04 March 2013

Back from Sao Paulo to Harlem to...BROOKLYN!

Oi minha gente! Desculpa por faltar de escrever! Excuse the delay! It’s been a whirlwind of a year already, and if you’re connected through our Facebook, you know why!


So to update you, last month, I had the incredible honor of being accepted as one of the new designers of the Brooklyn Fashion League, a shared designer studio based in South Brooklyn dedicated to supporting local manufacturing and community.

One aspect of sustainability that I have not had an opportunity to speak about was the importance of supporting local production and local economies, or what Kate Fletcher, in her seminal ethical fashion text, Sustainable Fashion & Textiles: Design Journeys, refers to as localism.

Some of you may be familiar with the locavore culture, the movement of locally grown food that has come in the form of street farmer’s market’s such as the Union Square Farmer’s market and “Made Locally” sections in our Whole Foods and other wellness-conscious supermarkets. For some of you reading outside of this New York context, locavore culture may be the farmer’s markets that you’ve had in your community for ages. For some of us here in the bedrock of New York’s more urbanized areas, we have had to make a conscious effort to set of entities from which we can buy our vegetables from say, Jane, the local farmer from Upstate New York instead of the super posh, internationally certified food company from several miles…and continents away.


Well, food that is grown and consumed is not unlike the fibers, fabrics, and clothing grown, created and consumed. How often do we seek to replicate these locavore practices within our…fashion….consumption?

Well, that’s where localism, the Made in New York movement, and the Brooklyn Fashion League come in.

(Photos Source: Brooklynfashionleague.com)

(Photo source: manufactureny.org)

(Photo Source: jackyblue.com | More info: savethegarmentcenter.org)

Localism, as described in Kate Fletcher’s book and in the practices of those designers who have taken this aspect of sustainability under their wing, is the conscious decision that designers make to bring as many aspects as possible of their production processes of their clothing manufacturing to their local environment. This may include designers manufacturing themselves or utilizing seamstresses/sewing  contractors within the local garment district, purchasing cast-off fabrics from locally based fabric stores and suppliers, or utilizing specialized fabric treatment techniques that were developed and culturally sustained within the community (like that pleating company that’s been pleating for AGES).

(Photo source: savethegarmentcenter.org)

The sustainability benefits of this are many-fold. They include ensuring that that fashion item you just purchased was not created unethically through sweatshop labor practices, that that amazing t-shirt was not using enough petroleum gas in its transport from cotton field to fiber fabric to textile mill to clothing factory to start a small war, as and through your locally created garment, you are helping us as humanity get back in touch with our natural way of living that supports local economies and the sustenance of the local environment.

“…it’s really important for me as a designer to have my clothing made in a socially responsible way. And having it made here, we can assure that that is the case. [If] it is made in Brooklyn or in Manhattan…you can go and visit the factory and you can see the conditions that the workers are in. And you can see who’s making your clothes. It ‘s a direct relationship between the person that makes the garment and the person that wears it at the end,” reflects Nathalie Kraynina, fellow designer of the Brooklyn Fashion League.

“By supporting local retailers and local designers, you are also supporting the local manufacturers and the local fabric suppliers, the local tool fabricators, machine makers and it’s a giant process. But if every step along the way is made locally and made within the United States with proper working conditions, we’re making a much larger step than just that one garment that you’ve purchased,” asserts Kaci Head, founder of the Brooklyn Fashion League.

(Brooklyn Fashion League designers themselves,
hard at work during New York Fashion Week. 
Photo source: BFL's Facebook)

But more than supporting the local economy, this brings us back to nature. Kate Fletcher, in also quoting biomimicry maverick Janine Benyus, posits, “If we look to parallels in the natural world we see that most biological systems operate locally, or as Benyus puts it, ‘nature doesn’t commute to work’. Nature- with the exception of migrant species- ‘shops’ locally, using local expertise to produce the resources it needs and process its waste.” (Fletcher, 140).

But in addition to sustaining local economies and local environments, the Brooklyn Fashion League is also deeply invested in sustaining that local community sense. That soul-nourishing type of fashion that “sustain[s] communities- providing people with meaningful work and a sense of connection with the place and the people with whom they live” (Fletcher, 140).

Beyond that feeling of community you intuitively understand, that community sense also has a place in academia.  “Community as a moral phenomenon seems to involve a sense of identity and unity with one’s group and a feeling of involvement and wholeness, on the part of the individual. In short, community has been used to refer to a condition in which human beings find themselves enmeshed in a tight-knit web of meaningful relationships with their human beings. In contrast to this ‘sense of community’ are the conditions that supposedly prevail in modern society,” writes Dr. Dennis E. Poplin in his 1979 text Communities: A Survey of Theories and Methods in Research  (Poplin, 5)

Thus it has been an honor to call the Brooklyn Fashion League ReciclaGEM’s new home. We are amongst a League of designers dedicated to the sustainability practice of economic and environmental localism while also working towards creating that community space that is supportive, fulfilling, and culturally nourishing. Nonetheless, while fashion in itself can be quite an insular system, we are members of a fashion organization that seeks to extend that membership to the community…and to you.
 As David W. McMillan and David M. Chavis reflect on this essay, “Sense of Community: A Definition and Theory,” “Membership is a feeling that one has invested part of oneself to become a member and therefore has a right to belong.”

What has the Brooklyn Fashion League meant to me? A league of talented fashion designers who have given me a place to belong, given the community a fashion partner dedicating to sustaining and extending this feeling of belonging, and has become an activist vehicle for supporting sustainable, locally created fashion. Locally based but internationally inspired, that’s what dreams are made of.

We are in the midst of a fundraising campaign, because, as ironic as our current world order is the most unsustainable fashion institutions are, ironically enough the most economically supported while those institutions which seek to promote sustainability need the support of the community in our current world order to sustain itself. If you are able, we would love to have you join our localist fashion movement creatively as well as economically.

BFL indigogo from Lindsay Newcomb on Vimeo.


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