Slow Fashion: Go Deep
Here we are in the middle of that maker’s fashion show frenzy known as Me-Made-May, the wardrobe challenge started in 2010 by Zoe Edwards that encourages participants to “improve your relationship with your handmade items.” Privileging handmade items to build a wardrobe is an aspect of Me-Made-May in line with the ethos of slow fashion.
My own engagement with slow fashion began over ten years ago when I discovered Sonya Philip’s 100 Acts of Sewing and Katrina Rodabaugh’s Make Thrift Mend as well as A Verb for Keeping Warm’s Seam Allowance project and Fringe Association’s Slow Fashion October. It was a time of bubbling interest in sustainability and in slowing down to enjoy and appreciate the items we’ve made.
Engagement is a dynamic process; over the last decade I’ve continued to refine my understanding of what slow fashion means. Two books in particular have helped deepen my connection to this concept.
Central to the concept of slow fashion is the critique—and even rejection—of fast fashion. Aja Barber’s Consumed: The Need for Collective Change: Colonialism, Climate Change, and Consumerism does an incredible job elucidating the link between colonialism and the damages wrought by the fast fashion system. Barber brings to light how the legacy of colonialism is responsible for many of the ills we associate with fast fashion: pollution, the acceptance of low wages and poor working conditions, the lack of accountability for corporations.
The book is divided into two parts. In the first part, Barber explains how colonialism is the root of the problem and follows her argument through to a discussion of our role as consumers. The second section is all about what the individual can do to challenge the system and make a positive impact. Throughout, she encourages further investigation and engagement. I’d already felt my engagement with slow fashion was political, and Barber’s book has shown me how it’s also linked to dismantling white supremacy.
Another writer who has been formative in my slow fashion education is Kate Fletcher. Fletcher has written numerous academic books on fashion and sustainability as well as Wild Dress that explores the relationship between the way we dress and the natural world.
Her 2016 book Craft of Use: Post-Growth Fashion is a bit of a hybrid. This book sharpens her focus on sustainability by looking at garments and use beyond continuous consumption. Combining portraits of individuals and their stories about the items they’re wearing with short essays elaborating on the themes of each section, Fletcher highlights the use, wear, and creation of garments and offers a way to look at fashion beyond the market.
Not surprisingly, handknit sweaters make an appearance in the portraits, and when one subject talks about the knitted cardigan jacket made by her great-grandmother, we appreciate the love and respect that has been given to it because that’s what we hope the recipients of our knitted goods feel. “I think it’s been passed down because we know that she put so much time into making it.”
And Three Influencers
Another way I’ve deepened and challenged my participation in slow fashion is via social media accounts of makers who champion sustainability. Izzy Manuel uses color exuberantly and brings a sense of play with her outfits and poses. Sustainable fashion feels fun with Izzy.
Another person known for her bold use of color is Marcia Riddington. The owner of an antiques shop, Marcia combines her home-sewn dresses (often using vintage curtains and other unconventional garment fabrics) with her handknits and thrifted items.
And check out my fellow academic Shannon Flaherty the founder of @sewqueer. Shannon pairs handknits with handsewn garments for very wearable looks. And as many of the items she’s made are popular patterns in the sewing community, her posts provide a great primer on how to combine them with other items in your closet.
The learning is ongoing, and I’m looking forward to the next ten years of me-mades. Who are the influencers and what are the books that have inspired your engagement with slow fashion?
Open to learning how to do practically everything, Claudia B. Manley teaches, writes, knits, and makes art in Hamilton, Ontario. Her textbook, Fashion Writing: A Primer, was published by Routledge in November 2022. She posts here on Instagram.