Outi Pyy visited the Chinese clothing factories in the late 90s’. The experience changed her way of thinking and nowadays she encourages consumers to take care and humanise their clothes.
In 1998 Outi, a 20-year-old seamstress student, travelled to China for a three-week internship. Her mum worked at the purchasing sector for a sportswear company, she had visited China many times and had connections there. First, Outi planned to go there with her mum, but in the end, she was heading east alone. She was meant to stay in Hong Kong for two weeks and in mainland China for a week.
At this point Outi reminds that in the late 90s’ the western world knew nothing about the far-east culture, no vacations to Thailand were made, long-distance calls were expensive, the internet was used rarely. Outi thinks back and suspects that the noodles came to Finland that year.
“A 20-year-old is quite a brat”, Outi describes, “and although my mum had prepared me for the Chinese culture, three weeks in a completely different world was a shock for me.”
To a woman who was used to do everything by herself, it felt weird that the housekeeper made her bed, stole her underwear, washed and returned them. She learned the Chinese manners in the business world, saw the first machine-guns of her life held by the guard in front of the factory owners’ house.
Then Outi visited the clothing factories. And learned what the word privileged meant.
“The women there were my age, they worked for 12 hours, sew that same fucking seam the whole day, one seam takes five seconds. Five seconds! And on top of that, the air was extremely hot and humid. Then they go home and take care of their children. I realised I wouldn’t last there even a day. At the same time, Finnish government pays me money each month to go to school.”
Outi stays quiet for a few seconds. Since then relativity has had a whole new meaning to her.
Outi emphasises that she didn’t feel sorry for those women, they seemed pleased there, but the experience made her understand that the textile industry was far from sustainable. She began to question the manufacturing method, the whole process of how a garment is made and how we treat clothes.
“It’s just absurd. The fact that those 200 people work there every day for 12 to 18 hours, sleep a few hours and come back exhausted, and then in the western world people wait outside of H&M, run in and toss those clothes on the floor – absurd. It is modern slavery.”, Outi says and shakes her head.
Nowadays Outi encourages people to take care of their clothes better, she tries to humanise clothes to consumers so that they would last longer. The durability of a garment is essential when measuring the economical, ecological and environmental impacts are measured. Manufacturing is just one piece of the garments’ long chain.
In addition to taking good care of clothes, Outi encourages people to prepare and fix their clothes. She shares ideas and interesting DIY-instructions in her blog and her book Trashion (Atena Publishing 2012).
She has succeeded in making instructions that attract both an experienced and a beginner sewer and also sewer of all ages. She wants to show that the same instructions can be used in many ways, and the same shirts or skirts can be used in different styles from punk to vintage when it is made from different fabric.
“People haven’t quite yet understood that the amount of textiles we consume is huge”, Outi says, “and when thinking globally, fresh water is polluted by the textile industry the second most. One pair of denim takes 10 000 litres of fresh water to make, which equals to one person’s drinking water for 10 years. So it does matter what clothes we buy.”