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La Pietra Dialogues On the World On-Line
The Worn Stories Project
Tara Tosten, NYU Florence student
La Pietra Dialogues
March 10, 2012

Jessamyn Hatcher, a professor in the Global Liberal Studies department at NYU, will run a worn stories project as part of our recycled clothing workshop. Hatcher suggests a way of making green fashion “green” is not just by using different fabric sources or disposing of clothes differently, but also changing our relationship to clothing.

Ms. Hatcher hopes that the worn stories project will enhance our relationship with materiality, and commemorate the way in which “people and things are involved in mutual relationships of attachment, entanglement, dependence, and care”

“Among one of the most meaningful things I ever found in a thrift store were a pair of dressed I unearthed in a Salvation Army in Durham, North Carolina. One was a white summer dress with a fitted bodice and a full skirt, and the other was a pink sequined number straight out of a Fellini movie. What made them so arresting wasn’t their cut or color or even the sequins but the fact that inside, attached to the labels, their former owner had pinned stories. ‘Picnic. 1957. Hillsboro North Carolina’ ‘Eastern Star Dance. May 8, 1958. Danced with M.K.’ I think about the original wearer, the wearer who pinned the stories to her dresses, all the time. She was making manifest what we know to be true: clothes are worn stories. Redolent with emotion and memory, clothes are rarely ‘mere things’. Yet accelerated patterns of consumption and discard can make it hard to avow or even to notice worn stories. As scholar Peter Stallybrass writes: ‘I think this is what is absent. Surrounded by an extraordinary abundance of materials, their value is endlessly devalued and replaced.’ Part of what make ‘green’ fashion ‘green’, then, isn’t just sourcing fabric differently, or even disposing of our clothing more thoughtfully. It’s working on our relationships of attachment, entanglement, dependence, and care. As the political scientist Jane Benett writes: ‘If an image of inert matter helps animate our current practice of aggressively wasteful and planet-endangering consumption, then a materiality experienced as a lively force with agentic capacity could animate a more ecologically sustainable public.’ In this series of linked, collaborative workshops, tailor-made for your initiative, we’ll investigate how contemplating and creating ‘worn stories’ might help us theorize green fashion; add meaning and value to a clothing collection; and shape the refashioned garments you’ll create, model, and donate. Along the way, we’ll also consider the effects of the global trade in secondhand clothes on regional economies and new wearers.”

The “worn Stories” project will consist of three events:

1. Write a worn story about a piece of clothing and post it on the project blog

a. Suggested reading: “Worn Worlds: Clothes, Mourning, and the Life of Things” by Peter Stallybrass [there will be a PDF on the project website]

2. Participating in the recycled clothing workshop whether through donating or designing

3. A film screening and discussion.

a. Films: secondhand, and T-shirt Travels

Questions to consider when writing your worn story, or thinking about green fashion:

  • What does the “green” in “green” fashion mean?
  • What theories of ecology underpin your project?
  • What forms of ecological care do you specifically want to explore and/or promote?
  • Do you think of “things” in general, as vibrant, meaningful, and even magical? Considering they represent so much of your life? Or do you feel they are inert, trivial, negligible?
  • What are your ideas about intake? Consumption?
  • How do you think clothing can be more meaningful to people? How can people learn to appreciate all that their clothing means in their life?
  • What is it people discard clothing?
  • How does the global trade in secondhand affect regional economies? (consider this: the largest US export to Africa is secondhand clothing)
  • How do new wearers make sense- and meaning- out of the clothes, and worn stories, they encounter?
  • Green fashion has primarily focused on the materials out of which garmets are produced. But questions of ecology are at stake throughout a garment’s life (production, consumption, use, laundering, mending, storing, discard, and resuse). How can you address the ecology throughout a garment’s life?
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