20Feb
By: Shahira On: February 20, 2015 In: Apparel Design, Built Environment Comments: 0

It may seem otherwise, but clothes are not cheap, easy to make, or disposable. Clothing design and construction is an extraordinary interdisciplinary display of art combined with the natural and social sciences. The processes require high levels of artistic and technical expertise, and intense consumption of a multitude of resources, not least of all manual human labor.

It begins with the design process, that elastic space where ideas uncouple from the objects that inspired them and lead to the discovery of new perspectives; the hundreds of sketches, giving visual representation to new forms that never existed before; tools, materials and information are combined to form prototypes, which are tested and re-made, again and again; color theory is employed, and exploration of color relationships, how they create psycho-physiological sensations, loaded with psycho-socio-cultural implications.

Next is the pattern-making phase, which is pure geometry, employing points, lines, angles, shapes, and spatial relationships to describe a three-dimensional structure in two dimensions, a structure that will simultaneously enhance, protect, and move with the human body, thus also requiring consideration of body mechanics.

The final phase, construction, is massive in its scope and perhaps also the most exploitative, as cheap labor is most sought after at this level. Current garment production systems yield billions of garments every year, requiring the selection, procurement, development and manufacturing of thousands of fabrics (textile production is its own maelstrom); the design and operation of industrial machinery, cutting and sewing, contracting with factories, workforce management, and a dazzling array of cross-disciplinary connections with other industries – biological, agricultural, economic, political, environmental – with all of their concomitant regulations and issues. The quality of these connections may vary considerably across the landscape, depending on how heavily environmental, social and labor laws are enforced in the developing countries where most garment production takes place.

Most of these facts are hidden, particularly from the target consumer. I would see the restoration of the garment industry’s processes and products to a level of consideration currently given to other pursuits that require skill in combining both artistic and scientific knowledge, such as architecture or civil engineering. Whereas these disciplines require from their practitioners an ongoing commitment to and respect for natural and written laws, which force them to contend with the tensions between efficiency, quality, and regulations, I believe the garment industry has suffered in particular from fracturing in its processes and presentation as an avenue for temporary indulgence in trends, leading to severe degradation in the quality of its final outputs and devaluation and dehumanization of the labor involved.

One could argue that such concerns do not matter as much with garments, that a poorly-built building is more hazardous to one’s health than a poorly-made dress or coat, but for me this is no excuse. Textile and garment creation connects us to our historical and cultural roots as well as to the systems that sustain all life. They are just as much of an artistic, technological and cultural expression as any bridge or building, requiring large resource inputs, and should be considered important as artifacts of a culture. Not for the sake of paying for overpriced trendy objects and keeping up with the Joneses, but in the way we appreciate any other fine work of art, engineering, or handcraft.

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