The fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to the ecological destruction of the planet. Fashion and style are often palmed off by most as purely materialistic and aesthetic. Regardless of whether you dress for comfort or aesthetic, one’s style is a physical manifestation of who you are. On a socio-political scale, your fashion choices also impact others; from those around you, to those who make the clothes. I talk to Naomi Hall, a recent fashion graduate from Curtin University, about her graduate collection ‘Shibui – Hand of the Maker’ and how she examines themes of identity, handcrafts and the sustainability of fashion and materials in her work.

What attracted me to Hall’s collection was the juxtaposing materials; the use of warm, heavy cocooning wool in contrast with the ethereal fabric of bamboo, linen, cotton and silk. Her collection was inspired by her trip to Japan in early 2016, particularly from visiting a family-owned silk farm in the country, which had been producing handmade silk textiles for generations. This led Hall to research into the theory of Shibui, an aesthetic of simplicity, subtlety and understated elegance. It prizes a balance between simple, beautiful aesthetics and practicality. This ethos resonated personally with Hall, being one of the main influences behind her collection, simultaneously with emphasis on the handmade.

Hall has always been a maker and craft savvy, from embroidering to carving wooden spoons, Hall credits her parents and upbringing as the influence behind this. When developing her graduate collection, she wanted to express how the handmade reflected her own identity and context. This manifested in her work through a hands on engagement with materials such as felting wool and hand spinning silk, but also through the subtle use of symbolising the hand and finger print. She wanted to make a collection that reflected its origins, showing the hand of the maker “I wanted to include all of my context and all of me in the garment without writing my name on it…it’s all about it being ingrained”. This had me thinking about our own identities and why we dress the way we do, how conscious are we about the fashion choices we make and how much are we influenced by external factors and contexts?

Hall grew up in Esperance, Western Australia. Living the rural life, she was brought up to think practically and economically. Things were never wasted and were always mended where possible, this triggered a sense of sentimentality when designing her garments and how clothes could be loved and worn most. Returning back to the core ethics of Shibui, she expressed that when garments are in the balance between beautiful and practical, they’re worn and loved more. With that came a sense of empowerment in these subtle choices, “I like the idea of being elegant and having a purpose,” she goes on to express how there’s something subversive in being feminine and chic, whilst still having the movement and freedom to do everything you could in a pair of running shorts.

When it came to the choice of materials in her collection, it only made sense for her to choose fabrics that were not only beautiful, but also practical, comfortable and resilient. These textiles, namely bamboo, cotton and linen, were important to her for their material qualities, and because they reflected her experiences and environment growing up in rural Australia: “I’m not designing for someone in a different country, I’m designing for myself – the context which I’m in. If it’s going to be a true reflection of me, it has to include my context and surroundings, and Australia is obviously bloody hot as shit. It wasn’t the driving force behind my collection, but its something that is instinctively relevant to you”. The use of natural fibres wasn’t just for comfort, it was an ecological response in opposition to synthetic plastic-based fabrics such as polyester and acrylic.

Hall expressed her dismay at their use in fast fashion, citing how there’s been a shift into how garments are constructed and the move away from natural fibres. Garments aren’t made to last like they used to, the clothes fall apart, but the plastic based fabrics never decompose in landfill. This isn’t to say natural fibres don’t have their own ethical issues, or to criticise consumers of fast fashion. In a world where a majority of us are under-skilled, it’s costlier to get something fixed than the price of the item itself.

Here’s where I try to indoctrinate you into the capsule wardrobe cult: try to find sentimentality in your clothes, opt for quality over quantity. If you’re lucky enough, fork out a little more for well made clothes, you’ll save money in the long run. Don’t be afraid to get thrifty, search your local op-shops and vintage stores, or try and pick up some new skills (YouTube is your best friend for all your crafty tutorial needs).

On a final note, Shibui – Hand of the Maker, is a sneaky and sophisticated collection, reminding us that the individual fashion choices we make are not signifiers of our and who we are, but also how our small choices impact the world, globally. And with that, there is strength in subtlety.

Words by Sophie Nixon

This article first appeared in print volume 88 edition 1 HEAT