Slow Fashion Connection: Panel discussion on what it’s all about

There are rare times in life when you know you’ve brushed up against genius.  Some have felt it staring at Picasso’s Demoiselles D’avignon or listening to JFK’s inauguration speech.  For those present at Friday night’s Slow Fashion Connection, we could all touch it.

Pioneers of sustainable fashion Sass Brown, Titania Inglis, Jasmin Malik Chua, Carmen Artigas, founders of Kameleonikfounder of Ecoology, and Helpsy’s Rebecca Kibbe sat around a table, while participants of the Uniform Project, Bob Bland of Manufacture NY, Creators of Modavanti, and designers Tara St. James, Carrie Parry and Natalie Frigo, among many others, scattered the parameter to talk about fashion.

Wait, who’s who at the table?

Sass Brown, an incredible academic in the field of fashion + sustainability, and author of the trilogy Eco Fashion.

Titania Inglis, a badass local Brooklyn fashion designer + winner of the 2012 Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation award in sustainable design.

Carmen Artigas, Dean of Ethical Fashion at the Center for Social Innovation + has worked in fashion for over twenty years.

Jasmin Malik Chua, managing editor of the largest eco-fashion site, Ecouterre.

Rebecca Kibbe, founder of shopHelpsy.com, an online retailer of high-end eco-clothing.

Kameleonik, a Spanish espadrille eco-shoes company, dedicated to local, ethical, hand-made production.

Ecoology, a Barcelona designed and produced eco-clothing company, dreaming (and creating) for a better world.

Moderator, Francisca Pineda, the founder of Ethical Fashion Academy, opened with a cynical comment she received via Facebook about the evening’s meetup.  The comment questioned why we all gathered to talk about such a light topic in the midst of such a horrific event.  If the commenter had come to the event he/she would have realized much more.

The current fashion system is broken. And, on everyone’s mind was one word. Bangladesh.

Sass Brown kicked off the evening with a presentation on her favorite slow fashion designers like Izzy Lane, an animal activist turned fashion designer.  Izzy began rescuing sheep when she came to find out they would otherwise be sent to slaughter for superficial differences–too old, too lame, spotted, et cetera. The sheep now live our their lives on her farm in North Yorkshire, where their fleece is used in beautiful garments she has presented at NYFW, London FW, and all great fashion cities around the world.

Once the conversation gathered momentum it got into the heart of real issues. There will be a full video of discussion soon, but from the amazing ideas that bounced around the GGrippo  shop on 174 Grand St in Williambsurg, my take home message is this:

“We must ask questions: Is it organic cotton? Is it certified? By whom? Be the pebble in their shoe” said Carmen Artigas.

The current fashion system is an off shoot of industrialization and Henry Ford’s UNgenius assembly line.  In the name of efficiency, each person is given a small task.  For example, let’s say in the making of a needle there are 23 steps.  Way back when, a single person completed all 23 steps and the needle was theirs, they knew it back and forth, needle-making was their craft and as a result they were inherently connected to what they produced.  Under the assembly line model, 22 other people come in to join the skilled needleman, each one participating in a fraction of the production.  Efficient yes.  But it also deskills and disconnects individuals from the products they make.

Ok, but other than making a needle, what does this have to do with fashion?! Simple–maybe not so, but–the production chain is the same. Fashion is not just a runway look but an entire production chain: growing the fibers, processing them into yarn and thread, constructing the garment, selling the garment–buyers, agents, merchandising, branding, advertising.  And in the name of efficiency this happens all over the world to the cheapest bidder.  Bangladesh was, up until now, the cheapest candidate for production with minimum wage at $37.50 a month (next up is Cambodia with $45/month).  India, is the cheapest for growing cotton. The lowest bidder gets the goldstar in one sense.  This piecemeal production is hurting communities, scratch that, kills communities.  Wait, it’s easy on our wallets right? Eh, really? We’ve heard $9.99 shirt doesn’t equal 610 lives, and that’s what you are paying.  Please, un-desensitize yourself for a second.  Human lives, for looks?! Not so pretty anymore is it?

For consumers, “It’s about self-love” says Chua. For designers, it’s about good design, “Staying off the sales rack” says Artigas.

Look into your closet for a minute. I’ll be here when you get back.  Do you love every piece? Would you wear it to death, and then mend it to further its life? Pass it down to you children?  Or did you buy it because it reminded you of some street style look you saw on Sartorialist? Is it your voice? Fashion is expression.  What are you expressing through your wardrobe? Feel a little broken? “No,” you’re saying, “I don’t love it.” Donate it. Sell it. (but don’t throw it away).

Fashion is an enormous industry, with so many steps to a final product.  Maybe we don’t need all those steps anymore.  Maybe now, it’s about local.  You tell me, what’s your stance?

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