How Sustainable Fashion is Preserving Culture

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Have you ever seen photos of remote, ethnic groups dressed in traditional clothes? Or experienced artisans dyeing, hand painting, weaving, and embroidering handicrafts? If you have, then I am sure you are quite aware of how intricate these pieces are and the level of skill it takes to create the final piece.

Now, picture a world where all of this is gone…

I couldn’t let this happen after an experience trekking through Sapa, Vietnam and doing an overnight homestay with a Black Hmong family, so I had to learn more about their culture and figure out how I could help.

A Dying Art form – Batik

One art form I experienced while in Vietnam was batik.

Batik is certainly an art form, not only because it’s a technique that produces true works of art, but also because the dyeing technique itself has become a crucial part of the intangible cultural heritage of various communities all over the world. Unfortunately, this ancient dyeing technique is also in danger of disappearing, once the artisans who know how to create these beautiful textiles stop teaching their ancestral techniques to their descendants.

The tradition of creating batik textiles revolves around the idea that there are certain substances which, once applied to cloth, render it dye-resistant. Batik artisans use wax to create specific areas on their cloths that won’t get dyed, and then they proceed to color the entire fabric using a specific natural dye. Finally, the wax is removed, usually by way of boiling the cloth, and then the process is repeated all over again for the next color.

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Where Batik Lives

This ancient tradition of dyeing textiles using wax to create motifs, patterns and designs, can be found in various places all around the world, such as in Indonesia, India, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, China, Nigeria, and many more, with Java (Indonesian island) batik textiles predating modern records! In fact, Indonesian batik was designated as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO,  in 2009. It goes without saying that this technique should be protected and promoted so that we can ensure its existence for generations to come.

In order to learn more about the batik process, along with other weaving and dyeing techniques, you can visit my Wild Tussah blog, where you will discover lots of detailed information on the world’s history of woven textiles.

Thankfully, batik textiles are still being made. Home industry is certainly appreciated as a way for people to earn a more-or-less sustainable income. However, it is not enough to sustain the art form itself, as very few young people nowadays are learning how to create batik textiles because they are forced to turn to other jobs and sources of income instead, in order to survive.

Preserve Culture through Creating and Supporting Sustainable Fashion

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This is where the modern conscious consumer comes into play. By selecting and supporting ethical and sustainable fashion brands featuring batik textiles, created by local artisans into their own designs, consumers can actively help preserve and protect this particular piece of culture. For example, at Wild Tussah we strive to incorporate traditional weaves from remote villages in Vietnam into our handbag designs. We do so in order to create beautiful, modern products of the highest quality with a vintage feel, all while supporting our struggling artisans so that they may earn a stable income and improve the lives of those in their communities. For example, our Cham totes feature vibrantly colorful Cham minority weaves, whereas our Day to Night bags incorporate some very rare vintage Lu people weaves, which were originally used in traditional women’s skirts. For more information regarding our highly skilled artisans, please visit our site.

Traditional handmade textiles are beautifully unique, and the fashion items created using newly made and vintage batik fabrics have one-of-a-kind appeal. Theoretically, flourishing ethical and sustainable fashion brands could ultimately singlehandedly support the handcrafted batik fabric industry. They might even offer some extra incentives for local people to keep the art form alive, since creating batik textiles would provide them with a stable, sustainable income. This is the only way the fashion industry can ever hope to give something back to the underprivileged communities it has so blatantly taken advantage of in the past. It is time to give back to the communities and hope for a better future for everyone, free from bonded labor, sweatshops, child labor, modern slavery, and poverty.

As for the artisans themselves, it goes without saying that by appreciating and creating commercial demand for their products, sustainable fashion brands can help younger generations realize that batik is a priceless cultural treasure that should be loved, celebrated, and preserved. It will also help instill in them a sense of pride in the work and techniques of their ancestors. In this way we can ensure that they will be willing and able to carry on the art form of textile weaving and dyeing, and that they may even help bring it back up to the high standards of their ancient predecessors.

If you have any experiences from Vietnam’s handicraft culture you’d like to share, I’d love to hear! Write me at wildtussah@gmail.com

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About the Author

Danica is a sustainable fashion designer and founder of Wild Tussah. She was inspired to start her sustainable handbag line based out of Vietnam after a life changing 5-week trip through South East Asia. Danica was blown away by local ethnic weavers’ skills and their excitement to teach others about it. After she found out that these weave cultures were endangered of going extinct, she decided she had to work with the artisans directly to help preserve their traditions. Now she asks this question every day: “Do you know where your bags come from?”

 

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