With so many military personnel requiring clothing, and with the cost of a uniform being so low in comparison to the cost of weaponry, military budgets allow for an enormous surplus in uniforms. These garments then find their way on to the surplus market where they are traded at a price far lower than the cost of manufacture, providing affordable clothing that is functional, strong, and durable.
As a natural progression from the military surplus worn by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, customised with pin badges and hand-painted protest slogans during the 1960s, surplus traders began to augment their stocks with decorative designs.
Attracted to the environmental benefit of recycling, the Maharishi clothing label acquired rejected fabrics from British military suppliers during its early days in the mid 1990s, and used these for linings and pocket bags. The company also bought up military surplus clothing which it used for overdying, screen-printing, or the addition of simple computer embroideries before offering the garments to the European streetwear market. In keeping with its ethos of ‘respect nature: utilise technology’, Maharishi continued to develop techniques for recycling military surplus in subsequent years. For example, in 1998 the company converted Dutch Army sleeping bag sacks into drawstring rucksacks for a collaboration with rap crew The Fugees, while unissued US Deceased Military Personnel Personal Effects bags were upcycled for the launches of Le Book’s New York party in 2002 and Michael Lau’s UK exhibition in 2003.
The camouflage pattern, especially in the context of defence-budget-subsidised clothing, offers itself as a perfect canvas for customised, anti-military statements of peace and freedom.
By 2000, recycled military surplus had become a permanent feature of Maharishi’s mainline collection, including rare surplus items that were recut, updated with accessory and cord systems, and heavily reworked with hand-stitched embroidery. These processes are carried out in India, where the clothing is smudged with herbal incense, blessed, and washed in saffron water to symbolically cleanse it of its military associations.
The embroidery, often representative of peace or good luck, serves to re-present the garment as a symbol of beauty, rather than of war.
The environmental impact in the re-production of the garments is minimal. Evidence of previous wear is an inherent characteristic of this range of clothing.