The Genteel
January 21, 2021


Local Wisdom Material resourcefulness Fiona Bailey Eco Fashion
Material resourcefulness by Fiona Bailey. 

As I overstuffed my holiday luggage for a return trip from the US to my home in Spain, I already felt the need to purge my miniature closet. Ugh, all this stuff - again!

It occurred to me, in very physical terms, that no matter how much I consumed more slowly, environmentally or ethically, I'd been sucked back into the cycle. And, as 2013 began, it was time to reflect on my approach to fashion and think about the year ahead - but how?

Oddly enough - amidst my newly resurrected fight over closet space - I happened upon the Local Wisdom research project, founded in 2009, which put my predicament perfectly into perspective.

The project is the brainchild of one of slow-fashion's founders, Dr. Kate Fletcher, a Reader in sustainable fashion at the London College of Fashion and co-author of books such as Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change. Through Local Wisdom, she advocates and encourages what she terms "craft of use," which entails, according to its website, "practices that facilitate and emerge around the extended iterative and satisfying use of garments through time." 

Translation: Craft of use is about developing a longer-term relationship with your attire so that it becomes more meaningful.

I know what you're thinking (or at least what I was thinking): "huh?" followed by, "great, here comes another elaborate DIY project that will never get past the Pinterest stage." But the Local Wisdom effort isn't simply about getting crafty or spending hours online looking for creative ideas before hunting down potentially pricey materials, all with the hope of bringing meaning to a tattered sweater or worn-out purse.

They elaborate: "The 'deep inner space' of the wardrobe offers up potential inspiration to a design process concerned with doing things better rather than doing more things with more materials." And, to that end, that's why the craft-of-use projects rarely "need much in the way of extra material consumption or money to make them possible."

It's about bringing meaning to the garments that dress us, keep us warm, style us and comfort us each day, whether that's creatively or simply through reflection and appreciation.

If this is all starting to sound a little abstract to you, then not to worry. The heart of the Local Wisdom project is based in photo shoots that illustrate their craft-of-use message through what they call "use practices," which serve as real-life examples of the philosophy in action. In various cities around the world - from London to Oslo and San Francisco - regular people give context to craft of use via 24 different use-practice categories, ranging from "easy repair" to "transfer of ownership."

But it's not all about creatively reworking leftover materials - an overwhelming task for some of us, let me tell you - it can be as simple as bringing meaning to those not-so-eco or ethical purchases (here's looking at you, Zara cardigans hanging in my closet). In a use practice titled "Ethics of Use," one Londoner reflects on his fast-fashion sweater, saying, "I got this when I first went to New York in 1986. It's an old jumper [...] and I've had it ever since. It's just from a shop out there 'JCrew' which probably, in itself, isn't ethical, but just because I've kept it all this time, I've forced them into it."

Indeed, meaning can be built around anything in our wardrobe. From a frog-patterned jumper that makes everyone smile - a "see things differently" use practice - to connecting with a long-gone family member through a "super long life" hand-me-down coat. "It is part of a process of reacquainting ourselves with a 'true' materialism where we tend and care for material goods more deliberately; where we see ourselves as more conscientious custodians of our material world," according to Local Wisdom.

That is, we, like the aforementioned Londoner, can bring meaning to our clothes so that they aren't just disposable pieces of insignificant material. It's not just a matter of DIY - remaking this and mending that - or slowing down and purchasing items that are more sustainable because, in the end, new is new, and stuff is stuff. Rather, it's about bringing meaning to the garments that dress us, keep us warm, style us and comfort us each day, whether that's creatively or simply through reflection and appreciation. The slow, the eco, the ethical and green, will inevitably follow. And so will lighter luggage - I hope.



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