By Amina Farah,
Sustainable fashion has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I was born in Somalia, raised in Kenya due to the civil war. We moved around a lot all over Africa throughout my whole childhood.
However, one thing always remained stable in my life. It was the clothes we wore which we held onto dearly even when we migrated to Kenya illegally on a bus for seven days. Since we are Muslims, my mother has always practiced modesty in our lives down to how we behaved, what values we held, and what we wore. Sustainability has always been a practice of faith.
However, tailoring is not unique to Somali culture only. It has been a lifestyle practice for many African cultures and communities to make our clothes. We often gather as a community in villages and do it together. It’s been one of those things I have grown to appreciate and miss ever since I came to be a part of a fast-paced country like New Zealand.
Back home, you will never have to worry about a blouse not fitting you. Tailors will make it to complement every one of your curves and edges perfectly. It’s unique, beautiful, and far less wasteful than ordering many clothes online that prove to be disappointing when they don’t fit or provide the quality you paid for.
When you tailor your dresses, you don’t have to worry about quality, and that’s what sustainability is. It’s a practice of durability incorporated with timeless designs that can be worn for years rather than replaced or thrown out as soon as the trend changes.
The first time I grew insecure about my size and curves was when I came to New Zealand. I was shopping with my cousin and it proved to be a sad day. We visited ten stores, and I couldn’t find a single garment that fitted me perfectly without showing too much skin or settling for lousy quality.
That’s when I realized that fast fashion is constructed to exclude us. By us, I mean those who don’t have the body society expects. It’s a shitty feeling when you walk into a store, and nothing it provides feels like you. You constantly feel like you’re being left out from what’s been regarded as societal norms.
The option of tailoring in New Zealand isn’t exactly an accessible option. It is very costly here compared to back at home. In Somalia, buying fast fashion pieces costs more than going to the tailor. With fast fashion, you’re constantly buying items which may not even last you the month, leading you to buy again. With tailoring, you pick the fabric of your choice, get measured and receive the quality and style for your money’s worth.
I guess that’s when I started to miss being home. Being a teenager, it is very hard not to express myself through my own personal style due to lack of accessibility I have to the type of clothing I want.
I try my best not to contribute to fast fashion. However, when I started to research sustainable brands and seeing what thrifting had to offer, it proved to be difficult to find clothing that catered to my needs through sustainable fashion methods. It’s hard to find items like lingerie for example.
This then leads me to occasionally rely on international online fast fashion brands. I feel guilty whenever I purchase an item from one of these online stores. I am aware of the damage I’m contributing to, but my options for clothing are often narrow.
This hasn’t stopped me from continuously searching for sustainable fashion methods that work for me personally. It’s tough when you live here, but I feel so much better when I find an item of clothing that suits me and its production hasn’t exploited workers from third world countries.
I remember finally finding an item sustainably in September, 2018. I remember the day so specifically because I still have the dress and sweater which are my favorite pieces to wear to date.
I found them at a garage sale in Onehunga. Who said garage sales were outdated and couldn’t be another great way to thrift? My friend’s neighbor was having a garage sale of all these unique items that she handmade herself. Not only was the quality of it superb, but it was also at a very reasonable price, my size and style. I was drawn to it as soon as I saw it on the hanger.
To this day, I treasure that memory because it was my first time at a garage sale and also the first time I was able to find clothing I genuinely loved sustainably. I mean, I can’t even dare to put into words the joy I felt that day. It was simply magical.
My Life Philosophy
The story of my journey with clothing is a personal one and has further allowed me to apply it to a life philosophy I now live by. My mom used to tell me:
“Tailor your life like you tailor your clothes.”
She said when you let everyone in your life have access to you, you’ll feel worn out and lonely despite being surrounded by people. The quality of the people in your life matters. It matters just as much as the quality of the clothes you wear matters.
Unless you don’t want to change with the fad, be around the ones who lift you and who you learn from, and wear your best outfit doing it!
I’ve always listened to my mom, and I guess I took this advice to heart. I understand this may seem a bit dramatic to others, having a life philosophy stemmed from what quality clothing has taught my family and I. But, when your home is far away from where you are, you will tend to hold on to those cultural practices.
I make sure to always dress modestly. My Western style gravitates towards a variety of flowing wide black pants paired with a button-down dress shirt, vests, sweaters, suits, and trench coats. But then it grows to be a frustrating experience when I cannot find these items in my sizes. What I wear is multifaceted, where my Somali style is quite different.
Because of this, I tend to embrace my Somali style more often than my Western style because it doesn’t feel limiting or uncomfortable, and it’s also sustainable. Whereas when it comes to my western style, usually my size and style tend to clash.
This life philosophy is very relevant in my life. It was tough for me to feel comfortable enough to continue to embrace my Somali attire and culture due to the number of hideous stares and remarks I have gotten because of it. Like in intermediate, I decided to wear my Somali clothes to school for culture day, and when the other students saw me, they started comparing me to a ‘mom.’ Of course, that was disheartening.
Over time, I realised that the same way the quality of my clothes mattered, the quality of my friends mattered. I used to recite this phrase to myself anytime I felt ugly, or fat, or frustrated with my clothes, and it never failed to cheer me up. And because I lived my life genuinely looking for good quality clothes and good quality people, I regained confidence in myself. I was able to find amazing friends who love my Somali clothes and love exploring my culture with me, which I’m truly grateful for. This life philosophy enabled me to ignore the naysayers and grow into a woman of culture that knows now not to be ashamed of her clothes and heritage.
I guess that’s why I was drawn to write this piece for Greenstyle, because it felt like an opportunity where I could express my cultural connection to sustainability to a broader audience and educate others about embracing different cultures of fashion and the sustainability that comes along with it.
You alone are capable of tailoring your life just like your clothes. You have absolute control to implement values of sustainability in your life even if the odds have been placed against you.
We don’t need to view sustainable fashion as just this tangible way of consumerism. Sustainability has principles and values that we can all learn from at a personal level with how we develop the relationship we have with ourselves and with others.
I hope the key thing you can take away from this is that you should always choose carefully who has access to you, whether that’s your clothes or the people in your life. Start the change within yourself to make a difference, then take the world by storm.
Remember, tailor your life like you tailor your clothes.
Talk to you soon 🙂
Amina signing off.