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Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011 12:25 p.m.

D.C. Fashion Week includes recycled clothing exhibit

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Regina Fong.

"Second Lives" demonstrates how many cultures have re-purposed materials that contemporary society has taken for granted. Photo courtesy of the Textile Museum.

There is a growing trend among today’s consumers to lead a more eco-friendly lifestyle, but this cultural green fetish has extended more slowly into the fashion world.

The Textile Museum’s exhibit “Second Lives: The Age-Old Art of Recycling Textiles” puts our disposable culture into perspective by highlighting the clothing customs of other cultures around the world. These cultures value material so highly that they often repurpose even the most covetable garments.

Pieces in the exhibit date back to the late 16th century through the mid-20th century and come from a variety of cultures, but each represent traditions of preserving and recycling textiles.

A Japanese farmer’s jacket on display, made out of old kimonos and rags in shades of blue, exemplifies the tradition of sakiori –  fabric woven from old, shredded clothing and other discarded textiles.

Similarly, the Kantha from South Asia are usually made as gifts by Bengali women from remnants of old garments. These quilt-like pieces are often used as bed coverings, floor seating for honored guests or religious ceremonies and could even be repurposed into washcloths and diapers once they are worn threadbare.

During the Qing dynasty, even high ranking officials and the imperial family recycled their elaborate dragon robes, a symbol of their high social status. Each robe was made from silk and gold and could take from two to three years to make. Since these robes were quite expensive and were only made for the elite, they were often turned into wall hangings.

“Second Lives” demonstrates how many cultures have repurposed materials that contemporary society takes for granted. The textiles not only demonstrate how different cultures revere material possessions but also are symbols of remembrance and historical significance.

The Exhibit is on display until Jan. 8, 2012 and complements the major spring exhibition, Green: the Color and the Cause on display starting April 16.