The documentary T-Shirt Travels (2001) explores the relationship of the secondhand clothing economy and “Third World Debt in Zambia”. This documentary should not be confused with Pietra Rivoli’s 2009 book The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, which as one of my friends puts it “cares more about free markets than free people.” (h/t Alondra Nelson and Kim Yi Dionne for this video!)
I’m super thrilled about the newest issue of Fashion Projects: On Fashion, Art, and Visual Culture, themed “On Fashion and Memory.” From the editorial letter:
In thinking of clothes as passing fashions, we repeat less than half-truth. Bodies come and go; the clothes which have received those bodies survive. They circulate though secondhand shops, through rummage sales, through the Salvation Army; or they are transmitted from parent to child, from sister to sister, from brother to brother, from sister to brother, from lover to lover, from friend to friend. (Peter Stallybrass, “Worn Worlds: Clothes, Mourning, and the Life of Things” The Yale Review 1993 vol. 81. no. 2, pp. 35-50)
The idea of dedicating an issue of Fashion Projects to the topic of fashion and memory started while reading Peter Stallybrass’s “Worn Worlds: Clothes, Mourning, and the Life of Things,” an engaging and lyrical essay on the author’s remembrance of his late colleague Allon White through the garments White wore.
Stallybrass’s piece elucidates people’s intimate relations with clothes—i.e. their materiality, their smell and creases—and the inextricable relations between clothes and memory. It traces the way in which clothes retain “the history of our bodies.” Wearing White’s jacket at a conference, the author describes the way clothes are able to trigger strong and vivid memories: “He was there in the wrinkles of the elbows, wrinkles that in the technical jargon of sewing are called ‘memory’; he was there in the stains at the very bottom of the jacket; he was there in the smell of the armpits.”
This issue’s focus on clothes and memory dovetails with attempts to promote sustainability within the fashion industry. It invokes a counter-tendency in contemporary fashion which reinstates the importance of materiality and emotional connections to our garments in the hope to slow down the accelerated cycles of consumption and discard promoted by current fashion models. As Stallybrass points out, moments of emotional connections with clothes and cloth become, in fact, rare in the accelerated rhythm of contemporary societies: “I think this is because, for all our talk of the ‘materialism’ of modern life, attention to material is precisely what is absent. Surrounded by an extraordinary abundance of materials, their value is to be endlessly devalued and replaced.”
Check here for more information about this third issue, including its table of contents. You can order your copy online from Fashion Projects (with PayPal). I already did!
I want to write about thrifting, both my personal history with thrifting (as war refugees, my family and I spent a good portion of our first decade in the United States in secondhand clothing) plus an analytic of thrifting (as, for instance, a much ballyhooed “recessionista” or “green recycling” consumption strategy). Meanwhile, I’m compiling some resources for teaching the transnational flows of secondhand clothing as both cultural capital and, well, plain ol’ capital.
Most recently, I picked up a copy of a documentary, Secondhand (Pepe), described thusly: “Secondhand (Pepe) is a 24-minute tri-lingual documentary about the role of used clothing in diaspora cultures. Filmmakers Hanna Rose Shell [an assistant professor at MIT in Science and Technology Studies] and Vanessa Bertozzi [a Brooklyn-based documentarian working at Etsy] weave two narratives into a visual and sonic journey. The historical memoir of a Jewish immigrant rag picker intertwines with the present-day story of ‘pepe – secondhand clothing that flows from the United States to Haiti. Secondhand (Pepe) animates the materiality of recycled clothes: their secret afterlives and the unspoken connections among people in an era of globalization.”
I’m pretty excited to watch the entire documentary once Minh-Ha arrives for our intensive writing summer camp. Here is a short excerpt!