What to do with an old pair of Uniqlo jean shorts, and my feelings regarding Fast Fashion
Once upon a time, in my good old days as a Fashion student in Tokyo, I would spend a lot of my free time visiting Fast Fashion megastores.
This was back when there was just a few Zara stores in Brazil, only in big cities far away from my hometown, and the other options for affordable Fashion would be C&A or other local retail chains, where you could never find anything without the “print + awkward phrase in English + hotfix rhinestones” combo. Plus, as an upper-middle class kid that attended private school, I admit I wouldn't be caught dead wearing C&A. So I was thrilled to have Zara, GAP, Uniqlo and H&M within walking distance from my dorm.
It was great to finally find good staple pieces in neutral colours, denim with no cheap rhinestones, and styles that were a bit trendier and sometimes even “sophisticated”. But I'd get more excited finding those ridiculous Fast Fashion bargains than wearing the pieces later…which is another sad thing to admit about my old consumer mindset.
Let's be honest: how many times have you found something really special - whether because of the design, quality or craftsmanship - in a Fast Fashion retailer?
The $6 jean shorts from Uniqlo
I recently found a pair of denim shorts that I bought for ¥650 ( $6) in one of my many trips to Uniqlo, probably in 2010.
They are a Japanese large size, therefore just oversized enough for me and with a lower crotch the way I like it, the length a little bit above the knee, so decent enough to go to school and not be stared too much by the older female teachers. I could pair it with a “casual embellished top” or “a nice blouse in a feminine floral print”, and then I'd just need a pair of ballerina flats in “a bold colour”, plus some cute socks because that's how you do it in Asia, and voilà!
A look for the blandest Fashion catalogue ever.
And we're still going to talk about this sketch…
It was THAT generic.
Sure, we all need clothes, and many times clothes are all we need: shirt and trousers to go to work, jeans and t-shirt for daily life, summer dress, “a nice blouse in a feminine floral print” to go grocery shopping without looking like a complete schlub.
It's great to have plenty of affordable options, but the Fast Fashion model is not about giving the consumer options so he can go around all the different stores and make the best informed purchase to suit his needs. The bargains and the new products every week are there to encourage you to buy more and more often.
And if you are anything like 20-something-year-old me, you will indeed keep on coming every other week or so to see if you can finally find something a little more special…and keep on buying something not so special to wear to school. Or Summer barbecue with my boyfriend and his friend. Or go to the park walk my Golden Retriever. Or another stock photo situation that looked good but never happened in my life.
To repair or not to repair?
There was still one issue holding me back on my repair project, though.
I take very good care of all my clothes and these shorts look like I've been wearing them nonstop since I bought them, when I haven't worn them in over 4 years! They probably survived my Marie Kondo-style closet raids because I couldn't even donate them (the fabric on the back was so thin, it looked like it could be torn to shreds at any moment), and thought I'd eventually find a creative way to upcycle them.
Objectively speaking, it was not worth repairing something that was never great to begin with, and any time is too precious to devote to a $6 garment. On the other hand, this flimsy pair of shorts that was a squat away from becoming a useless rag would be perfect for an experiment in Boro,
“a class of Japanese textiles that have been mended or patched together. It came to predominately signify clothing worn by the peasant farming classes, who mended their garments with spare fabric scrapes out of economic necessity. In many cases, the usage of such a boro garment would be handed down over generations, eventually resembling a patchwork after decades of mending.
Following the Meiji Period and the general increase in living standards amongst the entire Japanese populace, most boro pieces were discarded and replaced by newer clothing. To working class Japanese, these boro garments were an embarrassing reminder of their former poverty, and little effort was expanded by government or cultural institutions at the time to preserve such artifacts.”
The original Boro patchworks were made with whatever fabric scraps Japanese peasants could get their hands on, so it's very fitting that I'd reuse the almost disposable textile of our era for my project.
The Creative process: Design by tinkering
Or as Nassim Taleb would say, antifragile tinkering or bricolage (go read his books, after you finish reading this post, of course).
In this case, I had to be creative because this wasn't a simple case of mending a little hole: if you see the picture on the left, all that off-whiteish area between the pockets felt like it was about to disintegrate. It felt very soft but also really thin and fragile, and wouldn't be appropriate even for a shirt. And the fabric had warped and stretched, so I would have to take off the excess that's pinned on the right side.
Best thing to do was to cut off everything.
Going around in bottomless bottoms is not for me, but it was when I was playing around with my shorts after cutting it that I realised it would look nicer as a skirt. The hips were always a bit funny and would require too much pinching here and there just to make them look ok, and there was enough fabric to make a pair of small pleats on the Front.
And let's not forget the Boro patchwork element.
Sashiko functional embroidery stitching the front of the pockets to the pocket bag, to make them a little more robust; and on the back for decoration on the centre and stitching together the original piece to the new denim panel - which extends below the back of the shorts and the pockets, as they should start fraying soon.
Now I have a perfectly plain jean skirt to go with my perfectly plain blue t-shirt, but with my only little twist.
What am I trying to prove by mending shitty clothes
Instead of another pair of lazy, oversized shorts, I now have a mini skirt. Something that required a little bit of effort to make, and that will require a bit more effort to wear (can't forget your poise and manners when wearing mini skirts!).
As an artistic project, yes, the outcome is very naïve, and I'd need a lot more research and experimentation before announcing any final results. But this blog is my playground and I want to try things and share ideas, which I think is also part of a creative mindset.
The result of years of equating enjoying my time abroad with shopping won't be recycled, won't be turned into stuffing or relief blankets, won't be worn by a person in need (have you ever visited any charities? The last thing they need is more clothes!), and that's not a cute feeling, to say the least.
You may decide that I'm too “bohemian” and have too much free time, and have completely misunderstood Nassim Taleb's ideas. Still, my invitation is here: let's enjoy our clothes more, and employ more pizazz when it's time either to create or let go of them.