.
I don't have any grand conclusions on what the weeks' residency meant. Not yet anyway. But I do know it felt important. I know it felt vulnerable. I know it felt radical in someway to sit in my secondhand linen garb somewhat hidden by the indigo dresses and mended jeans swinging in the doorway of our tiny studio as my fellow artists offered inspiring and incredibly generous demonstrations to the downtown crowd. It felt disruptive. It felt meaningful. It felt like I was offering a public slice of a very private journey. And that felt right.

But what I didn't expect was the overwhelming positivity I received every single day. What I didn't expect was to feel like people needed what I had to offer. What I didn't expect was to have some folks visit two, three, or four times over the week and to become familiar with my work or with the work of my colleagues. I didn't expect it to be so much fun. And I didn't expect it to feel so positive.

I guess I expected folks to be indifferent or even adverse and maybe they were but if so they didn't share it with us at all. What they shared with us was curiosity, gratitude, engagement, and a desire to infuse more art into their work. Some folks even told us we were a bright spot in their week. I was honored albeit a bit surprised. But ultimately I was grateful.

Indigo shibori dye by artist, Kristine Vejar, owner of Verb.

Range Studio on Market Street, working with indigo dyer, Kristine Vejar.
And now this has me thinking how my project might eventually lift off the Internet and out of my studio and classrooms and continue to engage with both the intentional and the incidental passerby. How it might again push at the edges of public art and social practice. It makes me remember that outreach and engagement and collaboration are central to my work. That making and creating are only part of my process but building community is also part of my experience as an organizer and as an artist.

For now this will continue to take the shape of workshops, writings, and casual convenings but it has me wondering about future opportunities in public space. About the role of the activist and artist to engage with the public and to share our thinking and resources on a larger scale. To consider ways of moving the work outside of my studio and into the community through partnerships, public art, or what I've started calling "social textiles".

Range Studio with Marie Hoff, member of Fibershed.

Sample of locally sourced fibers provided by Fibershed

It also jump started my mending work once again. The small pile of mending that had been pushed deeper and deeper under my studio table has resurfaced and taken center stage once again. And this is very exciting because it allows me to experiment with new stitches, new layers, new lines, new textures, and to allow the work to fail and succeed and fail until it shapeshifts into a new technique.

And this is how I know I'm working. This is how I know I'm actively engaged in the creative process once again. That I'm right where I need to be. The feeling of inspiration combined with a tinge of complication or not-knowing or even a practical design issue that needs resolution. It's that tension that holds the most power for me as a maker.

This journey in Slow Fashion is just that... my journey. And I'm honored to share it with you and with the kind strangers on Market Street too. For now, the journey simply continues. Holding fast to my intentions but also allowing enough space for the future to still be full of potential and failure and success and the glorious unknown. Ultimately it's the surprises and serendipity and discovery in this project that keeps me moving forward. Perhaps, it's the experiment that keeps the work alive.

xoxo,
k

7.20.2015

Slow Craft and Slow Processing


Friends,

I am still swirling with all the excitement from being an artist-in-resident in our tiny art studio, Range Studio, last week. My brain is still making sense of my experiment to infuse slow craft into the heart of the downtown San Francisco bustle. And to consider what this means to share slow fashion in the midst of the busy streets. To slow textiles down and to let them collide against public art. I'm still processing photos, completing invoices, catching-up on email, and convincing my infant that it's a good thing to return to more regular naps in his tiny bassinet.

Suffice to say I am slowing down my own studio process this week as I consider slow craft. As I play catch up. As I consider how to let all this excitement flood my studio without washing me out with the tides. I'm not interested in some artificial idea of balance anymore. I'm not certain it actually exists. Especially for busy parents and artists and indie business owners and busy humans anywhere. I'm more interested in working with my whole heart, parenting with my whole self, and letting the inspiration flood my whole studio anytime it might. But I'm also learning that sometimes slow craft is really about slowing down not just my stitches but my timelines.

So. To that end. I'll be back here next week with thoughts and images about my past week as an artist-in-residence. Thank you to everyone who participated, came to visit in-person, and also cheered me on from afar. You can see a bunch of photos on my Instagram feed. See you soon!

xoxo,
k.

7.13.2015

Tiny Art Studio: Social Textile Experiments


 
Today I launched my week long artist residency in our tiny art studio on Market Street! I'll be working from the plaza at Market and 1st Streets until Friday afternoon. Each day I have another textile artist joining me for lunchtime demonstrations from 12noon-2pm and today was our very first day.




The wonderful Kristine Vejar owner of A Verb for Keeping Warm joined me with her beautiful indigo dyeing and she demonstrated some gorgeous shibori dye techniques straight from the sidewalk. I mended. She dyed. We shared our work with the public. We met some lovely folks. And tomorrow I'll do it all over again with one of my favorite weavers, Meghan Shimek. Wednesday with my dear friend and printmaker, Jen Hewett. And Thursday with beloved natural dyer, Sasha Duerr. Then Friday it's just me focusing on mending.



I wanted to share a few images from today's first experiment in fusing public art with slow textiles, art as action, social practice, and slow craft crashing straight into social sculpture. It was a lovely day indeed. More photos next week but I just had to share a few images from today's first day in the studio. Range Studio is in its fifth week on Market Street as commissioned by the SF Mayor's Office and it's thrilling. Hope to see you at the studio this week. Please say hello if I'm busy mending and making--I'd love meet you.



xoxo,
k

7.06.2015

My Tiny Textile Studio on Market Street

Natural dye by featured artist, Kristine Vejar.
Dear friends,

Next week I'll be the artist-in-residence in our tiny portable art studio, Studio 1. This studio is the first structure in our experimental residency program, Range Studio, and it's currently been commissioned by the San Francisco Mayor's Office and the SF Arts Commission to reside on Market Street in San Francisco for six weeks. Next week, July 13-17, is my week to reside in the studio and make work from the very public space of the sidewalk of downtown San Francisco. I'll be at Mechanics Plaza at Market Street and 1st Street in our tiny portable studio. And I'm so excited I could squeal!

Natural dye by featured artist, Kristine Vejar.

Natural dye by featured artist, Kristine Vejar.

When I agreed to be in residence for one week of programming I knew I wanted to take this time to focus on my Make Thrift Mend project. I love the idea of mending and concentrating on slow fashion in the midst of the chaos and hurry of downtown San Francisco just blocks from the major fast fashion retailers, iconic shopping centers, multiplex shopping malls, and sandwiched between the working fleets, shoppers, and tourists that make up Market Street. A meditation in slow craft amidst the hustle bustle.

But I also saw this as a great opportunity for collaboration. As a chance to blend the lines between artist and curator and to infuse this social experiment with other beloved textile artists. So I decided to invite other textile artists and slow fashion workers to join me in this work of social practice. Much like the Make Thrift Mend project, I was less interested in creating a finished product and more interested in focusing on the process, the intention, the handwork, the community, the techniques, and the juxtaposition of this slow textile work in the heart of fast fashion and fast-paced downtown SF.

Weaving by featured artist, Meghan Shimek.

Weaving by featured artist, Meghan Shimek.

So I've invited a handful of my favorite Bay Area textile and fiber artists to join me. I wish I could have invited dozens of artists to join me but we only have five days. So each day, Monday-Friday, we'll work from Studio 1 as we offer public demonstrations, display samples of work, and create textile work right on the sidewalk. Each day will have a featured demonstration during lunchtime from 12noon- 2pm showcasing a different artist and her work.

Block print and garment by featured artist, Jen Hewett.

Block print and garment by featured artist, Jen Hewett.

I consider this upcoming week part of my Make Thrift Mend project and more so part of the mendfulness that has become so central to this work. It's a meditation of slow crafting amidst the bustle. This time is meant to offer up the very private practice of creating work in one's studio to the public. An intimate view of these artists and their sophisticated techniques, approaches, and process of making art.

These demonstrations will be less spectacle and more slow craft. There will not be any formal presentations, formal workshops, or tidy finished projects but instead there will be dynamic work-in-progress shared with the public. This is a very vulnerable and powerful act and I applaud the artists for joining me. Here's the schedule of lunchtime demonstrations:

Monday, July 13 from 12noon-2pm: Kristine Vejar 
Tuesday, July 14 from 12noon-2pm: Meghan Shimek
Wednesday, July 15 from 12noon-2pm: Jen Hewett
Thursday, July 16 from 12noon-2pm: Sasha Duerr
Friday, July 17 from 12noon-2pm: Yours Truly

And Sonya Philip is an honorary artist this week, sadly she's out-of-town.

Natural dye by featured artist, Sasha Duerr.

Natural dye by featured artist, Sasha Duerr.

Each of these artists have inspired me in my fast fashion fast and in my quest to deepen my knowledge of slow fashion techniques, textile arts, and mindfulness in approaching the making and repairing of my wardrobe. These women are multifaceted in their creative work, all of them straddling disciplines between one or more textile art including weaving, printmaking, natural dyeing, designing, sewing, stitching, and balancing worlds between teaching, exhibiting, and managing their own studio practice or independent business too.

These women are amazing! And I'm honored to share temporary studio space with them next week. Come by any day during lunchtime to say hello, ask questions, meet the artists, or just drop into a tiny textile studio for a visit. See you on the street of San Francisco.

xoxo,
k

6.29.2015

A Few Firsts: Podcast, Workshops, and a Residency



Friends,

I'm over-the-moon honored to be a featured artist on Meighan O'Toole's podcast series, What's Your Story?. It's a wonderful podcast focused on various creatives in an intimate interview with the creator, Meighan, to share their inspiration, background, motivation, and anything else that finds its way into the conversation. She's interviewed some of my favorite artists and friends like Courtney Cerruti, Jen Hewett, Lisa Solomon, Sonya Philip, Lisa Congdon and so many more. You can listen to my interview right here. It's my very first podcast interview but thankfully Meighan was a great host.


We discuss my current mending work, inspiration for my fashion fast, and some of the complications of my Make Thrift Mend project before talking about my first book, The Paper Playhouse, and the collaborative artist residency project Range Studio I co-direct with my husband. It was a pleasure to talk with Meighan about my work and I'm honored to have this opportunity share my process in such an intimate conversation. Thank you, Meighan!


   
Also, I want to share a few highlights about July and August because it's already the end of June. I'll be the featured artist-in-resident in our Studio 1 tiny portable house on Market Street at 1st Street the week of July 13-17. I'm so excited about this residency! I'll have several textile artists joining me for lunch time demonstrations and discussions between 12noon and 2pm every day that week. Details on the Range Studio website. This is the first time I've been an artist-in-residence in our tiny studio. Next week I'll post the scheduling details of my week on Market Street--save the dates.



Lastly, I'm offering my first natural dye workshop in person! I've fallen head-over-heels with natural dyes since launching my Make Thrift Mend project and I included some natural dye basics in my online class, Slow Fashion Style. Now I'm partnering with my favorite host at Handcraft Studio School to offer my first in-person natural dye workshop on Sunday, August 23 from 2-5pm. I'm so excited to teach this workshop it's like it's my 8-year-old birthday party all over again.

This will be an introductory level workshop complete with various natural dyes, numerous sample fabrics, yarns and papers for testing, and instructional information on harvesting, preparing, soaking, and working with natural dyes. I'm thrilled! I'm also offering another Sashiko Mending workshop with Handcraft Studio on Sunday, August 16--be sure to sign-up for this workshop soon as it typically sells out quickly.


Phew. So many firsts. Excited about all this opportunity swirling around my summer. Thank you, friends.

xoxo,
k.

6.22.2015

Visible Mending and the Metaphor of Repair


I keep thinking about the symbolic meaning of repairing our clothing through mending. I keep returning to the dictionary and thesaurus and thinking of the various synonyms for the word "mend".

: to make (something broken or damaged) usable again : to repair (something broken or damaged)
: to heal or cure (a broken bone, a sad feeling, etc.)


Mostly, I think about the symbolic repair of fast fashion, the sustainable repair to our garments and the planet, and the activist's repair to a system that needs fixing.  It's amazing to think that something that was once so typical in our grandparent's homes has almost entirely been erased by modernization. I've been researching darning eggs and darning needles. Amazing to think that these were common household items not so long ago. Now, we hardly know what to do with them let alone how to find them.


I recently mended my favorite house slippers. A deep hole in the side of the slipper meant my little toe was cold every time I wore them. So I finally sat down with a scrap of denim and some thread and made a Boro inspired repair. Within half an hour my beloved slippers kept all ten toes cozy again. And it's just that simple. In no time at all our favorite garments are restored and their longevity preserved. An old favorite pair of jeans are next on my mending pile--filled with various gashes and tears that will need several fixes.



Visible mending lets us embrace the natural wear and tear of our garments through an aesthetic that is less perfect and more personal. We step off the fashion treadmill and look at our garments for their inherent strengths and weakness. We embrace the decay and also the ability to patch, darn, mend, and stitch our way into a more sustainable future. I recently revisited my Mendfulness article in Taproot magazine and this concept is much longer than an article for me. It's the workshops I'm teaching, my Make Thrift Mend fast, but I'm also considering it in a larger creative context.

For now, I just keep mending and repairing and mending again. And noticing how this act relates to so many aspects of our lives--big and small and tender and tenacious and simple and spectacular too. Mendfulness. 

xoxo,
k

6.15.2015

Our Tiny Art Studio: Studio 1 Summer Residencies



I'm very excited to announce that our tiny portable art studio, Studio 1, will be very busy this summer at various locations along Market Street, one of San Francisco's main downtown corridors. Studio 1 will be presented through a commission for my husband, David Szlasa, in partnership with the San Francisco Arts Commission, the Mayor's Office of Civic Innovation, and the Living Innovation Zone. We are so exited!


Studio 1 will be stationed on Market Street for six weeks featuring six resident artists. Each of the six artists have been scheduled for a specific week including one week for yours truly. I'm thrilled to be the resident artist the week of July 13-17 and will be hosting one additional textile artist each day as part of my Make Thrift Mend project. The other resident artists include: Andrea Bergen, Sheldon Smith, Sara Shelton Mann, Jesse Hewitt, Jose Navarrete and a special performance by Shinichi Iova-Koga/ inkBoat. Read the details about the six-week schedule here.


Studio 1 is the first portable art studio that's part of a larger art project, collaboration, and experimental artist residency program known as Range Studio created by my husband, fellow artist/ designer/ and performer, David Szlasa and me in August 2014. For nearly a decade we've dreamed of managing an artist-owned residency center and last summer we decided to turn his beautiful tiny studio into our experimental art program on wheels. You can read about the studio here.


The Market Street programming launches today! Yes, today. And it continues for six consecutive weeks through Saturday, July 25. I'll write more about my plans for the week I'm in residence but save the date for lunchtimes the week of July 13-17 as I'll be inviting AMAZING textile artists to join me for demonstrations/ discussions/ and public interventions from 12noon- 2pm that entire week.

Did I mention I'm excited?

xoxo,
k

6.08.2015

Future Workshops, Your Input, and a Giveaway


Friends,

I'd love your input. I'm scheduling additional workshops for this summer and fall and I'm also considering the next online workshop and I'd love to hear from you. What textile or paper craft techniques are you currently loving that you might want me to teach? If you could virtually visit my studio through an online workshop where would you first like to look around? If you're visiting here as a new reader check out the links on the sidebar and see what interests you in my website portfolio, my slow fashion project, or Etsy shop and leave your thoughts in the comments.


Teaching is becoming more and more central to my studio practice. I just taught a Sashiko Mending workshop this weekend and I was instantly reminded of just how much I love this work. It is such a gift to teach mending techniques and to pass on my passion for repairing and fixing clothing. And to pass on some of my sustainable fashion research from the past two years of my Make Thrift Mend project.

I'm going to teach my first in-person natural dye workshop in August. I'm thrilled. It will be a basic introductory to working with kitchen scraps to make beautiful plant-based dyes. By and by the various parts of my online Slow Fashion Style class are becoming prominent elements of my workshop offerings and current writing. I was thrilled to publish the article on Mendfulness in the Mend issue of Taproot magazine and I'm currently working on another article about the healing power of natural dyes and urban foraging.  


I hope that my writing and creative workshops will encourage other artists and hobbyists to expand their own work and venture to try new techniques. I think it's important that we stay open to learning new content in our creative work as artists and hobbyists so that the work might continue to grow. But, of course, the only way our work ever gets better is if we really push it to be our own. To look like ours. To have the residue of our one particular life. To grow as we do. So I'm considering this as I create new offerings online too. How best to share a technique in a way that allows the participant to insert her own aesthetic so the work really looks like hers?


I'd love to hear from you what you'd most like to learn from my workshops. If you could virtually enter my studio what would you like me to share? Mending? Dyeing? My favorite sustainable fashion artists and resources? How to create your own fast fashion fast? Or more generally, what paper or craft techniques are you currently loving?

Or maybe you have another idea about using upcycled paper or boxes like the content of my book, The Paper Playhouse? Projects for children and adults to share together? Leave a comment about what you'd like to learn and I'll pick one comment at random to receive a free copy of my book. Because I really want to hear from you. And because teaching is becoming a very important part of my studio work so I want to give it the time that it needs to develop and grow.

Thank you, friends.

xoxo,
k

PS--I'll select a winner from the comments section next Monday, June 15 so be sure to check back to see if you've won. The winning address must be in the continental US for shipping purposes but, of course, you can keep the giveaway copy for yourself or have me mail it to a friend. Good luck!

6.01.2015

Wabi-Sabi, Mending, and a Slow Fashion Philosophy


Lately I've been seeing more and more new denim that is already distressed and noticing an increase in the interest of mending. But not just learning how to mend but also faux mending or new jeans that look mended straight off the rack. It's forcing me to dig deeper in my mending work and to examine my motivations and influences. Wabi-sabi has been a big influence on my fast fashion fast, Make Thrift Mend, and specifically on my mending. Embracing imperfection and finding the beauty in natural wear and tear has helped to shift my mindset away from the fashion world's ever-changing trends to a more personal and meaningful wardrobe.

I've written before about Leonard Koren's book, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers but I just read his follow-up book Wabi-Sabi Further Thoughts. In the second book he writes about the digital age and concepts surrounding design and digital mediums as it relates to wabi-sabi. But he also writes about replication. That's what interests me most. Can slow fashion and visible mending be replicated by fast fashion manufacturers? Can it be reduced to a fashion trend? Or is it really the beginning of a new way of considering the ethical and environmental impact of the fashion industry and shifting our habits towards slow fashion?


Koren writes, "Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete; a beauty of things modest and humble; a beauty of things unconventional...". This is the language I keep in the forefront of my thinking when I'm mending. I'm looking to create something that is beautiful or pleasing but not pretty and certainly not perfect. He goes on to write, "Material qualities (of wabi-sabi): the suggestion of natural process; irregular; intimate; unpretentious; earthy; murky; simple." I'd wager that most folks interested in visible mending find some resonance with this list of adjectives. We feel drawn to these descriptions. We want to embody this aesthetic on some level--maybe on many levels--but certainly in our worn clothing. Or in our mending. Or both.

I keep thinking about Sashiko and Boro and how it's intrinsically tied to the time, place, politics, and people that created these beautiful, unique garments. How Sashiko started as a utilitarian stitch to mend and fix garments and then through time, place, politics, and people it evolved into a decorative art form more like embroidery. My Sashiko Mending is a blending of the two and yet it's also a bastardization-- I hesitate to use the word "Sashiko" in my mending workshops yet it also deserves recognition as my inspiration but I admit that I don't follow the strict rules about knots, stitch length, pivots, designs, etc found in modern Sashiko. It is a precise and beautiful art form and I don't claim to have mastery.

Two years ago I found Sashiko through my yearlong fashion fast, Make Thrift Mend. I had a practical problem that needed solving: My torn jeans needed mending and I couldn't buy a new pair because of my self-imposed moratorium on purchasing new clothing. My project is/ was an act of resistance and an ongoing art project fusing sustainable fashion and my studio work with social practice. Of course, how this relates to the Japanese forms of Boro and Sashiko deserves more exploration but let me get back to my thoughts on replication.


Currently, Sashiko is everywhere. Mending is fashionable. Hard to believe, but I've seen Boro inspired designs on the recent fashion runway. This shift has happened quickly even in the last two years since I first started my project. In August 2013 I could only find a handful of mending resources and many of them were outdated. Sharing mending skills was one of my primary goals in starting my fashion fast so I'm very excited folks are interested in mending--I want to share this passionate work and I want to help people learn the skills to mend their favorite garments.

But seeing factory distressed denim and faux Sashiko mending on factory made clothing is making me cringe. Yes, maybe it's fashionable. And maybe that's okay. But the point of slow fashion is to slow down our buying habits not to jump on the next fashion trend and purchase a certain aesthetic straight off the runway. So the point is not to replicate handmade stitches through a factory made garment but to embrace the natural wear and tear and take the time to mend. But wabi-sabi makes this even more interesting: Can we replicate a philosophy or an essence anyway?


In Wabi-Sabi Further Thoughts author, Koren, touches on the idea of replication. He writes about the rise in the trend of a wabi-sabi aesthetic. Or for brevity's sake and to reduce a very complicated aesthetic philosophy into a bite-sized phrase let's call it "that worn look". (Of course, wabi-sabi is much more complicated than "that worn look" but I want to use a bite-sized phrase that we can all understand regardless of our familiarity with wabi-sabi. If you're a wabi-sabi scholar, just let me explain.) I think about replication frequently in my Sashiko Mending. As the rise in distressed denim seems to be everywhere right now and every time I see a pair of new jeans that are already distressed I cringe. Why do I cringe?

I cringe because slow fashion is the opposite of new ripped jeans. Slow fashion would advocate to buy quality jeans new and then make time to mend those quality jeans once they start to fray. As Vivienne Westwood famously said, "Buy less, buy better". No matter how high quality the jeans are to begin with they will inevitably fray if they are worn with any consistency. After all, they are made of cotton and they are ultimately going to breakdown and even biodegrade, if we are lucky. They will not last forever but through mending we can extend their usefulness for much longer than if we don't mend at all. In buying secondhand jeans I even employ this thinking--I buy better quality used jeans that are still affordable but better quality and destined to last longer.

But I had to take a moment to really try to understand why someone would be drawn to distressed jeans straight off the rack. Why buy jeans that are already distressed? It's for "that worn look" right? Back to wabi-sabi. But I think this actually touches back to Koren's idea of replication. We can't fabricate wabi-sabi and we can't reduce it to one bite-sized notion or "that worn look" either. If we could replicate it, then it's just a look. Just a trend. Just something that's been replicated to look like the way something else makes us feel and wabi-sabi is more complicated. Perhaps, the essence of what we're after can't actually be purchased.

Buyers want to purchase "that worn look" because maybe it also indicates comfort, casualness, maybe edginess, counterculture, or maybe even authenticity or an idea that the wearer has had these distressed jeans for many fashion cycles, they hold faux memories, they hold faux meaning, and the appearance of time or the result of time wearing away the outer fibers of our clothing suggests legacy in some way. Or maybe they want to buy faux mended jeans for that handmade look. I would argue "that worn look" is usually inspired by wabi-sabi. What the buyer wants is the essence of wabi-sabi that simply cannot be purchased or replicated. Even if the jeans can be purchased to look like wabi-sabi they somehow miss the essence or experience of decay.


Wabi-sabi is a Japanese term that has been detached from its cultural context and reapplied as an aesthetic term that can be explored by several of the adjectives Koren uses: Imperfect, impermanent, incomplete, modest, humble, unconventional, irregular, intimate, unpretentious, earthy, murky, simple. Beautiful descriptions, of course. But to achieve wabi-sabi perhaps we should imagine we have to use all of those words in one object, not just pick and choose. And maybe we can't achieve wabi-sabi anyway because of our time, place, politics, and people. But we can be inspired by it, of course.

I think it'd be too trite if we didn't acknowledge wabi-sabi's meaning is much deeper than the list of adjectives or certainly than my own reductive "that worn look". Though I've only been studying wabi-sabi for a few years I shudder at the thought of it being reduced to simply superficial terms. It's also a philosophy. Koren writes, "I also asserted that wabi-sabi was one of the defining aesthetic sensibilities of Japanese civilization". Obviously, this needs more exploration than my singular blog post but again we should not divorce language from the time, place, politics, and people where it evolved.

Koren writes, "If we adopt the Japanese linguistic custom to describe how wabi-sabi comes to be, it would be more accurate to simply say that wabi-sabi 'occurs'...". Ah ha! I think this gets to the heart of the matter. New denim that is distressed in a factory did not "occur". It was fabricated to look like it occurred. On some level, then, this did not "occur" at all. It was contrived. Forced. Manipulated. Designed. And perhaps this is the depth we are looking for in adopting slow fashion as a mindset, as a lifestyle, as a philosophy and not just as an aesthetic. Particularly in mending as we must respond to the unique tear, rip, fray, or decay at hand so in some ways it more naturally lends itself to wabi-sabi. Tears occur. They happen. Decay is inevitable but can be staved off with mending.


I'm not going to pretend that I can fully embody the depth of the philosophy of wabi-sabi as an American artist in Oakland, CA in 2015 working on a personal art project. Or that I can simply apply it to my visible mending and claim ownership because I cannot. But I bring it up here because it's been very influential on my work and more so in my approach to visible mending and making my own clothing. More so, it helps me better understand why faux mending and distressed denim make me cringe. Because slow fashion isn't just an aesthetic. It's actually a mindset. Though I still maintain that language cannot be divorced from the time, place, politics, and people where it evolved, wabi-sabi is key to my mending.

My mending isn't just meant to be fashionable. It's meant to reference my hiatus from fast fashion and a shift in mindset, wardrobe, and fashion consumption that grew from my work and former study as an environmentalist. It's also meant to advocate for slow fashion. Make Thrift Mend started as a personal protest to the mistreatment of people and the planet. It was intended to create a dramatic shift in my habits--which I already considered "mostly environmentally friendly"--to stop buying new clothing altogether and to focus on making, mending, and buying used. It's also meant to share this work with a larger community.

But this trend in distressed denim and faux mended garments (or garments that look "embellished with mending" right off the rack) makes me cringe. For me, it's missing the point. The point is not to buy new clothing that looks worn. Or to simply wear garments that appear mended or loved. The point is to be able to repair our clothing when it tears so that we might wear it for longer. So that we might step off the fashion treadmill for long enough to even witness the natural decay of our clothing. And so that we might relearn the skills we need to mend our clothing and extend its usefulness.


So, here we are at this juncture in fashion. This moment when two years ago the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh drew the world's attention to an escalating issue in the fashion industry--people's lives are literally at stake. The founding of Who Made Your Clothes and Fashion Revolution and folks like Tom of Holland and his beautiful Visible Mending project are the advocates we need. And organizers and writers like Kate Fletcher and Elizabeth Cline and so many more that deserve mention.

After reading Leonard Koren's second book I was so inspired by his ideas of replication that something came into focus: What we need is a shift in mindset and that philosophy cannot be replicated through aesthetics alone; we don't need another fast fashion trend disguised as slow fashion. Saying my mending work is wabi-sabi is also complicated but denying that wabi-sabi has had a major impact on my mending work would not be accurate either.

Hopefully we can help to redirect the compass of fast fashion by embracing a slower mindset, by adapting "mendfulness", and by mending our own jeans instead of buying jeans that are already distressed or designed to look mended. Hopefully this trend in slow fashion is here to stay. That it's more of a shifting of the compass than the latest trend to be purchased off the rack. Certainly, that is not the point at all. Certainly, a shift in philosophy is my hope.

I'd love to know your thoughts about any of this if you're willing to share in the comments section. Thank you for reading this very long post.

xoxo,

k