India Flint’s new book Second Skin is a beautiful follow up to her first. It has the same luscious feel, packed with gorgeous photographs and illustrations and has a pleasing mix of practical information, snippets from different cultural traditions and more general anecdotal writing that gives an insight in to India’s colourful life.
Despite its visual appeal some of the content doesn’t make for comfortable reading. India reminds the reader of how poorly informed most of us are about where our clothing is derived from: the fibres and the processes that have gone into the garments that we wrap around our bodies for the majority of our lives. Of course, even if we care about such things it can often be very difficult to find out the history of what we buy and this book highlights the real facts about the systems that our clothes pass through.
There are no straightforward answers and an element of guilt is inevitable in reading parts of chapters 1 to 4. For example, even the fairly well informed may feel they are doing a good thing by buying an organic cotton t-shirt, unaware of the parts of production of that garment that are far from sustainable. Chapter 2, Provenance, is full of cautionary tales and the complicated nature of trying to live in a sustainable way is set out well.
It strikes me that the difficulty of breaking out of the system, stepping off the treadmill, going against the tide means that, even for the well intentioned, practicality means we can’t all do as much as we might hope to. But small changes make a big difference and if this book changes one aspect of behavior in the way each reader sources their clothing those small changes will add up to much more. The all important “have less stuff” is something we all know of as a positive move in living mindfully but how many of us really have the discipline and commitment to live that way? It is always good to be reminded of issues you are already vaguely aware of and have your resolve strengthened periodically.
Chapter 7 gives a short run down of various artists and makers whose work shares principles of sustainability and re-use of materials. This is useful but is almost a starting point for a book in itself.
Chapters 5, 6, 8 and 9 are full of tips and suggestions that I would imagine will give the eco-conscious fashion student much mileage. Chapter 8 on re-purposing is where things got pretty mouth watering for me. All sorts of ideas are given for creating new garments from old and there is scope within these to be really playful. Just like in Eco Colour, there is an undercurrent of useful information that is intended to be used with individuality and in the exploration of personal style. India’s generosity with her experience and skill is huge but she is not prescriptive and it really makes you want to try it all out yourself.
Chapter 10, on dyeing, re-visits the ground covered in Eco Colour but expands on it and, as ever, is a wonderful mix of practical instruction and encouragement to be experimental. The myriad of tips and ideas are ever-useful.
Like the natural dyes that India’s life and work are so wrapped up in, the effect of this book will grow stronger with time: repeated dipping, short periods of immersion, time for absorption are all part of imbuing your life with the sentiments and skills within its pages. It’s certainly re-ignited some slow-burning flames of mine: I’m off to get a few bundles steaming now…
Second Skin, published by Murdoch Books, is available from 1st August.