Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.


Copyright 2012 by the author(s).


Uncut: The materiality of textiles and the politics of sustainment in fashionable clothing In the contemporary world, where visual communication gains greater authority, human beings are becoming more detached from the materiality of their clothing. Fashionable garments in particular are promoted, sold and bought on how they look, not what they are made of. Arguably this encourages the excessive waste that surrounds fashion, where clothes become relegated to the status of mere perishables. In production, similarly, an estimated 15% of the fabric used to create a piece of clothing ends up in a landfill. This paper examines this situation conceptually and practically, and in doing so proposes that the politics of sustainment in fashionable clothing must acknowledge further the materiality and wholeness of the textiles from which clothes are produced. Conceptually, the paper draws upon 'thing theory' and in particular the recent work of political theorist Jane Bennett on 'vital materiality'. This provides a framework to analyze the work of designers who are well known for their respect of the integrity of cloth, such as Issey Miyake in Japan, alongside designers who have reused fabrics, or who have engaged with 'zero waste' methods of pattern cutting, such as Natalie Chanin, Yeohlee Teng, Timo Rissanen in the United States, or Julian Roberts in the U.K., all of whom are known internationally. Through these examples, it will be argued that consideration of the material condition of textiles is a crucial factor, both theoretically and practically, in the politics of more sustainable clothing.