It is a tragedy and a triumph when something breaks down due to wear and tear.
It is a tragedy because it has clearly been used a lot for such a moment to come. Hence, a void opens in your daily life where there are no longer those perfect pants, that softest bed sheet or those most comfortable shoes.
It is a triumph because it happens rarely. We live in such an abundance of textiles – and much of the textile that surrounds us is of such poor quality – that we never see things wear out by sheer friction. We are well aware of premature design and material selection failures, but that no longer surprises anyone in a world awash in fast fashion.
Well this week I took this cotton tote out of the washing machine and discovered a hole. A hole that is not an open seam or accidental tear but just fabric that has been worn out so much that its fibers have just gone trrrrr! It is a witness, along with its now-fuzzy handles, to the fact that 10+ years of active use of a cotton object will destroy it.
The tote was given to me in Vienna in 2010 during the International AIDS Conference. The guys who had made it for their organization were locals from Vienna but I never learnt the name of their group. They hadn’t incorporated it into the design of the bag, either. And I was still excited about all the NGO merchandising: the bags, the pins, the stickers. To such an extent that in July 2010 I was walking around Vienna like this:
And, in all the flea market that is the global village of an International AIDS Conference, this bag was especially attractive. It was well done, the design was beautiful, there was neither a logo nor a crude slogan. If I remember correctly, in 2010 there were many things saying no to the laws criminalizing transmission and many others optimistic about microbicides.
The bag says only “es geht aufwärts”, literally “it is going up” or, rather, “from here, upwards”. It is a very apt message of encouragement for a group of AIDS activists in an EU capital in 2010: there were antiretrovirals, there were support groups, there was universal healthcare. It is a variant of the lately so well known “tot anirà bé”.
The tote was made of thick cotton and I found it very comfortable that the handles were much shorter than what is normal in the tote bag industry. Just right for my arm to carry it on the shoulder and it would not touch the ground if I wanted to carry it on an outstretched arm. I learnt only very recently that C has hates this tote exactly because of those unusually short handles.
Well, it has been in active use during all these years, slowly descending the steps of use: first I used it as a handbag, then as a shopping bag and in the end it was the bag to keep the carrots in the fridge. And now it is just done because the cases of widespread wear and tear cannot be fixed. If I patched or darned this hole, very soon another would appear right next to it. It remains for me to assume that I have completely worn it out and consider whether trimming the handles of some other tote would be a good idea.
Ah, it turns out that it was also present at the original 15M demonstration in Salamanca:
It must be said that, although I have lost my desire to collect all the pins in the world, I still do not say no to a good tote bag.
(And it is also worth explaining, in case someone does not know this part of my past yet, that from 2005 to 2014 I was a very active volunteer with the International Planned Parenthood Federation, hence I have distributed many condoms, I have strong opinions about sexual and reproductive rights and about the role of large and small NGOs, and I have attended several industry fairs such as the International AIDS Conferences.)
Given the success of the first post-pandemic swap on August 15, we will be swapping again on October 2. We are returning to Ateneu Roig for this own and will do all the protection measures: the access control, the ontact information and the masks. It is a special edition since it was exactly five years ago – on October 1, 2016 – that I organized my first clothing swap. This will be the 17th since then.
La enésima historia de consecuencias medioambientales no buscadas (y no pensadas): El contenedor amarillo trajo la basuraleza al pueblo + la idea que los “envases de usar y tirar […] son aliados de la destrucción de empleo y el cierre de negocios en la España vaciada.”
Design is always political. Here you have spelled-out examples of how fashion is political, especially intensely so when it looks very much removed from politics: Unpacking the Nap Dress + How the florals and frills of Laura Ashley came to define an era. And here for the interior design and appliances: In the Kitchens of the Rich, Things Are Not as They Seem + By Design: White communists, socialists, feminists, and capitalists tried to engineer society using kitchen design.
The amount of shameless copying in fashion still surprises me: Versace, Fashion Nova Settle Case Days Before the Start of Trial Over Copycat Wares and The Potential Downside of Design Competitions? The Risk of Rip-Offs.
The most interesting part in all this for me is that there are people in need to be carefully weaned off the suit, who knew? A Wall Street Dressing Down: Always. Be. Casual + Selling Low: Corporate Dressing Down.
Noble Rot: “We need to create today the knurled and wizened ecosystems that only our grandchildren will see. Restoring the living world means restoring complexity, and complexity takes ages to develop.”
And that’s it for this week! I hope that you enjoyed reading and would be very happy to hear from you, regarding things falling apart or anything else… in the comments below, via Facebook or Instagram, or via e-mail at luize.ratniece [a] gmail .com
Guardarrr is a weekly bilingual newsletter dedicated to sustainability and mindfulness in fashion. It is written by Luīze Ratniece, a sociologist and textile activist based in Barcelona. Guardarrr is both a tool for reflection and a crowdfunding channel for the wardrobe tracking app that Luīze is building. If you read this newsletter and value it, please consider going to the paid version to fund this project for a monthly equivalent of a coffee + pastry. Each subscription warms my heart immensely and helps going on, thank you so much for being here with me!