The simplicity of imperfection


My apologies once again for going almost a month without a post or update. I've been getting back into cooking more, with concentration on trying to lose the few pounds I've steadily gained over the last two years. I guess my insecurity about looking like a ballooning glutton explains why I haven't really been posting outfit pictures. I'm finding that cooking (like any hobby other than online browsing) is distracting me from my sartorial pursuits. In fact, other than trying on and returning a few items to replace my work bag, I've been steering clear of the usual suspects i.e. La Garconne and her ilk.

I've also started falling back into reading - something which I have consistently put off ever since I bought a lighter, more portable laptop. Other than the aforementioned 'To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out The World?' by Lucy Siegle, I've been reading some books on wabi-sabi and Epicureanism in hopes of finding more of what I want from and in life. The whole nihilistic part of me is constantly threatening to spiral out of control and I needed something to balance it out - to find some hope or meaning even when everything I read or work on is telling me otherwise.

The funny thing about the wabi sabi philosophy and Epicureanism and is that they espouse essentially the same thing: life is fleeting and that in order to achieve some sort of inner peace, austerity, simplicity and kindness are a must. Regardless of whether you're an atheist or not, I think the take home message of these intriguing doctrines is that in order to live fully, you just have to enjoy the simple imperfection that is the everyday life. Avoid clutter, avoid the overconsumption and avoid overindulgence.

I know a lot of what I've written above may come across as some hoity-toity, intellectual gibberish, but a lot of the ills of the world could be cured if we pared down our consumption and choose wisely the things we buy. Climate change, decimation of species, exploitation of women and children, and the destruction of nature can be traced back to human consumption and greed. In Lucy Siegle's book, she writes about the evils of things as ubiquitous as sandblasted jeans, leather, and wool. Even while I pare down on other aspects of my life, those are the things that I could never give up. Instead, I am trying now to sift through brands that offer me some sort of comfort when it comes to the ethical treatment of the environment, of animals, and of humans.

I am going to try, as an experiment for  the next year, to only buy items that can be traced to its source (man, do I sound like the stereotypical elitist hippie from Portlandia). I'm going to try to buy as locally as possible - from the food I consume to the dishes I use to the clothes I wear. And if they aren't local or from the USA, it should be at least be from a company that I know has high ethical responsibility and manufacturing standards. I'm sure it would prove to be a very difficult and expensive challenge, but perhaps this will actually encourage me to consume less, to appreciate things when I actually do buy them and to marvel at the mere effort of finding something that will become a heirloom.

I don't really know what this blog will become without having something to show on every post, be it a new purchase or something fancy or something that encourages consumerism. Even the notion of a "wishlist" is starting to irk me. I feel that it it is my personal duty and responsibility, as someone who studies climate and environmental science but loves fashion and all things materialistic, to encourage others to consume more mindfully in hopes that I may still leave a sliver of the beauty of the world to the generation after me. It is a responsibility that we as humans ultimately have towards the earth.

Some really good recommendations for weekend reading are:
1. To Die For - Lucy Siegle
2. Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers - Leonard Koren
3. The Essential Epicurus - Epicurus (translated by Eugene O' Connor)

And if you have too much time on your hands:
4. De Rarum Natura (On The Nature of Things) - Lucretius


P/S: I want to thank the people who have linked to and recommended this blog on numerous occasions. Thank you for being such kind and patient readers even when I go off on obtuse and roundabout angles constantly.

20 comments :

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I'm looking forward to seeing how your experiment goes! Difficult and expensive, maybe, but absolutely worthwhile.

    acleanercloset.blogspot.com

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  2. No, you don't sound like a stereotypical elitist hippie! Don't put yourself down because of admirable choices you've made.

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  3. Your musings are usually my favorite posts... and this one is no exception.

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  4. I just started reading your blog and I'm so happy I did. This is exactly how I've been feeling lately. I'm overburdened by consumption and have wanted to do more investing in garments (not just monetarily). I think it's important for the essential quality (and source) of a piece rather than a label or trend. Thank you. I'm definitely going to do the suggested reading. My bf already has a couple of the philosophy books at home!

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  5. I really enjoyed reading this post. Getting slightly sidetracked, do you have/did you used to have a cooking blog? I'm always really curious what normal people with actual busy lives manage to make for dinner, and I could really use the inspiration! Or if you have any good recommendations, I'd appreciate it. Being from the Bay Area, of course the local food movement is deeply ingrained in my mind (total hippie here, even have my own veggie garden), but it's interesting how that hasn't extended to other parts of my life, namely clothing. I think nothing of the clothes that are flown over from France (and manufactured in China), but it really is something to think about.

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  6. @ACC, @Eva & @courtney: Thanks for stopping by. I hope I can hold myself to the high standards I've set for myself - I'm really weak and undisciplined! =)

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  7. @Lindsay: Thanks for reading! I hope the books make for an interesting read.

    @S
    I used to have a cooking blog but I didn't have time to update it and I took crappy pictures anyway. Unfortunately I can't recommend food blogs (other than the usual suspects Smitten Kitchen/Use Real Butter etc.) because I think it's too much effort involve in sifting through their recipes for daily use. I would HIGHLY recommend subscribing to the Everyday Food magazine, they have awesome recipes and a weekly menu that you can easily prepare.

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  8. Such a thoughtful post. Buying less makes so much sense to me. I managed to keep to the 20 items French wardrobe guideline this year and it has felt so satisfying. I have also been clearing out my closet and have given away a lot of lovely things I don't wear enough to people who will enjoy them more. It's a work in progress - I intend to continue with the clear out until 90 percent of my wardrobe (i.e. everything except heirloom items)is made up of things I wear regularly. And next year, I plan to shop even less - maybe 10 items. I was surprised how 20 items felt like a lot by the time fall came around.

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  9. dear amanda,

    thank you for both thinking and writing. i guess I should read lucy seigal's book. i also found Deluxe - How Luxury Lost its Luster, which looks good. http://www.amazon.com/Deluxe-How-Luxury-Lost-Luster/dp/0143113704/ref=wl_it_dp_o_npd?ie=UTF8&coliid=I2125G6YCRFWNG&colid=1R9WU8TAMZ5GS

    but i think one thing we also have to consider the jobs that factories overseas provide, and what those jobs MEAN to the people living in that country. the money that someone earns from working somewhere sewing Vena Cava and Rachel Comey dresses is significant to them. Once I read an article about the (absolutely horrendous) lives of women in Afghanistan in the NY Times and someone from India responded. He said (I paraphrase), "In India we have many of the same problems and in spite of the hundreds of charities, and micro finance, and NGOs, the only thing that has worked to improve the position of women in our society has been economic development - these women need a place to go OUTSIDE the home, the extended family unit etc. and industrialization is the ONLY thing that is going to liberate these women."

    you can read the article here...

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/08/world/asia/08burn.html?pagewanted=all

    that said...

    i have to admit that i did, after your last post, have a good look at my closet. No. 6 wins a prize, i guess, for marketing itself as "NYC" and at the same time being made in NYC (by whom, under what conditions i don't know).

    However, I was sad to see Vena Cava (aforementioned) fall into the "Made in China" human rights-environmental issues morass ---and APC, made in Tunisia.... anyway, 85 percent of my closet comes from a relatively faraway 3rd world country.

    But as I said before, there's a part of me that says YES, some Tunisian person has a job which helps to feed their family because I bought this shirt.

    The Vena Cava - "Two-Cool-Chicks-From-Brooklyn" thing, well, i guess that's not true anymore, now that their stuff is all outsourced to China (not to mention that a lot of it is unlined, at the same triple digit price... and looking cheaper and tackier, since say, 2006 when their clothes were at their best... i'd love to get my hands on some of S/S 07). I think it's more the hypocrisy of some of these labels that bothers me...

    Cheers and thanks again...

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  10. @Ammu
    Are you located in India? I've been reading all these really sad things about manufacturing in India but I really wanted to know if it was just overblown or if it were true. Anyway, I find myself still continuously reassessing my wardrobe even though I think I wear almost all the items in my closet. I'm learning how to be contented without being envious! Good luck with your wardrobe overhaul!


    @CIZINKA
    Thank you so much for pointing out the bit about jobs. The truth is the appalling condition of jobs is basically the fault of us as consumers because we are ALWAYS looking for the cheapest items - and it falls on the smallest fish in the ocean to subsume that responsibility. I think that companies only care about profit but if we as consumers use our money to reflect our opinions, then companies will follow suit. Honestly, the real thing in my opinion, that is going to liberate these women is education, otherwise, they are just pawns to the machines of capitalism.

    I understand that you can feel that you are supporting a poor person in a third world country by purchasing from a certain company. But the truth is that many these companies make a LOT of money without really giving back any to their workers. It is a difficult moral dilemma, but once again, it's up to the consumer to make the ethical decision that they are comfortable with.

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  11. I think it really depends on the company and their standards and policies. One advantage of living in India (I moved back here last year after 15 years overseas) is that I have much better access to workshops, i.e. when I get a pair of bespoke trousers made by a designer, I can visit his workshop and see the conditions for myself. And there are a lot of Indian designers working to create better conditions for the people who grow cotton, weave it, stitch it, and so on. My friends here have been working on something called the Malkha project - http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Malkha-Project/162190653807127
    That said, there are definitely cases of factories using child labour or treating adult workers badly. Then there's the fact that many young Indians would rather spend money in Zara then buy something from a local boutique, because they think Zara, H&M et al are on-trend and aspirational. And, as in the west, many consumers in India want to spend less and acquire more stuff. I worked on a story last year on how an influx of Chinese-made saris was destroying an indigenous and highly-skilled industry in India - http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gPujBWfE95Xlxe7SzyAlfF_1naAA?docId=CNG.435c7e466927459d2aea3faee1e2d2c3.d1&index=0

    That said, I like to deal with what I buy on a case-by-case basis as much as possible. I don't believe that everything made in China is poor quality or the product of sweatshop labour, and I don't think everything made in the western world is high-quality. It seems to me that the bottom-line is that we need to wonder about why we feel the urge to own so many things and find ways to address that. I am in the process of doing that and I wish I had realised this when I was younger and enamoured of shopping.

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  12. a thoughtful and wonderfully written post as usual. thanks for the provocative inspiration, amanda!

    i agree with ammu here - all too often people oversimplify the issue of made in-- and it become a marketing gimmick. as we all know, locally made does not mean quality. i've been wrestling with the idea of 'locally made' now that i'm in SH for the year, and will do a post on that soon enough. looking forward to your posts as you start your challenge! :)

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  13. I agree on so many levels. The sad thing though as a pitiful university student I wonder if I can do the same with my paltry budget.

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  14. @Ammu
    Ammu, thank you for clarifying. I think you summed it up very well when you pointed out that the problem the world is facing is that we all want to spend less and have more, even if it means sacrificing quality and ethics. We no longer care about how things are made and where they come from as long as they are cheap and easily attainable. And thank you also for pointing me to the article you wrote, it was interesting how it's playing out the same way in Italian and Scottish textile mills as well.

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  15. @miss sophie
    I was reading through my post again and realized that holding myself to a made locally standard may be pushing it too far because you are right, there's a lot of US-made goods (eg: American Apparel) that have abhorrent environmental practices and are low quality. I may have to rethink what exactly I intend to do about shopping locally and ethically.

    @Joy I think the upfront costs of investing in some quality garment usually pays for itself over time =)

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  16. I am just in the middle of reading Fashion Victim and already some of the things I have read makes me want to stop buying things altogether. But I agree with Cizinka and coming from Bangladesh myself where I know millions of families are alive simply because of the atrocious garments factories where Zara, H&M, Gap Inc clothing are made. If these factories are closed those families will be even more destitute than they are now as the govt seems completely unable to do anything.

    I understand your dilemma, being an environmental sci-international development student who is interested in fashion is difficult on one's conscience. I was just talking to my bf last night and we came to the conclusion that unless people all over the world take a stand for fare wages, environmental sustainability and ethical manufacturing practices, we can't stop this movement that is gaining momentum.

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  17. Thanks for such an inspirational post again. I have a friend who's very involved in sustainable fashion, and used to have her own line of clothes made of 100% organic fabrics, but she gave up after a few collections. It was so hard to find good organic fabrics, and to have them produced in a decent way.I really need to get that book!

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  18. I'm reading this post rather belatedly, and well-put as usual. I wrestle with many of the same issues myself. Being on holiday was temptation to shop, because holidays are all about indulgence, but it's sobering when you return and realise that you don't really want a tonne of new things in your closet - I was relieved by all the things I didn't buy, and just slightly shamefaced that I did come home with a handful of new clothes (including "Made in Tunisia" APC!), but oh well, we are all works in progress.

    I'm quite resigned that I am unlikely to find locally-made clothing in Singapore (even local designers don't often manufacture here) but I've been taking an interest in eating local produce more and following some locavore sites. That for me, is a small step towards my goals.

    Hope to hear all about your progress in shopping by source, it's encouraging when I read about endeavours like yours.

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  19. I think it's not a coincidence/surprising that so many bloggers are wanting to buy local and to think more carefully about their purchases. I haven't read Lucy Siegle's book (and I wish it were available on Kindle because I'm out of the US and can't have books shipped here!), but I imagine that it smartly dissects the sort of style-blogging-tornado fatigue I've been experiencing lately. It'll be first on my list of books to check out once I'm back stateside on holiday :)

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  20. Having returned from a 10 day holiday a few weeks ago, I got an urge to really change my shopping patterns, despite my passion for the environment it seemed my spending patterns have become outrageously shallow largely due to fashion blogging. I am so happy to discover your blog, it is rare to find eloquent, well written fashion blogs that have a real conscience and give thought to the way we are meant to spend and live. I am really enjoying reading back through your posts. Thank you for sharing this with us! It's inspirational and humbling

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