A few months ago, my partner came to me with a proposition. “Ruby,” he said, “I think I found our aesthetic.”
He went on to tell me about solarpunk, an optimistic sci-fi genre in which future humans have averted impending environmental doom and live in closer harmony with nature, harnessing wind and solar energy, and facing the challenges of their day (it is explicitly neither utopian nor dystopian).
I googled it (you should also google it, highly recommend it) and read all about how this genre has sparked an aesthetic movement across many fields including fashion, art, and architecture… the idea being that if we dress, build, draw, paint, and design in a way that aligns with this gentler, less costly path, we may be able to collectively will it into being.
I fell instantly in love with the beauty of this concept, and I bet you will, too.
I wanted to know more, so I went to the library and checked out some books that were touted as being emblematic of the solarpunk genre.
Last night, I finished Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon. The cover was goofy as hell, but it was the description on the book jacket that drew me in:
“People had always told Ofelia what to do'; for once she was going to do what she wanted. She refused to get on the cryo ships, refused to leave the only world she could call home. and when they finally came for her, she hid - not that the authorities looked all that hard for one crazy old woman. Now Ofelia is alone, content to live with no more demands on her self or her time, the only remaining settler on an abandoned planet.”
It was a fast read, and so satisfying that the protagonist was an elderly woman! Heck yeah!
One aspect of Ofelia’s story that the author explains in great depth is her relationship to clothing and fashion, and how this changes as Ofelia realizes she is no longer bound by the human social constraints of modesty, propriety, and class. Ofelia begins to take joy in crafting highly imaginative and embellished garments and accessories with the materials available to her. The deeper she leans into her creative process, the more she connects to herself and begins to heal from decades of trauma.
Eventually Ofelia must contend with a new group of human visitors to her planet as well as a population of intelligent native creatures. Moon leans hard into describing the role of Ofelia’s handmade clothing in her diplomacy efforts.
I found it delightful and affirming that Moon imagined a group of poor colonists sent to farm on an alien planet would have a highly sophisticated sewing room and equipment with which to fabricate all of their apparel and softgoods.
A reminder once again that sewing is an essential skill!
So often we think of science fiction-inspired clothing as being utilitarian; built for adverse circumstances we can only imagine humans will encounter in a perilous future: space travel, toxic wastelands, nuclear apocalypse.
But Remnant Population threw another potential into the mix:
What if the future holds joy, abundance, and boundless creativity–what if all social restrictions were lifted, and we got to define our own roles on another world; what would we choose to wear then?
Since I started Spokes & Stitches one year ago, I’ve been grasping for something to tie it all together, some sort of beacon to encapsulate what exactly it is that I’m offering.
Words like “inclusivity,” “slow fashion,” and “gender diversity” kept coming up, but they all felt like overused buzzwords. These phrases plead for our attention, they draw a comparison between “us, the Good Brand™” and “the other guys, those jerks over there getting it wrong” (despite the fact that the companies touting this language quite often are getting quite a lot wrong, too!).
These words, used so heavily in marketing, sound to me like a scolding parent suggesting we forgo the frosted flakes and eat the granola because “it’s morally superior,” “it’s good for you.”
They don’t speak to my heart. I don’t want to make clothing just because the pattern comes in a large size range, or proclaims gender neutrality. Fashion is about fantasy, and size inclusivity and gender expansiveness are not fantasies on their own. To me, they are just inevitable characteristics of the human race.
In fact, I was even beginning to bore myself as I read through the first draft of my business plan, which was laden with the buzzwords I mentioned above. I wasn’t jazzed.
I realized that I don’t want to design purely as a statement of opposition against the tired status quo… I want to work on a project that’s sexy, something that strokes my imagination and inspires me to get up every day and create something new!
So, one year into my business, I’ve found the fantasy I want to lead with:
SEWING PATTERNS FOR SOLARPUNKS!
Are you ready to join me in sewing our way into the future we want to see?