The first piece of paper that I folded to make an object took the shape of a paper plane. Birds and fish followed, as extra-curricular classes in school offered lessons on how to transform a square piece of paper into weightless, multi-dimensional objects that bore likeness to their functional/live counterparts. There was something exciting about creating reduced models of complex life that already existed around us; the trick (and thrill) was to think around the subject, and reproduce its semblance with limited resources. The process involved making multiple folds along studied lines – it was a knowledge both acquired and improvised.
Origami is a rich history of craft, which opens out the possibility of creating illimitable structures. The application of origami in the garment industry carries the additional function of problem-solving through design, where folding – in becoming a substitute to cutting – serves to eliminate textile waste that mostly accumulates in and chokes landfills. As this waste expands in scale every year, it eats up the space otherwise occupied by other beings, resulting in an ecological collapse of resources. Decomposition is either slow or impossible, and the fabric persists on the surface of the earth as a recalcitrant remnant of a people that did not look beyond its own lifespan. Origami then becomes a mode of thinking, a value, and a potent tool for addressing the problem of abundance.
An origami garment involves making folds that shrink space, and ascribes a silhouette while rejecting expulsion of any fabric from the final product. Actant Pragya Sharma sources fabric that is already designated “waste” material: end-of-roll fabric from kabari markets, for instance, which she moulds into varying garments using minimal stitching, often incorporating the selvedge into the design. Her garments acquire multiple creases and puffs, where even the material expelled for the sake of a neckline and armholes is re-used to add space in the form of pockets – a feature that has been historically withheld from women’s garments to encourage an additive commerce in bags and purses. The garments are androgynous, in departure from normative designs (encouraged and sustained by fast fashion industries) that intend to accentuate or cover anatomical contours in correspondence to codes of gender. Origami then makes it possible for the wearer to occupy space inside the garment both literally and figuratively; the skin breathes.
Pragya conducted a workshop where she introduced the participants to the context of zero waste fashion and engaged in making sculptural patterns with paper, which were then sampled on fabric. Zero-waste fashion concentrates on minimising wastage while preserving the appeal of designs already etched in the popular consciousness as favourable. It maintains the status-quo that comes with the segregation of garments in correspondence to established rungs of privilege – office-wear, casual wear, sleepwear (and the like), while simultaneously encouraging the body to slow down on consumption. Seemingly contradictory, it marks an impulse towards sustainable clothing across spaces of occupation – a drive to arrive at a point of taking individual responsibility for choices. In answer to a predominantly White imperialist culture of consumption that has percolated into and affected Brown and Black bodies, sustainability (in its urgent, contemporary impulse) constitutes a sartorial history of non-white cultures that thrived on handloom industries, which prevented waste during manufacture as an ethos unto itself. Sustainability is then a belated response to a historical over-exploitation of resources across borders in the form of indentured or cheap labour; an abundance borne at a cost by bodies that did not have choices.
The neo-colonial entanglements of textile and labour draw attention to the precarity of the labouring body (especially in the Global South), which dissipates under the weight of institutional pressure to produce in mechanical tandem with instruction. Origami visbilises the labour through the creases; it is no longer the accomplishment of an invisible hand, but an embodied artistry with agency and capacity for error. The deep future will carry the impact and transfer of human actions; efforts at reviving cultures of sustainable life then become a way of mapping cautions across space and time. There’s no clean end in an apocalypse, no certitude of a definitive end to the chaos of the present. There is a circularity of the living form instead, as the same piece of paper becomes a palimpsest for a bird, a plane and a fish; an archive of inscriptions through time.
K Shailaja, Lipsa Mohapatra, “Zero Waste in Garment Manufacturing, Fibre2Fashion (https://www.fibre2fashion.com/industry-article/8753/zero-waste-in-garment-manufacturing)
Jean and John Comaroff, “Alien-Nation: Zombies, Immigrants and Millenial Capitalism”, Codesria Bulletin.
Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016).
Inset 1 (set of stills): Pragya Sharma
Inset 2: Pragya Sharma in one of her designs
Cover Image: Paper origami models for garments, Pragya Sharma
Zero Waste Fashion | Credit: Annette Jacob
You can follow Actant Pragya Sharma and her work on Instagram @zw.pragyasharma.