Why I Mended My Shirt With My Own Hair

Words & Art: Ophir El-Boher
Photos: Mario GalLucci

I have this really old pullover that I found in my grandpa’s closet. It is the most normal, undistinguished pullover one can imagine. It was worn so many times that the fabric lost its weight and all the edges started to fray. It’s just a little too big, and its color is the most faded grey you've ever seen. I love it. Wearing it just feels like home.

I’ve never tried to remove the stains off of this garment. Actually, I never really remove stains off any of my clothes. Every time I see a stain, I remember something: the friend I had that coffee with; that night I spilled that wine on myself; those long nights in the studio, not caring anymore about all those drops of ink.

Clothing has this wonderful trait of holding memories. On the surface, clothes aren’t anything deep, right? We change them all the time, we get them for almost no money (when did you last save to buy a new piece of clothing?) and we don’t normally keep them very long. But that’s just the surface. Underneath that surface there are deeper feelings, woven threads of random events, places and people.

These objects are constantly touching our bodies, covering us from the outside, therefore, we tend to mistake them as being exterior level representations only. Images, meant to be observed. Not anything profound, just a cover that others see, or watch.

How about thinking of them from the inside? What if we were to try a new outfit without looking at the mirror? We will put it on, with eyes closed, and ask ourselves: how does it feel? How is it touching my body? What kind of persona does it make out of me? Am I tight and neat? Am I cosy and warm? Am I feeling home? These questions are a suggestion to treat our dressing practices as a tool to reconnect to ourselves. After all, as its said, the art of dressing is the art we all practice.

Take another example, hair. It grows from within our bodies. It takes time and energy to get longer, it is affected by what we ate, how much we smoked, our level of stress… Yet, though it can indicate so much about the inside, we mostly care about how it looks. We change its shape, its color, we remove it from where we think it shouldn’t be seen. It's all about the look – growing from the inside, presented to the outside.

When I traveled India, I learned how Hindus give their hair to Vishnu, the preserver, protector god. Giving away your hair means giving away your ego. The gods love it when you do that, so they bless you. I did not give my hair to Vishnu (I don’t know him that well), but I thought that giving away my ego might be a great idea, so I gave my hair to the sea.

The last time I got that crazy urge to cut off my hair I decided to keep it. This five inch section of hair took about a year of my life to grow. It contains the DNA of that year: the foods I ate, the places I visited, the friends I hung out with and some other stuff. It has meaning, in some abstract way.

Going back to that old pullover – it has a bunch of stains now, but it still feels like home. If I was to ‘repair’ this piece, how would I add value to it rather than removing it, like we normally do when we remove stains? HAIRS. Taking my artistic privilege to experiment and explore value and meaning I wanted to see what happened if, instead of removing the stains, I highlighted them, with my hairs.

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That was one way of giving meaning. There are other ways too.

When starting to question our relationship with our clothing, I find that there are many different things that give an item its value. It could be that it's cool and trendy, and we all have those flings every once a while. But normally the meaning of those items is gone quickly, and we start to feel that cheap feeling. What makes for a longer lasting love than? Appreciation. Investment. History. Belief. Let us translate these to fabric, to color, to silhouette.

As consumers we have unlimited options to choose from. These ‘products’ that we purchase are the one closest thing to our bodies every hour, all days, physically. We can choose them for the way they look on us, for the outer world to observe the surface, or we can choose them for our inner world, for ourselves to enjoy. When we choose the latter we win an opportunity to connect with our senses, feelings, beliefs. The things we should care for the most.

Appreciate your clothes. Think of what it took to make them. From growing the cotton and watering it, to the number of seams or hand-stitches it took to construct or decorate it.

Invest in your clothes. Think deeply before you get it, or buy it quickly, out of a real ecstatic feeling, and then remember this feeling every time you put it on. Whenever you want to feel that ecstasy again.

Take care of them. They hold your memories, they are like little treasure boxes.

Choose your clothes to fit your beliefs. Clothes have morals and, though it might not appear that way on the surface, you’ll feel it from the inside. Rather than disposable products they can be created as precious objects. You have the power to make social, humanistic, ecological statements with every piece of clothing. You can choose.

Ophir El-Boher is an apparel designer focused on the ecological, cultural and social aspects of fashion. Through her research, she explores ways to create ethical and sustainable models for clothing production. Through her studio practice, Ophir investigates the meaning of wearable objects and value creation using a variety of crafts.