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Fashion suX

Fashion suX: the story of a little-known speculative subculture
The sustainable underground, or suX-movement, has long lived in the shadow of its more widely known musical siblings, straight edge hardcore and crust punk. All three subcultures emerged in the early 1980s, in the radical backwaters of the punk movement, merging the punk lifestyle with political activism, anti-establishment rhetoric, DIY empowerment, and hardcore music.
      The suX-movement underlines the lifestyle commitment seen in other music subcultures, and applying it to clothing and uncovers layers of sustainable values under the studs. With its mixture of crust punk aesthetics, enclothed straight edge ethics, and radical recycling crafts, the suX hardcore style rejects the “do-good” hippie aesthetic of the sustainable mainstream. As an alternative the suX advances a more rebellious frustration with the regimes of dress and fast fashion.
      Gravitating around social craft formations, or "juntas", rather than bands, these suX-groups often infuse the names of their musical idols with craft references. Reminiscent of their musical siblings, the juntas are steeped in aggressive anti-consumerism and frustration with the political and social ills of today. Yet the aesthetics of crust-crafts, with their tender repairs, often with dental floss, denote the crusts’ concern with ethics of care and merciful preservation. It is an ethic that imbues not only clothes and lifestyle, but also embodies a wholehearted rejection of sartorial betrayal.

Fashion suX is an artistic research project of imaginative utopia creation in the tradition of Thomas More. But instead of an imaginary society on an island, the project explores how a radically different fashion culture could emerge in the footsteps of hardcore and Straight Edge metal. The project specifically examines the underground fashion and craft movement that called themselves suXers (sometimes referred to as “sustainable fashion Straight Edge”). Radically opposing the “do-good” ethics of consumerist sustainability, the suXers embody an ethic that imbues not only clothes and lifestyle but also an infuriated rejection of fashion consumerism. Opposition needs other motivations than pure virtue, and anger can be one such motivation, as exemplified by the suXers.

Fashion suX; the emergence of the sustainable underground is an ongoing research project in the genre of "Speculative Subculture Studies" (S3) exploring the little-known underground sustainable fashion and craft movement who called themselves suXers (sometimes referred to as "sustainable fashion straight edge", or sometimes jokingly "suckers"). The prime sources in the study of the suXers are urban myths, oral histories, unverified narratives and stories, fliers and subcultural techniques, primarily traced among current subversive craft groups across the US east coast. Most archival material originates from New York City.
Buttonhole Surfers, screen printed textile patch, archived in NYC 2015, (7x11cm)
>Background
The sustainable underground, or suXers, has long lived in the shadow of its more widely known musical siblings, Straight Edge hardcore and crust punk. All three subcultures emerged in the early 1980s, in the radical backwaters of the punk movement, merging the punk lifestyle with political activism, antiestablishment rhetoric, DIY empowerment, and rejection of the do-good mainstream and fusing this mix together with aggressive music and concerts steeped in furious energy. Yet the formation of the culture is not obvious, and what to call the loose affiliations of music, craft, politics, fashion, and lifestyle–fused relations mobilized among the suXers is a tricky task. As noted by media theorist David Hesmondhalgh, the terms scene, subculture, and tribe highlight processes of belonging, yet also fail to capture the many diverse cultural practices that make up temporary or sustained collectivist behaviors. In the case of the suXers, to emphasize the often hands-on activities of the participants, Wenger’s phrase “community of practice” may be more fitting, as it points to the shared practices that make up the loose but crafty ties of the suXers. Even if most suXers would disagree with being called a “movement,” I will still use this term to describe their collective practices, especially as many participants highlight how their values stand against the false individualist-centered myths of mainstream fashion media.
Detail of SUX/Political: suX outfit, 2015. Repurposed attire, cotton patches, floss, acrylic paint. Archived in New York, 2015
The suX movement underlines the lifestyle commitment seen in other music subcultures and applies this approach to clothing to uncover layers of ethics under the studs. With its mixture of crust punk aesthetics, enclothed Straight Edge values, and radical recycling crafts, the suX hardcore style rejects the “do-good” hippie aesthetic of the sustainable mainstream. As an alternative the suX advances a more rebellious frustration with the regimes of dress and fast fashion, with intense hatred against mainstream fashion’s polite submission to exploitative capitalism under the banner of “conscious collections.” Gravitating around social craft formations, what are within the movement called “juntas,” rather than bands, suX groups often infuse the names of their musical idols with craft references. Reminiscent of their musical counterparts, the juntas are steeped in aggressive anticonsumerism and frustration with the political and social ills of today. Yet the aesthetics of crust-crafts, with their tender repairs, often with dental floss, denote the crusts’ concern with ethics of care and merciful preservation. It is an ethic that not only imbues clothes and lifestyle but also embodies a wholehearted rejection of sartorial betrayal.
Whereas many academic studies of Straight Edge have been produced over the last decades, not many recognize the intertwined practices of its dressed parallel expression, the suXers. Even in studies of “sustainable underground” no traces of the suX show up, and similarly no trace is shown among the “punk crafts,” which means that the suXers still lack a serious historiographical account. Some important studies have integrated a wider perspective on musical subcultures and lifestyles, including gender, crafts, philosophy, and economics, yet fail to mention the important heritage of the suXers.
suXzine 1995
TimesX, suXzine NYC 1995, Rare photocopy on office paper (5,5 x 8,5 in.), slightly damaged, archived in 2013 [PDF]
 

Whereas punks distanced themselves from the “peace and love” of hippies and turned their slogans of harmony into straightforward manifestations of conflict, they still continued the dropout philosophies of the 1960s. In contrast to this, the Straight Edge rebellion of the 1980s was partly a response to this rebellious and “free” living of the 1960s, challenging “sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll” with defiant puritanism. By refusing sex, drugs, and alcohol, Straight Edge became an aggressive scene steeped in an almost religious fervor of puritanism. In a similar vein, the suXers can be seen as a response to the high life of cultural consumerism, the birth of fast “democratized” fashion, and also the implicit consumerism that seeped into even the rebellious underground movements, especially in its wild form during the 1980s. As Vivienne Westwood turned punk into high fashion and started mass producing the industriousness of rebel hands, the suXers turned their loose philosophy into a lifestyle dogma: there must be clothes and crafts outside the scope of capitalism and exploitation.
Emerging in conjunction with the Straight Edge (sXe) scenes, the thrift, repair, and sartorial carefulness of the suXers were an urgent reply to the ever increasing frustration with consumerism together with reports of global environmental disasters, yet also an approach to revitalize a dressed form of “green peace” beyond tie-dye and dropout pacifist aesthetics. Like the Straight Edgers, the suXers were not afraid of taking the fight.
The suX scene emerged as an unbaptized twin to the sXe and hardcore music scene. However, whereas sXe was mainly a music scene, the suXers put their emphasis on sustainable style and crafts. The informal crews, or “juntas,” had the social form of the bands they associated themselves with but were often unknown to their musical counterparts. The juntas were in many ways the “bastards” of the hardcore scene, a love child of sorts: creative followers not necessarily unwanted but often tacitly shunned. The band Minor Threat was followed by the suX junta Minor Threads; the junta Chain of Stitches was the illegitimate love child of the band Chain of Strength and a group of radical antiwar knitters. The list can go on, with juntas such as Yarn of Today, Agnostic Fiber, Bad Braids, Reused, Guerrilla Stitches, and The Misstitchs, just to name a few. Some juntas acted in concert with their musical counterparts, while others had neither any contact nor any correspondence in ideology or ideas at all.

Other juntas that earned respect among suXers were, in no particular order, Cro-Ches, Black Tack, Dead Kardigans, Bad Raveling, Needle Assault, 7Stitches, Sheer Textiles, Sartorial Distortion, Napalm Lace, Megamend, Filament, Darn Angel, Satin Terror, Overcast Ivy, Buttonhole Surfers, Darn to Nothing, Merciful Mend, Darn Tranquillity, and Double Cross, just to name a few. Also retro-juntas from the United Kingdom had a great impact, not least the Pin Pistols and Judas Patch, whereas the 1990s saw the rise of the explicitly communist- and hip-hop-inspired Mend Against the Machine.
Not only textile and musical crafts united the suXers but also zine culture and underground exchanges of lyrics and poems and mixed media events and spoken word performances. Many of the artifacts left over after the suXers bear witness to a living zine culture and discursive exercises mobilizing members through a mix of rebellious articulations of anticonsumerism and the production of suXer props: jeans and clothes repaired with patches naming the juntas, studded shoes, and accessories, as well as pins and repair kits.
This can also be traced from the oral history of the suXers, where one suXer witnessed how the material culture helped shape her own suXer identity:
"We would sometimes go to the local record store and go, "have you got any Minor Threat records?" And they're like, "Yeah, we sure do." And we would hang around listening and we would see these awesome embroidered patches and posters with great textile Xs on, and some fliers of some craft-gig at a local community center, and we would like, "what's that cool shit?" We would go and there's all this subversive and sustainable kids around, doing all kinds of non-capitalist lifestyle stuff - farming, bike repair, sewing and shit, and all this to the coolest bands ever. We would fist hang around looking at what they were doing, and then get more hands-on. And suddenly you were part of a great engaged movement. That textile X was just this mark of recognition, like a black flag of protest".
 

 


Face Kurator, suXzine of unknown origin, probably 1998, Photocopy on Kinko officepaper (5,5 x 8,5 in.), archived 2015 [PDF]

suX craft-in

The relevance of embroidery to the suXers also draws from their grounding in craft technique and especially the realm of mending. The cross-stitch is an essential sewing technique and usually the first embroidery stitch taught in craft class. Similarly, this stitch is also a popular way of tacking a patch to a garment and the preferred way to darn a basic hole. In this way, the X is more than a symbol to the suXers; it is the very foundational materiality of their cause. The X-stitch proves how punk attitude, skilled hands, dental floss, and a sustainable approach to lifestyle can be merged to wage war against the dominant, wasteful, and hypocritical values of mainstream “sustainable” society.
A specific role is played by zines among the suX. The rough photocopied style, with high-contrast imagery and crude handwriting, gives a very coarse and brutalist expression to the insurgency against hi-fi consumer culture and glossy fashion magazines. This echoes punk zines and early street fashion zines such as i-D magazine, and still today, many of the suX publications have a rough and rioting style, yet always with a socially engaged and sustainable edge.
Another key element of the movement involves the core techniques of desegregation and antialienation. The scene actively works to overcome the distance between band and audience or designer and consumer. Fans get access to the microphone at gigs, leading the audience to sing, or share crafting tools and works, working together. Similarly, designers and consumers mix at the craft gigs into one huge DIY movement, sharing ideas and making together, for example, the Minor Threads quilts that have traveled with the band on tours, or even the puritan embroidered bandana of Mike Judge, or the backstage batik saris of the Krishnacore bands. For many kids this was the ultimate experience of the culture: to share equally the intensity of the music and ecstatic craft with fellow fans and makers.
suXzine 2002Free Glamour, suXzine NYC 2002, Photocopy on office paper (5,5 x 8,5 in.) archived in 2013 [PDF]
The shows tend to be violent, with a wide range of aggressive dance styles, from windmilling fists to flying kicks, stage diving, and head walking. The audience alternate dancing and taking part in the craft events, often at the back of the space or in some cases even onstage, as in the gigs of experimental composite bands such as Youth Craft and StiXShift, where craft and playing merge into one. The adrenaline levels go high, moving from the craft stage to the mosh pit, and floss skin stitches altered with DIY tattoos get rubbed against sweaty skin as the event space turns into a violent playground. As another suXer confessed,
"The shows were just rad. Of course the bands were what drew the large crowd, but some of the suXers were just purely wicked, stage diving rolled up in yarn and drawing threads across the whole room. At a show in Baltimore, Buttonhole Surfers had brought in two sheep that they started shearing just before the show, so the full crowd was all up spinning threads as the band was playing. I remember the guitarist having all this wool tangled up in his strings. And the smell, that fucking wool smell and sweat. It was such raw energy. And it itched like hell when we came out in the cold."
 

Agnostic Fiber, screen printed textile patch, archived in NYC 2015, (5x12cm)
Similar to Straight Edge, suXers do not “participate” in a social movement in the ways scholars typically think of movements. There are no strikes, demonstrations, lobbying, or signing petitions. The collective is not formed by synchronous or centrally organized activities. Rather, the groups are organic and fluid. The collective is loosely bound by their critical agency and united through commitment to their ideals. As one participant noticed, “When the rebels are in it for the drugs or the excitement, we are in it for the skills. We want a reskilling of society, of our scene. It is a growth from within, a resilient resistance, rather than loud protest” (interview by the author, 2011). The suXers customize their participation to meet their own skills, interests, needs, and local situation. And they do this mainly via craft interventions, repair, and careful attention to clothes.
Parallel to the sibling subculture Straight Edge, with its emphasis on no drinking, smoking, or sleeping around, the suXers aim to turn values of sustainable consumption into a lifestyle. Whereas Straight Edge youth turn the X mark, a signal to club workers not to serve them alcohol, into a symbol of defiance, the suXers turn repair into a symbol of sustainable defiance, of resistance, self-actualization, and social transformation. “Fashion clean-living” is a banner of taking the punk DIY ethos into a lifetime commitment, rather than quasi-sustainable thrift store consumerism. For the sXe, the stigma of not having the “privilege” to drink is a symbol of pride, expressing “not only can’t we drink, we don’t want to drink.” In a similar vein, the suXers explicitly claim that, even if we can afford to consume, we repair because “we are at war with consumerism!”
 
suXzine2013
BeautéX, suXzine, probably Istanbul 2013, A5 Photocopy on office paper (5.8 × 8.3 in.) archived in 2013 [PDF]

As opposed to punks’ “no future” DIY hedonism and their radically unsustainable “live fast, die young” attitude, the suXers turn the “question everything” mentality to face itself, combining the raw energy and aggressive style of punk to instead engage with the future and especially the fashion consumerist lifestyle of today’s youth. With the Straight Edge “clean living” ideology, the suXers see consumerist self-indulgent rebellion as no rebellion at all, instead suggesting that rebellion reinforces the capitalist culture’s grip on cultural and individual expression. In this way, the suXers embody a radical position of utopian practices. The only way out, according to the suXers, is to fight with the skills of guerrilla “war-craft.”

Life of the Mend, suXzine of unknown origin 2008, A5 Photocopy on office paper (5.8 × 8.3 in.) archived in 2013 [PDF]
Opposition to mainstream fashion is at the core of the suX, and the participants seem especially provoked by all forms of “eco-fashion” and its noncommitted promise to change. As expressed by a suXer, it is a matter of a pure countercultural response to fashion: “I feel a lot of the suX rules have been predominantly shaped by dropout fashionistas. It’s about opposing the cultural dominance of power through a very narrow sense of sexuality and consumerism. We are bombarded by these images and energies, to be aggressive and promiscuous buyers of brands. Instead I see suX as a sign of loyalty, of attention and care, sort of a spiritual guidance for real social sustainability, justice, and eventually some sort of contemporary street form of enlightenment. Just think of the Buddha’s patched-up robe from the pyres—that’s real fucking proto-suX!” (interview by the author, 2012). Another participant argued that repaired clothes are like weapons of the disadvantaged, or “the spear poking the side of the body of consumerism,” with clear parallels to James Scott’s studies of the “weapons of the weak.” On a similar note, many suXers connect their engagements to the open culture of digital resistance among hackers. This constructive element of crafting stands in bright contrast to the anticonsumerism of boycotts and subversions, not least Adbusters’ “no shopping day” and “subvertizing” campaigns. Instead, the suXers take on proactive and hands-on sartorial protest in a highly material manner, even if their forms of opposition often remain deliberately subtle, nonconfrontational, and X-marked. One follower noted:
"It feels like consumerism offers only some very limited forms of resistance, like limited boycott, false compliance of goods, feigned ignorance of brands, or even pilfering, slandering, flight, or foot-dragging with your spending. But when I come together with fellow suXers, all new possibilities opened and were vividly discussed and implemented. We crafted and networked and started our own repair services and exchange systems. But it was more like a mosh pit than some form of sixties dropout commune. Some sissies see it as some moral economy of care, or whatever, but every stitch is an ember of revolution. Every stitch is a fuse."

 


X-wear, suXzine from Baltimore 2007, Photocopy on office paper (5,5 x 8,5 in.) archived in 2015 [PDF]
The sustainable approach of the suXers still lives on, yet still in the shadow of the mainstream and do-good utopianism of “ethical” or “conscious” fashion. Many of the initiatives of the movement have fused into everything from craftivism to socially engaged art, but to the suXers the frontiers are still there: fingers will be pricked, and battles need to be waged. The egocentrism of fashion still reigns supreme, especially within the new wave of sustainable and righteous eco-fashion, putting its emphasis on making sustainable fashion a utopian vision of environmentally friendly egotism. This narcissist sustainment of consumer individualism resonates with what Bill McKibben calls the “I-dolatry” of individualism, that feeling of “you are the most important thing on earth.” Today, in mainstream fashion discourse, there is still little anger or dissatisfaction with fashion itself. The main concern of people is how to make fashion kinder to the planet and to workers overseas. Utopia for the fashion industry is preserving the fashion cycles in a permanent status quo. Hope is put into new types of circular economies or eco-designs that promise profits will grow while the planet is saved.
But to the suXers saving the planet or workers overseas is simply not enough. Ethics and environmentalism will not do the job alone, and these values stand little chance against greed and vanity. There is a need to fight back, to resist, and to let the frustration and anger out. Uncoupling sustainability, utopianism, and ethics could do some good in developing new approaches to aesthetic expressions such as fashion. As the suXers would have it, rage is the emotion of utopianism, not flat and do-good worthiness. Opposition needs other motivations than pure virtue, and anger can be one such motivation—and indeed, a strong one. Its healthy impact must not be disqualified. Like the song by Public Image Ltd goes: “Anger is an energy!” And in our current world, far removed from utopia, anger seems like one of the most sustainable energies we have.
 
(Because of the sparse documentation, oral tradition and the mystical elements of the suX-scene, much of the information from the interviews and Internet cannot easily be verified. Through the hardcore methodolgy in Speculative Subcultural Studies we are currently triangulating interviews, statements and other sources to make a more comprehensible whole of the history of suX)
suXzine 2012The Art of X, suXzine from London 2012, A5 Photocopy on office paper (5.8 × 8.3 in.) archived in 2015 [PDF]

 


Urn Blüchers, 2015. Leather shoes, metal studs (34x12cm) Private archive, Brooklyn

 

 

 

SUX/Political: suX outfit, 2015. Repurposed attire, cotton patches, floss, acrylic paint. Archived in New York, 2015
SUX/Political: suX outfit, 2015. Repurposed attire, cotton patches, floss, acrylic paint. Exhibition view from Utopian Bodies, Liljevalchs Stockholm September 2015

Painted Derby Vans, 2015. Leather shoes, acrylic paint and metal studs, (32x12cm)