Whose clothing is it?

When it comes to cultural appropriation, there’s often the element of taking something away from that culture without respecting the people behind the garments and products they create and are inspired by. Dior recently came under fire from appropriating a garment from the Chinese called the horse face skirt, since this is the type of skirt used for horse riding and has recently been in use by the Han Chinese again. It gets worse when Dior claims this is a Korean and French inspired but the skirt they’re churning out is near-identical to an existing Chinese garment.

As I said before, when it comes to cultural appropriation the inspiration and usage of said inspiration both tend to be shallow borrowings. It comes from a superficial understanding of what these cultures and customs mean and are like, as opposed to cultural appreciation which involves an honest love of and respect for those cultures and cultural assimilation. While cultural assimilation is bad as that involves giving into the dominant culture, the borrowings are more authentic than cultural appropriation but that involves taking it from the coloniser.

Now supposing if a certain popstar hung out a lot in Iran and Jordan, in fact for a few years, and begins bringing home items from those countries her borrowings would be more authentic and less cynical than cultural appropriation. Especially if her interests and experiences in those countries are prolonged and stronger than whatever company gets accused of cultural appropriation of. Now that’s going to be a sincerity missing in cultural appropriation, I brought this up before but it’s important.

Cultural appropriation doesn’t involve respect, especially respect for the people they keep on borrowing from. A corporation will take inspiration from say India but disrespect the people and forbid them from indulging in their cultures whilst using white models to don saris without acknowledging or using Indians. In the case of Dior, there seems to be no Chinese person designing clothes for the collection which would justify the use of such a skirt. Now that is what cultural appropriation looks like.

This is what makes cultural appropriation problematic, its borrowings are insincere and there’s a lot of disrespect towards the people they appropriate from. This is why it should stop.

Not as luxurious

When it comes to the surprising thing about luxury fashion brands, at least those in Italy (as those in France could be different to some extent) those working on luxury brands like Prada and Gucci aren’t always paid much for what they do even when they should. After all, what they’re doing and working on is a high quality product so they should be paid more than what’s been done to them before and still is so now. Actually, I think all garment workers (regardless if they work in luxury or not) should be paid more because they work hard at it.

Not to mention they need more money so that they can support themselves and others, so that’s probably why some of them have two jobs. One has to support the other, otherwise they’re not able to earn enough to help themselves and their families. If luxury brands like Gucci are guilty of using forced labour, not only are they just as bad as their fast fashion counterparts are they also should do better when it comes to providing their workers more comfortable and fatter wages so that they can help themselves and others.

What they’re doing is producing higher end products for those who can afford such items and garments, so much so that if they are artisans they should be paid a lot more than what they’re already getting. Maybe change is on its way, but there are some brands that are stuck in their bad ways so they need to be called out. If fast fashion is infamous for exploiting labourers, luxury fashion and others should do much better as they provide higher quality products.

Maybe some do to an extent, there are such things as ethical and sustainable fashion brands especially in the world of slow fashion. Slow fashion being the opposite of fast fashion as it doesn’t chase trends that much and makes garments more slowly and sustainably, though luxury fashion can and do just that well to some extent. I honestly think the case with luxury fashion is far more embarrassing as it should do much better than what fast fashion does.

The fact that luxury fashion relies on artisanal work and trade means they should give much higher wages to those who toil away at their products, some of it being made elsewhere like say India or done using immigrant workers from China. There are even studies about the latter, which means exploited labour still occurs even among those at the upper echelons of fashion. There are probably luxury brands who do change their ways for the better, well I’m not sure about this.

There are those who remain stuck in their bad ways, especially when it comes to exploiting labour be it from migrant workers or those in other countries like India for instance. But they should do better than fast fashion brands because they can do it. It wouldn’t be easy at first, but necessary given what their employees are doing is to provide high end products.

Enter katsa clothing

Katsa, or feedsack fabric as it’s known in North America, is commonly used to hold flour together. Especially a lot of it, it was a replacement for barrels and still is to some extent today. Some Philippine fashion designers use katsa bags as raw materials for making clothes, so the practise of turning cloth bags into clothing is still around today. Maybe nowhere near the heights it had in North America since the early to mid 20th century, but still around in some form or another.

At some point, it was such a common practice for rural women to turn cloth bags into clothing that flour companies got wind of it and began offering cloth bags that were available in various colours and patterns as well as vegetable ink that can be easily washed away. A few more bags were needed to make one adult woman’s dress, one bag is needed to make into a girl’s dress and to make these work women had to find bags with similar or matching patterns.

I still think that’s the case with contemporary fashion brands using katsa, especially if they’re going to make clothing requiring more metres to make. Clothing brands using katsa are proof that clothes made from cloth feed sacks are being made today, maybe not always in the form older generations remember it as but prominent enough to make it to news headlines. So much so it even inspired me to consider making clothes out of katsa.

You need to go to a bakery or some other shopping outlet to get katsa in order to turn it into clothing whether if you intend on keeping it yourself or selling it to somebody else, but at least that’s not being wasteful in that it’s being used for something else. That’s being made into clothing, which has good implications for the environment when it comes to recycling waste products like these.

Making something

To be honest, I do want money. I need to sell something to support myself and I have plans of selling something expensive to give myself a lot of money, so I do have thoughts of having a lot of money myself. Nonetheless, I feel the poor also want something special themselves. So it would be nice if I were to give them something, be it a nice gown or a nice blouse. If the rich can have nice things, so do the poor. I might have to sacrifice my desire to have a lot of money for myself to give them something, I have to realise since I want something for free it’s only fair to give them something for free as well.

Yes, I have my hesitations as I want to make a lot of money for myself. But to compromise, I would make something for free once I’m financially stable enough to support myself that I can afford to give special presents to people. I’m not there yet, but I will have to get there once I have enough money to support myself and then others. For the time being, I have to learn to make a dress before I can make a dress as well as a blouse to sell them to other people. I may not be good enough at something yet, but I do have some prior sewing experience to know how to make one myself.

I do have experience in selling something before, mostly with facemasks as I sold them for 20 pesos each. One of my relatives suggested I should’ve sold them for 50 pesos, given the effort I make in creating them. I actually have plans of making and selling blouses for 260 pesos, since that would give me more money than with facemasks, which I sold for 20 pesos. I could and actually want to sell dresses for 460 pesos, which would give me even more money but if I earned 1000 pesos I would have to spend it on more fabrics to sell and a handful to keep. Perhaps some as gifts to give away.

There are probably going to be things where I’d keep for myself and/or somebody else, so I have my priorities where I’d sell some outfits, ones to keep myself and some to give away to others. I may not be there yet, but I will do anything to work and support myself when I can. I’ve just made a pattern for a dress, but I need chalk to fulfill my vision. This is just the beginning for me making a dress, but I could hit big with selling and making dresses in the future. This is wish fulfillment at best, but that’s the best I can do for my situation.

On the subject of women’s trousers

When it comes to women’s trousers, the mass usage of them occurred between the nineteenth and 21st centuries with the wearing of women’s trousers made legal in France almost a decade ago. However in nonwestern countries like India, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey women’s trousers have been worn for a much longer and earlier time there. These countries aren’t always the most enlightened, but there’s already a precedence for and acceptance of women wearing trousers.

These kinds of trousers are commonly known as shalwar or salvar, often baggy in shape though they can sometimes be fitted. They can be tapered around the ankles or loose around the ankles, but the odd fact that those in South and West Asia (and to some extent, China and Albania if I remember) are the places where women have worn trousers the longest and earliest there should be noted. It can be argued and said that trousers were already unisex garments in those places, so there’s already a nonwestern precedence for that.

Perhaps strangely enough, as these garments were worn by both genders longer and earlier in other countries if women started wearing trousers today they’d be accused of cultural appropriation. That’s by taking something from another culture without respecting that culture, profiting a lot from it without the culture’s permission and not giving them credit in return. Some Christians think it’s unladylike for women to wear trousers, so we got a case of horseshoe theory in here if cultural appropriation were brought up.

(Same goes for yoga and its roots in Hinduism really.)

Well, as I said before, trousers were already unisex garments in parts of South and West Asia so there’s already a good historical and cultural precedence for that. But that would be given fraught implications if it were done today, albeit one that dovetails real well with the horseshoe theory when it comes to some religious groups. Even if there’s already a good precedence for women wearing trousers in other places, it’s going to be fraught with controversy if done today.

So let’s be thankful that the mass introduction of women wearing trousers occurred between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, though that’s one that arose from feminism in that if it’s unfair for women to not wear trousers, then that’s sexist. Not to mention that in Albania, due to Ottoman influence you have cases of Catholic women wearing full trousers. So there’s already a precedent for Christian women wearing trousers in this country alone.

Well, as far as it’s known, though it’s something that’s attributed to Islamic and Ottoman influences but even then there’s already a good precedent for Christian women wearing trousers so there’s that.

Bibliography:

Encyclopedia of National Dress: Traditional Clothing Around the World

Who is Slim Higgins?

Slim Higgins/Salvacion Lim Higgins was a fashion designer who did a lot of interesting gowns back when she was alive. To those who remembered her, she didn’t like side seams on a gown so much she’d destroy it if it didn’t fit her standards. She was designing dresses for her dolls as a child, which led to a career in fashion designer along with the time her fashion illustrations were published that led to this. She didn’t like her children wearing jeans, so whatever denim clothing they had in their wardrobes got removed.

Slim Higgins and her sister created Slim’s Fashion and Arts School, originally intended for the elite has become a vocational school for aspiring fashion designers, tailors and seamstresses. While her clothing line only lasted for as long as she lived, the school is how her legacy continues since her passing. It can be safe to say that this is where some people continue to sew and create clothes the way she wanted to. Who knows if somebody were to revive it, but at best we still have the school around today.

History of ready to wear

Ready to wear clothing may have existed since time immemorial in that there weren’t a lot of form-fitting garments at some point or another, though there was room for bespoke clothing for certain people in the past as well. Some of the earliest forms of ready-to-wear clothing as an industry existed in the 16th to 19th centuries called the slop shop where you have ready made clothing made on the cheap for customers.

While it’s possible to do handmade ready to wear clothing since that was the norm in the past prior to sewing machines, the latter has made it possible to get it done more quickly and urgently to better meet customer demands. As with the slop shop, there were already stores and cottage industries where people made handmade ready to wear clothing but the sewing machine has changed that.

Especially when it comes to making more clothing in a shorter time period that made it easier to catch up with the latest styles, though there were seamstresses before who made it quicker by using multiple needles at once on a single garment (I’m projecting here but it’s possible some people this did before). Cottage industries and slop shops gave way to modern clothing brands as we know it like Levi.

Not to mention the rise of fast fashion brands such as Zara and Forever 21 that if it weren’t for the slop shop and sewing machine, we wouldn’t get fast fashion as we know it. For as long as there’s an industry, there’s a need to get things done to meet customer demands.

What I wanted to do

Back in 2014, one of the jobs that I wanted to do was to make soap. That’s to give myself something better to do so that I won’t always be on the computer, but my grandmother discouraged it so I turned to sewing and embroidery instead. My grandmother didn’t want me to make soap because you needed lye to make it, which would hurt the eyes. You could make soap without using lye and it can be done with the cold process method, which involves combining lye with oils and leaving the soap at room temperature in order to saponify.

But I’ve yet to learn how to cook and make soap myself, so sewing and dressmaking are the more accessible and viable options for me when it comes to selling what I made. I remember sewing a lot in 2009 but it didn’t take off big time until the mid-2010s when I started embroidering a lot and tend making my own skirts with the help of my father. I wouldn’t start selling them until 2020, which’s the time when I sold a lot of facemasks to my relatives for 20 pesos. I lost my job in the later months of 2020 and 2021 so I need to find work again to earn more money.

I still feel like I need to take a risk in order to have something much better to do and also to have something to earn from, which I needed to do to get back to work big time. As for sewing, I also need to diversify and improve on my sewing skills so that I can reduce the amount of fabric puckering when I sew as well as learning how to sew trousers/pants and dresses. I might as well need proper formal, albeit vocational education to learn how to sew dresses and trousers that I can sell for around 300 and 400 pesos given they require more yards/metres than a single blouse.

I tried making trousers before, but it’s not what my sister wanted them to made so I have to undergo vocational education to learn how to properly make trousers that I can sell for 400 pesos online (I need to do this so that I can earn more money this way). I have to sell stuff so that I can earn money to support myself and buy whatever I wanted, but I need to work two jobs to earn more money and fund the resources needed for my dressmaking and business.

It wouldn’t be easy but I need to start sewing and selling again so that I can earn money to buy whatever I wanted and needed, I need to have extra income so having two jobs is necessary for me to fund the resources needed for my business as I said before. It’s not easy selling stuff, especially if you have competition that you have to compete with other businesses to get the customer’s attention. I even need money to start a business, though with somebody’s help as I’ve just started and I am not that financially stable and well-off enough yet.

Soap making may not be a viable option for me to do, given how risky it is to the eyes that I need special glasses for that to make soap with so dressmaking and sewing are the safer, more viable options to do. Even then, you need to have some risk taking in order to expand your business and your sewing skills to take on new things likes dresses, shorts and long trousers in addition to the relatively easy to make blouses. It wouldn’t be easy making something new, but it is worthwhile when it comes to expanding your business and having something else to do and make.

Especially if you’re willing to expand your business to encompass different items to sell, Bench (a Philippine clothing brand) went from selling T-shirts in malls to selling trousers, underwear, colognes, skirts, dresses and shorts. So it does give me inspiration to not only start my business, but also to expand my business to sell different kinds of clothing like trousers and shorts. Not an easy route, that’s if your skills in making trousers and shorts aren’t that great yet but necessary if you want to sell more stuff as well as learning how not to pucker while sewing.

As for soap making, it wouldn’t be easy either and it’s the riskier of the two as that involves working with something that would irritate the eyes but I do think I’d like to take a risk to sell soap alongside clothing to have some extra income. But then again soap making’s a little too risky to do, so my second job would have to be cartooning to support my career in dressmaking when it comes to buying the resources needed for one’s business.

Haute couture, ready to wear and dressmaking

Haute couture literally translates to high sewing in French and it refers to luxury, custom-made dresses and garments but it’s also a copyrighted term given to a select few brands such as Chanel and Schiaparelli (the namesake designers being rivals in their lifetimes). Nonetheless, there are small dressmaking shops where people make custom made outfits and they’re not considered to be haute couture if because they’re not called as such even though what they do’s pretty close. Perhaps haute couture really is a title reserved for a select few brands that deserve it in their eyes.

When it comes to haute couture, the sewing techniques are probably more elaborate than the ones used for ready to wear clothing. It’s not standard size, it’s custom fit. It also takes a long time to make, longer than it does to make ready to wear clothing which allows for mechanised sewing to get the job done quicker. Much of haute couture is handmade so a lot of work’s being put into it, hence why it can get luxurious as it’s time-consuming and labourious. (If garments were handmade before in the past, despite not being custom fit it would’ve taken the sewers a long time to finish and longer than they would with sewing machines.)

Not all dressmaking shops necessarily become haute couture ones, even if what they do sometimes overlaps with the real haute couture brands and some of them are even high-end dressmaking shops at that. Haute couture garments are also made for display, they may not always have a price tag but they’re sometimes done for show and not for profit (this is mostly reserved for ready to wear garments, which bring in more money for fashion houses). But when they do get bought and sold, they’re sometimes sold at high prices that it’s easier to sell the cheaper perfumes, shoes and ready to wear garments instead.

(The latter three also bring in more money and profit for fashion houses.)

Custom made clothing can be more expensive than ready to wear, the latter uses standard sizing and arguably a one-size-fits-all approach the other is tailor made to fit the wearer’s proportions and if given a little leeway, the wearer’s tastes so it’s more expensive this way and if a lot of haute couture is custom-made it ought to be more expensive as well even if some of them are made without being sold. (These outfits are for show as I said before.) So logically, the ready to wear line is where the cheaper clothes are at and they make more money for fashion houses than they would with haute couture garments.

If haute couture relies a lot on custom made or bespoke dressmaking and sewing, ready to wear’s the opposite as it relies a lot on standard sizes and tends to be mass manufactured. This helps when it came to the advent of sewing machines, which made it easier to manufacture a lot more garments in a shorter span of time than one would with hand sewn garments. Most fashion brands are ready to wear and haute couture brands allow a ready to wear line. This makes more money, especially since they’re cheaper and quicker to make.

Ready to wear brands range from those selling at mid prices such as Guess to those selling at low prices such as H&M, well at least in the West since these are expensive here in the Philippines. (Bear in mind that H&M and Zara are considered to be fast fashion brands or where clothing’s made at low prices and the dressmaking process’s hastened to keep up with the latest clothing fads.) But they tend to make a lot more money for the fashion houses and companies than one would with luxury haute couture, being cheaper and quicker to make does help with appealing to more customers this way.

Ready to wear brands can be handmade to some extent, especially with the slow-fashion brands and for some sewers who prefer to sew the curved parts by hand but they’re primarily made by machines which gets the job done quicker and sooner. It would take 10 to 16 hours to get a dress done by hand but less than that by machine, which helps in mass producing clothes in order to be up to date with the latest clothing fads and trends. (Not that haute couture is any less trendy, if anything it does help start the trend but since it’s not machine-made it can take a long time to make.)

Dressmaking has benefited from technology, especially when it comes to getting garments done faster and more efficiently. It also helps with standard sizes since they don’t take much time the same way doing bespoke sewing does, which involves taking the time to measure a person’s proportions and that gets real tricky to do. But there are those who prefer to sew things by hand, it may be the busier and slower of the two but some people like it this way and there are those who do both machine and hand sewing. It goes both ways when it comes to selling garments, depending on one’s preferences of course.

The world of fast fashion

Fast fashion is all about getting the latest fashion trends on the go and cheaply, even if it’s at the expense of both the environment and the people who work on those garments. The origins of fast fashion lies in the mechanisation of fashion, that’s when it started getting manufactured more quickly (there were people who were weaving by day a lot back then and that would’ve taken them hours to finish). Likewise, it would’ve taken somebody several hours to finish a dress by hand, so the appearance of sewing machines hastened it.

The earliest fast fashion brand to make it would be H&M, when it was Hennes (hers in Swedish). It was an ordinary clothing store that became a retailer when the founders began franchising it more aggressively and when they bought one hunting store to merge it with Hennes to form Hennes och Mauritz (Mauritz Widforss is still around for hunters and outdoors people). The second one to appear, as far as I know about it, would be Biba when it was selling trendy clothes for young people to wear.

The third one to appear is Spain’s Zara, which revolutionised the way clothing was manufactured. It would take them a few days to get a garment manufactured to be up to date with the latest trends as opposed to waiting for weeks for most clothing brands, in fact according to some writers there was a time when it was common for people to sew their own clothing by using patterns that magazines would churn out. It still exists to some extent these days, but when fast fashion arrived it made it possible to get the latest trends without making it oneself.

Shein’s one of the latest fast fashion brands to appear, starting out as an online wedding dress store before moving to fast fashion. It takes them less than a week or fewer days to finish and make a garment, mass manufacture it with many sewers and hit the stores soon enough. It’s popular with young people these days, though there are possibly those who complain about the quality being compromised. When it comes to fast fashion, the main takeaway’s to get the latest trends as quickly and cheaply as possible even if it hurts the garment’s quality.

Not all fast fashion garments are this badly made, but a good number of them risk being so considering the way they’re manufactured. If haute couture garments take a longer time to finish, fast fashion’s the opposite as it involves hastening the process with most regular ready to wear clothing brands being somewhere in the middle. Not to mention the amount of pollution fast fashion contributes and from my experience making garments and facemasks, fashion is wasteful though it’s possible to recycle the leftovers.

Fast fashion involves getting the process done as quickly as possible, sometimes so cheap that you need to take shortcuts to get it done quicker. Slow fashion’s the opposite as it involves taking one’s time to manufacture the garments, often by hand and sometimes with machines. Slow fashion’s a response to fast fashion’s wastefulness and urgency, there are some slow fashion brands out there and they don’t mass manufacture a lot of garments the way fast fashion and most clothing brands do.

(Actually slow fashion brands have more in common with local sewing businesses because both don’t produce a lot of garments and take their time making them.)

Fast fashion revolutionised the way garments are made, starting with hastening the process through new technologies such as weaving looms and sewing machines. For a long time, slow fashion was the dominant mode of making things as everything had to be done by hand (both weaving and sewing). These days, sewing and weaving by hand are optional though they do coexist with machines. But fast fashion has changed the way we approach dressmaking and the business of selling clothes.