The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘fashion

Like most writers, I love research. And, like most writers, research can send me down endless rabbit holes. For my novella, Reenu-You, I spent years researching viruses. Of course, only a sliver of our research ever ends up in the actual story. This means we have to make wise decisions about how much to research before writing (or while writing). Still, it is so much fun to deeply explore a subject and find details that will create emotional truths in our characters, or enliven our setting.

One of my early creative loves was fashion design. I can still recall spending hours sketching out designs and showing them to my mother when I was about eight years old. Living in NYC, it was easy to fall in love with fashion, as it is one of the driving industries and a style capital. My mother was incredibly savvy about clothes and my early interest in designing was often a desire to understand her aesthetic tastes. As I got older, I remember talking myself out of pursuing fashion design. I didn’t know anyone who was a designer, so it didn’t seem like a real career, just a glamorous dream. My inner critic told me that I didn’t sew very well and that I was horrible at measuring things. Yup, I already had an active inner critic as a pre-teen!

Anyway, our true loves have a way of sneaking into our stories. For example, Constancia, one of the two main characters in Reenu-You is passionate about fashion and is about to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, for accessories design.

In 2014, I did NaNoWriMo for the first time and completed a draft of a novel where ‘eco-fashion’ plays an important role. I absolutely love this story and have been researching sustainable fashion or eco-fashion for some time.

Before doing research, I had heard of the downsides of “fast” or highly disposable fashion, but I now know SO much more. I love fashion and also want to be a responsible consumer.

Did you know that most of our clothes eventually end up in a landfill?

Approximately, 85% of the clothing we discard in the US is sent to landfills and incinerators.

And, no giving to thrift stores doesn’t solve the problem—most of what is donated is never used and also goes into the landfill: https://daily.jstor.org/fast-fashion-fills-our-landfills/

The fashion industry has historically employed some horrendously unequal labor practices; ones that often significantly impact women workers globally. It also contributes to environmental degradation.

The fashion industry is complex and there are lots of challenges associated with reform.

But, there are also lots of opportunities for change. That is good news and involves consumer advocacy, changes in corporate practices and also the rise of designers interested in sustainable practices.

Although, I’ve read a number of books and articles, on this subject, I hadn’t talked to anyone in the design world.

So, I was thrilled that during the weekend, I was able to attend a wonderful event hosted by the Abundance Foundation called Think Again: Fashion, Farming, Fiber! This event was designed to ask local and global questions about the fashion industry and sustainability. I got to hear from experts about how technology is changing how cotton is grown (to eliminate the need to dye it), and the rise of industrial hemp being grown in North Carolina. I also got to talk to a few designers about the way they use upcycled, recycled and local materials.

The evening fashion show on Saturday was spectacular and showcased a half dozen designers, in N.C., that specialize in eco-fashion!

The model in the video is wearing an outfit made entirely from post-consumer “waste”.

It was a great community event with lots of local kids participating. The models were a range of body types, ages and gender expressions, too.

I think the key to not letting research hijack your writing is to give it a time limit and also to keep writing. This event gave me a boost to keep pushing forward in the novel. Once I get through this draft, I can go back and layer what I’ve learned into subsequent drafts. No more research until this draft is completed.

How do you manage the research process for your writing projects?

 

 

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I truly believe no creative work is ever wasted. I began writing about the dilemma of ‘petite fashion’ years ago, but never found a home for it. I decided to revisit this issue for my column in The Chapel Hill News and also try writing it from a more tongue-in-cheek voice. So far this column has generated the highest response from readers I’ve ever had. I think a ‘petite manifesto’ is in order.

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As a 5-foot-3/4-inch petite woman, until recently I’ve always accepted my minority status in the fashion world.

Growing up, I learned through the models that I saw in catalogs and fashion magazines that clothes were made for and the domain of taller women. I’d come to accept some givens of life, like when I shop for clothes 1) I’ll have to alter most of what I buy, and 2) I’ll have fewer stylish selections to choose from and they’ll range from clothing with a girlish ruffle sewed on every possible square inch of material, or matronly sweaters with an overabundance of appliqued fruits and vegetables across the chest.

I’d even gotten used to a blasé kind of treatment by sales personnel. Last week I went to a well-known women’s clothing store chain. I hadn’t been there in a few months and I couldn’t find the petite section. I asked a salesperson if she could tell me where they had moved their petite section. The salesperson looked at me and pointed toward the misses section. I said, “You’ve mixed the petites in with the misses? That makes a lot of retail sense, huh?”

She shrugged her shoulders.

I added, “So now, for petites, it’s fend for yourself clothing?”

She didn’t seem to understand why I was irritated and frankly, insulted. I believe it’s the underlying belief that the industry holds about petite shoppers: that those harmless, docile, slightly embarrassed small women will take anything that we give them.

But we won’t or we shouldn’t! Not anymore.

After the shopping incident I did a bit of research and discovered that I’m actually in the majority!

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the average woman’s height is 5’4”. Some estimates suggest that there are approximately 100 million petite women in the United States that are categorized as “fit, curvy and plus-sized”! Another shocker I discovered is that the fashion industry-preferred standard size of women at 5’9” and taller only represent 3 percent of women.

And, according to analysts, petites are a $9 billion industry. So, why do I often come home after a weekend of shopping feeling vexed, disrespected and downright disappointed? The fact is that retailers haven’t caught up with this new reality and that tradition, inertia and lack of consumer organizing all play a role.

There is a glimmer of hope as several new online sites feature designers offering limited lines for petites. Also there is the lifesaver petitefashionista.com that provides up-to-date links to name-brand designers and stores that sell petite clothes. But this is just a drop in the bucket and does nothing to combat the lack of equity of representation in major department stores. Several years ago Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s all made news when they downsized their petite departments.

I know the retailers have been in the “big girl” pride moment for the last decade, focusing on the plus-size market, and that’s great. Monique, Star Jones, and Ricki Lake, you go girls. But, where’s our contests, catalogs, or dare even I say magazines? As a girl I use to dream of entering the Miss Petite America pageant (yes there was such a contest, you had to be 5’ 4” and under to compete in it).

Retailers and pageant hosts, where’s the love?

Maybe petite women need our own reality show to get noticed, a hybrid of “What Not to Wear” meets “Survivor” where fashion designers are brought to an island and forced to come up with stylish lines of clothing with nary a ruffle or piece of appliqued fruit in sight. Or, maybe the trick is to get a hip-hop song promoting our needs.

If pop culture is not the way then effective organizing might be the key. I’ve been thinking about the following: Petites United for Fashion. So, the acronym would be PUFF, probably too cutesy – but it’s a start. Our chant would be, we’re here, we’re petite – dress us!

A version of this column recently appeared in The Chapel Hill News.

PS: I only found out about this resource after the column went to press: http://bellapetite.com/.Bellapetite conducts a model search and also produces a print magazine. They say the ‘petite movement’ in fashion has begun. Yay!

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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