A Bettr Series


Image credit: Amni Raihan

Otherwise known as @slowfashionadvocate on Instagram, Amni just finished reading her postgraduate degree in Law and Technology from Leiden University. As a slow fashion advocate (see what I did there), she is candid with her critic and does not shy away from calling out racism and unethical practices of the fashion industry on her Instagram account. She also shares widely about her clothes swapping experiences, and does a weekly round-up on key articles written by critics and journalists.

At first glance, it was difficult to pinpoint what wear means for Amni. We spoke about nearly everything related to her (and my) relationship with our clothes. From whether empowerment is derived through self-indulgence from the clothes we own, and buy; to our ability to love clothing that we no longer wear or reach out for.

Eventually, I realised that Amni's habits of wear are formed through her conscious decision to prioritise herself, even as she was growing up. As she navigates her sense of self becoming the person she is today, she has also chosen to engage in fashion activities that promote alternative methods of fashion consumption, by principle.

For Amni, wear is the past, present and future.

Xingyun: Let's start with a short introduction of yourself and what your habits around clothing wear and use are. And more importantly, how have you been?

Amni: I attend clothes swaps quite often. I first experienced swapping through The Nu Wardrobe's (now known as Nuw.) first few events in Hackney, London — it must have been around that time where my interest in sustainable fashion picked up. It was a refreshing take on fashion consumption as it contrasted against the rapid trend-driven consumption promoted on Instagram. As for how I'm feeling, perhaps the same as everyone - very up in the air, very bittersweet. At the same time, I just completed my Masters — that calls for a celebration.

Xingyun: This almost sounds like you're going through a time of transition, having just completed your thesis and moving into the ambiguity of working life. Has this changed the way you dress?

Amni: The COVID situation has affected how I view my wardrobe. Before, I perceived myself as someone who would experiment with clothes and dress to how I feel. If it's raining, I would put on some red lipstick and perhaps something colourful. When COVID happened, I knew there were a lot of people who were struggling. I paid more attention to the way I was presenting myself, making a conscious effort to go for muted tones. It's almost like we are mourning and grieving for the situation. This definitely says something about the current situation. But having said that, if I saw someone else wearing a loud, crazy print, I would be like "You! Rock that!"


Image description: Amni stands in front of an empty field. She is wearing a yellow dress with blue floral motifs and a light -wash denim jacket.

Xingyun: And what are some thoughts that come to mind when you think about the clothes you adorn and wear?

Amni: Two things - my personal style and body type. I love my body, of course, but sometimes I have insecurities, e.g. I put on a dress and it's either too long or my bust would be too small, even if the garment claims to be "standard size". It took me years to know what looks good on me and what doesn't. Now, I am no longer at the mercy of silhouettes and shapes that do not work for my body.

Xingyun: Yes, I feel you on this one.

Amni: In terms of how my personal style feeds into that, I grew up in a Muslim household and am Muslim myself so there were instances where my parents were quite strict about the clothes I wore during Ramadan. But outside of Ramadan, these "tight" jeans were what I would normally wear. Over the years, always having to learn and adapt what is appropriate for which event — I've learnt to always gauge where I'm going and how to dress for certain occasions. Comfort is also important to me. I don't necessarily like tight clothes anymore. You have to accept that some clothes just don't fit you!


Image description: Amni stands in front of a fountain. She is wearing a yellow satin maxi dress and a pair of white sneakers. She is never without her sunglasses.

Xingyun: Adding on to what you just said, our relationship with our clothes is just incredibly personal! And we should not be told by anyone how we can look or feel better. We can decide for ourselves, thank you very much!

Amni: Some clothes make me feel so good on the inside. And I know because I'd look at myself in the mirror and I'd feel like myself.

Xingyun: So would you say that it is the thought process of dressing yourself that empowers you? Not the literal act of putting an outfit together — but how you assemble it in your head and then execute it. It almost is like a pat on the back, a sort of self-assurance that doesn't stem from validation from other people.

Amni: Yes. We're always bombarded with so much information and so many products. So the fact that I can recreate a look with the clothes that are already in my wardrobe without having to buy anything — it's like a "yeah! I did it with MY stuff!"


Image description: Amni is wearing an oversized black coat, a pair of white jeans with black boots. She is hugging a potted plant.

Xingyun: I completely resonate with that. In fact, I don't think I need to buy any new clothes in the next 2 years. I just unpacked my boxes from London and was bombarded with so much clothing that I almost forgot I own.

Amni: Here's what I think. We love these pieces, but sometimes we forget about them. How do we say we love them if we forget about them?

Xingyun: For me, the idea of dressing up gradually faded into the background when other things started consuming my life at the onset of the pandemic. I did think of my "forgotten" wardrobe from time to time, but only when I was looking back at old photos. I thought about where I was and the people I was with when I last wore them. Thinking back, I was probably mourning loss times and a series of potential "could have beens", rather than actual pieces of clothing. What do you think?

Amni: I guess it's also a different type of love.

Xingyun: For clothing that we have yet to buy, but wish to own — love comes in the form of desire and novelty, despite not having established a relationship of wear yet. Overtime, we lose the meanings we attach these clothing to, and may never wear them ever again. Intentionally or not, we decide that we have outgrown these clothes...okay, I am going to stop here because it sounds like I am referring to an actual person!

Amni: *laughs* I think the love we have for our clothing is conditional, at least for me. I space out the times I wear something I love because I worry I could get sick of it. I wonder if that's just me, or if it's the fashion industry telling me that I shouldn't repeat my outfits. I am still trying to unlearn that.

Xingyun: So what's a piece of clothing in your wardrobe that you wear the most often?

Amni: It will have to be this pair of black trousers from Zara, which I bought ages ago. I can wear them with basically anything. I reach out for them very often because they are very versatile. I have them in pink as well, just in case I am feeling fun. I wear them in winter, and right now (Amsterdam was in the high 20s at that point). It is also super high-waisted, which I find flatters my petite frame.


Image description: Amni is wearing black crop tank top with her favourite pair of black trousers. She is standing before a gold rimmed mirror, propped up by her bookshelf.

Xingyun: I think a good pair of trousers really go a long way. I have yet to find one myself. Especially jeans. Because I have a really small ass, it becomes harder to find bottoms that fit me well on both my waist and my butt.

Amni: I was literally thinking the same thing! I don't really mind, but I'm iffy about skinny jeans now.

Xingyun: I am really curious to know if there is an outfit/item of clothing that you love right now. I love your wardrobe!

Amni: I got this dress when I finished my bachelors. It makes me feel really grown-up, the colour and fit look really great on me. It screams, "I'm out, and I am ready to play!" This dress has been through a lot — everytime I wear it I feel like I am literally adding to its wear and tear. I wore it on Eid this year, because I wanted to celebrate with a nice dress, even if I couldn't leave the house. I was doing my nails and the nail polish got on my dress. Just last Saturday I was biking home in the same dress and slipped off my bike, spraining my knee and getting some blood on this dress in the process! I probably have to stop thinking about how I bring bad luck to this dress... *laughs*


Image description: Amni is wearing red lipstick and a leopard-printed dress. She is never without her sunglasses.

Xingyun: This reminds me — I too own a satin, maxi leopard print dress. I bought it for £10 at a car boot sale in London last summer. I never used to like long dresses, but I somehow decided that it is a silhouette that I can try getting used to but I still haven't worn it out! I keep telling myself that it is because I haven't found an occasion to. Maybe I'll wear it the next time it is safe to go out to dance and party, but who knows when that time will come.

Amni: So I read this quote from a book that I have back home, and it talks about how there is just never going to be a suitable occasion to wear anything. You have to make the occasion. I can easily wear these pieces never, and think that I have to save it for something special. But that special day will probably never come. It is always a reflection of the extent of how we think people will think of us and what we wear, but it is your adornment to own.

Xingyun: Thank you for saying that! It serves as a good reminder to own my choices and my confidence. I am curious — how has your style evolved over time?

Amni: I do love talking about this. Growing up, there was a heavy emphasis on the way I presented myself. Do I really want to wear that strapless dress, or am I doing it to rebel? I had to learn to prioritise forming my own identity before choosing an identity my parents possibly wanted for me. Moving to the Northern Hemisphere, of course, also shaped how I dress. I love how I can wear a jacket, learn how to layer, and be better at layering … placing comfort and my own style above everything else.


Image description: Amni is wearing her hair in a top bun, wrapped up in a shawl and is wearing a checkered skirt. She paired her outfit with a pair of high-top converse, perhaps for easy walking around the city.

Xingyun: Would you say that a lot of your inspiration comes from your own experiences, navigating through your identity and trying to solidify that?

Amni: Yes, I would say so. It might be through the limitations growing up, that I really got used to expressing myself whenever I had the chance to. And now that I live on my own, it has helped me create and formulate how I view my relationship with my clothes.

Xingyun: Thank you for letting me into your life and your clothing stories! I wish more people talked about their experiences with worn clothes. Stories of wear and worn clothing have significantly lower commercial value, which is probably why we don't hear about them enough.

Amni: Yeah, it's a pity because clothes have sentimental value. We now see them as such an "easy buy, easy go" commodity. If we saw them as time capsules, or items that represent who we are at different points of our lives, it becomes part of our memory and an extension of who we are. If I choose to wear the same dress all the time, then that's me, the dress is a part of who I am.

My conversation with Amni reminded me of Channel 4's latest documentary, "Inside Missguided: Made in Manchester". Based on British fast-fashion brand, Missguided, the documentary series is the perfect example of a lacklustre celebration of misrepresented female empowerment. Even as collective awareness around the sore lack of inclusivity of the fast fashion business model increases — brands like Missguided continue to wax lyrical about their outdated, and frankly, myopic and toxic ways of empowering women through clothing purchases. Whether or not empowerment is derived through prioritising our needs and what looks best on us, or supporting all the right causes but making a few mistakes in between, we own our choices. The stories of wear proves that we are users, and not consumers of fashion. The former is a narrative that mainstream fashion sorely lacks.

Amni's profile marks the end of the Wear is series. I have had the privilege to speak to friends and strangers about their relationship with their clothing, and in the process, rekindled my own. As I am editing this article, I am listening to Episode 123 of the Wardrobe Crisis podcast, hosted by Clare Press, featuring Professor Helen Storey [1]. At its 30-minute mark, Professor Storey mentions that, "there is a privilege in being in a world of research and knowledge exchange". She goes on to add that this privilege is where "you can afford to ask the questions that perhaps those who commercially still live by fashion, can't ask".

I started off the series lamenting about the counter-intuitive relationship we have with our clothes. That has since changed, as I have had the privilege to learn about clothing use at a slower pace and a more personal level. The purpose of 'Wear is…' isn't to villainise or judge anyone's clothing purchases or relationship with their clothes. Instead, it is my hope that this series inspires us to know that our relationship with wear and ongoing habits of clothing use is ours to own for a reason. My only wish is that we keep owning that, and bear in mind that the clothes we wear, embody ideas bigger than their value as transactional commodities.

Notes:
[1] Professor Helen is a Professor of Fashion Science at the University of the Arts London and UN Refugee Agency's first ever designer-in-residence

 

About Xingyun

Xingyun Shen

Xingyun is a fashion business graduate who advocates for a more humane fashion system. Seeking to address the importance of intersectionality when analysing fashion sustainability, she runs @noordinaryprotest as a platform to call for a shift in mindset. Her favourite time of the day is 5 pm, and her go-to fashion activity is swapping.