How do lost textile histories from marginalized communities impact and limit our understanding of fashion history and fashion as a whole? How does uncovering and understanding these histories help us better envision the potential future for fashion?
That’s what we’re exploring in this episode with ethnographic fiber artist Karen Baker.
In this episode, Karen is sharing:
- Her research into African American weavers’ contributions to textile and fibers before the Great Migration
- The impact of these lost histories in understanding textiles and fashion
- How we can collectively work to uncover and integrate lost and/or overlooked textile histories
- How she is integrating her research into her work with the organization Fiber With A Cause
- What role technology plays in the fashion industry, and in the slow fashion movement.
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Read the Transcript From This Interview:
Hey there and welcome or welcome back to the show. As you may know, this season of the podcast is all about slow fashion and envisioning the possibilities of a post growth future.
Today we’re slowing down to talk textile history, weaving, and the role of technology in fashion.
Today’s guest is Karen Baker, who is the founder of Fiber With A Cause and who is an Ethnographic Fiber Artist.
Karen has been weaving and knitting for eight years and focuses on using natural and organic fibers and materials to design ethnically handcrafted textiles, accessories, and rugs.
Karen is currently researching the patterns, dyeing, and weaving techniques and processes of enslaved African American weavers before the Great Migration and their contributions to fiber and textile design. And from this research, Karen then integrates their techniques into her own artwork.
So in this episode, we will be talking about Karen’s work, both her research and her projects with Fiber With A Cause. And we also talk about the layered reality of technology in fashion that makes production more convenient, but also faster and easier to overproduce. We also get into the complexities of the role of technology in our own lives too.
As always, the transcript for this episode and all the relevant links will be in the show notes at consciouslifeandstyle.com.
Alright, now let’s dive in. Karen is starting us off here with what inspired her journey into weaving and her current research work…
Well, you know, it’s interesting I was really trying to find or kind of rediscover my creativity when I was in graduate school at Savannah College of Art Design. And had crocheted as of 11 or 12 years old. And when I was, you know at Savannah, I was trying to figure out, okay, what do I want to do? I have painted, you know, kind of had my hands and making for a while.
But I had a creativity coach when I was at Savannah College of Art Design. And somehow we got to crochet and the fact of me doing this young and how I enjoyed it, and she, you know, suggested that I pick it back up again. So I did. And in doing that, it was like, I don’t even remember that I remembered how much I enjoyed, you know, fiber and, and the process of fiber and using it.
And it just reinvigorated something in me that had been lost. And I moved to knitting from there and learn to knit because I always wanted to learn to knit because I just liked the way the patterns and the flexibility. So you know, he just had a lot more to offer, and those who crochet is gonna probably be like, No way, no way!
But it just, it just appealed to me in that way, the tightness of the net, the ability to use this variety of needles. And so I went to knitting and then I met a purse, a master weaver, from Ghana.
And he was showing me these — oh my god — just these amazing works that he had done for the Smithsonian. And using just fine pieces of silk and the patterns and how the patterns were resembling of different times in history and what they meant and I was like, this is something I’m really drawn to is weaving, you know.
And so I found a place to weave and started weaving, and it’s now been eight years, of me actually weaving and it has always been a space of weaving has a lot of history, what I didn’t know. He introduced me a little bit, but really started to find out the amount of cultures that have their own, not only techniques, but the way that the history is so ingrained in the culture and how it has historically been parked from a labor standpoint, or really economics, and then culturally how has been a part of it.
And so again, I was very drawn to it. And I started to use it as a means of research when I decided to go back and get an MFA.
Yeah. There’s so much cultural context and history with fibers and weaving. And as an ethnographic fiber artist, you are literally weaving in history and culture into your work.
And you are currently researching the techniques and fibers used by African Americans before the Great Migration. So could you speak to that research and how that has informed your current crafting practice today?
Yeah, it really has. I would say, probably two years in now it has formed to work. I started researching it, right before I went to get the MFA and of course, started to finetune it — the research. And how, and where I saw African Americans have a place in weaving.
Because as I was studying, more textile, weaving was becoming, it was such a big part of textile, which again, not knowing if you’re an end user part of textile, you just see the beautiful cloth. You see it, you see it died, you see it made, but so much of weaving plays a part in textile.
So when I was taking this textile design in history course, you know, we were studying these geographical cultures that had contributed so much to textile, and all of them have weaved, every last culture had weaved.
And I was like, Okay, so where is African American culture in the weaving process? And I started to look, and, you know, try to find where African Americans, those of African descent who’ve come over to America been brought to America, enslaved in America, how were they part of this history?
It was extremely difficult to find in the very beginning, and still is not the easiest of the research, but it’s starting to unfold. But unlike other histories, where you just kind of can just look and it’ll be right there.
It’s not that way. So it really was the initial start of really just tried to find that we had a place in weaving before the great migration. And when I was able to finally find it, it’s because someone had begun to research it before me, and found the information through historical data that was wrapped in slave narratives, it wasn’t even the main highlight of the slave narratives. It was just dug, pushed within pieces where those who were enslaved were just talking about the days on a plantation.
And they are just reminiscing and weaving and knitting and dying, came into these narratives, though the Federal Writers Project who did the narratives didn’t even pull them out. They didn’t spend time pulling them out. This researcher did her name is Mary Madison.
And so when I started to look at it, I was like, okay, so how is my work shaped by this? How can I shape my work by this, maybe this is why I’m so drawn, have been so drawn to weaving in this way, because there was an historical aspect that connected me, you know, from my cultural background, being an African American woman that I didn’t even know, you know, what’s actually there.
And so as I started to really look at the techniques, and even the artifacts, even talking to Mary, she said, that is where she struggled the hardest too. I could not find any artifacts, had a hard time really finding techniques, and I’m still on that journey. And we’ll be on that journey.
You’re right, it’s ongoing, it’s going to be a while because during those time periods, we were not allowed to read and write. So of course, we weren’t documenting patterns and processes that we were actually going through. We’re just doing the work.
Mmm right, right. So you are up against a lot of challenges to say the least when it comes to finding these artifacts and documentation of African American contributions to textiles.
How do you think that this lost history influences — or inhibits our broader understanding of textiles and weaving?
That’s a great question. Even in an organization I sit on the board of, one or the other person who sits on the DEI committee with me, she’s a weaver. And she was saying, you know, to the rest of the group, you know, she’s I don’t know many weaver, she says, Karen’s one a few.
Now we have an age gap between us, and she was like, it would be great to bring community together. So I have found some people who weave, like through social media, Instagram, they are very few, and I’m talking about African American women who weave.
So the impact is the technique not being passed down to African American women, quilting has, and that went through his own process of discovery and kind of this we awakening. But weaving has not been passed on to African American women to say, let me teach you, let me show you that this was part of our history.
And even those that I have informed to — literally in their 70s — that I have found this level of research, I’ve been very emotional. Because they were like, it made them know why they were drawn to it, but they never knew why.
Because even in weaving for 20, 25 years, these people when weaving that long, teaching other people to weave. They have been showing them other techniques, techniques like Navajo, they have not been able to show them. Oh, and African American weaver — this is an African American tradition. That we weave this way, this pattern was created in this way. And so that is the impact to the history.
The history has been lost. I think it’s the Smithsonian, who has something now called, they started with this very new thing. It’s called reformative, or restorative history, it’s a whole program that is designated to try to restore history that has been lost within a culture.
And so that’s the impact is that they’re very, so very few African American women — they’re weaving; they don’t know the level of contribution that was made before they picked up the craft, whichever way they picked up the craft in that way.
So the textile industry — acknowledge in it? I haven’t seen it. Because again, I really have talked to people who’ve been in, in weaving, even weaving for a living, who are just blown away by the fact that this is a historical contribution that they knew nothing about.
Right. And that is a very real impact. And of course, weaving and textiles is just one example of how history has failed to acknowledge and appropriately credit the contributions of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color — or the Global Majority.
Speaking from the lens of fashion, though, what is the impact of this missing textile history in how we view what the fashion industry even is and what it can be?
Yeah, that’s… is this another good question, though. Because I think, you know, there’s a term that if you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know kind of where you’re going, you know, it’s saying Cofely, it’s looking back in the past in order to figure out where you’re going in the future.
So the opportunity to know your history, to me is an opportunity. And it is an opportunity to be able to make impact, particularly in an industry in which you’re choosing as a career. So, and I was talking about textile and fast fashion, it’s like anything, when you able to see yourself represented, see your history represented, and a place in which you’re passionate about, it’s particularly makers, and creatives and artists.
I think that there is going to be a level of gratitude, acceptance, celebration, rather than this pushing up against what we would say the system to accept you into the system because the system is seeing you. It is not unusual, is not against the norm, it is the norm for them to actually see an African American weaver, African American textile designer, frequently they’re not surprised by it or that only, you know, you’d like to only in your space, you know, in that particular way.
So the impact by seeing yourself more frequently, is going to grow an industry is going to create more diversity in an industry. We talked about the word innovation, it creates more innovation in an industry, when you have all these different viewpoints, being able to come into an industry, culture impacts innovation quite a bit.
So that’s the impact that it can make to textile, and the impact that it can, in turn, make to fashion. Because textiles plays such an important part in the fashion industry. Sometimes you just don’t hear that said, that, you know, the type of fabric that you see worn, who made it, what type of product and fabric and time was actually put into, whatever threads and fiber were actually put into that in that particular way.
And we talked about conscious, you talk about a level of sustainability, then that conversation plays into, you know, what type of cotton was used for this, where did it come from, what is the history of that particular cotton, you know, even silk, you know, linen, all of that plays into it.
Mm right. Yeah I mean we are largely speaking very disconnected from how our clothes are made, who makes our clothes, let alone who and where the fibers for our clothes are being produced or harvested.
And I think that we are also so very disconnected from the history of clothing and fiber cultivation.
I mean the more I learn, the more I see how many of the issues that we are seeing today in the industry are actually rooted in a long dark history of colonialism and slavery. And we have to look to that history to get a deeper understanding of issues like cultural appropriation or exploited labor everywhere from cotton fields to cut and sew facilities.
Absolutely, yeah I totally agree.
And history is so important because as you were saying, how do we know where we’re going if we don’t know where we came from?
Yeah, but you know it is in the more than people and it’s used a simple word of care, you know. The more that people care that they do know, the more that people care that they actually spend the time looking beyond what is put in front of them.
In any event, you just did it part of a great point is a cultural appropriation. Some people do it consciously, and some people do it unconsciously.
But where people fault those who do it unconsciously is that you still have a responsibility to look, you know. You have responsibility to see if this came from somewhere before you, and if it did not, then there you are, you’re innovating, you’re learning, say you’re creating something that has never been done. But we all know, that’s not easy to do. So you must look first.
Yeah, absolutely — that is a very good point. And when it comes to looking for these lost, overlooked or perhaps intentionally marginalized histories — you know where can we, I guess, start look for those contributions by artisans, or makers, or cultures of the Global Majority? Like how can we search for that and make sure that we do have that full understanding, and proper attribution, and all of those things?
I think the, one of the things is leaving space for the industry to grow, when you talk about the people who are underrepresented.
So when you look around, and you look in a room, and you see that everybody looks like you, then you have to ask yourself, Why aren’t there, and you could fill in the blank, you know, because, until the doors open, I’m like wide, then you got to make it so that people have to keep trying to kick it in and, you know, the door or making it so that the doors shut so tightly, people feel they can’t get in.
So you really have to start leaving the room for people to be invited into an industry where they have to either stay small, and I mean, not be as big and noted, as others, you know, and the climb is harder, you know, and you also have to, again, I think it still goes back to this, this restorative history, spending some time being able to understand that there was a culture, is a culture that is still taking part in something that you’re passionate about, that you love, you know, and that they are contributing and have contributed, and then how you economically contribute to that, you know what I’m saying?
So even if you’re not in textile, or not a fashion, but you absolutely consume it, so how do you make sure that you consume and reach out beyond what you know, in that particular way, so you should be practicing and it’s a practice.
Or even the funding, you talk about, you know, in an investment standpoint, even the money to invest in the communities that, you know, are not represented in the textile and fashion Industry, you know.
When they want to start a collection or create a line, or sell their wares, start a brand, it takes money, and so we’re in there, you’re going to afford them that opportunity too?
You know, provide them with the capital necessary to be able to deliver something to the consumer, in a way that will allow them again, what I said to have the notoriety, to push forward their goal in a way that anyone else would. You talked about equity, it has to be there.
Yeah, investments, funding, and making sure people who have been marginalized are not only at the table but centered at the decision-making tables.
So, given the challenges of doing this research, including the difficulties with finding tangible artifacts — how have you been able to integrate African American weaving techniques that you use in your work so far?
Yeah, so I think Indigo is probably the early beginnings of it, understanding the history of indigo, and those who came over from abroad here from Africa in order to help harvest Indigo here in the United States, in particular in the South Carolina area. And we’re giving no credit for the scientific knowledge that it needed in order to bring Indigo into a place that it could be sold, I mean, Indigo was extremely profitable.
And a lot of people were brought out to be enslaved in order to harvest it, to be able to bring it to market, because of their slave owners not being able to do so. It’s not an easy bush to grow, so Indigo was one in the practice of it.
So I grow Indigo, this is my second year growing Indigo. And I actually grow it with a Black farmer, as well, it was the first time growing Indigo as well. So she was really excited to be able to do that, as well. And now we’re growing cotton. So when I had knowledge of brown and green cotton, being more organic and more sustainable, then I wanted to try that as well, too, you know, and how could I grow the fibers in order to allow other fiber artists and textile artists to use it in their work, it’s not just for me, because I’m big on community.
And neither is the Indigo, it’s for them to be able to use it in their work and have access to the dye and have access to the fibers. So right now we’re growing brown and green cotton, as well. And it is growing, it’s growing very well.
So it’s a beautiful thing I’m getting with a farmer who does know what they’re doing, because I’m not a grower, you know, but she is and he’s very excited. So that is one and then the other was looking at the, some of the time periods in slavery in South Carolina, and looking at the clothing that was being worn and the materials that were being worn in slavery in South Carolina. So, they were doing blends during that time.
So like putting linen and cotton together, and sometimes wool in it as well, too. So can you imagine like 100 and something degrees outside being in linen and cotton, I’m like really linen, and not linen that you wear your nice little outfit this linen is a rough material. And so I took those and use them to create rugs that were basically my contribution to my ancestors.
So I use those, I created patterns with those. And to show that this is a time period, if you feel it, if you touch it, can you imagine wearing this on your skin? Can you imagine wearing this on your back, and then trying to pick cotton at the same time? And not being allowed to wear anything else and notes in that law that they are to be uncomfortable.
And so the clothing is to be clothing and which makes them uncomfortable, but they cannot change their clothing. So it’s things like that, that I have done to make sure that I’m embedding the techniques slowly as I learned.
Wow. So they were forced to wear uncomfortable clothing by law?
Yeah, yeah it was by law.
Hmm… Just speaking of history, and the importance of history, I wasn’t even aware of that…
Yeah for me either, too. I mean, when I read that law, initially, I’m like, this is something. I said, this is really something that it states, they are to be uncomfortable. So the hardest thing that you got to wear, put you in the hottest thing that you could wear in extreme temperatures and create, put you in a place of labor which is enslaved.
And then this is where you are, you know, so I mean, it’s a lot, you know, it really is a lot and so I was like you know really trying to understand and pay my homage in that way by showing people you know, in the rug that I made out of linen, and linen and wool. I mean you talking about heavy, it’s heavy.
And I was like, can you imagine putting this on, you know, as a piece of clothing? Because I tried to get linen and cotton and hemp in its natural form because you talk about 1700s, it was coming that way you didn’t have the ability to commercialize and industrialize it, it was coming in more of a natural form.
So yeah, it’s been very interesting. Yeah. But a lot of the politics and law and policies at that time, way back to the textile industry. One person said to me, textile is political. And it is absolutely true.
Yeah, yeah, totally. Fashion is deeply political; textiles are political. And it’s all so deeply intertwined with human rights, social justice, of course, the climate crisis.
But to shift gears a little bit, I wanted to make sure that in this conversation we talked about Fiber With A Cause, your nonprofit organization that you founded.
So can you tell us a bit about why you founded Fiber With A Cause and what the mission of the organization is and what you’re working on?
Yeah, so Fiber With A Cause was something that I created in 2016. And then, formalized it just last year. And it really was formalized out of the work I was doing with my MFA. And the work that I’m now doing with my doctorate as well, too, you know, wanting to form a sense of community, around the fiber arts industry.
And for those who feel that they’ve been left, again, out of the historical context of what the fiber arts has brought to really billions of dollars in his industry, and be able to offer them not only a platform to be seen and heard, but we also want to offer programming classes that will allow them to increase their craft, also e-commerce in order to allow them to bring their crafts to market as well, too.
And then the growing is underneath Fiber With A Cause, indigo, the brown cotton, the green cotton, that we’re growing and some other plants that we’re actually going Marigold, things that are all diable, we want to continue to offer those to fiber artists for nothing, like they eventually will do probably like a CSA program. But it’ll be, again, CSA programs if you know are low in cost, they do not burden the person receiving them.
So we even talked about that with the farmer that we’re growing with it, like how would you weigh it by pound and how people would pick up what is available and harvest it through the farm in that particular way.
So that is definitely the vision as well too, the long-term vision, but we hope it short term is to own a mill. I really would like to own a mill. Because even looking at my research, I keep saying okay, does a Black woman own a fiber mill? I haven’t seen one I haven’t heard one.
I’ve seen two families, African American families own cotton farms, and they actually produce cotton. One just did a farm, the farm just produced cotton for Target for the Black History Month t-shirt that target did. And the other one does their cotton and they do __ and things like that you buy bales of cotton from them as well. But I was like, okay, what about a mill?
I’m very interested to find that someone owns a mill and I have not yet to unveil a Black woman who owns a mill.
So that is the goal to own a mill. The last mill that I could find was owned by Black men, and it was in 1856. So as like — and it took me a while to find him. I discovered him through some photographs from the Paris exhibition in the 1800s. W.E.B. Dubois wrote about him and photographed him in his board and he did popped up in my research, and that he was there and he kept saying the Coleman Mill and I was like, okay, so what type of mill — is that manufacturing? So it didn’t say fiber in it. But when I looked at fiber, he did cotton.
Mhm, yeah that would be really cool if you founded your own mill — I’m excited to watch your progress with that.
Yeah and hopefully, the next time we talk we you know, hopefully some years will go by because I’m not ready to own a mill right now. But we will have a conversation about me opening a mill, you know. So yeah.
Yeah, that would be really fascinating. We have not heard from a mill owner or anything about milling, I think, on this show – we haven’t even really talked about that stage of production in the fashion supply chain. So something to look forward to…
So what has your process been like so far working with the indigo garden and the brown and green cotton at Fiber With A Cause? I’m sure that is super interesting.
Yeah, it is. It is because when I set out to harvest indigo, like I said, two of the farmers that were part of it, you know, they were very excited to do Indigo, they had never had done indigo before, because they were just growing fruits and vegetables.
And so we pulled the information, studied the information. They used the process that George Washington Carver would use for, because he was a dire, he dyed, he weaved and he was a big textile artist. So they used they were using his farming techniques. And they’re growing already. So they moved those over to how they grew the Indigo.
The interesting thing about Indigo is people think that it must be like this plant, but it is a bush it is a green bush. But when you look the leaves are just as blue, there’s hints of blue all through the leaves. And it is, it is really fascinating because and I, you know love when you search look at you just see green, all you do was leaning a little bit you see blue all in the leaves of the plant.
So when you take it and you dry it out, and then you kind of crush it down. And then you could grind it and get yourself a blue dye is what you can do with it. So I still have the leaves just crushed up. Some of them I have not transferred them into a liquid form of the dye.
But it definitely is a process that Indigo takes time, not just in harvest, I mean to create the dye, it is a true process of it, the process of delivering a blue piece of fabric is a process. It’s labor intensive is what I’ll say. But that when you pull those colors out — it’s just an amazing feeling, it really is.
Because it’s oxidation that creates the blue. So when you pull it up, and the air hits it, then you’ll see the blue — you don’t see it initially. And then you put it back in, you pull it back out, you get more blue. So the air is a big part of how you actually get indigo.
Wow! Yeah I can imagine that is just so cool to see. And that’s the beauty of slow fashion.
And something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is that when you produce slowly and methodically and intentionally, it’s naturally going to reduce production levels. And slow fashion, I believe, is really interconnected with sustainable fashion.
Because overproduction is one of the biggest problems that we see in fashion today, environmentally speaking but also socially speaking when we think about overworking and excessive hours.
Whereas if we produce slower, if each process, if each step of the process is done with more intention, then not only do we have more time to think through the sustainability of each step a bit more, but you also physically cannot produce as much.
No, you cannot. And so it was whether, the this is where it comes in where you know, you love technology and then the Okay, here’s technology. You know what I’m saying there’s two sides to it, because technology has made us want things faster, it has provided us with access much quicker.
So, when you talk about production and manufacturing, and you look at it and then how you distribute it, will the consumer be okay with receiving things slower? You know, pandemic made us have to do that. But as you know, people are trying to get it back, you know what I’m saying, they’re trying to speed it back up again, you know, in that way.
You have to have a consciousness I guess you would say, of being okay with something being made for you and celebrating, appreciating, and really a high level of respect for the fact that it took this amount of time to be able to deliver this to you.
You have to want to go through that process of it all. And everybody doesn’t want to, some people will never want to go through that process, as well. But I think what is it is happening, which is why it is a great topic to talk about slow fashion, is that more people are becoming conscious and appreciative and respectful of the fact that they want something knowing that it was made and the time was taken. And 10 times out of 10, they’re the only ones that have it.
So this brings me to the next question that I had for you: which is based on your research into textile histories and understanding the slow methodical process of making yourself first-hand, what does a holistic view of slow fashion look like to you?
Technology has afforded us certain things, and you certain things I wouldn’t want to get rid of, you know what I’m saying, and certain things you do want access to. I think there has to be balance in it at this point.
If we were talking about 20 years ago, I probably would have a different answer. But right now, I think we need some level of balance to it. Where again, and maybe this comes to accessibility, people need to have the ability to have accessibility to slow fashion, or handmade things. As well as having some balance of things that require a level of faster production, I’m not going to say if it’s a fast fashion, but this faster production may be required in that.
And you think about the fact of what we call carding, cotton, you mean cleaning it, in that way. So is there a way that we could speed up that process a little bit without creating this workforce labor disparities that we have going on? That would be great to see.
Because those who are wanting to be more sustainable and how to produce in cotton, some of them are creating processes themselves and systems and tools, and I mean, really tools to be able to do that without harm and damage environmentally, and they may need a faster process that will allow them to do that but still keeps their principles in that particular way.
So I think it really is balance. So how can technology aid them without destroying them? And how can it aid the planet without destroying it?
I think that’s where the fast fashion comes in. That’s where I’d that’s not what I’m talking about, because I’m not talking about making so, so fast that you can’t control it anymore.
Because that’s what happened. We lost control of it, so then you’re just constantly meeting the demand, afraid to tell people, no, they can’t get meet that demand. And so then you make it faster and faster and faster. And then you have no consciousness or awareness, or even care anymore, about the people who are working in the conditions to deliver what you have promised, you know, in that particular way.
So I think we need some, we need balance, we need balance. So if I choose to continue to weave everything on a handloom, and not on a machine loom, not with a pattern, digital screen, which I may get to a digital screen, does not mean that I’m gonna produce 16 of them, it may just mean that it makes the process a little faster so that I get it to you in six weeks instead of the six months that it may take me.
But it doesn’t change the fact that you’re the only one that has it, Elizabeth, you know what I’m saying? So I think there has to be balanced, has to be balanced. I don’t think technology’s figured out balance yet.
Yeah. And you mentioned that your current view is different from what you would have said 20 years ago. So I’m curious, what would you have said 20 years ago and you know how has your opinion around it changed?
I think then it would have been like, technology’s the worst. That is doing too much. That is, but it really has done too much in a way, I think certain things humans are just not ready for. But people keep moving anyway.
Yeah, yeah that’s so interesting that you bringing this up, because I have been reading a lot of books lately focused on slowing down from an economic perspective like degrowth through Less is More by Jason Hickel but also from a lifestyle perspective. I recently read Stolen Focus by Johann Hari which is about why our attention spans are shrinking and how we can focus better. And he focuses a lot on technology, of course.
And, you know, whether it’s social media, or email, or any of the dozens of other apps that we have on our phones, they are influencing our minds.
And something interesting that he talks about towards the end is that he found that literally, everything, when looking at history, everything is faster, we walk faster, we talk faster. But, biologically, we only can evolve so fast, right?
Physically we evolve quite solely, our minds can only work so fast, they can only process so much. And all of this that we are being inundated with notifications and newsfeeds and all the things, it’s almost too much for our minds to keep up with and making us feel overwhelmed and maybe anxious. You know, like the scrolling on social media while watching TV, it’s just overloading our brains and I think that we can feel that individually, personally, when we start to notice it too.
Exactly, exactly. And we are trying to, you know what I’m saying what? We tried to adapt, you know what I’m saying to a world… you know, moving fast.
I mean, I’ve been talking lately about the metaverse and how we design a Metaverse that’s inclusive. And it gets to that. It’s like, here comes another piece. Here comes another piece. And it’s like, okay, so how does the craft industry, how does a weaver fit into that? You know what I’m saying?
When you decided that you are going to be on a handloom and still making some, how do you fit into this new web 3.0 and the metaverse and all?
So it is, is very fascinating to me. Because you absolutely correct in the fact of the book is, like we as humans, we want things to move fast. But we don’t want a world of robots, you know what I’m saying?
So we’re not ready for that, yet it’s coming, you know, so it’s like, how do you, again, it’s got to be a level of balance as we evolve. Because we think about man and years of hundreds of 1000s of years ago what the development was so much slower, yet life according to what we know they live so much longer in that situation and so it’d be interesting to see, you know, whether technology becomes our friend or not because art imitates life. And if you watch any movie we don’t end up well.
Yeah so true. Yeah, that’s very true. A great point. I am definitely big into dystopic novels and films and it is, it is definitely alarming how the dystopias of decades past are playing out now and how current ones you can see how others sort of playing out in small ways and they might evolve that way.
We just have to stay vigilant. Because I think, of course, technology can aid us in some very real ways. We’re not going to give up our tech that makes our lives more convenient. But Big Tech as an industry does operate on a growth paradigm and will do whatever it takes to grow their profits, as we’ve seen time and time again already.
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Because technology is big business.
Yeah, well I guess we got a little off course their haha
No, but it plays in! I’m telling you it affects it all. That’s why we have fast fashion is because technology has afforded it to move fast.
Yeah, absolutely. Well since we are on this topic now, something else you said earlier really struck a chord with me.
You were saying something along the lines of – even though we have the technology to make the process of production easier and faster, it doesn’t mean we have to respond by producing a ton of stuff.
And you know that reminded me of some of my recent readings on degrowth and post-growth and I’m
not sure if it was Jason Hickel’s Less is More book or perhaps The Day The World Stops Shopping by J.B. MacKinnon or something else — things are sort of blending together in my mind — but basically, I guess, what that reminded me of is how when you look historically like during the industrial revolution, production got so much more efficient and continues to get more and more efficient.
But that efficiency has not meant less work. Instead of efficiency gains leading to less hours of work, we’re just getting MORE work done in the same amount of time. And, of course, those productivity gains are going to those at the top in the form of profits for the industrialists, the capitalists, the CEOs, whoever it may be, the shareholders.
But I also see that I am doing that to myself, being self-employed in my own business. I make an efficiency improvement, or maybe automate a process, streamline something, and it’ll save time but then I just fill that time with more work and I just do more.
So I guess the question is you know when you’re talking about balance and figuring out how to use technology for good. I also think about how can we ACTUALLY use the gains in productivity and efficiency from technology to rest and enjoy life, live life, instead of just using that time to produce more?
Yeah and I wonder if… that’s why it is fascinating to see, I guess humans have to be able to slow, they have to demand that it slows down and not try to outpace, outwit, join in with where things are.
So you know, that’s been the great thing about being part of the textile and fiber community, for those who are looking at it from either preserving history, restoring it, or in a sustainable space. Because in those areas, they remain at the place of how can we enjoy technology, while continuing to have the balance of the slowing down, continuing to use what is in front of us, meaning organic things.
Continuing to be conscious about what we choose. Continuing to be inclusive, in community of those who are part of it, as long as you understand that you are here to preserve, restore, and create a level of equity, then no one has keeps having this discussion about culture and what’s missing in culture, because they continue to invite it in, you know, in that way.
And those, again, that that’s the communities that continue to want to make sure that it’s handmade, that it gives an opportunity to understand how ecommerce can benefit it and not speed it up and make it something that is waters down what the end user, the client, the consumer is receiving in that way.
They want to keep it beautiful, in its process, you know, they want to keep it beautiful. And the fact that the maker still enjoys what she or he is creating in that particular way they are creating, so I think that’s the beautiful thing about what you say conscious, when you say sustainable when you say people who are about restorative history.
In these communities, I think it continues to grow, there’ll be probably more conversation around slow fashion than there is right now. And in a way that is supportive and not having to consistently fight against a system.
Yeah, I think that is a powerful way to round out our conversation today.
So Karen, thank you so much for all of your time, and the wisdom and the insights that you shared with us today.
No this has been great. Always, this is something I want to talk about. So I appreciate it.
Well, I do have one final question for you that I ask every guest that comes onto the show, which is what would a better future for fashion look like to you?
Wow, oooeee. That’s a big question. I think a better future would be, I use the word inclusive and integration, where you see more people, if you say bipoc community, if you say new majority, that you see this in mainstream, whether they want to be in mainstream or not, they have the choice to actually be there and not having to fight their way into this future.
And that’s a wrap for this episode. Thank you for tuning in today.
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In the meantime, if you’re looking for another episode similar to this one, I recommend episode 29 with Lydia Wendt on Compostable Clothing, Natural Dyes, and Local Supply Chains.
Alright, take care and I will catch you again soon!
About Karen Baker
As Founder of Fiber With A Cause and Ethnographic Fiber Artist + Documentarian, Karen has been weaving and knitting for eight years. She focuses on using natural and organic fibers and materials to design ethnically handcrafted textiles, accessories, and rugs. Karen is researching the patterns, dyeing, and weaving techniques and process of enslaved African American weavers before the Great Migration to fiber and textile design. From the research, she integrates their techniques into her artwork. Karen is currently completing a documentary on the history and narratives of African American weavers before the Great Migration under her Doctor of Design program at North Carolina State University. Her work is currently been presented in the online exhibition, Being-With, sponsored by Surface Design Association. Karen is the mother to a budding teenage superhero son.