“Understand them – demand them less”: Understanding Ownership and Value

When does ownership transfer from owner to object? To explore this question, I engage a story about one of the oldest pieces of clothing I have, that I bought and purchased, that has redefined the idea of “ownership”. To start, I want to quote Kate Fletcher’s book “Craft of Use: Post-Growth Fashion”:

Have lots of them – don’t know them.
Know them – enjoy them, be charmed or frustrated by them,
love them, change them, understand them.
Understand them – demand them less.

Fletcher, Kate. Craft of Use: Post-Growth Fashion (p. 141). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

The sweater above in the photos is one of the only pieces of clothing I can truly say that I have cherished for over 6+ plus years. It’s not a long time, but it has a story behind it.

To escape the small town I grew up in, I first started going to college in downtown Los Angeles at FIDM. I was a Fashion Design major, and needless to say I made no money while I was working 60 hours a week on homework and considering all the expenses my parents and I paid for me to move across the country. And by the second set of roommates I had, and one of the few days I ventured out of my apartment, I ended up on strolling down Sunset Boulevard looking for Halloween costumes. And if you have visited, Sunset Blvd was nothing I had ever seen before: it was bizarre and raw with people and places of fashion that I thought I would never see in person. It was individualized and almost un-kept (ripped jeans, shirts cut in half, beanies falling apart). It was street wear, but it was more than that: it reminds me of Kate Flecher’s quote in Chapter 4:

There’s a certain amount of personal bravery required to gain this understanding, for we need to trust our own instincts and judgement about the things we have in front of us. We have to overcome the fear (after Thoreau’s Walden and the story of the Broken Pantaloon, p.250) that showing ourselves in the same, well-worn clothes is worse than weak moral character.

Fletcher, Kate. Craft of Use: Post-Growth Fashion (p. 141). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition

Clothes were worn and worn out, and that type of ownership was something entirely brand new to me. I observed this and continued walking. I saw that white and red lip-symbol button-down sweater on the corner of a street, on a rolling rail with a “Sale” sign. The owner of the store, a boutique of bought and resold clothes came out and bargained down the price of that sweater to about $30.00, which I knew I shouldn’t have been spending. But something about the abstract Warhol-appeal of the sweater was something I never had in my possession before I paid for the sweater, and therefore I owned it; and I owned it proudly. I wore it all the time to school to show it off like I was a new woman: which is irony in the fact that it was a resold garment. But my ownership of the garment made it valuable in the way I wore it with pride.

I felt fashionable. I say that meaning for the first time, I didn’t look like “a small town girl from Connecticut” and I felt like a part of California was being worn on me through this sweater. And in turn, I cherished the sweater so much and as Fletcher says above: I overcame the fear of wearing the same clothing because it meant something more than just a piece of clothing. I never washed it. I only wore it when I wanted to show it off and took care of it more than any other clothing I owned.

Moving out of California and back to my home town, I not only kept this sweater, but the sweater turned around to own me in a way; after years of cleaning out my closet, this sweater has never been taken away from me. So, this sweater now holds it’s ownership on me and more that that: it holds my first college memories and the times I spent as a naive teenager in California. It holds the memories of the compliments it gave me from people that made me feel special; the care I took for the garment allowed for the garment to take care of me. Even in practices of laundry, as Fletcher explains with the washing of wool, can be applied:

In some of the ‘never washed’ stories, wool’s properties in the physical realm are augmented as holders of meaning and memories – and together fibre and sentiment influence the practices of use.

Fletcher, Kate. Craft of Use: Post-Growth Fashion (p. 145). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

Although this sweater is a cotton-blend, I have the same “never washed” practice that keeps the garment’s meaning of use: it’s value is higher than other pieces so it is used less, but used with more purpose. It is washed less not because I want it dirty, but because those fibers hold the memories of my experience at FIDM, the people I wore it around, and how I felt when it covered me: that sweater gave me an identity of strength and determination that I need at the time. It was a used sweater, brightly colored on the side of Sunset Boulevard, but now it has en-capsuled a time in my life I may never get back: it’s not a sweater, it’s a piece of my history.

Carolyn J Cei

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