The Dzao people live and breathe ethical. In the West, we are trying to re-find a way of wearing clothes that don't cost the earth. The Dzao have been doing it for centuries in the most beautiful way.
The Dzao make their own clothes. They make them with pride to show off their skills and their identity. Every year a Dzao woman will make themselves a new set of clothes. A pair of trousers covered in embroidery and a jacket with the finest tail piece, sleeve embroidery and a panel of embroidery on the back. The embroidery is their finest tradition. It enables them to identified as Dzao.
When they go to the market, when they are on the bus, on the back of a motorbike, visiting other towns and cities they can be spotted from far away as Dzao. They can even be identified as to which village they come from. Everywhere they go they carry a clear, visual expression of where they come from and move around with a clear sense of belonging. Just as, in the same way, so many sub-cultures do in the West. This is what clothing is all about, beyond keeping us warm and dry, what we put on in the morning is an expression of our identity and so often a group or culture that we belong to. Function and belonging is the purpose of clothing and for so many cultures across the world - it is important.
What the Dzao do, which is unusual, is they spend hours and hours, weeks and months making these clothes. They respect themselves for making their clothes and they respect each other for making their own clothes. Embroidery is valued, indigo cloth is valued. It is the process of making that is valued. Value lies in the time spent to make something, value lies in the quality of the materials that go into making the garment, value lies in the concentration and the skills required to make too. Through making your own clothes the Dzao understand that this makes you a stronger person. Making embroidery is a sort of meditation, it requires being present and getting on and doing. When you are making embroidery there is a sense of calm that happens, not only that, but a sense of satisfaction too. You are the creator of something extremely beautiful and it happens as you do it.
Lydia Higginson - mademywardrobe.com has spent a year making her own clothes in the UK, go Lydia! It's so interesting to be able to read her blog as a Western example. Just in the same way as the Dzao, Lydia has put so time and focus into making her own clothes and now she wears her only her own clothes - they make her strong. Check out her blogs, and series of workshops available.
For almost all of us living a busy lifestyle where we work a particular job, to make our own clothes would be impossible. That’s ok. In modern society we have all taken on roles that are also extremely valued, and important, and ultimately have the same, just more removed function: of putting food on the table, a roof over our heads and a clothing on our bodies. It also gives us leisure time and interesting things to do in our leisure time. I am not saying any of this is bad. What is bad however, is how we have squeezed the value out of our most basic essential needs. Food and clothing. The movement to feed ourselves better is happening. We are all aware that we can make more ‘ethical’ choices when it comes to food. We are starting to ask more and more questions about where it comes from, comparing quality, questioning how it is produced and how much producers are being paid. We want to eat better and are prepared to pay more for something that is better, for our bodies, for the producers and for the environment. My dear friend, Tom Hunt has been working for years on the subject of ethical eating and slow food, he has an inspirational approach to eating that is better for everyone and doesn't mean spending a fortune on food. It is more about changing our habits and ways of eating. Check him out tomsfeast.com
Awareness about clothing and textiles is slower to get going, and it seems less important when we are financially stretched. Although conversations are starting and things are happening, clothes swaps are hugely popular, adapting clothing, buying vintage, (check out the work of antiformonline.co.uk, super inspiring work and based at the Bristol Textile Quarter with us). However, seeing cotton production happening and really understanding dye processes is still not really understood. We are all very disconnected from what it really takes to make a red t-shirt. It has been possible to go to a shop and just buy one for years and years and over these years, we have have taken less and less interest in how it is made. Hence the profits have been squeezed and squeezed to actually make items of clothing that exploit people rather than employ them and exploit the environment, using a variety of hideous chemical, toxic processes and gallons and gallons of water.
The textile industry is ugly and it is time that more of us start talking about it and taking more interest in where our clothes come from.
Before the younger Dzao people lose interest in the excruciatingly long processes that go into creating the traditional Dzao clothes each year. (This is beginning to happen, chemically dyed cotton from China for the base cloth for their embroidery, chemical dyed silk, even printed replicas of embroidery). It would be crazy for us not to be talking to each other. The Dzao people are on the brink of losing their traditional, entirely traceable and ethical textiles but they still, just, have these processes. Whereas, in the West we are realising the consequences of wearing highly processed fashion with no satisfaction.
Let’s discuss what it means to dress well.
To feel good in our clothes and hence in our skin, or in our skin and hence in our clothes.
Let’s think about what it means to have to have our courage and power pants on, perhaps that you made yourself …
I am the ME bit of TAMAY & ME. I am into clothes, I am into well being, I am into what we get back from process and I am really into Dzao culture and the strength that they, especially Tamay, have given me.
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We are really excited to be running an adventure to make your own jacket this summer. An opportunity to experience first-hand all the making processes involved and Dzao culture for yourselves. Make sure you sign up to the mailing list if you are interested to find out more.
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