Monday, 12 May 2014

The cost of fashion † Human and animal rights and environmental health

Hey kittens, I'm sorry to say that things will continue to be quiet around here: I've been offered another job, which means I'll basically be working full time. I'll squeeze in Encyclopaedia entries where I can, but for now, here's something I wrote up a while ago-

I've written a little before on how to be green and black, but I want to extend that a little further this time. I have a passion for environmental matters and human rights too, but my university offered such an overabundance of environmental law units that I squished all in so there was no room for human rights law. (To clarify, I studied climate science and environmental law).

I regularly read articles from magazines such as Peppermint, an Australia eco-fashion publication, and from sites such as TreeHugger and Mother Nature network. On one of my daily jaunts, I came across an article on a note found in a paper bag from Huffington Post (which I mostly follow for the 'Green' section but this popped up and looked interesting).

In short, the article relates how an American women found a note in the bag, from an inmate in a Chinese prison pleading for help. He had been arrested on false charges, abused and was forced into essentially slave labour, producing these paper bags for companies around the world. The question this should make you ask is: Do you know who makes the products you use every day?

This is an important question. As is: How was the product produced? Where does it come from? Where will it go when discarded?

Let's start with the first question: Who produced this product? Luckily, with a lot of alternative fashion, dedicated people hand make items to a great quality. It is only massive corporations which often feel the need to 'cut costs' by herding a lot of poor people into bad quality surroundings to produce stuff. So handmade = yes? Well... where do the components come from? After the horror of the Bangladeshi factory collapse (warning: the first picture is absolutely heartbreaking), it is even more important that people really pay attention to where they get their stuff from.

How was the product produced?
Slave labour? Child labour? Was your black orchid perfume dripped into the eyes of tied down rabbits or force fed to dogs? Was your black leather sprayed with biocides or volatile organic compounds? Was it an energy intensive process that emitted dioxins and furans into the atmosphere? How much water went into the production of your stonewash jeans? There are so many questions here.

Where does it come from?
This is essentially a question with two points: product miles and human rights. Product miles are the total amount of travel taken by all the bits and pieces needed to make the product. It can be pretty ridiculous sometimes. China imports tomatoes from Italy, Italy imports tomatoes from Australia. America produces circuit boards and electronic components, send them to China for assembly, and they send them back. How much travel is that? How much energy goes into this strange to-ing and fro-ing?

Human rights comes in with the phrase 'you vote with your pocket'. When you buy a product, you endorse it and essentially 'vote' for it. It is thus important to know what you are 'voting' for, like any election.

Where will it go when it gets discarded?
What do you do with your old or unwanted clothes? You can donate some, sell some, use some for rags... or bin it. Waste dumps are pretty horrific places, especially if yours buys waste from other countries. What about electronic goods? Do you try to recycle them? Hell, sometimes governments don't care - electronics 'destined' for recycling have ended up in Global South (aka developing/third world) tips.

So now what? Essentially this post is a really really quick ramble about the importance of thinking about what you buy, from where, from who and what you do with the things afterwards. Here's a great little infographic to give you a start:


I could probably go on for days about this (I mean, come on, I studied it at university for five years) but I'll leave it there. Is there anything that you are particularly interested in that I could expand upon?

Poetry † 朧気歴程 Misty Passage

Sorry for the filler! Like many gothy artsy types, I love to write (and draw and what have you). The following is a series of haibun 俳文 (a mix of haiku and verse) I wrote for a competition (I got commended, yay!) It's about Hong Kong, which is probably my favourite city in the world.

Yes, this is a Japanese style poem about China. Hm.


初めに闇がある, 結局に闇がある, すべての 旅路. 夢で, 至るときには押しとどめるじゃない. 日没から日の岀 まで, 約束の君の謎が引張る,静粛な天壇大佛の霧の祈りが, 大澳の古い 石が聞きつける. それがじゃないでももうすぐ



It begins in darkness and ends in darkness, every journey. It is a dream, of ever-roaming, never ceasing, even when I reach your shores. Pulled through the night by a promise of your mystery, hearing already the misty prayers of the silent Lantau Buddha, the quiet whisper of grey water against the old stones of Tai O. I am not there yet, but soon,

on fragrant water
city rises on bamboo legs
an ancient night-heron

it stretches its wings and I must follow.

Fly with me now. We find our way by reading the constellations of lights below and forgetting those stars above. Through the cold and dry travel, skipped like a stone over the surface of an ocean of white cloud.
And then, all becomes clear:

gazing through water
a city sunken below
the air of Asia

I see Hong Kong glitter beneath the cloud's surface. I have arrived, but where? There are no ends, only beginnings of misty passages.  

Have I truly arrived? Each day is movement: a network of trains, like a nest of dragons, whirl me from Hong Kong to Sha Tin to the Peak, until I do not remember if I am poet or butterfly or dreaming as harbour fades to fields of sand to victory's mountain. I wake in the markets

the turtle struggles
legs bound tight, eyes jewelled with tears
below are twelve more

Did I wake to a nightmare? A bowl of soup, of noodles and swallows' clouds blows the bad dreams away, and the yin and yang of a cup of tea and coffee warms me. Steam rises like mist from the surface, and I see it, bamboo forests and the giant Buddha. Then I remember to breathe and they are blown away into the living night.

And as the days wind back and the summer heat fades, I feel I am leaving these hidden paths. The days become shorter, the nights colder; I want my cola warm with ginger, not cold and floating lemon. Through the mist I can glimpse familiar sights:

the jacaranda
has spread a purple carpet
for my arrival
I know it will be there when I leave these skyscraper mountains for the hills of home. And yet... I wish to remain lost in Hong Kong fog forever.

When drawn by hand, a circle has a beginning.

This set of travels ends where it began: at a window seat, watching constellations change and shrink in the night sky below metal wings.
And yet the mist refuses to part: Am I going home? Or leaving? Was there ever a beginning? An end? Or have I wandered through the fog for an eternity, only dreaming of these imaginary concepts, 'dawn' and 'dusk'?

By the roadside now
four walls and a simple roof
look familiar
May I call it home?  

Unfortunately this is actually Beijing, but it's too beautiful a picture to pass up on.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Update: Sorry for the silence, but I finally got a job!

Hey kittens! Just a quick update to apologise for the silence. From being a jobless graduate, I've suddenly become a freelance journalist and tutor. I'm just in the process of juggling things into some semblance of order, so once that's done, I'll be posting about alternative fashion more frequently once again.

On another note, I now have a tumblr account ( so feel free to follow me :) I will, in addition to posting links to my posts, be posting all kinds of random stuff (fashion, pop culture, etc.) that I love. Also, let me know if you have a tumblr too. ;)

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Appropriation of ethnic groups for fashion

Hello kittens, today is another 'philosoraptor' post, and this time I'm considering the appropriation of ethnic groups for fashion. Examples include Oriental Goth, the use of bindis/tikkas as fashion items and the recent "Hello Kitty" song and MV by Avril Lavigne.

A number of things encouraged me to write this post. Firstly, as many of you probably know, I am half-Chinese. Although my ability to speak Cantonese and read Chinese is atrocious, and I don't really look very Asian, I nonetheless strongly identify with Chinese heritage. I love roasted milk tea, JRock and Asian fashion, and I see nothing wrong in anybody else (regardless of background) liking it too. Share the love!

I'll note here that this will mean I will be focusing on cultural appropriation of Asia, although Black-American culture suffers similarly.

Secondly, though, because of my background, I have been subject to both conscious and unconscious discrimination, and I've been guilty of a little elitism too. Things like getting hit on by random dudes in the street who think 你好 'Ni hao' and こんにちは 'Konnichiwa' are pick up lines. I have a pet peeve when I'm given a fork instead of chopsticks.

Because of this, I get sensitive around the appropriation of ethnicity. Writing my oriental goth post in particular made me very concerned - is oriental goth a fetishisation of oriental women in particular? I say this because I could not find any oriental goth photos of men (I always try, in my posts, to get as diverse a range of images as possible, with many races and genders) and the photos I could find were mostly of women in skimpy 'costumes' and sexualised poses. Am I being too sensitive? Goth can often be, after all, sexualised.

The last things which pushed me to write this post were various articles on bindis as a fashion statement (1, 2, 3) and the Racism is Not Kawaii post on about Avril Lavigne's Hello Kitty. I won't post the video here because it's pretty horrific. Essentially, Avril does an amateur job at Japanese street style and I'm strongly reminded of Alison Gold's Chinese Food (the music video, by the way, features women in Japanese clothing, without a hint of a 旗袍 qipao or cheong sam in sight). Again, I will not post it here. It doesn't deserve views.

So what is wrong with all of this?

Point 1: stereotyping. No, throwing random Asian phrases about does not make you attractive/intelligent/amusing/etc. As 'Yellow Fever' points out (although this movie is a satire), an Asian guy going up to a white girl and saying 'hello' in a bad Chinglish accent is not attractive. Avril, singing 'kawaii' does not make you cute, especially not with the robotic Asian ladies behind you.

Chow mein? Wonton soup? That's the whitest Asian stuff available, besides cream cheese wontons. Like hell you love Chinese food. When you learn various ways that a 苦瓜 bitter melon can be tasty, the best part of a steamed fish and the joy of fruit in hot soup, then maybe I'll take you seriously. /rant

Point 2: ignorance. Essentially, insensitive appropriation just displays ignorance, especially when done badly. It's like saying 'wow, I like this house, but all those walls have got to go'. Appropriation can take away fundamentally important aspects.

What I'm trying to as overall is not that we shouldn't appropriate or borrow. By doing so we get some wonderful things, like Lolita and fried icecream. However, make sure you know and understand what the hell you're doing. A good example of this is the use of crosses in gothic culture. Personally, I don't wear them,  but Christianity is much better understood by the Western world, so if you want to go and ironically wear a cross, go for it :) Wearing a bindi, the religious symbol of a group heavily oppressed by Westerners for decades... maybe not such a good idea.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Encyclopaedia of Alternative Fashion † Chonga/Chongo

The full Encyclopaedia of Alternative Fashion can be found here.

Country of Origin


Gender Balance
Female (or identifying) - chonga; male (or identifiying) - chongo. More chonga may be found online, but there is an equal mix on the streets of Miami.

Chonga is another of those fashion styles which is intrinsically tied to a lifestyle: that of a particular type of Miami girl. Chonga women are generally working class, young and Hispanic and depending on the location you are in, the term can be offensive or a badge of pride (so be careful!). They even have their own particular way of speaking, a mix of heavy Spanish and bad English.


Fashion tends to be very sexualised, but also cheap, given that Chonga are often from lower socio-economic areas. Currently, this means tight jeans that accentuate curves, chunky 'gold' jewellery and loud makeup (red lips or simple black lip liner, bright eyeshadow, gaudy nails) are common features of Chonga style. They also like to use hair gel or spray.

This Chonga's shirt reads 'Hialeah', the hometown of Chonga life. Source.

In some ways, the Chonga style resembles Japanese gyaru. Both have cliques (in gyaru, 'circles') and encourage boldness and sexiness in young women. However, Chonga is very much a working class phenomenon, a response to the societal and economic factors affecting the women, whereas gyaru is often seen as a response by middle class women to a conservative society. In actual fact, Chongas derive their roots from 'Cholas', Mexican or Puerto Rican girl gang members with a similar approach to fashion.


There is also a subset of Chonga style called 'preponga', essentially a preppy chonga who wears tight mini polo shirts. Chongo is the male equivalent of Chonga. They look is very similar to 'gangsta' styles: oversized clothing, big sneakers/hi tops and gold chains.


Style icons
Mimi and Laura, 'The Chonga Girls' became relatively well known after creating a youtube video parodying the song 'Fergilious'. The song 'Chongalicious' makes references to the fashion style and attitude of Chongas, and the girls themselves are dressed in typical Chonga clothing. Technically, however, the girls themselves only subscribe to the Chonga lifestyle when acting in their public Chonga personas.

Fashion inspirations in popular culture
Bratz dolls are probably the closest thing in popular culture to Chongas. Their often tight, skimpy clothing, big lips and bold makeup are considered by many as an obvious homage to Chonga style.


Further reading and resources

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