The value of “slow fashion”

 

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My faithful sewing kit

 

By Caitlin Kelly

I’ve never been a fan of “fast fashion” — rushing to snag some of the thousands of garments pumped out by cheap labor for mega-corporate brands like Zara and H & M. Zara, for example, releases a staggering 20,000 new designs a year, the idea to keep luring shoppers in for more, more, more merch.

The cost to the environment — terrible!

The New York Times just published a smart guide to buying less, and less frequently:

Even though many retailers say they’re addressing sustainability, “the clothing that they make still doesn’t have any greater longevity,” said Elaine Ritch, a senior lecturer in marketing at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Faced with this reality, the concept of “slow fashion” has emerged over the past decade as a kind of counterbalance to fast fashion. The idea: slow down the rapid pace of clothing consumption and instead buy fewer more durable items. It’s an idea championed, for example, by the fashion blogger Cat Chiang, Natalie Live of the brand The Tiny Closet, and Emma Kidd, a doctoral researcher in Britain who launched a 10-week “fashion detox.”

They are sounding the alarm, in part, because the negative impacts of clothing extend beyond the landfill. The chemicals used in making, dyeing and treating many fabrics are so harmful that the E.P.A. regulates many textile factories as hazardous waste generators. And overall, apparel and footwear produce more than 8 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions associated with the harmful effects of human-caused climate change.

To anyone living on a tight budget, the suggestion to buy less is risible — if you can’t afford stuff, you aren’t buying it.

But also laughable to anyone who grew up  before the very idea of “fast fashion”, as I did, pre-Internet, in a country (Canada) with fewer retail choices, lower salaries and higher taxes. We just didn’t buy a lot because…who would?

 

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I lived in Paris the year I was 25, life-changing in all the very best ways, and have returned many times since, ideally every two or three years.

French women, beyond the wealthy, are discerning and typically very selective, adding a few key items a year — not every day or week or month. Small city apartments don’t have enormous suburban dressing rooms, for one thing.

They also know that great grooming matters just as much.

Although I live near New York City, with ready access to some of the world’s fanciest stores, I often spend my clothing and accessories budget in Canada (I know where to go!) and Europe. I like the colors much better (lots of navy blue, browns and camel — American color options often glaring and weird) and the styles and, key — higher quality.

I’ve always had a sewing kit, accustomed to mending and sewing buttons back on. I’ve always used a cobbler to re-heel and re-sole shoes; I have one pair bought in 1996 still looking amazing, (OK, Fratelli Rosetti on sale.)

I don’t enjoy shopping for clothes (needing to lose a lot of weight is certainly very de-motivating in this regard) but am a sucker for great accessories: boots, earrings, shoes, scarves, a fab handbag. (My latest — which draws daily compliments everywhere — is a black woven leather handbag found in a Santa Fe consignment shop for $120, less than half the price of a store downtown.)

 

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My beloved Birks, bought in Berlin, seen here on the streets of Rovinj, Croatia

 

I prefer neutral colors to prints, low or flat heels to higher ones, simple cuts to anything with frills or flounces. I shop maybe two or three times a year. I find it tiring and there’s no one to help in any meaningful way.

Recently back in my hometown of Toronto I bought a pair of boots, low, black suede; with tax, $280 Canadian ($211.00 U.S.) Yes, pricy, but with my typical intent of wearing them for at least three to five years, a lot.

This year I finally tossed out a pair of black suede flats that had seen a decade of wear.

ENOUGH!

With CPW, cost-per-wearing; the more you use an item of clothing, the more you amortize out its initial cost. A black pleated ankle length dress I bought in 2016 from Canadian brand Aritizia ($100 on sale, reduced from $150) is still an elegant, hand-washable four-season stand-by for every occasion, from a professional meeting to date night to a very elegant Toronto summer wedding reception.

Were I a wealthy woman, and lost the weight, I would — I admit — buy a few more clothes, but much nicer ones, from my favorite designers: The Row, Dries Van Noten and Etro.

Having terrific style is rarely a matter of being wealthy, but being selective and consistent.

As Coco Chanel once said: Elegance is refusal.

12 thoughts on “The value of “slow fashion”

  1. You have a sewing kit, so do I! And a sewing machine to boot (and yes, I know how to use it) Sigh. News broke this week of fast fashion retailer Forever 21 filing for bankruptcy. Fast fashion? Truth is, this is the first time I’ve heard the term. Must confess, the term made me grumpy!
    Laughed out loud when seeing the Aritzia image – I know Aritzia founder Brian Hill, another friend designed Aritzia logo. Sidebar – Brian’s sister has a chain of retail outlets called Blue Ruby.They were born into money, their father operated a swanky men’s wear store for decades. My point – I wonder how many disposable fashion empires were created by rich kids using old money. Entitled little darlings who never worked a day in their life to buy something they desired. Sigh. Great post 🙂

    1. Thanks…The company wins my admiration as one of very few Canadians to do well in the very tough American market. I also think they’re very smart in being able to attract shoppers from teens to 60s. Very few competitors (vs a department store) can do this.

      But, yes, to your point about old/family money. I see this a lot.

  2. Like you, I often shop when visiting back in Toronto, even after 25 years in France. I find the clothes are better quality, the fabrics more likely to be my preferred natural fibers and what’s more, they actually fit! French clothes are made for narrower frames with longer limbs than mine. Increasingly, I try to buy at the charity shop before hitting the stores. And I hate the dictates of the fashion world — this is in, that’s out. Bugger it. I’ll wear what makes me feel good!

    1. Half of what’s “in” is so bizarre anyway…No need to be trendy, just stylish.

      I love French clothes when I can find ones that fit — high/tight armhole, which American manufacturers rarely use. Really changes the look and fit.

      Also a fan of charity shops — Greenwich, CT has a few I visit and am still wearing a triple ply Neiman Marcus cashmere cardigan I bought there a decade ago. Quality lasts!

  3. Oh you KNOW I have thoughts on this. I’ve written how reading “Overdressed” fundamentally changed my shopping habits in the long term. While I’ve sometimes been unfaithful to the commitments, by and large my closet is now made up of ethical production brands and second hand items.

    The thing I’ve really been thinking about more and more over the years as I’ve explored this topic in writing and living is the sheer volume problem. The childhood phrase I was raised on was “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” There are People are really hesitant to the pursue the key first word–partly it’s considered bad for capitalism which requires consumption, and partly because we’ve structured a lot of western society on easy gratification…

    But the cold hard truth is that too many of us own too much. Full stop. Until we collectively change work, production, shopping, EVERYTHING in a fundamental way to stop pursuing more stuff, we’re screwed. And that’s a really big change to make a across a lot of society.

    1. I also think (hardly original) this is fueled by social media (oooh, look at her on Insta), celebrity worship (I want to look like him/her so I had better buy as much of it as I can afford) and just plain boredom. Shopping is a huge thrill for some people (WHY??????) and social and there’s “unboxing”…

      Ugggggghhhhhhhh.

  4. It’s funny how adding just one or two pieces of clothing to your wardrobe can change your entire attitude towards it.

    I personally take a middle stance. I like the weird prints and bright colors. It makes me happy, but I know that my tastes may change so I don’t want to spend too much on it.

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