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Book Reviews

Casting a Shadow: Practicalities matter. But style does too.

India Flint - Second Skin

Second Skin – choosing and caring for textiles and clothing.
By: India Flint
ISBN: 9781741967210

Not many books have been written about the practicalities of being a responsible consumer.
Second Skin – choosing and caring for textiles and clothing, was hence very welcomed and promised to fill a a content gap in the landscape of sustainable fashion.

Over the course of 11 chapters, the book covers indeed what looks on the surface all the important aspects an aspiring responsible fashion consumer can wish for. The chronology of the chapters follows a clear logic – in essence, that of a garment’s life cycle – and each chapter is brimming with either examples from the author’s personal life and network.
The illustrations themselves are well chosen, and in more than one occasion stunning (if not necessarily the reviewer’s taste). The book overall is well designed and not the least on a visual level no doubt a pleasant read.

Second Skin – Chapter Overview:

  • Chapter 1 – Underpinnings: On the role of cloth and clothing and how fashion and consumption are affecting ecology
  • Chapter 2 – Provenance: A loot at what textiles are made from and some of their properties, with an emphasis on those derived from natural sources.
  • Chapter 3 – Clothing choices: Making informed choices – some things to think about when making decisions about clothes.
  • Chapter 4 – Planning your wardrobe: Planning and managing the wardrobe: how much clothing do we really need?
  • Chapter 5 – Making clothes: On making clothes, sourcing material and the satisfaction in wearing self-made clothing.
  • Chapter 6 – Maintenance: Keeping up appearance; maintenance, mending and making-do.
  • Chapter 7 – Gallery: Pictures worth a thousands words – material matters, metamorphoses and making.
  • Chapter 8 – Repurposed and repurposing fashion: Giving your second skin a second life – can it be tweaked or is major surgery necessary?
  • Chapter 9 – When all else fails: Patching, piecing, felting and twining.
  • Chapter 10 – Dyeing as if life depended on it: Some simple and safe processes for colouring cloth with plants.
  • Chapter 11 – And in the very end: The choice of raiment for the last dance of all.

India Flint speaking at the Confluence 2011 Conference ((c) Brittany Conroy, SDA Confluence Blogger)

India Flint speaking at the Confluence 2011 Conference ((c) Brittany Conroy, SDA Confluence Blogger)

In order to know what to expect in more detail from the book, it is worth finding out more about the author, India Flint. On her website, she describes herself as follows:
"maker of marks, forest wanderer & tumbleweed, stargazer & stitcher, botanical alchemist & string twiner, working traveller, dreamer, writer and aspiring sax player
...dyeing for a living in the deep south [...]
I work with cloth, paper, felt, weaving, stitch and bio-regionally gathered ecologically sustainable dyes [a long-winded way of saying "windfallen leaves, bark and earth pigments"] as a means of mapping country and making sense of my whirled/world.
I regard these processes as a kind of arcadian alchemy.
From time to time I also rearrange found objects as markers of place in the landscape."

In other words: the book is very much targeting ‘home crafters’, i.e. people who already sew, make their own (fibre, cloth, garments), and who really only need some more inspiration and yet another rationale as to why their way of living is ‘the right one’.
Or possibly more drastically: the book is by no way for those aspiring responsible consumers who typically live in a city – or at least do not live in the deep countryside or outback. The book is really only targeting people who are entirely comfortable to feature their own – even peculiar, as it the case for the author – fashion style, without hesitation and entirely uninfluenced by what their jobs demand or friends think.
So to speak, the book targets people with an inclination to become, or already are, grassroots fashion activist – very much akin to what we saw during the 60s and 70s. Hence, sadly, precisely the type of people that have given ‘ethical fashion’ (possibly under a different label, e.g. ‘eco fashion’, ‘green fashion’, ‘good fashion’ etc.) the bad reputation it keeps suffering from up until the very present!

It goes without saying: This reviewer is not amused about this aspect of the book, notably because the book received a fair bit of publicity when published in the summer of 2011.

There are however a few and important pearls hidden among the pages of this book, and they are worth pointing out:
First of all, Flint takes us across a variety of mostly natural fibres that are suitable for making garments. Much of the usual slang associated with fibre quality is converted into every day English, which is a nice detail considering that only too often such descriptions sound as if taken out of a textile engineering book.
Through examples that illustrates the problem behind commercial labelling (e.g. ‘all natural’), which – bound to legislation only – doesn’t necessarily need to be as accurate as the consumer assumes it to be. Importantly, the impact ‘alternative labels’ (example: Levi’s new care tag) could have, under the assumption that consumer do read and follow them, is pointed out.
There are numerous other topics that are well thought through in their argument: the importance of making informed choices (which of course applies to all aspects of our lives, much beyond fashion); the need to consider the versatility of a wardrobe for all situations in live, not the least while travelling; or the practicalities of house hold knowledge, from stain removal to simple mending skills.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that the book is very carefully designed and edited, and that it took the shape that it was meant to. This is however precisely the disturbing aspect about this book: it has done a good job in lining out most, if not all, the important things to be considered, and also how they could be addressed in order to indeed make a difference on a very individual, and personal level.
Sadly however, the vast majority of examples and case studies presented, turn the wheel of time backwards to ‘sustainable consumption’ discussions when they were a camp fire topic amongst hippies, rather than yuppies. Few, if any, of the garments presented are what we would volunteer to wear on a daily level. Not even, or certainly not, for special occasions.
There is something to be said for not wasting cloth in off-cuts during the making process – but does the result of such efforts necessarily have to turn the wheel of time really back into the sack cloth age?
Alabama Chanin proves with every piece of her collections that sustainable consumptio and artisanal production of clothing, can be highly stylish and modern, without ever falling into the trap of marginalising oneself through dress code.

Sadly, Flint hasn’t done a similarly good job.

This book is available from your nearest book store as well as online from Amazon.

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