Slow Fashion Part I: What it Means to Us
Every October we pause and ponder on slow fashion: what it is and what it means to us as a company and as individuals. Though you may be hard-pressed to find a concrete definition of what this movement is all about as it moves in and out of our collective consciousness, Karen Templer of the Fringe Association blog writes that the intention behind starting the slow fashion conversation in our modern maker community was to celebrate “the small-batch, handmade, second-hand, well-loved, long-worn, known-origins wardrobe.”
Our vocation to continue supporting domestic textile production and empowering knitters with patterns that can become staples in their wardrobes feeds directly into the goals and outcomes of the slow fashion movement. Needless to say, all of us here at Brooklyn Tweed have a deep investment in slow fashion and thought we’d first share some thoughts on the subject from our staff and then invite you to join the conversation by commenting below.
Making one's own clothing meant garments with higher quality fabric and craftsmanship, while exercising creativity and individuality. I continued to sew through high school and college and beyond. When my children were young, I made clothes, toys, and costumes. The family was given matching pajama bottoms every year for Christmas. Eventually, I had less time due to family life, and then full-time work, to pursue sewing with the same passion and commitment. Quilting replaced sewing, then knitting replaced quilting. I still consider myself a sewer and a quilter but those activities require equipment and knitting is so very portable.
I feel that the pendulum is swinging and I'm interested in garment sewing again. It is like many activities in life — the more you do, the better you get, with the converse being true as well. Time away from the sewing machine has meant reacquainting myself with techniques and construction methods — not a bad way to spend one's time.
The current Slow Fashion October trend doesn't really speak to me because I was participating in slow fashion long before it was a thing. I wore hand-me-downs, bought used clothing, and made my own clothes as a way of life. While it's interesting to see what people are doing for Slow Fashion October, I'm more inclined to keep doing my own thing which isn't limited to a certain time period or social movement.
– Stephanie Engle, Production Coordinator
Slow fashion to me means being mindful of what I am choosing to wear, from considering who is making my clothes to the source of the materials to the working conditions of the maker. If I'm the maker, it also means taking time to pay attention to the design and being proud of creating something by my own hands that will be enjoyed by either myself or my loved ones.
– Jen Hurley, Office Manager
Fashion isn’t everything. But we all have to clothe ourselves, and I think how you choose to do that says a huge amount about your character. Many people don’t know the stories behind the clothes I wear: the hours it took to knit a sweater or charity shop in which I found my favorite woolly cardigan. And they don’t have to — but I do.
– Anna Moore, Art Production Coordinator
To be honest, I’m still working on wrapping my head around the “slow” of slow fashion, specifically in the context of my making. I deeply respect its ethos, and after impulsively — and soullessly — dancing with fast fashion in my high school and early college years, I’ve learned the hard way exactly how crucial it is to tangibly exercise consciousness in the seemingly superficial act of clothing oneself. Thankfully, asking myself such questions as, “What is this? Where did this come from? How was this made? Will I wear it? Will I love it?” is every day becoming more and more an instinct. At some point in this learning process it just suddenly made a lot of sense to invest more in making my own garments, too.
And here lies the challenge for me. I do love knitting as a process, but I may actually be a 100% product knitter. Since I spend a lot of time thinking about how a project will fit in my rotation, as a matter of principle, the vision of the finished piece becomes the sole focus of my making, which quickly — defiantly — turns impatient. In other words, I value the slow of handmade, but still expect myself to work like a machine, to churn out pieces like a factory — hence the debilitating guilt when projects languish and incapacitating fear of failure or “wasted” time when planning a custom piece.
I don’t believe we should take garments at face value. Rather, I believe we should be constantly working to uncover the stories they tell about how they came to be and what those, in turn, say about their makers and their wearers. Yet for some reason I find it difficult to do this uncovering when it comes to my making. I find it difficult to accept my own processes as useful and illuminative in their own right.
Thankfully, I’ve recently found myself surrounded by amazing people who are actively pushing me to realize the value of the process in all of its unhurried, yet frighteningly spontaneous (to me), yet infinitely creative glory. So my work this month is to meet them halfway in this quest to understand “slow” by being kinder to myself, allowing mistakes, allowing room for “distractions” (sometimes a movie just begs to be watched without the stress to multitask!), accepting my limitations, and really, not worrying about failing too much.
– Korina Yoo, Creative Coordinator
“There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness.” – Mahatma Gandhi
There are so many elements of the fashion industry that are broken and harmful nowadays and I have always loved this quote for really stating this feeling so simply and strikingly. For me slow fashion means making my own clothes through sewing or knitting, buying from ethical producers, extending the life of a garment through mending, and resurrecting treasures from charity and thrift shops. It is not a frivolous privilege but a necessity.
– Lis Smith, Wholesale Specialist
Growing up in a family of crafters, sewing, thrifting, and embellishing clothes were just part of daily life. With three kids at home, figuring out how things were made and then making them ourselves was a necessity as well as useful entertainment. That early interest in craft led me to a degree in theatre with a focus in costume design and historical fashion — really digging into the process of how and why textiles and garments were created in the past and using that knowledge to create something new. I discovered the community aspect of crafting later, after ending up working in IT (like a lot of art majors). Finding a group of people to learn from, create with, and pass on skills to was hugely beneficial — and eventually allowed me to make a career jump to the knitting industry. So my introduction to slow fashion began in a communal, creative, knowledge-sharing environment.
From there, it was a natural progression from simply making things to learning about the real-world impact of the materials I was making things out of. How was this fabric or yarn made? Who is making it? Where is the fiber sourced from? Are the land and animals being managed ethically? Are workers receiving fair wages and working in safe conditions? What is the environmental consequence of commercial production? What materials can I use that support sustainability and ecologically sound practices? And realistically, how can I implement these considerations into daily life as a consumer and crafter, as well as encourage and enable others to do so?
The last, in particular, is a balancing act. Of course I want to make every new pattern I see, and to buy all the beautiful yarn and fabric I can get my hands on, but then I'm just back to fast fashioning my slow fashion — and how many of those projects will I actually finish? My goals for Slow Fashion October this year are to look before I leap (and purchase), to complete and use the things I make, and, I think most importantly, to explore how I can better share slow fashion with others who may not enjoy the same access to knowledge, materials, or simply time to craft that I am privileged to have.
– Kel Moore, Wholesale Specialist
I grew up wearing a uniform to school every day, so when it came time to dress myself in high school, and more importantly as an adult, I was at a bit of a loss. It’s taken me many, many years to realize that in making my own clothing, I’m able to identify how I want to dress and present myself to the world in a way that simply can’t be done with ready to wear clothing. Initially, I liked the challenge of making my own clothing, but what has become more meaningful to me is to be able to find my personal style through my creativity and handwork.
— Christina Rondepierre, Marketing Coordinator
I have a lot of fraught feelings about Slow Fashion, mostly to do with how accessible it is. So often the rhetoric is about the individual: “This is what I am doing…” “My intentions are…” “These things matter to me…” While focusing on our individual actions is one step in the process of effecting change, it’s absolutely necessary to move beyond that at some point to consider “we,” “us,” and “our.”
More than anything else, Slow Fashion is about creating community and sharing knowledge. As makers, what are we doing to empower other makers and non-makers in our communities? When will we start hosting workshops on making, thrifting, and mending? When will we begin sharing our stashes and knowledge with those who don’t have the privilege to shop small or learn on their own?
It’s not enough to tell folks to not judge themselves if they are unable to legitimate their standing in this moment through the purchasing of known materials or garments, nor is it enough to linger on the sidelines cheering folks on. Let’s take to the streets arm in arm and work to inspire and share our knowledge with makers and non-makers alike. When we work together, we can make an impact on more closets than just our own.
– Jamie Maccarthy, Customer ServiceJoin us next week for Part 2 of this series, when we’ll share more about how Brooklyn Tweed’s story and business model reflects similar values as the slow fashion principles. In the meantime, we'd love to hear your own thoughts and responses to the above ideas and considerations.