Hopefully you’ve all seen the piece I wrote for the current issue of KnitWit about my weird life spent thinking publicly about my clothes, and about how I came to be pursuing a “slow fashion” wardrobe in the first place. For the photos, I was asked to put together outfits that demonstrate the point — what I mean by slow fashion — and unfortunately the descriptions of those outfits didn’t make it into print. I’ve been wanting to share them for that reason (they’re at the bottom of this post), but they also feed into a larger conversation I’m always having in my head and would like to have with you. So here at the start of Fashion Revolution Week, I’m putting the question into Q for You form, the question being: What makes a garment “slow fashion”?
I feel like I can make a case that my wardrobe is slow fashion at this point because I say so, in a sense. Hear me out: I think if you’ve educated yourself about the issues (The True Cost is a great place to start), made a conscious and genuine vow not to acquire clothes indiscriminately henceforth, and you take full responsibility for the contents of your closet, then that is a slow-fashion closet. By take responsibility, I mean commit to wearing each item (whatever it is, wherever it came from) for as long as it lasts, extending the lives of things through care and mending, and re-homing anything that doesn’t work for you. (Hopefully not just dropping it into a charity bin — remember no one wants your old clothes — but literally finding it a new home.) So perhaps I can say “my clothes are slow fashion because they’re my clothes” and because I’m committed to these principles, but when it comes to adding anything, I’m constantly asking myself what I’m ok with — where do I draw lines?
There are three underlying considerations or motivations to slow fashion, in my view:
1. The environmental cost — seeking clothes that don’t contribute to the inordinate damage the fashion industry is doing to rivers, village(r)s and the planet; and generally opting out of the escalating fashion churn cycle
2. The human cost — seeking clothes that aren’t made by slave labor or child labor or in unsafe conditions
3. The actual monetary price — seeking to get the most out of whatever money we spend on our clothes; better quality/value and longevity
And then there’s also simply seeking to support companies that are making goods or materials in laudable ways. Grainline recently included this definition of slow fashion in a blog post, and it’s pretty good — “the practice of creating and buying garments for quality and longevity, ideally minimizing waste and supporting fair labor” — except if your concern is the environment, the only truly responsible approach is to not make or buy anything new in the first place, but rather to use what already exists. So first and foremost, there’s simply wearing what you already own or get second-hand. When adding new clothes, the surest way to avoid anything made by slave labor is to make it yourself, but then of course there’s still the question of the fabric or yarn. With store-bought or manufactured clothes, there are all the questions: both about where and how the garment was made, and where the materials came from.
I feel like there should be some kind of slow-fashion credentials scorecard, but even that gets complicated. Still, here’s one way we might put it:
“This item before me …”
IS NOT NEW
[ ] I’ve owned it for years and will wear it for years
[ ] it was a hand-me-down
[ ] it was bought secondhand (thrift store, consignment, eBay, whatever)
[ ] it was acquired through a clothing swap
IS HOMEMADE (no factory labor involved)
[ ] I made it myself
[ ] someone I know (or hired) made it for me
[ ] it’s made from 100% natural fibers
[ ] the fabric/yarn is of known, reputable, transparent origins
[ ] the fabric/yarn has upcycled or recycled content
[ ] the fiber was organically grown and/or processed
[ ] the fiber/fabric/yarn is undyed and/or minimally processed
[ ] environmentally safe dyes and dyeing processes were used
IS NEW, BUT
[ ] it was made locally to me
[ ] i bought it directly from the designer-maker
[ ] it was produced in-house (or at a company-owned facility) with full transparency
[ ] it was produced in conjunction with acknowledged artisans/craftspeople in their endemic location
[ ] it was produced in a country that has meaningful labor laws, and I believe they were adhered to
[ ] the company has a central mission or founding policy of only working with reputable factories
[ ] the company has environmentally friendly business and manufacturing practices
[ ] the company has socially beneficial business practices
[ ] it’s made from 100% natural fibers
[ ] the fabric/yarn is of known, reputable, transparent origins
[ ] the fabric/yarn has upcycled or recycled content
[ ] the fabric/yarn has organic content
[ ] environmentally safe dyes and dyeing processes were used
That’s arguably hierarchical: wearing what already exists is better than making something new, is better than buying something new — very broadly speaking. But within all of that, the checkboxes aren’t necessarily of equal weight, and how many need to be checked for a garment to really rank?
I make a lot of my clothes, and almost entirely from new fabric or newly spun, virgin yarn. I’ve challenged myself to work harder on that aspect. The only fast-fashion garments that have moved into my closet in the past year or so are jeans and a button-down shirt that I rescued from my husband’s Goodwill pile, so they’re basically secondhand and I’ll see to it they get worn instead of dumped. But then there are conundrums. I’m apparently content to buy a garment from someone like Elizabeth Suzann, feeling good about knowing exactly where and how it was made (and supporting a company with deeply felt principles) but without knowing anything about the fabric’s origins. So what about a case like this J.Crew shirt, which is the opposite: it’s Baird McNutt Irish linen, pure of origin, but I don’t know anything about who/how/where it was sewn into this garment. Are those cases equal? (Can I bring myself to buy the linen shirt??) If a thing is made in this country, so it at least didn’t get shipped across the Atlantic, is that inherently one tiny notch better than made in Bangladesh? There’s no guarantee the US factory is abiding by labor laws just because the laws exist, so how much weight do I give whatever increase in good odds that represents? I trust that Imogene+Willie is working very closely with their LA factory and can be trusted; can I say the same for J.Crew’s made-in-LA goods? What about a company like Everlane that says they only work with the good factories? Isn’t that what every brand says if you ask them? How do we know who’s telling the truth (or not being deceived by their factory)?
Ultimately, everyone’s definitions and comfort levels are different, and everyone has to follow their own gut. I want a garment to check more than one box if I’m going to have it in my closet, but how many, and which do I give the most weight to?
What about you? And what would you add to the checklist?
See also: Why I make my own clothes
THE KNITWIT OUTFITS (pictured top to bottom)
- Elizabeth Suzann wool cocoon coat (made locally, no longer available); handknit grey vest in Hole & Sons farm yarn; homemade plaid top in French cotton (never blogged); J.Crew Point Sur made-in-LA jeans
- Handknit black cardigan and beloved 10-year-old t-shirt (with I+W jeans, below)
- Handknit turtleneck sweater in US wool; embroidered cotton Katayone Adeli skirt c.1998
- Handknit Cowichan-style vest in US wool; homemade black muscle tee in organic hemp jersey; Imogene+Willie jeans in undyed Japanese cotton denim (made in LA)
PREVIOUSLY: Why I make my own clothes
Photos by Zachary Gray for KnitWit/Fringe Association
I thought a lot about this when I was tasked with buying a bridesmaid dress. I wanted it to be slow and versatile enough to be worn at places not a wedding. I didn’t know -how- it could be slow. I know that my sewing skills are not expert enough to even try the farrow dress but the wedding is in just over a month. None of my existing dresses would have worked – they are all black. I ended up buying a white cotton doen dress second hand and I’m planning on naturally dyeing with cochineal :)
what I’m running into a lot of the time is that I have clothes, I love the clothes I have but I find myself reaching for the same things over and over again because of comfort or the way I want my gender to be seen or whatever reason. so I have things that sit in my closet!! I don’t have the heart to get rid of them because I would wear them if I felt comfortable/safe and maybe that will change but I also don’t know what I can do for them so they can have a second life in my life!
If they’re clothes you really like, then they’ll probably eventually find their way into rotation. If they’re just really not you, do you know someone who would put them to use, or have some friends you could set up a clothing swap with?
I love that you’re dyeing a dress for your bridesmaid duty!
I have sewn clothes for myself since I was young, so about 45 years. My problem nowadays is that the local small fabric stores have all but disappeared, to be replaced by big box stores. And their fabric seems to come mostly from China. I can touch fabric and know that it is good quality, or not. The fabric from China, is not, IMO. But to order fabric online? Not much fun as I need to feel it. Or the color may not be as represented.
I agree — buying fabric online is extremely difficult. I find myself wanting to put fabric shopping on the agenda when I travel, for that reason, but right now I’m committed to working from my existing stash as much as possible.
I’ll chime in to say that when I buy fabric with purpose — i.e. not stash-building, but for a specific project — I’ll order it online after having bought swatches of a few options. Mood is particularly good for this, but I know that many online vendors also do it (and if they don’t advertise it, some will do it if you ask). Just a thought!
Just a comment about fibre sources:
Folks who care about humane treatment of animals will want to find out where and how the animals used for fiber production were raised and treated. Unfortunately, a great deal of merino comes from Australia, where “MULESING” is a common practice. This is an incredibly cruel practice of removing large patches and folds of flesh from lambs without anesthesia, then turning them out to pasture to heal unattended. The healing process takes weeks to months. Trigger warning: DO NOT READ ABOUT “MULESING” IF YOU”VE JUST EATEN, OR If YOU CANNOT TOLERATE THINKING ABOUT MAKING OPEN WOUNDS ON LAMBS.
It is sometimes difficult to determine the origin of fiber, because often the origin on the label states the country where the fibre was processed into yarn, not where the animals were raised/sheared.
I have tried to perform due diligence to find out where yarn is sourced. Most of the larger manufacturers either did not reply, or said that they cannot say for sure whether their Merino comes from Australia because they buy from many and varied sources; but many said exactly where their fibres originated.
Because MULESING is such a common practice in Australia, I do not purchase or use Australian merino.
For myself, I find the value of the garments I make is enhanced by my knowing exactly where and how the yarn was made, and that all the living beings, animal and human, who touched it were treated with kindness and gratitude.
I believe that especially in the “slow fashion” movement it’s important to know that the fibre you wear was last worn by an animal who enjoyed making it for you.
This is the nice thing about the huge resurgence in farm yarns — there are so many farms you can follow online and get to know and see their operation through their social media, etc, so you know what you’re getting when you buy their yarn. (Even better if you have farms near you and can do all of this in person!! Or attend fiber festivals and buy from the farmers there.) That’s not in everyone’s reach, so then there are companies that disclose the origins of their fiber and processing, such as Brooklyn Tweed and many of the newer smaller-batch yarn companies. It’s a very healthy trend in the yarn world — more disclosure all the time — and I only wish the same could be said for fabric.
I don’t think I’ve heard of this term before, but what first came to mind is how and why does this happen. Is it a direct result in irresponsibly shearing the animal, but then I didn’t think lambs got sheared at such as young age. I will be reading up on this situation, as I have on rare occasions bought fiber that has originated from Australia. The whole thing is very disturbing and after reading this, if I should run across any fiber in my stash that falls into this category of origin, I WILL NOT/COULD NOT use it!!!
Sheri: “Mulesing” is not the accidental nicking of animals during shearing. If you can stand it, you can Google Mulesing and understand the practice more fully. In short, “mulesing” refers to intentionally cutting off sections of hide and skin folds, several inches wide and long, along either side of the rump, under the tail area. Similar to scalping, it leaves the area denuded of skin, like a 3rd degree burn. The wound is left open and not sutured closed. As if someone would need to be convinced that this is extremely painful during the procedure and for the several weeks it takes for healing, there have been many controlled “experiments” to demonstrate that the chemicals present in the blood of a mammal in pain remain very high for several weeks after the operation. The purpose of “mulesing” is to remove the naturally occurring folds of skin that are prominent on merino sheep. Dirt and urine that accumulates in these folds can attract a certain kind of fly (a bot fly) that causes a painful and sometimes fatal disorder in sheep called “fly strike”. The argument in favor of “mulesing” is that it is a cheap, one time procedure that permanently reduces the incidence of fly strike. I agree that fly strike is painful and harmful to the sheep, but other methods of prevention exist. The fact that the humane methods of prevention are more expensive because they are labor intensive is, in my opinion, invalid. I understand that “mulesing” is not practiced in Canada, UK (including the Falklands), Peru, Argentina, or US, but is still very common on large scale production farms in Australia. I do not know about NZ.
One cannot excuse inhumane treatment of animals or human beings by arguing that a cruel practice increases profitability, IMHO.
NZ does not mules, they don’t have the fly that causes strike. Only Australia has these flies in my understanding!
I was coming here to add this – The animal cost is at least as important to me as the others. There are many spinners and dyers who are ethical from the point they receive the yarn, but either refuse to reveal the wool source or acquire wool from sources where the animals are treated terribly. Even ethical sources can be hard to find locally (Brooklyn Tweed and Hinterland are lovely, but I have to order it by mail, increasing the environmental cost, for example). It can also make it much harder to locally find shoes when one is avoiding leather – the result is often the environmental damage of shipping, sometimes from across the world, to avoid participating in the slaughter of animals. It can be so hard to figure out the best path.
“if your concern is the environment, the only truly responsible approach is to not make or buy anything new in the first place, but rather to use what already exists”
This is the one I struggle with the most. As someone who is environmentally friendly and tries not to have a lot of unnecessary stuff I my life, it can be hard to justify bringing another cowl/hat/pullover/etc into my closet. But as a knitter, I get so much satisfaction out of making them! Coincidentally, I’ve slowed down my making and become much more selective about my projects. The last few years I’ve focused a bit more on knitting for others, or knitting samples for designers, but it’s hard to resist knitting more STUFF when there’s so many beautiful patterns out there that I want the pleasure of making! I’m curious if others find this aspect of slow fashion challenging.
I knitted very rapidly and indiscriminately when I first learned to knit, and it took me a little while to settle down and learn to think before casting on — making sure the item I had in mind was actually going to make sense in my closet and get worn, in addition to thinking about the yarn I was using and so on.
Yes I feel that sometimes I’m victim of all the publicity for makers that is around lately. Gorgeous knitting patterns published every day, beautiful yarns and fabric prints, sometimes is overwhelming. Then I take a step back (meaning a couple of days without social media) and try to regroup and think what do I really like.
Do you ever wonder, if we all agreed to use what already exists, just how long the existing supply would last? When I see the huge bales bound for overseas transformation, hear the very small percentages of cast-offs that get re-sold, I wonder what would happen if we all dialed down at once. The planet would breathe a big sigh of relief but what would all of the people do instead? It’s probably good that “all at once” will never happen, good that this topic is getting more sunlight.
Yes, totally. I feel this way SO STRONGLY about cars. All those cars rolling off manufacturing lines every single day, when the planet is already covered with perfectly good cars.
This is a great point, the conflict between the benefits we’d reap if we could only stop producing so much useless material stuff and what it would mean for us societally, especially with respect to jobs. There are some pretty fascinating discussions going on about the “end of work”–here’s a fairly thorough piece outlining the issues.
Oops forgot the link: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/07/world-without-work/395294/.
“it can be hard to justify bringing another cowl/hat/pullover/etc into my closet. But as a knitter, I get so much satisfaction out of making them!”
As a designer, so much this. I have samples I don’t wear anymore (or never did ) because they don’t suit me or my lifestyle. I’ve taken to auctioning them off or selling them when I decide it’s time to part ways, but then I feel guilty for designing MORE things when I’ve just cleared out a whole bunch! Yet there is definitely a tactical need, as a business, to keep up with a steady production of new products to grow the business and entice customers. There have been multiple discussions among designers about the ideal rate of release, how many patterns to release in a year, etc. It’s hard to balance the urge to constantly be releasing new designs with my personal desires to have less stuff.
Applauding all of this. And mostly that you highlight the complications and varying concerns in Slow Fashion. And that you’re facilitating this conversation and being transparent with your own wardrobe. Yes.
It’s amazing what it does to a person, making it so public. It keeps me from compromising or slipping up (almost entirely) because I know I have to account for every single acquisition or creation. If I weren’t holding myself publicly accountable, I can really imagine having bought that darling little khaki jacket at Cos in Paris, telling myself “it’s just one garment … my Paris souvenir” … whatever. It’s good to be holding my own feet to the fire!
For some time, I have been wanting ask about your own experience, Karen, as a manufacturer of sewn items. What did you do to find responsible, conscientious, environmentally correct contractors and suppliers to make Fringe goods ? How difficult was it? Please tell us that story.
All of the issues you mention are so important. There’s a tiny fear of fashion, especially the art of couture, disappearing. To me, the ‘slow fashion’ goals may help keep the art alive, yet it’s impossible to wind the clock backwards.
We make the little leather stitch marker pouches at Fringe HQ — every one is cut and assembled by hand, by us. The Field Bag and Porter Bin are sewn in a little local factory, about halfway between my house and Fringe, and we’re in there a couple of times a week, dropping off parts and picking up finished goods. So I know exactly who is sewing the bags every day, in what environment — who it is that has jobs as a result of everyone’s support of those bags. It’s a small woman-owned business, which I love, and it’s our second factory here in Nashville. The first one folded, and we were already also working with the second, and were able to shift everything over there. But it’s really hard in some ways, and we sort of have them maxed out, so at some point there will likely have to be a plan C. But I would stop making things before I would send production overseas. I’m committed to US production.
So recognise this! I needed so much self-control last time in Paris in order to abstain from shopping. Paris has always been about gorgeous clothes for me. In the end, I didn’t manage 100% to abstain and bought a shirt from a (fairly) responsible brand. But that’s so much better than before when I would arrive home with half a suitcase of French design made in Asia under who knows what kinds of conditions.
For me, trying to have a more thoughtful wardrobe came pretty natural from the fact that I enjoy making my own things. I have never been a fan of shopping clothes, it was almost a chore. Now that I finally learned how to sew I go to stores for inspiration and haven’t bought anything new in a while. I don’t really think of all these background stories (although maybe I should) I just understood and internalized that I like the good quality fabric and yarns, and that I appreciate more the finished object if I took care of every detail while making it.
I think of every me-made item of clothing as something new, which ticks off at least 2 of those boxes.
I would like to add to your discussion that maybe we need to think about how much is too much clothes for a single person. The original concept of the capsule wardrobe is to have a versatile and small wardrobe. To try to include this in my process I now ask myself if I need this item and if I will use it, first of all because my making time is precious and second because I feel my wardrobe is becoming a bit too full.
Yeah, that’s definitely a big part of it — opting out of the churn, as I put it this time. I think even if the only thing someone does is slow down the rate at which they buy things, and commits to wearing them longer, that’s still a very positive step.
I have mixed feelings about the whole “capsule” thing. I think if it works for you (it mostly does for me), that’s terrific, but I also think it’s possible to have a larger wardrobe that’s still mindful. My biggest issue with the capsule trend is it usually start with some version of “Step 1: get rid of almost everything you own,” and that’s really not responsible. As I said, I think committing to owning/wearing or rehoming the things you’ve bought or made indiscriminately in the past is a key part of it. So yes, it’s totally possible to cut down your closet responsibly; it’s totally workable and awesome for some people to keep to a really small number of items owned; but I don’t think either of those things is *mandatory.* All that’s mandatory, in my view, is taking a mindful approach to whatever it is you do.
Good point. I’m an American teaching English in China for the last 17 years. Each year there are students whose names I memorize by matching the name to their clothing. A number of students have a single outfit, and these are college students, which they wash when they borrow clothes from classmates. Others have a single change of clothes and then there are some that have a number of outfits. It’s almost impossible to find clothes that fit my bust/shoulders and hips here so my clothes are what I make, have made, or can fit in a suitcase on infrequent trips to the US. 25-30 items is my ideal wardrobe to have enough to wear year round. For some seasons, I have 10 items that I wear and I wear things until they are barely rags. Living here has really changed my clothing views, but then, my classmates teased me because I proudly wore thrifted clothing and clothing I made myself.
Slow fashion – to me it means mindfulness, in relation to the clothing, yarn and shoes I buy. Trying to strive for locally made (eventhough the fabric will most likely be imported), making garments I’ll use and not making just for the sake of it, buying secondhand and well made shoes. Washing my clothes less… mending where I can.
It also means buying far, far less.
I try to more mindful in general… not just with my wardobe.
Yes to all of that.
It is kind of embarrassing how many sweaters I have frogged in the last year and remade into new garments, or used for the best yarn eater of all, blankets. For my big Indigo blanket, I even dyed some of it. (It is amazing how many colors can morph to dark blue.) Frogging is a lot of work, but it is super satisfying to put the yarn to use.
I love that little black sweater of yours, Karen. The proportions of it are distinctive and fresh. I could really use one like it.
I’m about to rip out the bands and ribbing and add a couple of inches! But yes, it’s an awesome little workhorse, as evidenced by my trip.
I have a pretty broad way of thinking about this, less about rules and more about mindset. Slow fashion is a deep reverence for the process of making (and makers), as well as mindfulness about the entire lifespan of a garment. When you consider both of those things in relation to everything you buy or make, you can’t help but consider the environmental and human impacts of your choices. That idea of reverence for making is, to me, particularly important … it allows slow fashion to be uplifting, joyful, and creative, rather than just a list of “don’ts.”
I couldn’t agree more — that’s very well put.
I like this.
Personally, I think it is different for a consumer/user/person to define what slow-fashion is for him/her, compared to if a brand/company/corporation were to define its clothing/shoes/accessories are slow-fashion.
I think defining slow fashion is going to be a slightly different for each individual person, depending on if you are a maker, your financial position, personal philosophy, life style, etc. I agreed with comments above that it is more of a mindset, rather than a set of rules to follow. It can vary from one person to another, as long as you are thoughtful in the process and it works for you.
However, I think it is a different story for companies which make clothing. There is a uprising trend, small or large lines, making claims such as sustainable fashion, fair-trade, organic, however you call it. But there is really not a industrial standard to attest those claims too.
For individual consumers, it is very difficult to figure out every single bit of a company’s gigantic supply chain and figure out if the whole process is sustainable. Even when I go to read the annual report, sustainability report, or carbon footprint report from large corporations, as a well-informed person (my profession is public accounting, especially auditing for public and private companies), there is no enough useful information can be extracted from. Because of the nature of an auditor, I don’t trust any numbers they put out there, without a third-party attestation.
I would really love to see the movement of requiring such reports to be audited by some kind of third party agencies, either by regulations or by consumer demand to increase the credibility of those reports. In this way, at least there is another layer of assurance added.
I think it is less practical for everyone to make all/most of their clothing, and for this movement to have a greater impact, average consumer has the right, but also should be empowered so that they can make more informed decision based on more readily available information.
It is really hard. One way this is happening is the B-Corp concept, which holds companies to a different set of standards than a traditional corporation — more about their social and environmental practices and successes than their balance sheet. But there aren’t a lot of companies taking that route yet. I think we’ll see more of that and more accreditation and certification in the future as there’s more and more consumer demand for transparency and information.
I strongly agree. It is hard, and it will be costly. But I believe there are slowly shifting. I really want to move my career to the direction of sustainability report attestation in the future. I am not sure how we can get there, but at least we need to push for it and hope for the best!
In NZ and Australia we have NGOs that are auditing fashion retailers. Baptist World Aid does Ausi each year, and this year in NZ Tearfund have just started doing our stores. I don’t really shop retail anymore but good to know I can use the info to by a more ethical bra for instance…
Have you had a chance to look at the Transparency Index that Fashion Revolution just launched? http://fashionrevolution.org/about/why-transparency-matters/
They’re really only looking at the most major players, but at first glance I’m fascinated, and I think for someone who specializes in accounting it could be even more interesting. Project JUST is also a new platform for information that I’ve been following (though I admit to not exploring it too deeply yet) which is sort of crowd-sourcing company info, digesting it, and making their own kind of third-party lists. It’s all RTW I think, but who knows, maybe they would do fabric & yarn one day!
I hadn’t seen the transparency index — thanks for the link; I’ll take a look!
I feel like your list is pretty exhaustive. The only thing I would add, perhaps in each category, or perhaps first or last is: will I love this, does it go with other things I own, will I cherish it and wear it as long as it lasts?
That’s a really good point, yes. That doesn’t exactly go without saying, does it …
How funny that you mention McNutt, another local-to-me producer. As far as I know, J Crew buys yarn and cloth from a number of Donegal suppliers (they also use tweed from Kilcar for a line of sweaters), and send them for garment manufacture to China. Of course ‘China’ could mean anything as far as the type of facilities and processes used, and I am not privy to the details. Hoping for the best there, as I have an arsenal of nostalgic memories from my teens and 20s spent in clearance-rack J. Crew.
They also do a lot with Liberty fabrics. But yeah, that’s my point — if I were to buy a McNutt shirt from them, I would still only know half the equation, just the opposite half than I’m more accustomed to knowing. So am I ok with that? I don’t know — I haven’t been able to bring myself to buy the shirt!
This is an interesting conversation to observe, given the variety of experiences folks might have with the resources available to them. I live in Hawai’i, where nearly every material good is imported, as well as a super majority of foodstuffs. The externalities of consumption here are thus somewhat more extreme than other places, because even if fabric or wool has sustainable credentials, it still needs to be shipped here. Yet, using available infrastructure like postal services to access industries located elsewhere often means that there’s less of an environmental cost than starting new industries locally; for example, the inputs of shipping animals here to start producing fibers and textiles locally. (There’s also a strange law that mandates that most imported products have to be shipped here from a US port; pretty terrible for things coming internationally.) Similarly, any locally made clothing uses fabric that’s imported, regardless of good or bad provenance. One could certainly say then that the answer is to not have wool raised on the Big Island, or not to make clothes here or to only buy secondhand, but those positions are definitely reductive especially considering how hard it is to actually determine the net environmental impact of anything. These issues have been discussed for a while now with food; I wonder how fashion changes the conversation in terms of how people will actually behave economically. Fashion is, culturally, something that encourages acquisition, right, based on the idea of newness? As opposed to functional approaches to clothing? There are certainly fashionable trends in food consumption, but it seems different to be concerned about the journey of food consumed on a regular basis than cloth or garments that are consumed/purchased once.
Very good timing. Yesterday I visited a local sheep farm (Topsy Farm on Amherst Island in Lake Ontario) and came home with wool spun and and dyed on Prince Edward Island. It will become an aran cardigan which I will eventually publish onto Ravelry in an effort to support the farm (FYI, Topsy also has beautiful blankets for sale at the farm and even at high-end Holt Renfrew). Today, I worked on Dress #1 from Sonya Philip’s 100 Acts of Sewing. So, I’m getting there with this slow fashion thing. At the same time, though, I confess to having a mini-obsession with polymer clay buttons. I know I need to get over it and return to buttons made from natural materials, so tomorrow I’m going to cull my pile of worn out clothing for buttons that can be removed and recycled. On the plus side, I spin and prefer to work with undyed wools (you can see my Buttonbox Waistcoat and Zora cardigan on Ravelry). The former was spindle spun while the latter was wheel spun. I do not, however, intend to take up weaving. There’s a limit to all of this!
Being of a different age, I grew up making all of my own clothes. It was an article of faith with my mother, and even more so with her sister, that you did not buy anything if you could make it yourself. Fabric, of course, came from America and shoes were, of course, made in American factories. The exception was knitting: whatever I knit was made from Red Heart, purchased at a dime store because in a small town, there were no choices. My act of rebellion was to save my babysitting money and actually buy ready made clothes, and at some point, I declared my independence and stopped sewing altogether. I don’t miss it.
I still believe in slow fashion, shopping local (although there is no longer a dime store), and I enjoy re-purposing my own clothing which I wear for a very long time, but it seems to me that a list of rules, like a manifesto, is a bit off-putting for some and may discourage change. I think it needs to be like reducing meat consumption by being flexatarian: you change one thing ,and then you change another, and little by little, the change aggregates and becomes momentous. I think Naomi is right on an important point: there also must be joy.
If you mean my checklist, I was thinking of it as criteria to bear in mind, not so much rules. But absolutely yes to joy. You might be interested in this piece, Why I make my own clothes: https://fringeassociation.com/2016/10/17/why-i-make-my-own-clothes/
In agreement with so many others here, I feel like “slow fashion” is a mindset or practice above all. I kind of love that it is a nebulous thing, weaving and conversing its way through different materials, questions, and economies. Personally, I’m highly skeptical or maybe I even refuse to say that a mass-produced item from a major fashion corporation (not B Corp, not fair trade, etc.), hot off the press, can be a “slow fashion garment.” To take the J. Crew Irish linen shirt for example – if you were buying it and valuing it as a shirt you were going to love and keep until it is absolutely threadbare, then I think you would be bringing that garment into a slow fashion context. (but why not buy a secondhand linen blouse instead?) But I don’t think that shirt IS a slow fashion garment because of the speed and characteristics of production it’s tied to.
When we think about slow fashion, the antithesis of fast fashion, as inspired by slow food, itself a reaction to fast food, then I think a big part of the movement & ethos is about rejecting commodification, rejecting corporations serving us where their only bottom line is profit. I know I’m getting manifesto-y, andI do think corporations can play a positive role in investing in better practices, but I guess I see that as another thing, something between fast and slow fashion. But I also think it’s ok to have high & pure standards for what slow fashion means, acknowledge that those standards, in practice & context, can be interpreted and re-envisioned and molded to suit a variety of situations, and strive to do our best and build community around it. (And maybe we’ll never fully meet those standards, but hey at least we’re trying).
In my own creative practice, I like to think of my material/sourcing philosophy summed up into two prongs: low negative impact, or high positive impact. For me that means using secondhand materials (low negative impact – no additional burden on virgin resources and opting out of opaque supply chains; mostly this means thrifted, sometimes swapped or deadstock supplies), and selecting new materials with the best sourcing I can afford (high positive impact – supporting supply chains that are investing in organic or regenerative practices, my local economy, fair manufacturing; mostly this is farm-yarn from my region, organic US cotton, or other traceable & fair fabric like khadi).
I love the suggested “scorecard” and especially the qualitative aspects of it (and the suggestion by a commenter above) — how we wear and care for our clothes is actually the biggest slice of the carbon footprint of a garment’s lifespan, so taking responsibility and continually checking in is challenging but important work that I’m (forever) learning to do.
“low negative impact, or high positive impact” — I love this way of looking at it, Jess.
I agree with a lot of what has been said here, but I think the thing that gets lost in a lot of the discussion is the affect that making something has on me (the maker). I am wearing a me made dress today. This dress is the product of hours of imagining, sketching, planning and then doing. It may have some issues with the lining, but it is satisfying to wear, because it was borne of my mind and efforts.
In my mind, slow fashion, is fashion choice made with intention. I think that our fast on-demand world has divorced us from our rich human history of creativity, ingenuity, and productivity. It is only in the last 100 or so years where we were told that creativity was bought in the aisle of a store. Before that people, painted, wrote, made up songs to go along with their work. It makes me desperately sad to think of people going home, eating prepackaged meals, and then watching tv all evening. I am far happier going to bed after spending an hour hand stitching a lining to a skirt, than I ever am after watching network tv.
The end result is a closet, not filled, but with clothes that I am proud of and cherish to choose from every morning. My clothes have machine or hand embroidery and are the reflection of me that I want people to see. Then the choices I make to affect the geopolitical/economic system are done from a place of compassion which, at least for me, has a longer lasting impact.
I am glad your bags are made here in the United States. But really how do you include them in slow fashion when your business suggests we can’t live without one of every style, shape and size? Slightly hypocritical.
It’s an interesting choice to post a comment like this one anonymously, but I’m happy to respond to it regardless.
By any normal standards and definitions, I am a terrible business person: I run a retail business where I almost never have anything new to sell. On top of which, the things I do sell are designed and built to last a long time rather than needing to be replaced as soon as possible. (That’s the number one prerequisite for anything I sell — that it be genuinely useful, purposeful and lasting.) The Field Bag has been the centerpiece of the business for about 2.5 years and we have no plans whatsoever of replacing it. We introduce a new color just a couple of times a year (and phase out old ones) to try to give people options. We just finally released a second, larger bag during the holidays last year, the Porter Bin, and will be adding color options gradually, but again it’s built as ruggedly as possible (locally, of natural materials) and I expect it to last anyone a very long time. This snail-in-quicksand pace of product offerings would be considered a joke by traditional businesspeople, but we’re making it work.
It isn’t up to me to say whether they’re “slow fashion” or not — the point of this post is everyone has legitimately different ideas about what is or isn’t. But I try (in the broadest sense, not just with regards to my shop) to encourage people to buy well-made things they truly love and that work for them and that they’ll thus get long-term use out of. And those are the kinds of goods I work very hard to make available. Yes, there are some people who collect them all, and I appreciate the support and the good solid jobs they’re contributing to, I hope that means an equivalent number of synthetic made-in-China bags that are not being purchased as a result.
Am I perfect, or is my business or are my products perfect? Definitely not. But I hold myself to pretty high standards and we are always trying to do a better and better job of meeting those standards. So I don’t know how any of that amounts to hypocrisy, but you’re certainly welcome to your opinion.
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I actually took up knitting in order to have jumpers (‘sweaters’ to you) made of certified organic wool – because I was concerned about animal welfare and the environmental impact of conventional sheep farming. I do more sewing now but also choose organic (and Fairtrade if possible) or vintage fabrics. I think people sometimes forget that yarns and fabrics are products too, just like RTW clothes!
Just got time to read through these comments. I want to say thanks to Karen, as always, for making this a forum for in-depth conversations about this topic, including challenging and even conflicting perspectives on it. My job is as an employment attorney (representing workers, often in wage-related disputes), and I try to act in keeping with what I know about what people’s lives are like when they are paid inadequately and treated badly at work. Similarly, I know about the environmental costs of garment production, and am learning more about it all the time, and these catastrophic effects are genuinely fearsome to me. So I am trying, trying, trying to do better about clothing consumption, to be responsible, to use my dollars in ways that help or at least don’t harm. But I did want to take a second to speak up and admit to imperfection. I bought at least a few things this fall and winter that aren’t defensible on any ethical level (some cute underwear, a glitzy faux-retro sweater, both essentially to cheer myself up and add something beautiful to my world). I don’t feel great about it. I’ll try not to do much of the same this year. But I did want to say that I feel pretty strongly that these moments of indulgence don’t negate (for me) all the benefits of the better choices I made, from handmaking clothes (and toys) for me and loved ones to thinking hard about a coveted item and realizing I really didn’t need it or even want it all that much.
I guess I really just wanted to confess to these lapses–hoping it will give a little encouragement to those out there who feel daunted by the admirably high standards and practices of this community! Karen, you’ve said it many times before, but I wanted to reiterate the point that shifting toward sustainable consumption is a process and that one approach is to do one’s best as much of the time as one can muster, and strive to always be moving in the right direction.
Finally, I think this year one of my aims will be, for items I do want to purchase, to make the time to look for secondhand options. It’s the time that’s the trick (so quick and easy to find a brand new item by comparison) but I’m going to try!
Amen to all of that. It’s not easy, and it’s a very slow and gradual process. As Patrick Woodyard put it at Nisolo’s even the other night, it’s a process that happens one garment at a time. I find the temptation to buy the pretty thing that’s right in front of me greatly lessened with time, but it’s still there and still hard sometimes to remind myself to stop and think and make a conscious decision.
And for me, I find harder things are harder to resist — there’s a direct correlation there. Like transparent shoe options are quite limited and the right shoe is SO important to me, so those are hard to reconcile, and thus I give myself permission to trust certain “made in Italy” situations. Good pants are hard to say no to because making them myself or finding just the right thing secondhand are both challenging for me. Whereas there’s no temptation at all when it’s a little top or a sweater, since I can easily make those things myself. So it varies! The temptation and the ability to resist.
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I must say, there’s quite the in-depth discussion going on. And I’m really impressed by how many people manage so much regarding slow fashion and conscious choices.
But I want to chime in with other voices I’ve read here – and that’s the outlook onto economics and society on a broader scale. If one enjoys making clothes – great, and even better to choose making sustainable over not so sustainable options. BUT – all the comfort and luxury we enjoy (living in warm houses, having more than enough to eat, all benefits coming from modern technology, great health into high age) grew out of capitalism (which means consumption of many goods not really needed for just survival). I’m NOT a fan of capitalism and it’s many very bad side-effects – BUT as almost all people out there I don’t see an easy solution to this without giving up all the modern way of life (something I’m certainly not willing to do) (and almost always easy solutions are bad solutions and in practise lead to mass destruction and much suffering).
This is all just a reminder, that there are many sides to the coin, more than one can keep in mind at once, I think. And while a person might buy into fast fashion but will never fly or buy a new car every year or use one tech-gadget like a smartphone for ages or will grow their own food or will build their furniture, etc. that doesn’t mean, this person is not acting responsible in a way accessible to them.
So – YES to thinking about it and doing what lies within ones reach – NO to manifests that don’t look further than the full stop at the end of the speech.
Oh sure, from an environmental and economical perspective there’s definitely more to it than what’s in your closet. (And fashion is not the only industry with slave labor concerns.) Not sure if you’ve seen my piece about Why I make my clothes (https://fringeassociation.com/2016/10/17/why-i-make-my-own-clothes/) but I’m an example of someone for whom clothing was the last area to be approached with this kind of mindfulness, rather than the first. My furniture has always come almost entirely from the flea/antique market, I drove the same car for 19 years, have grown many of my own vegetables over the years and support CSAs, and so on. So for me, what I was failing to approach the same way was fashion.
I think for a lot of people who weren’t just raised that way (as I happen to have been), the slow food movement sort of set the stage for slow fashion. People who’ve learned to ask where their food comes from make a natural transition into wondering about their clothes. But there are others for whom it’s simply sensible and the way it used to be and still should be to buy stuff you mean to use/wear for a good long time, whether that’s a car or a jean jacket. We all come to it differently, I guess is what I’m trying to say. And it all matters, even the smallest of gestures in any of these areas is better than blind frivolous consumption.
This is a great discussion, and Karen, I’ve been inspired by your approach to slow fashion. It’s a commitment that’s become important to me too. I wanted to offer a slightly different perspective, though. You mentioned that US production is very important to you, and that you explicitly did not want to buy something from Bangladesh or a country without reputable labour laws. However, supporting third-world designers can make a huge difference to communities and to economic development in those countries. As a South African, I can’t help feeling that I make a bigger impact by buying from a local-to-me designer who is committed to local jobs and skills training and who, further, is able to develop their own intellectual property. I feel that our designers and small businesses are up against such tremendous obstacles and the jobs we create matter more because there simply isn’t enough work to go around.
Oh, I’m not suggesting everyone should buy US-made! Just that ideally I would/could, being in the US, but yes the general idea is everyone hopefully taking advantage of whatever they have access to that’s “local” (in some sense) to them and that’s on the right track.
It’s impossible to talk about this stuff without being reductive — it is always a million times too complex for any post or comment and requires a million caveats!
I actually bought a pair of sandals from a South African brand last year as a show of support for what they’re doing (int’l shipping notwithstanding) and am glad to see there seem to be a number of progressive brands there.
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