Slow fashion survey

Kindred have developed a slow fashion survey and request your participation. They say it will take 15-30 minutes to complete. I haven’t done it yet, merely scrolled through the screens. I think it will take me much longer to complete. Again, it seems that slow fashion adherents are missing the significance of product vs process facets of “fast” and “slow”. Based on the kinds of questions asked in the survey, results will tell the researchers exactly what they expect to hear (confirmation bias)  -the stuff of popular discussion- but what could become of it if those aren’t the underlying conflicts? Conflicts are the symptoms of a greater problem, not the solution to it.

The survey opens with a focus on sustainable inputs. Or rather, materials deemed by popular acclaim to have a smaller footprint –bamboo anyone? No mention is made of the acquisition (carbon) costs of the mentioned sustainable fibers. Others have posited cogent arguments that Peace Silk kills more creatures than traditional processing. And cotton? Not going there today. Weighing the gamut of sustainability and impact, inputs are a minor variable in this complex equation but they get the most attention being the most obvious.

Section four deals with how sustainable one is based on what they do with excess inventory. What? How about no excess inventory to deal with? But that’s deemed bad in the sphere of public opinion because the no-inventory approach is used by “fast” fashion producers. Researchers need to analyze the process of “fast” fashion rather than avoiding it. Staking a counter culture position isn’t open minded; reading and analyzing material beyond that which defines the parameters of one’s beliefs, is.

Obviously my frustration lies in that the matter of a sustainable production model was not mentioned at all in the survey. Thomas elaborates on that which I have struggled to define succinctly (empahsis is mine):

If you are producing in the US, the biggest cost of the garment is labor. “Fast-fashion’ means cutting closer to demand, and reducing inventory, therefore reducing capital requirements and the risk of markdowns. To my mind that should be part and parcel of any ’slow fashion’ movement and I think to the extent there is any real slow fashion in this country, it is the model of bringing in huge quantities of low-cost goods sold with high initial mark-up and then savage price-cutting is destructive to everybody and most of all the environment as we destroy and deplete natural resources for useless consumer goods. Whether there will be a legitimate slow fashion movement (rather than a marketing buzz) I don’t know since 1) the domestic supply chain hardly exists anymore and 2) the cost of producing real slow-fashion is high. Serious consumer uptake will require a shift in cultural priorities. I hope it happens.

Namely, even buying fabric woven of sun kissed dew and blessed by fairies and sewn by well-treated elves is all for nothing if you make too much of it (push manufacturing) because you’re wasting resources.

We have three sustainability problems. Namely that sustainability is a trend and it’s trendy. Problem three is that the process of production, the design of the system is never discussed by slow fashion proponents. Realizing any long term gains towards salvaging what’s left of our planet, our economy and our industry relies less on branding with a pretty green logo (trendy) and more focus on the internal engine –lean manufacturing– that is invisible to consumers (and researchers) but is the trend that matters more. The difficulty of lean manufacturing lies in its branding -or rather, the lack thereof. Lean manufacturers need to find ways to claim the sustainability position that they have earned through hard dedication. If you’re not lean, you’re not green.

The point of today’s rant being that if people are truly motivated to affect change, they need to direct the conversation and discourse. To lead, they’re going to have to do some heavy lifting to learn a whole new set of variables. If the problem were resolved by organic fabrics, figuring out how to manage excess inventory and exhort consumers to buy less trendy fashion items, much of the damage would have been reduced by now. In closing, take the survey if you think it will move us toward positive change.

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  1. This brings to mind an interesting quote from the Devil’s Dictionary, defining “reform” as “a thing that mostly satisfies reformers opposed to reformation.” It’s mostly used in the context of government and politics but the difference between reform and reformation applies here too.
    I can’t quite organize my thoughts enough to expand on that, though. :/

  2. Amen, an excellent rant! I do think the intentions with the survey are good but I’m a tad uncomfortable with turning ‘slow fashion’ into a brand in a way. Although I didn’t agree with some things in it, I love that the FT article a few months back completely didn’t go to the usual suspects when interviewing fashion designers about sustainability:

    I could have my head completely stuck where the sun don’t shine with this, but my interpretation of ‘slow fashion’ has been primarily consumer-focused: slowing down my own patterns of consumption (fashion and the rest) as well as laundering (often the source of the largest impact with clothing), having less but enjoying and engaging with the clothes more. Making things last by repairing and altering them, washing less and in cold water (eight-year-old black t-shirts still more black than gray), hanging things up and brushing them instead of throwing them in the laundry bin and so forth. I’m often far from perfect in all respects but whenever I buy anything now, I do ask myself whether I’ll still wear it in five years time which has implications for both physical and ‘visual’ durability. Nothing irks me more than the ever-increasing blogs dedicated to green consumerism.

    As a designer, I see it as designing less but designing better. Much of what gets called design isn’t, I’d argue, but product development: having to churn out several hundred styles a year isn’t uncommon for a designer. Except I don’t think it’s possible for a single person to design that much, or at least design well. Which is when the tear sheets come out and design leaves the building.

    As for manufacturing, well, in my humble opinion nothing beats this place. Perhaps most importantly because here, manufacturing hasn’t been decoupled from design but the concern is a holistic one.

  3. Thomas Cunningham says:

    Kathleen – thanks for quoting me. I feel famous!

    Here’s a company that’s doing it well, in my opinion. Don’t know if they have already been mentioned on FI.

    It’s men’s and ladies knit undergarments made of all US wool – they contract with ranchers to buy the wool and shepherd (pun intended) it through combing, spinning, etc. (all in the US) and then sell the finished product through their Web site. It’s 100% made in the USA, for real.

    they are doing so many smart things — the first one is picking a category like underwear — as far as I can tell, they only have one color – natural white. Genius. It’s also founded by the founder’s of Tom’s of Maine products — I believe they invested around $1 million to set up the company. Deep pockets are always nice.

    And the product is not cheap – about $85.00 for a long-sleeve undershirt.

  4. sahara says:

    Wow Kathleen, your post has made my day. As someone who’s been doing “slow” work for 8 years now (contract textiles and sweaters), it’s ALL about labor cost, knitting close to demand and not having any inventory left over (“what about studio sales?”). What’s funny, is that now I’m trendy.

    Folks who laughed at me 8 years ago, in NYC now are all over me, because what we’ve been doing what Ramblers Way’s is doing now. Most people didn’t even know that the wool for our sweaters was carded and spun locally (“folks still do that? It’s SLOW”). The difference is our background is in design and (unfortunately) product development (one reason I left the Garment Restrict––it’s difficult putting out 150 sweaters per season, but you get good at working fast) as opposed to many craftspeople who focus on technique at the expense of good design and (gasp!) fit. Much of our “fast” local approach came because we simply couldn’t afford to work overseas.

    Consumers have to be educated, but it’ll be hard. I look at the 20-30 somethings around me, and while they love “sustainability” the THOUGHT of wearing something for more than 1 year is difficult. And why not, when there is so much of what my partner calls “cheap disposable date clothing?”

  5. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    Along with what Timo and Sahara said, I have clothes I’ve had a long time, like an embroidered wool-blend cardigan I bought in ’98 when Montgomery Ward was still in business. I go to thrift stores a lot and buy vintage, too. What I’ve been buying most of lately, new, is cotton fitted long-sleeved T shirts because they finally started making them long enough for my torso and because I wanted that certain color or the neckline or fit was better. I redyed one so it was blacker. I also only use warm or hot water in the laundry if I’m washing towels or sheets or something that got really gross. And I use dye-free Bi-o-Kleen detergent (partly because the standard detergents’ dyes and perfumes make my skin itch).

    I think sustainability needs to start with producing what’s ordered, instead of tons of inventory (even though it’s hard to resist an 80% clearance rack) and with lean manufacturing and quality construction. Not just if the fiber/fabric is natural or sustainable. I think some people out there are going to buy something nice and well made no matter if it’s organic cotton or some kind of silk or synthetic (although there should be more synthetics made from recycled pop bottles and stuff like that).

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