Sustainable Making

Slow Fashion and Longevity

16th October 2016

slowfashion_760This is my first post for Slow Fashion October this year, a bit late because the issue that keeps popping up for me somehow seems a little sensitive. I am not at all sure that it is, but I’ve been worried that it could be construed as negative. However I feel like Slotober is about open and honest discussions even of the more sensitive aspects of this pretty complex subject. So I decided to put these thoughts out there in the spirit of constructive debate. Bear with me, it is a bit on the long side.

I want to talk about what I sometimes feel is the elephant in the room when it comes to Slow Fashion. Not the longevity of the garments but the longevity of Slow Fashion as a movement. Right now there is a massive amount of momentum for talks on sustainability and ethical production in our maker community and the Fashion world as a whole. All of which is inspiring and important. Still part of me can’t help but worry about saturation points and general loss of interest. Or simply the constant action – reaction of trends. I think Slow Fashion deserves to be more than that.

Wether or not there actually is anything to worry about I can’t say, but if we look to history and the last big wave of environmental awareness back in the 70’s it lasted a while and was then promptly taken over by lux brand consumerism, neon and a shit-ton of plastic. It didn’t resurface in a big way until now some 40 years later.
The 2016 world is of course different. There are undeniable issues with the way we treat earth and each other that are clearer than they have ever been before. All of which creates a backdrop of immediacy (the irony!) to the Slow Fashion discussion as a whole. There are problems that are bigger than us in need of fixing and there are people working towards that. On the other hand I am quite sure that the hippies, crafters and makers of the 70’s believed that they were doing exactly the same.

So my question to our community is basically this; How do we make sure that this positive trend turns into a positive change?

I recently came across an amazing article written by my new favorite person Dr. Mathilda Tham, a professor of Design and author of “the Routhledge handbook of Sustainability and Fashion”. In it she talks about shame and how it stands in the way of progress in regards to sustainable practices. She says:

“… Our first instinct when faced with the environmental challenge is often to say “it can’t be true, the scientists got it wrong, and even if it were true, it’s got nothing to do with me”. The news simply implies too big an adjustment to be digestible, and puts into question too much of what we have previously come to depend on and regard as truths. The second part of the process, when we have had a chance to make sense of and accept the facts, and readjust our previous understanding of the world to accommodate them, often involves feelings of guilt and shame. This again is an entirely normal reaction. The integration of new facts with our old worldview also sheds new light on our own practices, showing perhaps ignorance, inadequacy and neglect where there was before skill and knowledge, satisfaction and pride. While this moment of shame appears normal, it constitutes an important watershed, where at best shame turns into action (…), or at worst prolonged inertia or even reversal to stage one – denial.”

Her words made clear to me that how we feel when faced with the issue of unethical fashion and in our case unethical making is important. Simply because it determines how long we want to stay with it. If we can navigate our guilty feelings and maybe even deal with the longing for fashion as an ethical free-zone, which I feel like most of us have (who doesn’t want to buy a pair of panties without worrying how it was made?). Then maybe we can get to a point where Slow Fashion is just the new standard. Not a thing we perform on instagram, not a complicated road we have to manoeuvre or a place of shame and guilty conscience. Just a habit, a matter of fact. And then maybe new trends can react on top of that instead of rebelling against it.

In my opinion that is one puzzle piece, but most likely not the only one. Please let me know what you think!

The image up top is from Fillipa K circle a new initiative discussing sustainable fashion.

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8 Comments

  • Reply Alice 17th October 2016 at 18:44

    I like to tell myself that in situations like this, any publicity is good publicity… Surely even if it is just a one-month thing for some, it occupying their mind for that month will plant a seed, which might develop into further thought and inform future decisions? I suppose though, as you point out, if it’s just a trend to someone, they might eventually get tired of it and reject it. I worry that fast fashion is only one facet of an unsustainable lifestyle, that our planet and the people on it are being hurt by more than just the fashion industry, and without really questioning the culture that sustains it, change is only superficial, or fleeting. So maybe ‘with a cultural change’ might be how I’d start to answer your question. I do think that’s happening, that things are shifting however minutely, but whether it’s enough (and not a trend) though, I don’t know.

    • Reply Melissa 21st October 2016 at 14:40

      “I worry that fast fashion is only one facet of an unsustainable lifestyle”. I’m with you on this one, Alice. I think we need to address all of the larger cultural issues of the way “Western society lives” do both active and passive harm to others. For many, many people, Slow Fashion – and particularly Slow Fashion October – seems to be an introduction into how one aspect of our lives (what we wear) is part of that social system, and how we can be empowered to begin to make change in at least that one area. I don’t think its a panacea, but part of the work has to be mindfulness that baby steps need to be followed by bigger ones. I hope that the conversation beyond this “introductory” point really is about moving past the baby steps. Figuring out how to do that while balancing the guilt factor will be pretty tough to manage.

  • Reply Pamela 18th October 2016 at 04:12

    Oh, yes! Yes to everything. I hadn’t thought of it before as a need to navigate our guilt, but the inability to do so is often what causes backsliding and backlash. One way I try to think of it is to redefine habits to make certain actions feel easy and second nature. If I can turn actions that I normally don’t think about into ethical/sustainable actions, then it’s easy to make the ethical choice again and again and again without having to navigate the guilt every time. Of course, this kind of shift takes practice and patience and forgiveness for myself, something that we are so often lacking in this culture. The key, which I think you hit on, is to create cultural shifts so that it is more than just a small movement but a global one that doesn’t stop.

  • Reply Tasha 21st October 2016 at 19:59

    Good thoughts. I never cease to be amazed how many new perspectives and ideas I find during Slotober—and these are issues I think about all the time!

    For my own journey, I can say that when I really begin to think about any item—where it comes from, who made it, how long will it last, what will happen to it when it’s worn out—it seems overwhelming indeed. But if I can get past that, dig in, find some alternatives that are better (even if not perfect), then I feel so much better too. The guilt goes away, and is replaced with empowerment, knowing that I made a difference. Maybe the key to keeping this movement going is to get people past the guilt and overwhelm, to a place where they feel like they have agency to make change—because that is a powerful feeling that no one wants to give up once they have it! I hope we can all find ways to share what we do, to offer simple suggestions without sounding preachy, and to think of other ways to bring people into thinking about their purchases more deeply. I do think that our future depends on us (as “Western cultures”) learning to have slower everything.

  • Reply jane 22nd October 2016 at 00:05

    I have thought about this too. When I feel that we are recognizing and acting on something new, I remember that gardening and building and sewing and weaving with our own two hands had a real surge in the 70s. I wonder how that movement seemed to go out of style and wonder if the same will happen to what we have now.

    I read in Tools for Grassroots Activists by Gallagher and Meyers that shame is a disempowering emotion that makes people less likely to act. Instead we should use hope, pride, admiration, envy and anger. I’m not sure I like the sound of every one of those, but I do think that Slow Fashion October promotes a lot of those. I guess all we’ve got is now…so we’d better use it. :)

    • Reply Roxane 23rd October 2016 at 18:51

      It seems to me that the movement in the 1970s didn’t so much “go out of style” as that women entered the workforce in droves. In those days, things like sewing and gardening were “merely” hobbies, and as such fell by the wayside in a time crunch. Nobody was thinking in terms of the larger questions of ethics or sustainability in those days. I’m old, and a lot of my friends have had “hiatuses” from these things, and joyfully returned to them once the kids were gone and/or they were retired. Still, the fact that being a maker is easier at some times of one’s life than others means that there has to be a strong consumer side to this as well.

  • Reply Aimee 22nd October 2016 at 01:45

    Found your post through Fringe Association– very well said. It is trendy now to have a minimal closet or to wear things that look old or vintage, fashion will move on I’m sure, but maybe fewer and fewer of us will care about following it? Also very true about guilt and denial– we are so afraid to feel things like guilt and shame because they are painful and we’d rather just keep living like we always have– so we seek the quickest way out of our guilt, and probably end up back to the same behaviors. This has happened to me a number of times as I cycle through “sin” (buying too many clothes and not wearing them) and “atonement” (giving away or selling my extra things so that I feel “born again” with a clean closet). I end up moving forward when I stop trying to push my guilty feelings away, but actually allow myself to feel them and learn something from it– but it does go against human nature in a lot of ways!

  • Reply Roxane 23rd October 2016 at 21:08

    I think we need to be very careful about saying what people “should” wear. After all, how well did it work when you were a teenager and your mom said you “should” get a haircut or wear your skirts longer? People hear the implied criticism, and it puts their backs up. The more we do that, the more “slow fashion” will become just another hipster uniform, something that distinguishes between “us” and “them.” That’s the last thing we want to happen.

    It’s a lot more effective just to be positive about what our choices have done for us. “I am finally getting to where I have a closet that just contains stuff I like to wear.” “It’s easier for me to make something than to find something l like or that fits.” “I found this lovely yarn, and it just feels good to know that the wool was grown and processed around here. And it’s not even dyed! That’s the natural gray.” Not bragging or being smug, but being happy in our choices, so that other people want what we’re having.

    On a commercial scale, I also think we need to patronize businesses that are trying to do the right thing–Everlane comes to mind as a company that is really trying to be transparent, though so far it’s mostly about labor practices and why their items cost what they do, and their whole line consists of basic items, though they don’t say much about how their textiles are sourced, and the last time I checked they did not make plus sizes, though that may have changed. Imagine how the world could change if integrity became a selling point!

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