Reaching Sustainability: Fashion and Bioregionalism

Once upon a time, humans lived and breathed interdependently with the land on which they lived. Whether they were hunter-gatherer nomads or agricultural communities, humans maintained an active relationship with nature; one which was built upon a foundational knowledge of the land, and its many plants, bugs, animals, roots, and trees. Today, however, humans have “evolved” from this way of life and instead choose to “gather” at Whole Foods and “hunt” not for animals but for steals on new garms at the mall or in flagship stores.

It’s almost hard to imagine that on the very land we, Perime, operate on, people once lived interdependently with their local environment, relying upon it for all necessities: food, clothing, shelter, drugs, everything. Native Americans, for instance, utilized bark from trees for some of their clothing, particularly for raincoats and hats, for when it might’ve been too cold for staying in the nip – which is probably the most sustainable choice we could all make today. But to create their bark clothing, tribesmen and women would strip bark from the trees, then pound it until it’s flexible, so it could then be shredded into thin fibers which would be woven into clothing. The process is much easier said than done; most people today wouldn’t know where to start making a coat out of the family tree. Even back then, Native Americans oftentimes only had one outfit because the clothes were difficult to make and clothing made from bark is quite hard to wash thoroughly. So Native Americans would constantly throw away their clothes when they were finished with them.

Native American coat made from Cedar bark

Unfortunately, by today’s standards, throwing away clothes when you’re finished with them is an equally common and destructive act. Still, back then, by throwing away their clothes, Natives were giving back what they had simply borrowed from nature. The act of discarding a janky bark coat could not be referred to as “throwing it away,” as we say today, due to the biodegradable nature of clothing of the time. Instead, it’s a genuine act of giving, one out of love, which is just one small factor of an active relationship with nature. This relationship is precisely what has been prized by groups like Native Americans but stolen from today’s average consumer.

Traditionally in North America, different groups and tribes would usually be separated based on bioregional borders. Bioregional borders are separated from one another based on biological features of that area, whether it’s a particular set of trees, plants, and animals that naturally reside within the region, a change in physical attributes, or a different climate. From this, it’s only natural that since people were separated based upon the natural resources accessible to them locally, the region to which they belong would be represented by the clothes on their backs, like a Cedar bark coat belonging to a Native American. But today, our regions depend on political decisions, and thanks to globalization, humans can now represent anything imaginable on their clothes; it’s easier for an American to sport a Chinese t-shirt than it is an American one.

Unfortunately, this current condition has not just impacted our environment but it has also diminished the value of the relationship people share with their land. In geographical terms, this relationship is known as an individual’s sense of place: the connection and value that an individual feels toward a particular area or region. This connection has been demolished by mass overseas production, a reliance upon mass-produced goods, and a 24-7 shoppers economy.

Sense of place and bioregions come together to form bioregionalism – a cause fathered by writers and advocates like Gary Snyder and coined by Allen Van Newkirk. Bioregionalism advocates for a connection between the land and its inhabitants, a connection strong enough to be parallelled to past role models such as Native Americans. In bioregionalism, this connection should run strong into all points of life, allowing people to unite the economy and ecology in a healthy way for both parties.

Bioregional map of North America

And yes, while it is wonderful to harbor a love for businesses and modern clothes, there’s something a bit lifeless about only experiencing clothes that have been manufactured, packaged, shipped, advertised, and sold – particularly when in a fast-fashion manner. It seems like a dream to imagine a world where instead of brands and logos, people could represent their local, natural world on their clothes. Whether by utilizing bark or using regional materials for dyes, the colors on clothes could represent something so much larger than a flex; they could represent a loving relationship with the land. If we, the common people, are to overturn the disastrous conditions of post-colonial, post-consumerist western society, we must take production back. It’s okay to take a step back from how things are done right now and accept that we may have fucked up.

But alas, no fate is ever sealed. We as a society can take steps to fix our industrial mistakes, but not without care and proper knowledge. As Gary Snyder once said, “It is not enough to just <> or to want to <> Our relation to the natural world takes place in a place, and it must be grounded in information and experience”. This information and experience is not otherworldly mystical information; it’s just a little unfamiliar to American culture because of a little something called ethnic cleansing. Native American history is living proof that once upon a time, humans lived happily right where this article is being written off of the land, and the land smiled back living with them. Sure, people don’t have to start wearing bark coats, but such history should be looked to as inspiration and a learning source. Not everyone needs to become a designer in the traditional sense, but everyone is capable of applying nature to fashion thanks to techniques such as natural dyeing. We as a society must learn what the world has to offer us, and foster a symbiotic, loving relationship with it.