Silk Flex-Wraps: Made from Recycled Sari Cloth!

So, Friday has finally come! If any of our readers have not liked us on facebook, we do¬†have a facebook page! (See our left sidebar for the link.) Like us there to keep up with announcements! The silk flex-wraps have come at last, and at 3:00 p.m. today, Friday, July 1st, we will have our website completely up and fully functional! We are so excited to bring you these affordable, green fashion items, and thrilled to be able to give 10% of our profits to Navdanya (see our Products page for more information). I hope the following can clear up any questions you might have, that have not been answered on our other pages of this blog. ūüôā We hope to find you visiting our website, starting at 3:00 p.m.!!

Why Should You Care About F.A.C.T.S.?

1) We care about Mother Earth:

Our products are eco-friendly (made from recycled and/or organic material) and follow fair-labor practices.

2) We really do care about the effects of over-consumption on the environment and the human spirit:

One flex-wrap can be used in about 100 different ways, which means you are consuming less by buying several outfits in one! As much as possible, our packaging is eco-friendly. We wrap our items in recycled cloth and all paper goods come from recycled paper. We are constantly looking for new ways to cut down on waste and be more green.

3) 10% of our profits this summer go to a very worthy cause.

This summer season, we are giving 10% of our profits to Navdanya, a non-profit that has helped set up seed banks and train local organic farmers across 16 states in India in food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture. To learn more about Navdanya and why it is important, see our “Causes” page.

4) We are trying to change the world for the better, one local economy at a time, and be a model for businesses to start giving much more back to local communities.

As F.A.C.T.S. grows, we will be buying new fashion items from a different local economy each season, helping their communities construct the best possible agendas for solving their chosen community need, and giving them 50% of the profits so that they can achieve their goals. The more we grow, the more we can give back to local economies around the globe! (If you would like us to go to your local community, send us an email @ info@factsfashion.com.)

5) We partner with communities, instead of simply borrowing from them.

We don’t simply sell fashion items from different cultural groups around the world, we also help you learn about these cultures and traditions and give back to their economies. We honor the local communities that we work with and strive to avoid cultural appropriation in every way we can.

 


The Sari: Meanings Behind the Cloth

Clothing in most (if not all) cultures is a significant interpretation of the self. It says something about who we are or at least how we choose to be seen. Clothes carry meaning, which is why we wear certain outfits in some contexts and not in others. So, whern we explore the culture of the Indian sari, we must pay attention to its context, its variations, and its meaning for different members of Indian society.  In this post, we offer only a brief overview of the sari, but we hope it will help you begin to appreciate the complexity, diversity, and spirit of the cloth behind our silk flex-wraps.

To begin with, we must acknowledge that India has a highly stratified society. Hierarchies and identities are created by religious caste, age, sex, economics, subculture, and region.  Appropriateness in dress is necessarily wrapped within these limitations.  Since the beginning of the period of British rule in India, Western influence has introduced another layer of stratification.  It was often a means for upper-class Indians to disassociate themselves from the lower, uneducated classes.  The early 20th century brought with it Western machine-manufactured cloth.  It was a finer type of cloth and ushered in the widespread wearing of Western-style shirts and trousers by many men throughout India.  We have to make an important distinction here that women generally were expected to keep to more traditional clothing as part of the notions of female modesty and purity (as Western styles tainted Indian culture). Of course, Western influences have crept into Indian society more and more.

Little girls wear Western-influenced frocks, for example, as it is not appropriate for them to wear saris until they are older. In some regions, girls wear a half-sari (ghagra or pavada) before moving on to a regular sari.  Because the sari has traditionally also been associated with marriage and sexuality, many girls in their mid and late teenage years, don what is known as a shalwar kamiz (also known as a Punjabi suit , as it is especially popular in the Punjab region).  This garment consists of a tunic , trousers, and a scarf. More and more, the shalwar kamiz became the uniform for girls between 12 and 16 in government schools.

Example of a salwar kamiz

In the late 1980’s, it gained appeal for young women in colleges and universities for its more modest and less sexualized appearance. ¬†It soon was associated as an option of dress for unmarried young women.

As women who pursued further education took the shalwar kamiz into the workplace, the convenience of the sari in various work environments was questioned.  This, of course, depends on the type of work one does.  Some women feel that the heavy sari cloth can be cumbersome to carry and others feel the shalwar kamiz restricts movement and cannot as easily be maneuvered when doing manual-intensive labor at home or in the fields. Their claims are, of course, influenced by their region, their work environment, their family preferences, and so on. While the shalwar kamiz has spread more widely and is more acceptable across age and other hierarchical divisions, the sari remains the standard dress for the majority of women.

The sari is a cloth, generally 6 yards long, that is draped around a petticoat and blouse, as

An example of a sari. Borrowed from: http://tinyurl.com/64z6x9m

seen in the picture. The pallu is the most decorative part of the sari, as it is the part draped over the right shoulder. The way the sari is fashioned allows some flexibility of expression to the wearer, as slight variations can mean different things.¬†The pallu, for example, can be pinned or left free-flowing. When seen tucked firmly into the waist or held in a particularly tight way in one’s fist, it can signify seriousness, impatience, or anger. The pallu also may serve as a head-covering, when appropriate, signifying modesty and protecting one’s sexuality, though it can be worn in a more revealing way as well. Further, the pallu can serve a functional purpose, as a veil for nursing mothers. Another form of showing more or less modesty can be seen through the pinning of ¬†the “skirt” part of the sari, which can also be manipulated to be higher or lower along the waist.

When a woman is married, it is customary for her parents (those who can afford it, anyway) to give her a gift of a trousseau or set of saris.  The different patterns, colors, and materials of the sari often reflect sub-caste regulations, family traditions, or other rules of divisions. Many women of upper classes prefer expensive synthetic cloth, but many are also now turning towards traditional hand-woven silk and cotton saris. Cotton saris are usually used for every-day wear, and silks are reserved for more formal occasions. Hand-woven cottons are not only expensive, but are also expensive to maintain (in laundry costs). Poorer women wear machine-manufactured, cheaper everyday cotton and mixed-fiber synthetic saris of lower-quality material.

After India’s independence from Great Britain, the Sari rose to become an emblem of national unity and identity, an aspiration to live up to the “ideal of India,” and to show loyalty to the nation. ¬†They are not the only accepted form of Indian dress, but they certainly have become the accepted “formal Indian dress” (Banerjee & Miller, p. 237). As we mentioned at the beginning, clothing carries with it the meaning assigned by its wearer. ¬†The structure of the sari, being a “one-size-fits-all” garment, allows it to be a common and appropriate gift and makes it easy to hand-down to younger or poorer relatives. However, it still bears the taste and care of its original owner. This is something that never quite leaves the sari cloth, and while its new owner(s) transform it and make it their own, a part of the original owner’s spirit does remain attached to the cloth. We hope that our f.a.c.t.s. customers bear this in mind and value the background of their flex-wraps, treating them with a special care that ought be given to these vintage, one-of-a-kind items. ¬†We hope that our customers will also share in the spirit of recycling, and pass the flex-wraps on to another when they are no longer wanted, or re-purpose them for decoration or other use, when they are no longer wearable. In this way, we can honor the journeys the cloth has made across cultures, keeping within us a spirit of peace, of giving, of the universality of the human spirit, and of respect for Mother Earth.

Today’s update on f.a.c.t.s ¬†is that we are still on schedule for opening this Friday, July 1st! We will continue posting on the topic of the sari cloth and the Navdanya non-profit we support in future posts and throughout the summer season. Starting Friday, we will also be showing different ways to wear your very flexible silk flex-wrap! ūüôā

References: 

Banerjee, Mukulika, and Daniel Miller. 2003. The Sari. New York: Berg.

Norris, Lucy. 2010. Recycled Indian Clothing: Global Contexts of Reuse and Value. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

 Tarlo, Emma. 1996. Clothing Matters: dress and Identity in India. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.


Recycled Silk Saris, Sarongs, Skirts, Flex-Wraps? By any name, a brief history

Sari worn by Indira Gandhi, borrowed from: http://tinyurl.com/6364p7e

We want to familiarize you with our starting-off products for Summer 2011. Though they have been called by many different names, we have chosen to call them Silk Flex-Wraps, as we think this is a little more accurate for what they truly are~ flexible wraps, that can be used as skirts or dresses, and are tailored from recycled silk sari cloth. So, where exactly do these skirts come from? The answer is laden with meaning and complexity, and we, at f.a.c.t.s, would like to tell you their story, their background, their various potential meanings, in an effort that the flex-wraps, transformed in the hands of our customers continue to bear with them their purest essence. We shall start this extended journey with a post on the origins of the flex-wrap.

To begin unraveling the background of these beautiful re-purposed garments, we must begin with a quick look at the Indian economy. In 1991, the Indian economy was deregulated. By 1999, the beginning of the current consumption boom trend had begun. With the expanding of the middle class came a move away from extended families to nuclear families, relocation to bigger cities, and of course, more disposable income. While in the past, old saris were typically worn till they were hardly wearable and then given to servants (at least, non-silk ones) or younger or poorer relatives, purchasing items more and more according to fashion rather than need brought with it fewer personal avenues for their disposal. This led to the selling and buying and bartering of used clothes.

Used saris are generally considered by the higher classes (as I think can be stated as a pattern for many other societies) as “polluted” and therefore unfit to wear. Giving away clothes furthers already established hierarchies in the Indian culture, as the giver has the higher status and the receiver has the lower status. However, there is ¬†still an increasingly large market for recycled saris in the local Indian economies, which leaves room for new families to enter the bartering business. The turnover is relatively small for everyday saris (usually made from cotton), but the more the entrepreneurs can buy, wash, and mend, the more profits they can gain. One form of acquiring saris for re-selling purposes also happens in the form of bartering. Peddlers with stainless steel pots and other similar products can go house to house, offering their wares in exchange for used clothing. Once traders can afford to buy the higher-quality silk saris (used for more formal occasions or by higher classes), they can make a higher margin of profit, as these skirts can be sold at higher prices and are usually snatched up quickly by early 3:00 A.M. shoppers at the local weekly markets.

This brings the conversation over to the silk flex-wraps. The reason we have not chosen to call them by silk sari skirts, or sarong wraps is that they are neither saris nor sarongs. They are re-tailored clothing made from re-purposed silk sari cloth. Some traders set up shops, where these silk saris are expertly tailored around major blemishes and tears, using the best parts of the yards-long high-quality sari cloth to be re-fashioned into Western style halter-top garments, sundresses, drawstring trousers, and the skirt flex-wraps that f.a.c.t.s. will be selling. The myth of how this got started is as follows:

“A young Western woman took her dress to a Pushkar tailor, together with an old sari she had got hold of, and asked him to stitch a copy for her. The tailor picked up the idea and ran up a whole batch that sold immediately; he then opened up a shop. Some tailors were used to making up kurtas (traditional loose shirts) out of saris and understood how the formal properties of the sari’s components could be adapted and reused. With this knowledge added to their well-established copying skills, it was relatively easy to make the new garments. The number of shops selling them proliferated and manufacturing units in nearby houses were set up” (P. 157, Recycling Indian Clothing: Global Contexts of Reuse and Value¬†by Lucy Norris).

Of course, these items are tourist-objects. In other words, they are not traditionally worn by locals and they pose questions of cultural appropriation for the potential buyer. However, by providing you with an honest glance at their origin and a continued search into the cultural meanings behind use and disposal of the sari and other Indian clothing, we, at f.a.c.t.s. are doing our very best to emphasize the diversity of Indian clothing culture and attempting to not make inappropriate generalizations or misrepresentations about the cultural group. In future posts, we will cover more information on the culture of the sari, the West and its effects on Indian culture, the impact of fashion trends, and the implications of recycled clothing. We will also be talking about the Indian non-profit we will be donating 10% of our profits to.** For now, we leave you with a brief glance into the origin of the recycled Indian silk flex-wrap, and hope you will check back with us again over the week-end for a window into the culture of the sari. Thanks again for your support!***

**Remember, this is just our starting point, we strive to reach a point where half of our profits will be given to the local economy of focus for the season.

***References for the post content are:

1) Recycled Indian Clothing: Global Contexts of Reuse and Value by Lucy Norris, 2010 Indiana University Press.

2) The Sari by Mukluika Banerjee & Daniel Miller, 2003 Berg.


Say Hello to Affordable Eco-friendly Fashion

Hi everyone! We will be back and blogging this week! It’s been an extremely busy time for us, as we are getting the last essentials ready, to open shop on July 1st!! ūüôā For those of you who are not aware, you can find us on facebook and twitter (see left column). We update those sites much more regularly. We are getting increasingly more excited, as the last details are being put together. ¬†Look for a post tomorrow on our product of focus this Summer: Silk flex-wraps! They’re beautiful, they’re colorful, they can be worn in about 100 different ways (we’ll show you how!), AND they’re made from recycled sari cloth from India. So, you’re doing the environment a favor, and you get to be your own fashion designer! How cool is that? Preview pictures to come this week-end. Also, stay tuned for our F.A.C.T.S. Cause of the Summer, to whom we will be donating 10% of profits. Keep checking our site! ūüôā And yes, like always, we welcome any comments or questions.

 


Cultural Appropriation Fueled by Media

African American culture is not just for black people alone to enjoy and cherish. Culture is for everybody. But there’s a distinction between appreciating a culture and appropriating it.

-Spike Lee

This quote was found on http://www.thedashingfellows.com/when-is-cultural-appropriation-cultural-appropriation/5490

In our increasingly interconnected global world it has become almost impossible to avoid cultural appropriation.  But cultural appropriation is intensified by mass media.  We can consume cultures through media without the risk and benefit of actually experiencing them in person.  If I am interested in a culture on the other side of the world I do not have to have money or time to travel, I can watch movies from that culture, go on the internet to get information, and consume stuff (products) that come from within that culture.  This is great for consumerism and the economy however we lose the cultural meaning of items, situations, and events by consuming them through the filter of the media.  In this post I want to talk about two types of media that can be used to intensify and avoid cultural appropriation.  First we will discuss entertainment media, namely movies.  And second we will discuss online media (especially social media).

Movies are such an important medium of sharing information and understanding the world.  Even though a lot of movies are superficial and do not seem to be giving the audience anything real and substantial, most movies help us to understand people and situations that we either are not familiar or those that we can relate to.   We use the information that we gather from movies (subtle suggestions, situations, imagery) to understand the world around us.  (In media studies these ideas fall under the umbrella of social cognitive theories.)  In movies we often see characters of different ethnicities, nationalities, etc. who’s parts have been written by cultural outsiders.  Oftentimes cultural symbols, styles of dress, etc. are used in generic ways that do not grasp the importance or significance they may hold for that group.  And even more importantly for movies we have to understand that they often reproduce and reinforce stereotypes about groups that are far from accurate.  These generalizations foster prejudice, discrimination, and conflict.  However it can be simple to avoid the overconsumption of these dangerous generalizations and stereotypes.  Here are some quick easy tips you can use to avoid cultural appropriation in movies:

  1. Do not take everything at face value.  (Read between the lines.)
  2. Do some quick research and educate yourself.  (Who is the Producer? Director? Writer?  Do they really know anything about this culture?  Did they use any experts to consult?)
  3. Avoid applying what you see in the movies to everyday life.  (For example: Just because Italians are mobsters in 9 out of 10 movies does not mean that all (or even most) Italians are connected to the mob.)

The second form of media that we are going to talk about is online media.  The internet is such an important part of our modern lives.  (Obviously since we are communicating with you all through a blog!!)  I often see an item (a bracelet for example) online that comes from a different culture and I want to purchase it.  But I stop and think, what is this?  Does this bracelet have a meaning or a history that I should know before I purchase it?  Who or what am I supporting when I buy this item?  And I can get the answers I want with a click of a button.  We have access to so much information; some of it is reliable and some of it is not.  We can learn so much about different cultures through the amazing power of the internet.  Not only that we have the opportunity to purchase things from around the world.  But do we know what we are purchasing, the history behind the item, or the meaning it may have?  One of the biggest downfalls about using the internet is that you cannot always be sure if the information you are reading is accurate and unbiased.  Online media can be a great source of education, there is a vast wealth of information and it is generally free to access.  There are ways of ensuring that the information you access online is reliable, here are some tips:

  1. Find out who the author is. (Read their bio and do some research.  Do they have any biases towards the information being presented?  Are they an expert or professional or just someone who decided to post on the internet?)
  2. Try to find websites and blogs that are affiliated with reputable sources. (Universities, professional journals, major Non-Profit Organizations, etc.)  This may not eliminate bias but at least you have someone who has to be slightly accountable for what they are writing.
  3. Check multiple sources to confirm information.
  4. Use social media sites (FaceBook, Twitter, Tumblr, Blogs, etc.) to actually get to know people from around the world.  Thanks to all of this constant streaming personal information we all have the opportunity to get a glimpse of the perspectives of cultural insiders without having to travel.

What we all should take from this is that we consume images and information from exposure to media and it is impossible to distance ourselves from it because our fast paced consumerist world is driven by our constant exposure to media.  What we can do is begin to question the accuracy and intentions of what we are exposed to on a daily basis. We can all begin to discuss what these things mean and how we can begin to move away from the commodification of culture.  We do not have to reduce the value of an item or work of art to dollars.  These things should have cultural and interpersonal value as well.  The purchaser of an item or the audience of a movie does not have to be disconnected from the cultural significance of it.


Cultural Resources: Please Borrow Responsibly

Cultural Appropriation Cat, borrowed from http://www.discontent.com/log/archives2/1088.html

It’s difficult, nowadays, to say that anything is original. We are constantly borrowing from each other. Borrowing is a part of being a global community. Ideally, our interactions with other cultures provide beautiful opportunities to discover other traditions, expand our views, and learn from each other. However, as we covered in our last post, borrowing from other cultures can also come with serious negatives, when we don’t do it respectfully and appropriately. So, how exactly can we share with our diverse communities around the world in a healthy manner?

First, it starts with evaluating our motivations¬†and attitudes¬†for¬†borrowing. Why are we doing it in the first place? Do we understand what we are borrowing in its full context? Or are we leaving room for misinterpreting and misappropriating the cultural artifact? It is easy to disassociate cultural traditions from people, like when we adopt fashion styles because they might make us “stand out” from our normal crowds. Not that there is anything wrong with appreciating the appearance of cultural artifacts, but if we do not look deeply at where they come from and how they are used by their culture of origin, we end up creating caricatures of the culture and the very real people who shape it and give it meaning. This brings us to our first step to healthy cultural borrowing:

Step 1: Actively seeking education about the cultural group. 

Even further, we should try to seek this education from a direct source, otherwise the knowledge we obtain can be by biased by the interpretations of non-members of the culture. By learning about where these artifacts come from and how they are used, we learn the context behind them, and we can better understand how certain (or all) uses of the artifact may be inappropriate or offensive.

Also, we should inform ourselves regarding the history of oppression in the cultural group and our¬† own culture’s relationship history with them. By recognizing the inequalities that may be present, we also recognize the wounds our cultural group may have inflicted on them, and we can work towards not repeating the mistakes of the past. All of this brings us to an informed respect of the cultural group (the people and their traditions and values), and helps us avoid harmful homogenizing and degrading stereotypes.

Step 2: Giving back to the cultural group.

Giving back involves a couple of different levels. First of all, we need to give credit where credit is due. We are, after all, borrowing not taking. In giving credit to the group, we must be able to disclose to others what we learned in Step 1, especially emphasizing appropriate and inappropriate uses of the cultural artifact. ¬†In fact, being able to tell others isn’t enough, we should also be pro-active about sharing our education with those interested in the items borrowed. Secondly, if we are making profit distributing the artifact, we should also give monetary credit to the cultural group. Without them, there would be no profit, after all. Too much to ask? We don’t think so. We believe that businesses should be held accountable for this, as it is a method of showing corporate social responsibility and understanding that businesses are part of the community too and their actions have a deep impact on people and the environment. Borrowing cultural artifacts is using a resource, and taking resources without giving back to the community is exploitation and theft.

We, at f.a.c.t.s. are very proud to be making every attempt to give as much as we can (our goal is to reach a point where we are giving 50% of the profits) back to the communities, who share some of their unique cultural resources with us. For every fashion article we sell, we will also be providing our customers cultural appreciation cards (with information on where the article came from and its cultural context) as well as social issues cards (with information on the particular community need we will be investing in with the profits). Our blog will also highlight the cultural group in focus for each season, giving a platform to the multiple voices in the community. That is just the start. As we expand, we will be doing social needs assessments in collaboration with the community in focus, in order to ensure that our investments are being put to the best use. This blog will allow transparency with our customers to hold us accountable for our policies and principles. (You can check our Business Ethics page for more information.) Look forward to our next post, where our media analysis expert (and co-founder of f.a.c.t.s.), Marlaina Dreher, will be finishing off our discussion of cultural appropriation and the role/influence of the media. Again, we want to open the conversation up to our potential customers and supporters of f.a.c.t.s. So, if you have any relevant opinions, comments, suggestions, or questions, please feel free to give us feed back. We love to hear from you!

We are still working hard in the preliminary stages of setting up our website/store site, but will keep you updated as soon as we have finalized our exact opening date! (We are still looking at mid-June.)


Cultural Appropriation or Cultural Appreciation? An Introduction

Before starting our cross-cultural enterprise with f.a.c.t.s., we thought long about the problems of cultural  appropriation and how it is distinct from cultural appreciation. We, at f.a.c.t.s., want to give you confidence in our products and confidence in our business ethics, and we figured it would be most appropriate to simply address this issue right at the start! Because this will be a fairly long topic (we want to make sure we are thorough in our explanations), we will have to break it down into a few parts. Today, we will focus on introducing the topic. Please, feel free to join in on the conversation! Ask us any questions that you have. We will be happy to answer your concerns and address your opinions!

Let us first begin with definitions. What is cultural appropriation, in the first place? Appropriation, at its most basic level, has to do with the borrowing of traditions, symbols, or other artifacts, from cultures other than our own. It doesn’t really seem so bad, at first, considering we live in an increasingly globalized world, where cultural assimilation inevitably happens all the time. The tricky part, in our opinion, lies with the motivation¬†for adopting the cultural element (whether it is the South African mbaqanga¬†style of¬†music, or the hijab) and who¬†is doing the borrowing. It definitely changes the meaning when people from a dominant culture start assimilating elements from a subculture (i.e., when a white American might try to pass off wearing a bindi, because it “looks exotic”) when they are ignorant of the significance of those cultural elements, and even more so when they do not have respect for the people (they see the culture as an object disassociated from the people themselves). When you extract a cultural element without knowing the context behind it, you end up, whether you mean to or not,

  1. contributing to often offensive generalizations about the cultural group,
  2. invalidating how very diverse a culture really is,
  3. ignoring the history of oppression that is probably present, thus reinforcing the oppression, and
  4. often misrepresenting or distorting traditions that, for all you know, could even be sacred to the group, and
  5. in some cases, you might actually be cheating others out of money that should be going to them.

These 5 negatives of cultural appropriation make it a harmful and irresponsible thing to do. ¬†Another more familiar word for these 5 negatives happens to be called “exploitation.” In the West, we have a long history of exploiting other cultures and marching through life with a very self-important and either unaware or (often) indifferent attitude that the world and everything in it is ours for the taking, but not the taking care of…

So, how do we account for these 5 negatives of cultural appropriation in a world that is becoming smaller and smaller? Is there a way to show appreciation of a culture without stepping on sensitive toes and reinforcing bad caricatures and negative stereotypes? Find out answers to these questions and how f.a.c.t.s. is doing things differently in our next couple of posts!



Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine