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The Importance of Indigenous Culture for Slow Fashion

We see that the methods of thinking and the practice of applying these methods have been changing in many fields as a result of the increasing ecological awareness around the world. One of the areas in transition in terms of an ecological and sustainable life is the "fashion industry".

The fast-fashion industry, unfortunately, brings many environmental problems combined with the devastating effects of the climate crisis and paves the way for major environmental disasters. The exploitation of the labour of thousands of people, the use of toxic chemicals and the consumption of tons of water to produce clothes are just a few of these problems. In addition, it should not be forgotten that the wastewater released to nature by the factories producing textiles heavily pollutes thousands of rivers, seas and oceans around the world. The chemicals in non-organic fibres are particularly toxic to habitats in marine ecosystems, and for this reason, the creatures living in these habitats face a great extinction threat.

Non-organic and toxic fibres such as polyester produce three times more carbon emissions than cotton. Moreover, polyester, which reaches the oceans after different processes and becomes microplastics that pollute the water, is responsible for approximately 31% of the plastic pollution in the oceans.

What can be done?

So, what can be done? It is possible to take a more sustainable approach to fashion by implementing the methods of indigenous peoples.

Fashion techniques, developed by indigenous peoples and applied for centuries, have an important power in sustainable fashion. The "fashion sense of indigenous peoples", which is a conscious and environmentally friendly fashion concept, acts as a whole with nature and mother nature, reminds us once again why we should stand against fast fashion dynamics.

Works by indigenous peoples' in fashion are intertwined with ancestral knowledge and traditional techniques handed down from generation to generation. These ancient traditions represent the knowledge and craftsmanship of artisans, which includes the use of hand weaving and natural dyeing techniques. By maintaining these traditions, more sustainable and ethical design practices are preferred and the cultural heritage of the indigenous peoples is kept alive.

Latin America is home to an authentic textile culture where hand-woven fabrics are made with different and sustainable techniques by indigenous peoples. One of the most important factors in the sustainability of these techniques is that they are produced using traditional handlooms that do not require electricity. Therefore, the ethical techniques offered by the indigenous peoples and the selection of natural and organic resources provide a break on behalf of our planet from the fast fashion industry, which consumes natural resources excessively.

Latin America is also home to a large number of natural fibres and fabrics. This situation is also of critical importance for the production of sustainable clothing that requires the usage of organic materials. Indigenous peoples use natural resources in all kinds of production practices due to their ties to mother nature and their respect for nature.

For example, Wayúu bags, which have a story and tradition of hundreds of years, reflect the life perspectives of Wayúu women with their geometric and colourful designs. While some of the patterns on these bags represent the gods, some offer sections from daily life. Fique, a completely natural and biodegradable fibre, is used for bag making. These bags, which are produced completely locally, have an important role in both the development of the local communities and the production without harming the environment.

The dyeing techniques maintained by the indigenous peoples also offer an ecological and non-toxic solution to the negative environmental effects of the fast fashion industry. Within these dyeing techniques, natural pigments are produced by using different flowers, trees and other natural elements. Since the production of these natural dyes is made from high-quality materials, the result obtained is long-lasting. Plus, these natural dyes do not contain any of the toxic chemicals that harm our oceans and rivers. Handmade natural dyes used for decoration and other dyeing processes also reflect the culture of each indigenous people.

Paracas culture, an important civilization of Pre-Columbian Ancient Peru, is an important culture identified with natural dyeing techniques. A reflection of this ancient culture can be seen from the fact that most of the Andean textile fabrics are made of cotton and processed with vibrant colours of dyes obtained from natural sources such as plants, animals and minerals. We can say that the origin of these hand-woven textiles has also strongly influenced today's Peruvian weavers, who continue to preserve the traditional techniques of Andean culture.

Closing Thoughts

The origins of the different fashion techniques offered by the indigenous peoples depend on nature and the physical and spiritual needs of the person. It is possible to observe the deep knowledge and accumulation of the ancestors of the indigenous peoples in each piece containing this authentic fashion technique. Therefore, the integrity of natural fibres in clothing making is an unwritten traditional expression for each Indigenous culture. For all these reasons, adopting and developing the craftsmanship of the indigenous peoples, which is culturally important and environmentally friendly, in the protection of mother nature can be considered as a meaningful alternative to the fast fashion industry with the mass-production.

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