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Indigenous traditions and tribes: the roots of sustainability
Clothing, together with architecture and cuisine, represents one of the oldest forms of art. The clothes, in addition to offering us protection and shelter, have become over time a means of communication. Through the dress we talk about ourselves, who we are, who we would like to be. Our way of dressing represents a language capable of telling one, a hundred, a thousand stories: a tool of non-verbal expression, which like art has become universal, speaking directly to the senses and therefore to all human beings. And fashion was born on this, through the origin of new and different styles, which different groups, in a constantly evolving society, use to communicate their identity, their adhesion to certain cultural values. Today fashion is a way of celebrating the diversity and variety of the world in which we live, but also a mirror in which we can reflect, a way to make changes in society and give continuity to life on Earth.
This is perhaps why sustainability is increasingly widespread. We find ourselves living in a society offering garments produced in the same factory, by the same hands, at completely different prices, destined to separate opposites: on the one hand the mass market and on the other that of luxury. And this denotes a serious problem. Fast fashion tramples workers’ rights and identifies itself as an unsustainable model. It is therefore necessary to look at new examples and profit from them, in order to create a greater balance worldwide. A dilemma that could find a valid answer in those corners of the planet where globalization has not yet produced its effects, from emerging markets to indigenous tribes.
Africa is the first case to keep an eye on: the continent with the youngest population in the world, with 60% of individuals under the age of twenty-five, has a rapidly growing middle class and many really interesting traditional practices. Barkcloth is a textile technique very common in Uganda: the fabric obtained, of rare beauty, colored and decorated, is still used today for important ceremonies. It is obtained from the fibers of some plants of the Moraceae family and is created by gently beating the bark until it becomes thin and elastic. That’s why emerging designer Juliana Nasasira presented her collection, using this traditional material, at Kampala fashion week. But Africa offers a variety of other fabrics from Nigeria, Ghana, or the traditional Berber weaving in North Africa, which could play a central role in the revitalization of the fashion industry in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis.
Also indigenous design from the American continent plays a fundamental role in the sustainability sector. Artists who face the creation process, becoming custodians of an ancient knowledge coming from their ancestors, thus safeguarding the fragile ecosystem in which they are immersed. These communities adopt an ecological approach in the use of locally sourced leather and fabrics, creating small collections and reusing waste or old objects to convert them into a new life.Orenda Tribe is an eco-aware brand that focuses on reused and recycled vintage items, born from the idea of Amy Yeung, an indigenous creative who launched her brand after abandoning her career in the world of fast fashion.Urban Native Era, through the power of storytelling, uses design, film and photography to enhance collective change inspired by an ecological production.Section35aims instead to combine indigenous art, culture and lifestyle in a streetwear brand attentive to an authentic representation of the world. OXDXthanks to teachings handed down for generations, eliminates waste with upcycling programs and personalized clothing.
But sustainable fashion also affects India. More and more conscious brands recognize the need to make the various aspects related to design and operation more relevant to the environment and the local workforce. Soham Dave uses natural ingredients to dye and purify his fabrics. TheKaleekalbrand uses manual and traditional frames in order to attract the most demanding buyers; and to minimize industrial waste, adopt natural fabrics. Finally,Bhu:Sattva is leading a silent revolution in India with organic cotton made in Gujarat; and is expanding research and development in order to blend fabrics developed with banana, bamboo, soy and silk fiber.
In short, although practiced in different forms, fashion exists in almost all cultures and can be considered a distinctive peculiarity of the human species. Even in its most primitive forms, it responds to certain universal needs, such as individual and group survival, as well as existential questions. All that remains is to hope for an ever more aware and attentive movement to the true needs of our existence. In this sense, fashion must increasingly narrate through clothing; tell the stories behind and all around our garments to become cultural influence and touchpoint with what we wear.