How Travel and Costumes Led to My Involvement in Sustainable and Ethical Fashion

As a costume technician buried in a garment while frantically hand-sewing or coordinating quick-changes to assist actors with costume changes backstage as a dresser, I had always chosen to work for specific companies for their location. Whether it was to be near family and friends or explore what the area had to offer, I was ready for a travel adventure. After working many places from the colorful deserts of Utah to the mountains of Boulder to the beautiful San Diego, I felt the need to keep wandering. While becoming a wandering nomad sounded amazing, I wanted more than travel from place to place—I wanted a purpose attached. My passion to discover and learn about traditional ethnic clothing combined with my pursuits of culture through local fashion magazines was a start, but I needed more direction. Then, my answer arrived. A colleague suggested an area I had seen, but never considered—fair trade crafts. But fair trade was only the beginning as I learned more about sustainable and ethical fashion. What made this industry so appealing? Here are a few connections to show you what made me a part of sustainable and ethical fashion.

TravelsThe appreciation and preservation of traditional crafts. Working as a seamstress, I was often told, “You get paid more than minimum wage for that?” As a dresser backstage, people often responded, “There’s a job for that?” Assisting artisans is what drove me to ethical fashion because I was excited to meet others who valued the work of handicrafts. It was exciting to see there were others who saw the work of weavers, artists, and stitchers as valuable work that should be recognized for its importance. Now that I have experience with ethical fashion, I’ve come to realize the struggles artisans endure to gain respect for their craftsmanship, and when traveling, I strive to find local artisans who work on authentic pieces and pay them for their quality work.

Costume Work

Left: A rendering for my class project for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Mesa State College. Right: A sample of pad-stitching I finished for a tailoring project.

Practicing the concepts of re-use-and re-purpose. When college classmates told me they washed their jeans after every wear and threw out clothes every six months, I was shocked because of my upbringing of hand-me-downs, minimal purchases, and knowledge of mending. In costume departments I learned how much is kept in stock for possible use in future shows and the significance of knowing how to properly repair costumes throughout the run of a show. During one particular show, a designer utilized his re-purposing insights and found a skirt in stock that the construction team used to cut out a vest instead of spending money to purchase a new one. While all of this is a part of budget concerns, I understood the purpose of re-using and re-purposing. I was delighted to discover sustainable fashion encouraged the same techniques on websites like Love Your Clothes and The Good Wardrobe rather than carelessly tossing out items. Even when it comes to travel, I find knowing how to do basic clothing repairs and cleaning is essential to make items last during my current and future trips.

Sustainable FashionThere is an interest for the historical and cultural meaning behind clothing. After learning about the history and time period of costumes, I developed a curiosity and respect for the story behind an article of clothing. Pursuing my own projects involving Chinese Opera and traditional Asian clothing made me even more eager to pursue the cultural significance behind many ethnic handicrafts and clothing. Traveling to Peru to intern with an ethical fashion company seemed to be a natural connection to my love of cultural handicrafts and techniques. While traveling to a foreign country was great, what was even better was finding a story to tell about the traditional and local culture of the area. As I’ve found from blogging about and interning remotely with other ethical fashion companies, the story and history is what continues my advocacy for this industry.

CTTC (L) (6)There’s an understanding that there is a person behind the product. Underneath the lining, boning, casing, satin, grommets, bias, and cording, there’s the work of countless hours of sewing, cutting, fitting, and patterning from many different hands when making a period corset. When I returned back to a costume shop after my time in Peru, I thought on how little people think of those who make their clothes. Artisans have a life beyond work with family and friends. They may have ambitions and pursuits beyond their handicrafts. As a former stitcher, I was often typecast as only having sewing skills and being a person who strictly wanted to make things. But I wanted more. I wanted to be known as more than a seamstress, and my advocacy for sustainable fashion gave me that outlet. Instead of being just a stitcher, I had the opportunity to use my travels, my work in costuming, and my interest in fashion to show my appreciation for clothing by tying in the world of sustainable and ethical fashion. I could use my love of photography and my growing knowledge of social media to launch my pursuits into other possibilities. I felt confident and empowered. More importantly, I realized that if I could feel this way then I wanted others to feel this way too. By showing the work of artists and artisans around the world, I could develop an understanding and respect for what they bring to the world.

The best thing about all of my pursuits, whether they have been temporarily staying in another city for theatre work or assisting another sustainable fashion company, I have the opportunity to experience the world. Travel is great, but the opportunity to become involved in a particular local culture is even better. Whether I continue to remotely assist Sustainable Fashion companies, blog on my site, or guest post on other platforms, I hope to open up a new world and way of thinking to myself and those around me.

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