Slow fashion October / Smallness

As many of you might have noticed, over on Instagram and around the blogosphere,  it's #slowfashionoctober. This month, folks on social media are sharing their thoughts about 'slow fashion' and what it means to them. (For more information on this month of slow sewing and the folks who got it going, check out the Fringe Association blog.) It's been fascinating to peruse the associated posts. In the world of sewing, we often assume that we're engaging in 'slow fashion' by default, but this particular month-associated hashtag has everyone thinking pretty in depth. And I'm about to do the same.


In the last year and a half, I have gone from artist/activist/teacher with a day job to a full fledged small business owner. Many of my pursuits that aim to challenge thoughts on fashion and clothing have taken a bit of a backseat to my professional goals (thought I did manage to get some good work done with my fiber collective). The Slow Fashion October prompt has definitely got my more craftivist gears turning big time. (I've shared a few images from past projects in this blog post to break up the text nicely). Part of why I started designing sewing patterns was to empower people to create their own clothing and to realize the importance of making in the greater context of the world.

The concept of 'slow' as a reaction to the fast paced world of consumerism that surrounds us is not new to me. I've given lectures and hosted workshops on fast fashion and I have a tendency towards discussing the politics of the fashion machine to any interested party. But on a more personal level, I always feel like I could do more, think deeper, and work slower and smaller while still growing as an individual and a business. On a political level, I'm glad people are starting to take a closer look at of some of the huge issues with our culture of consumerism.

Slowness, 2013. Two Channel Video. More here.

Slowness, 2013. Two Channel Video. More here.

How did this fast fashion (or fast culture in general) come to be? And why are people interested in the alternative? Bear with me while I get political for a second:

What was once a culture striving for abundance (pre industrial revolution) has now become a culture of excess. Our desire to create a comfortable life has become an amassing of possessions, entertainment, and experiences, separating us from what it means to be human. I believe this drive for progress and acquisition, unconscious for most, is starting to wear thin. People see the giant landfills where all the stuff they 'throw away' goes. They see the factories that make their questionably inexpensive clothing collapse. They experience their food becoming more bland and healthful food becoming less accessible. If you polled most people on whether they supported de-beaking chickens, denying factory workers breaks or pay, and polluting important land and waterways, most would reply with a resounding 'No'. But in the world of commodities, transparency and accountability around these issues is largely absent.

So, this gets to the root of this whole Slow Fashion October thing and why it's important as a platform for discussion. By sharing clothing that we acknowledge is handmade (by either us or another maker) we make transparent the way things are produced. And by sharing our thoughts about this process, we open up a much needed discussion on the subject. This triggers something in the brain along the lines of, "Hey wait. If that's how clothing is made, where does my broccoli/cell phone/handbag/blender/doormat/shampoo/gasoline come from?" Hopefully, it makes you want to do something about it.

Black Friday, Nov 2012: After purchasing a shirt at Urban Outfitters, I took apart the shirt with a seam ripper and re-sewed the shirt by hand while sitting on a bench across from the store.

Black Friday, Nov 2012: After purchasing a shirt at Urban Outfitters, I took apart the shirt with a seam ripper and re-sewed the shirt by hand while sitting on a bench across from the store.

Now, there's a bit of a tendency to panic at this realization. Suddenly you realize that all the things you've been buying or using are, in some way or form, a problem. Where does it end? And what can you do about it? Not to mention the fact that your ability to do something may be linked to your budget, abilities, or culture.

Arguably, there's really not an answer to this. I think the idea of slowing down, thinking, and considering is key here. Everyone will have to write their own story and find their own way to be a positive influence on their own life and perhaps their community, both in terms of 'slow fashion' and other areas of our lives.

The theme of this week in Slow Fashion October is small. To me, this represents the sorts of small changes we can make in our lives and the small ways we can influence others.

I've written a bit before about my previous tendencies towards clutter and collecting and I think the discussion is right in line with this smallness idea. And I don't think I'm the only one. Capsule wardrobes, tiny houses, and KonMari are buzzwords these days. We've spent so long in the 'rat race' that the idea of living within your means is finally starting to gain traction.

In the spirit of thinking small and slow, here's some things I've done, what I'll try to continue doing, and some new goals as well.

I try to think before I buy. Do I really need this? Can I find this from a source I trust at a price I can afford? Can I use something I already have? If the answer is yes, I usually get it. If the answer is no, I don't.

Here's a flowchart I created a few years ago. The blog post it's from includes some musings on the subject.

Here's a flowchart I created a few years ago. The blog post it's from includes some musings on the subject.

I like to share and support. Periodically, I'll go through my fabric stash and either trade with fellow sewists, donate supplies to places I teach, or use them in workshops. I'll use scrap yarn to teach others to knit or crochet.

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I try to take my time and be patient. I have many garments that didn't turn out quite right and I don't wear them as a result. The garments that I visualize or think through thoroughly before creating tend to be more successful. Taking the time to alter clothing, or frog and re-knit flawed sweaters has proven worth it, even though its not always fun.

And my new goal, one that has been simmering in my mind recently, is to maintain a smaller stash. Sure, there will come a time when I see an amazing fabric or yarn that, even though I don't have a plan for, I won't be able to pass up. That's okay (we're not the slow fashion police here!) But in general, I plan to focus on working through my stash using the best tool I have on hand: my creativity. I was raised with a 'make do and mend' mentality and I think having constraints is when I'm at my most creative. My plan is to use what I have and make it work (by altering, bartering, dyeing, etc) until I feel that my 'stash' is at a more manageable level (aka fits into one box?) I'll be sure to share my progress here!

My stash before a recent edit/re-org. Yikes!

My stash before a recent edit/re-org. Yikes!

A philosophical note:

At the end of the day, the guilt and anxiety about what you do or don't do does little to serve you. But the concern you feel and the actions you can take do quite a bit for you and for your greater community.

With the help of small actions by thoughtful people around the world, there's been a slow and steady shift towards a world that is more mindful of what it consumes and where those things come from. So whether you've committed to only making with supplies that come from a 10 mile radius of where you live, or making underwear from old t-shirts, or even just reading all of these discussions and finding small ways to be more thoughtful, even if your habits don't change overall, you're helping to make a change. Knowledge is power.

Some incredibly interesting discussion has unfolded and continues to develop on blog and Instagram (I can't believe I just wrote that sentence, but its true!) Conversations run the gamut from capsule wardrobes and stash busting to the privilege associated with being a sustainable/ethical crafter. Have a look here, here, and here, if you're curious.

What do you think about the idea of Slow Fashion October? Has it got you thinking about what you buy and how you make things?