Subsistence agriculture, foraged foods, traditional diets.
Mechanical looms, plant and animal fibers, the bespoke and handmade.
Bartering, collecting, crafting.
They all seem somewhat backwards activities, mired in the past, re-emerging (as far as they haven’t been lost) only as quaint and exotic museum pieces to be gawked at by modern tourists, hawked as exotic traditions to come and see before they disappear.
Or, they may be remembered in crisis, when emergency entrepreneurship comes to hold greater promise than the search for that elusive job, when ways of getting by in any way possible overrule the allure of supposed ways to make a killing.
Either way, nostalgia aside, they don’t seem to be modern and future-oriented. There is, however, another level of value to the local and slow-made.
It is old-fashioned – after a fashion. Which also means that there’s a constant value in it.
It is “poor” and requires hard work – but it’s also what you can find ways of doing even in poorer circumstances, which have always been the more usual state and seem the state to which we are fast returning, making them powerful as well.
These ways of making a living, more dependent on personal skills and community than on uncaring corporations and conditions that make for easy – and utterly dependent – comfort provided just as long as you manage to pay for it, also build the ways to personal growth, rich lives, and better futures.
In fact, in our increasing realization of the need to live real and live better, making ourselves at home in our lives and this world, we – at least, could – increasingly see many of these ways in which such “poor” and “backwards” ways are actually richer and forward-leading. They have even been turning into luxuries, and perhaps this is preparing the ground for ways forward.
The local, heirloom, and wild/foraged food trends have been perhaps the clearest example of a re-valuation of such old-fashioned and “peasant” ways being transformed into luxury practices.
Of course, it makes a great difference whether you have to subsist on a simple diet and even go out trying to forage enough for the next meal, or try to escape a “toxic,” “obesifying” food environment through a luxury meal consisting of such simple, foraged fare.
“Cook it Raw” – and the chefs participating in it – is perhaps the greatest example of this luxury of the quaint and high-touch.
The perhaps more forward-looking topic, often hidden behind accusations of food snobbery and class-ism, is twofold:
One, there is great value to the simple diets – simple in terms of their ingredients being fresh, locally-sourced, and definitely not industrially processed – that are rather more traditional and even “poor”/”peasant.” Value in terms of ecological relationships as well as human health. And enjoyment. And even economic opportunity, apparently.
There is also a great and necessary diversity to diets and agri-cultural systems “returning forward” to such practices, which helps, for example, in providing real nutrition (rather than just empty calories) as well as resilience.
These positive relations, secondly, hold true whether this way of eating is presented more as a luxury for the better-off or returning to being necessary and/or desired because we need or want to live closer to the land (and natural fertility rather than lives bought and paid for by the money-making magic of the financial markets).
In the area of fashion, similar trends can be seen. No, not trends, developments.
The vast majority of textiles consumption – and it can hardly be called anything else when pounds of clothing items are bought and discarded (or put in storage) every year, having been cheaply-toxically produced and being destined to be ‘retired’ soon – is based on cheap industrial production and quick changes of fashion.
There is, however, a luxury- as well as (a) durability- and individuality-oriented segment of the bespoke and high-tech as well as of the, otherwise and more simply, handmade, local-made, perhaps traditionally and often more ecologically-soundly sourced (as in the resurgence of wool), and quality-oriented.
The older European idea of a suit to marry in and get buried in had been given up in favor of the cheap J.C. Penney suit off the rack, driven by fashion and the allure of the cheap – and driving the economy.
Yet, classical tailors are still around for those who can and want to afford a piece that will really fit, suit them, and last for a long time (perhaps even a whole life).
Both well-known and “insider,” sometimes almost secret, brands have also been established, making products for particular sections of the market. Often, their products are constructed with an eye towards quality (and special qualities), and not just oriented on making a quick buck: Arc’teryx Veilance for classical-technical looks and high-tech/high-quality materials and workmanship; Outlier for cycling-inspired office wear; Stutterheim raincoats for that touch of Scandinavian melancholy, well-protected in the rain, …
They fit into the (rather more unfortunate) trend towards a separation of society into cheap things for those just scraping by and luxury items (like those brands’) for those with more money than they know how to spend – but not only. Of course, what is sold is also a story, and what may be made of and with it could also be the story of better living by ecology.
Conroy Nachtigall, head designer for Arcteryx Veilance, remarked that the intention is to create a brand that will be around in a hundred year’s time; the products sure are made to last and not conform (too much) to fashion trends.
“Compared to Nachtigall’s clothes – constructed with Arc’teryx’s signature doting on each seam and every closure – and their ability to regulate temperature and moisture with high-tech laminates, fashion and the economy that demands new designs every season begin to seem frivolous, if not entirely irrelevant,” writes 032c.
Alexander Stutterheim’s work is even more strongly based on “alternative” ideas that are coming back into – and are quite outside the usual run of – fashion. As he said in an interview with Life+Times:
“I want to make items that can last for a very long time, that are handmade, and are made in the best fabrics for its purpose. But most importantly, I wanted to create something that had no mass production and to fight the windmills of that “throw away” mentality. I am sick to the bone of everything that is made with bad quality – especially when items are created just for the sake of making a profit.”
As always, it’s a matter of balance.
One can easily get caught up in (or repelled by) the fashion trends – and fetishizations – that are inherent even in attempts at not following trends; it is easy to spend too much on products that appear to be must-haves even if they intend not to be that – but that’s how the performance of better living always is a performance, a necessary decision.
At least, some of the intent here is to get back to an orientation on things that are worth it, will last, and have a chance at becoming favorites and lasting mainstays of a wardrobe with personal style.
Thinking of making a living in similar ways points to some of the major problems in a change towards more sensibly local economies fitting into regions and communities, socially and ecologically: More professionalism is required than many a dream of participating in an Etsy economy imagines, and some products may still be better produced only with more technology.
Then again, these examples from just the sides of food and clothing point to some of the potential for even getting to the highest quality/qualities and values in the market through “poor” entrepreneurship that is based on the regional and the hand-made – plus skill, growing experience, appropriate technology, and creativity.
Unless we really think that the affluence that is a throw-away, non-renewable resource-powered society could go on forever and that its mentality of seeing more and cheaper as always better is the best we can do, there is no reason to believe that we couldn’t return forward to richer and better lives based on the simple luxuries of food that is regional, seasonal, and truly nourishing, clothing that works functionally and fashionably for a personal style for a long time, and even economies that are based on skill and need, and work well for people and living places.