Sustainable Fashion: Interview with mother and daughter

Alda

Inspired by one of my Sustainable Fashion courses, I decided to find some people who I could inter­view about their every­day fash­ion habits. I was very lucky to meet Alda, who is so inter­ested in reusing gar­ments, pick­ing up her clothes in second-​hand shops or wear­ing her moth­ers dresses. In addi­tion, I found out that sus­tain­able fash­ion tra­di­tion is held in Alda’s fam­ily already for third gen­er­a­tion — her grand­mother was a golden hand lady, her mother saved most of her youth clothes and now Alda her­self is fol­low­ing this tra­di­tion. Sometimes she can sur­prise you, wear­ing the same sweater she wore in primary school. I am shar­ing with you fas­cin­at­ing inter­view with daugh­ter and mother and amaz­ing pic­tures of clothes they both wore for vari­ous occa­sions. I hope you will enjoy it!

Hello Alda! You men­tioned that your fam­ily prac­tises a sort of life­style when clothes rarely are dis­carded, often redesigned, recycled or passed from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. How did you get inter­ested in that kind of lifestyle/​fashion?

It seems like I have to tell the story which touched three dif­fer­ent women from three dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions – my grand­mother, mother and myself. The situ­ation in my family’s closet , which is sup­ple­men­ted by myself at the moment, wasn’t imme­di­ate and con­scious con­sequence. It just happened spon­tan­eously. Maybe it was determ­ined by his­toric period, when there weren’t enough money for cloth­ing, or it’s just eco­nom­ical side of suval­kas’ char­ac­ter :) (Suvalkija is a eth­no­cul­tural region of Lithuania. Local people from Suvalkija are fam­ous for their frugality).

The best in sew­ing and redesign­ing clothes was my grandma, though she didn’t teach that neither me nor my mom. So I can not tell you how quickly and effect­ively renew your old stuff, cause for that you need a needle and some under­stand­ing how to use it, a sew­ing machine, fantasy and a lot of time. I have only fantasy, how­ever. I sup­pose that’s the most import­ant thing.

The whole sys­tem in my ward­robe looks like this: buy­ing things in second hand shops, some­times wear­ing clothes until they are com­pletely worn-​out and turned in tat­ters. When the new things replace the old ones – usu­ally I put the lat­ter aside, some­where in the highest shelves and they may stay there even for 10 years. Practically the house is kind of a second-​hand shop itself.

Sometimes I think that such sav­ing of things and avoid­ance to throw unne­ces­sary ones is excess­ive affec­tion or even wor­ship. However, oth­er­wise I con­tra­dict myself, because I am happy to give away my clothes both old and still new and favour­ite to my friends. The main rule here is – to avoid the bin!

You also men­tioned that you have some clothes from your mother’s youth. How does it if feel? Are they more mean­ing­ful for you?

That’s true. I do have some old my mom’s clothes and they are very pre­cious for me. Mainly, it’s the out­fit from her study times. When I was a child, I used to say that I would study in Vilnius University, as my mother did. That was really import­ant for me. I do real­ise, that it does not make any sense and it’s not related with my future – it’s just sym­bolic, how­ever, it’s just lovely to go to the same uni­ver­sity with the same dress as my mother did. I guess the most pre­cious dress is the red one sewed by my grand­mother. She didn’t have much fab­ric, almost shreds, but the dress turned out just great!

Few years ago, approach­ing the big school event (100 days left until the final exams), me and my par­ents went to the mall, so at least once I would buy some­thing new, beau­ti­ful and lux­uri­ous. However, few hours later me and my mother were just dis­ap­poin­ted of sup­ply of the shops, so I just dressed up with old my mom‘s spot­ted shirt. In fact, many years ago it had long sleeves and col­lar – but it has been quickly redesigned after mom got bored of the old style.

However, the most intens­ive shar­ing between me and my mom is hap­pen­ing now. We are prac­tic­ally the same height and build, our tastes go along, so it’s quite cas­ual to bor­row each oth­ers clothes and the bound­ar­ies between my and her ward­robe are van­ish­ing from sight.

2008, February. My mother’s shirt, pre­par­ing for the school fest.

Do you have any inter­est­ing story about the gar­ment, which was remade and used for a dif­fer­ent purpose?

Usually clothes have their own path of evol­u­tion. Beloved clothes get worn out sooner than you get bored of them – knees and elbows ravel out. Then trousers turn into shorts, shirts – into T-​shirts. They don’t go to trash, they just wait for their own renais­sance some­where aside. It’s quite strange, but the sweat­ers I wore 12 years ago per­fectly fit me today too. Once, I just wanted some­thing fresh and new and now they are back to my ward­robe.

The pat­terns of car­digans which were worn in child­hood. They were kept and I wear them today

I think it’s very import­ant to con­sider all avail­able options of your cloth­ing. Starting with the basic – put on few lay­ers due to keep your­self warm and dur­ing the day, if neces­sary, exchange the order of lay­ers. If you just take off your sweater, the blouse can be your out­fit accent for the rest of the day. We can talk about extreme way of use as well – thin sweater with tied sleeves and hid­den neck can per­fectly fit as a scarf for a cool even­ing. I think it’s import­ant to real­ise the fab­ric of the clothe as a fea­ture itself, also the form of the out­fit and the pos­sible options, which can be very unex­pec­ted. Once in a second­hand shop I found Dr.Martens child shoes which cost just few litas, and straight away I got an idea to use them as a pen­cil box on my work desk!

When worn-​out clothes turn into rags, they become use­ful in the garden, gar­age or cel­lar. Otherwise, it can be good drapery! When I was in art school, we used to use old cloth­ing for our paint­ing constructions.

What is your rela­tion­ship with second-​hand shops, for some it is just a junk stor­age, for oth­ers it is an oppor­tun­ity to express their style and per­son­al­ity, what do you think?

Well, I never heard people say­ing that second-​hand shop is just a junk stor­age, which con­sumes a lot of time. But I faced with hos­tile opin­ion that the clothes were worn by total strangers and shouldn’t be reused at all.

In my opin­ion, second-​hand shop concept is just superb idea and activ­ity, because it does not con­sume any other raw mater­i­als, it only man­ages exist­ing quant­it­ies and gives an oppor­tun­ity to buy. Maybe it might sound ideal­istic and naïve, but I like the idea that I can swap my clothes with the rest of the world. The price I pay is like a fee for a given oppor­tun­ity, pro­du­cing, ware­hous­ing and access for a neat dis­play in a shop.

Since I’ve vis­ited second-​hand shops from early child­hood, I have learnt to select what is suit­able for me. Perhaps the par­tic­u­lar­ity of search is totally dif­fer­ent from the one which is used in a new cloth­ing store, cause in the lat­ter I can not find any­thing. True, when you root the second hand clothes, which are dif­fer­ent size, for dif­fer­ent sea­sons, were made and fash­ion­able for the dif­fer­ent peri­ods, in order to find some­thing suit­able you have to learn fil­ter­ing. Since there is so much stuff, the check is quick, you have to decide quickly if it’s worth to pay more atten­tion for the gar­ment. I try to touch and have a short glimpse of every clothe, that’s how I eval­u­ate the col­our, mater­ial and size. Very often I find the out­fit which I wanted!

First Communion, the dress made by grandma

You men­tioned that you grand­mother had a pas­sion for redesign­ing clothes, go to second-​hand shops and had many ori­ginal ideas how to use dif­fer­ent things. Can you tell us about it more, how did it influ­ence you?

After inde­pend­ence second-​hand shops took off and my grandma used to go there every day! Everybody used to say both for a laugh and ser­i­ously that grand­mother goes to work. She, in turn, has done her job well – she used to find out­fits for every­body and for any occa­sion, both for us, chil­dren, and my par­ents and my uncle’s family.

Besides all cas­ual cloth­ing for the fam­ily, there were other pur­chases, which were rarely seen for us. Well, actu­ally we were not really inter­ested – neither golden jack­ets, nor fancy bags were rel­ev­ant to us. She used to buy everything what was nice in itself, it didn’t mat­ter that it was not prac­tical for the moment. She used to redesign the pur­chased clothes – usu­ally for her­self. Second-​hand cloth­ing was a cheap way to buy a vari­ety of fab­rics, but­tons, knit­wear, which could be re-​knitted. That’s how she made a dress for my First Communion.

She used to buy a lot of clothes, which were beau­ti­ful though not right at the time – so she used to hide them neatly some­where in the deep­est shelf of the ward­robe and totally for­get about them. Today we still can find them! The dress I wore at my brother’s gradu­ation was also found acci­dent­ally at home.

What did I learn and how did it influ­ence me? Perhaps the main thing I have learned is that you can find a clothe in a house for any occa­sion, it doesn’t mat­ter whether it’s the first of September or a wed­ding party. There are def­in­itely some clothes in your ward­robe which you bought once but did not have a chance to wear them. You can check your upper shelf in the closet where things weren’t touched for a long time, also have a glance at your mom’s ward­robe. Just think about all the pos­sible combinations!

The gar­ment is not just one day busi­ness. Perhaps its time has not come yet, and if it passed – prob­ably not for good. Sometimes after a while the clothe starts to look a bit dully and unin­ter­est­ing, even if you liked it a lot before. The gar­ment should be treas­ured, why would you throw away the thing which is not use­ful for your­self any­more but could still func­tion per­fectly? Not all wear­able cloth­ing do “face for soci­ety” func­tion, so they are not neces­sar­ily fancy — first comes being com­fort­able and prac­tical. Casual clothes are out of keep­ing with cri­teria “I got bored with it”.

The same sweater — theatre in Kaunas in 1999 and fresh­men camp in 2008.

In Western coun­tries today there is a trend of prais­ing to the skies the retro/​vintage style, how­ever, those things are quite expens­ive and they are more like “hot news” than the real life­style. Also the concept preaches up the idea of hav­ing a lot of clothes but wear­ing them rarely – even wear­ing the same out­fit for three days in a row is some­times con­sidered to be a bad taste. What is your opin­ion about it?

The fun­ni­est thing I’ve ever heard is that the retro/​vintage clothes are bought in second-​hand shops here, in Eastern Europe, and resold to the West for a much higher price. Well, that just proves, that gar­ments were not appre­ci­ated and aban­doned too early. On the other hand, I under­stand the stor­age issue. Eastern Europe is not as densely pop­u­lated as Western, we have par­ents or grand­par­ents with the spa­cious houses in the vil­lages – great place for warehousing :)

When we’re talk­ing about daily change of out­fit, I’m not sure that Eastern and Western habits are very dif­fer­ent. I think that there is a group of people here, in Eastern Europe, which fol­lows this “three days” rule, as there are people in Western coun­tries who were the same jeans for all week. Generally it depends what you do and what kind of people you are sur­roun­ded with. If my day con­sists of lec­tures, lib­rary, home and meet­ing with the closest friends, it would be fool­ish to dress dif­fer­ently every day. It’s not like some­body fol­lows your look daily. In my opin­ion that would be pride. Although I can not deny that such a thing like the first impres­sion judging by clothes exists. For instance, kind of job requires to con­sider the out­fit more care­fully. However, I do not believe, that people are so annoy­ingly curi­ous and metic­u­lous examin­ing the changes in your out­fit day by day. I want to believe that it’s not like that. And even if it is true – I wish it wasn’t. It would make myself won­der and ques­tion: where exactly do we point our eyes when we meet a stranger? His face? Do we listen what he says or maybe the best present­a­tion of per­son­al­ity is his shoes, watch or purse?

1990

Interview with Alda’s mother

How import­ant is fash­ion in your life? What do you think about people who throw the gar­ment away after wear­ing it just a few times?

My opin­ion of fash­ion would be more like pass­ive interest and observing. I always fol­low the trends a bit and ori­ent in that. However I am crit­ical, because not everything what is fash­ion­able is nice for per­son­ally. I am also very attached to my own clothes, I do not like all the col­ours, fab­rics and cuts, how­ever, I do not think that only what I dress is beau­ti­ful. There are so many fash­ion­able clothes I do like and they look so good on other people, but they are not accept­able for me and I don’t think I could feel cozily and com­fort­able wear­ing them.

My atti­tude to people who throw away clothes after wear­ing them few times is neg­at­ive. I sup­pose there is always a pos­sib­il­ity to give away the old gar­ment – that’s how you make other people happy. It’s quite stu­pid to refuse the old dresses and then com­plain that you don’t have what to wear and there is no money for new ones. Also, to my opin­ion, cloth­ing is not the most bene­fi­cial invest­ment, money can be spent more prop­erly – for stud­ies, exper­i­ences or other kind of self-​development.

2012

Alda men­tioned that she has very nice clothes from your youth, why did you save them? Have you ever though that your daugh­ter will wear it?

I kept the clothes because I liked them and I felt very com­fort­able wear­ing them. My size hasn’t changed from those days so there was no point to throw away any out­fit – they were neither too small nor too big. If they were com­fort­able in the past quite pos­sible they might be com­fort­able today as well. Old cloth­ing also holds some cer­tain sen­ti­ments. Sometimes I open my closet and remem­ber some great events related with par­tic­u­lar dresses. It is just a pity that my mother didn’t save any of her clothes from young days, it would have been a pleas­ure to have them, but she gave everything away. I gave away a large part of my clothes for my cous­ins as well, how­ever there are some which I kept and I am glad my daugh­ter like to wear them.

Tell us how you find the patience to keep all these things and where do you find the place to store all of them?

We live in a house which has attics. So unne­ces­sary things are packed in boxes and placed in there, often I even for­get about them. Sometimes I remem­ber that once I had a dress and then I open the boxes.

We’ve heard stor­ies how 10–15 years ago it was just nat­ural to give away children’s toys, clothes when they’re too small for your own child, while today people throw away everything what gets even a smal­lest defect. What do you think why the habits of liv­ing is so changing?

I think people don’t have time any­more. It’s just easier to dis­card the thing than to look for repair options. They need the item at the moment, fix­ing and clean­ing takes time. People do not want to put any efforts, they need it rap­idly and eas­ily. I take it quite neg­at­ively, there­fore this lazy and irre­spons­ible atti­tude cre­ates other prob­lems: the increas­ing amounts of pro­duc­tion and increas­ing moun­tains of waste.

Do you have the most favour­ite gar­ment you kept, which has some spe­cial story and you would never dis­card it for any reason?

I save some clothes, which are not wear­able but they hold pre­cious memor­ies, for example knit­ted daughter’s christen­ing suit. I behave more prac­tic­ally with my own clothes – when they’re worn out, I throw them away. However, for some I feel stronger sen­ti­ments. In my ward­robe you can find Finnish coat which was bought in Soviet Union times, it was unbe­liev­ably expens­ive, but very com­fort­able and light. Now, even the sleeves are shabby, I was think­ing it will be very prac­tical to wear in the woods in winter time. Equally, I do not dis­card clothes which are made from a good fab­ric, have beau­ti­ful col­our and inter­est­ing pat­terns. Even if the cut is not fash­ion­able at the time but the fab­ric is valu­able, I just put the gar­ment some­where deep in the closet or in the attic and I hope that the trend will return. I wish I have ideas how to redesign them, so I just hope that the sew­ing machine willed by my mother will start work­ing again.

1998, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, and 2012 Kudirkos Naumiestis, Lithuania, Mother — left pic­ture, daugh­ter - right one

Thank you for your time!

Gintarė Žitkevičiūtė
About author:
Gintarė Žitkevičiūtė
Gintare Zitkeviciute is Art Pit’s thinker and doer. In her work practise, she values lean approach, creativity and quick decisions. She doesn't like working with random people and thinks that a team is a heart of successful project. For that reason, she carefully picks people she works with on everyday basis. She is mostly interested in innovatio... Read further >
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