In November 2017 together with the rest of MA Fashion Strategy students I had worked together with Elisa van Joolen inside the exhibition space tracking the clothing of visitors. The aim of the research was to find out if different garments that belong to strangers can have things in common. We gathered information about the production, purchase, ownership, materiality and value details, not only monetary but also the emotional one.
The questionnaires with 16 questions that we prepared beforehand, was the tool to engage people into next activities we designed. Inspired by two days spend in Museum I wrote an n essay based on collected data. The text was published in the Portal Zine. The publication was designed by Beau Bertens and edit by Femke de Vries. The launch of the zine took place at the closing day of the “Change the system” exhibition.
I have analysed collected information, through the prism of human values. My biggest concerns was about kinds of attachment people have with clothing. Do they treat clothes with affection? Is care affected by prescribed emotional value ? Than my leading research question occurred : “What do people understand by the “care of garment” meaning?
There is bigger percentage of people who declare their clothes having emotional values. That was the first hint for me, to check what care actually means to them. I assumed, that if people are able to consider clothing in “emotion” category they have to treat them in special way. Maybe they since childhood they do it like their parents showed them? Perhaps they still call them to ask these questions. Maybe some of them invented special ritual of brushing their knitwear? Unfortunately for my daydreaming desires, any magic happened. To learn more how strong connection between human and garment can be created, I zoomed into practices of clothes maintaining.
The research unfolded common understanding that caring mostly stand for washing. Either, is it washing with hands, in machine with 30, 40 degrees or in a special bag for lingerie. Meanwhile in the minority, there are practices like “air clothing”, “hang and storage with care”, “clean with special product”. Only 3 person wrote down that they treat clothes “with care”, “with love and a lot of attention”. At that moment I was triggered again. The reason for that washe that I reacted with raised heartbeat, for word “love”, in context of clothing care. And I am not talking about embodied research, but about the fact that as a human, I am used to reflecting on care always with love emotion. It was Erich Fromm* who explained “If I love, I care — that is, I am actively concerned with the other person’s growth and happiness; I am not a spectator. I am responsible, that is, I respond to his needs, to those he can express and more so to those he cannot or does not express.” Applying his definition into the fashion context the following question needs to be answered: What can “actively concerned” with clothes mean? Is it only setting the washing machine program? Is the active factor mirrored in the hanging, storing, washing active verb form? I think being active in care of clothing should involved understanding how the care habits affect prolonging of product life span.
Again I am using “human relationship logic” - if we love people we want them to live happy and long life. Feel attached or simply want to care which means, we don’t want to limit durability of clothing. That sustainable attitude can be reached if only we consider consequences of garment maintaining. By the above, I understand care, also as an awareness of the fact, that 21st century clothing is made all over the world. What follows more often is that the quality is no longer based on price. Moreover, we are used to ridiculously cheap t-shirt prices and super easy access to new garments all the time. These facts are common reasons of unconscious becoming indolent in terms of clothing care. But it’s not an excuse for us to not learn how to care of garments. The first step is always to look for the label sawn inside at the left side-seam. Than think of your own, is it really need to be washed again with another liters of water, or pure air might be enough to refresh your shirt?
Because the data was collected during the “change the system” exhibition, it was impossible for me to reflect, without thinking about bigger picture of our daily actions. My reflections on clothing care affected by the “Change the system” exhibition atmosphere, are that our smallest daily activities should be considered in long term consequences. You can take a part in changing the system with simple act of garment carrying. In the book “The Art of Love” it is noted: “To respect a person is not possible without knowing him: care and responsibility would be blind if they were not guided by knowledge”.
And I want to leave you, dear reader, daily garments wearer, with this open ending, to reflect on your own: how well you know your clothes? Did you wonder from what kind of treatment they can benefit the most? Is it washing or washing less? Hang and air dry, or dry flat? And can it be a way to show you care also about the planet Earth?