Slow Fashion October: wrap-up

Better late than never! Besides, we don’t stop thinking about slow fashion and sustainability just because October is over, right? Of course not!

fabric scraps

I’ve skipped a separate blog post for the Week 4 Action Item and Discussion Prompts because they focused a lot on mending/fixing the “Maybe” pile. I didn’t have a huge “maybe” pile and they probably would’ve needed more effort to make them loved than I was willing to put in, so I’ve put those aside for a clothing swap that I’m planning with some friends.

Action item: Make a pact with yourself!

Take some time to think about what you’ve gotten out of this month’s actions and discussion – what have your learned about the fashion industry, yourself, your tendencies and preferences and how they compare to your making and buying. Then make a pact with yourself about some ways in which you can do better going forward. Specify what changes you’d like to see in your habits and/or your closet over the next year (or five years), and good you can get there.

This has been the most valuable part of the month-long challenge for me; putting some energy into thinking more purposefully about my own life, how my clothing and style fits in with it and how I want to be perceived in this world, and how to get those to align better.

Plus, it has renewed some personal interest in sustainability in the fashion industry. Honestly, it’s so easy to get down about the state of things! In October, I had the opportunity to attend Mooi Festival in Antwerp (“mooi” means “beautiful” in Dutch), and hear people in the industry discuss various topics related to slow fashion and sustainability. Sometimes it seems like there’s so much work to be done, but it’s also inspiring to hear from people who are dedicating time to having a positive impact on the world.

As far as my own habits over the next year, I’d certainly like to continue planning my makes in a thoughtful way: thinking about making and buying clothes that fit in well with my life, being mindful of the source of the materials I’m purchasing, and taking better care of my clothes when doing laundry so that they last as long as possible.

Over the next five years? Wow, I can hardly imagine! I wonder if I’ll get to a point where I’m making less, if I’ll reach a point where I will feel like, “Okay, Kirstin, you have enough to wear, and you don’t need to make that thing.” I do still get a frantic feeling that if I don’t start making some specific garment right now, then I will literally be lacking some key thing to wear. (Like, pants. I don’t think I actually have enough warm, full-length pants that fit at the moment.) I guess it should be a goal to get beyond that feeling, but I would hope that in five years I still feel enjoyment from the sewing process; planning, buying fabric, picking patterns, making fit or style changes, and constructing the piece. That’s why we do make our own clothes after all, for the enjoyment of it! So I never want to lose that.

There were no discussion prompts this week, but some suggested actions:

  • Don’t add anything to your closet unless you truly love it and can see how it fits in with what you already have. PREEEEEACH! I need to write this on my hand whenever I go fabric shopping though!
  • Swear off the clothing types and traits you know will bother you and prevent them from being worn. Generally, I think, “Yes, duh” for this item, but I think I’ll leave room in my plans to experiment with new silhouettes. Obviously, if it’s something I know I don’t like (heeeey, pencil skirts), then I will skip it. But sewing is joy, so I want to give myself permission to play around.
  • When shopping, take time to find out where things come from and if they were responsibly made. This is easier said than done. Some Belgian fabric shops will carry certified textiles (GOTS and Oeko Tex, etc.), which means there is some better knowledge about the source of the textile and the working conditions. But for the rest? Sometimes I go to fabric sales and and we don’t even know the fiber content, let alone whether it was produced in an earth-friendly or people-friendly way. I’ve written before about some ex-designer sales that I’ve been to, and I guess those do have the added bonus of allowing people to purchase materials that would (might?) otherwise go to waste, but I don’t think that system adds any sort of obligation to the designers to try to do better on their sides. This is a subject clearly better saved for a future blog post!
  • Let stores/brands know that transparency and origins matter to you. Yeah, another point that’s easier said than done. Sure, I can pat myself on the back for not buying fast-fashion for myself, or not buying random €1/per meter synthetic fabrics, but how are stores/brands going to know that the reason they’re not getting my euros is because of their lack of transparency about origins, sustainability, and working conditions? It’s uncomfortable to get loud though, so this is definitely a work in progress for me! I do try to celebrate whenever possible, a company that is doing something that I’m proud of.
  • Pay attention to where your yarn and fabric come from. Agreed!
  • Strive to use more recycled /upcycled fibers and materials. After my recent recycled denim project, I’ve been looking for ways to incorporate upcycling into my future projects. I’m following several great people on Instagram for inspiration, perhaps I’ll do a round-up of those in a future post. Upcycling and using recycled fibers certainly comes with its own set of challenges, but that’s part of what makes it fun!
  • Pledge to take care of the clothes you acquire and make them last as long as possible. Absolutely! I just listened to the Love to Sew podcast episode with Harriet, who founded Clothing Care Co., and wrote a book all about stain removal and caring for your clothes. It just makes sense to put a bit of extra thought and effort into this area.
  • For things that don’t work out, carefully find new homes for them. This one, I’d like to do a bit more research into. There definitely seems to be a hierarchy of what should be done with clothes when they’re no longer working for you personally. Clothing swaps are brilliant if the clothes are in good condition. There are websites that similarly buy and resell clothes that are in good condition (that’s the keyword!), but you’re adding the impact of things like shipping. Second-hand stores, consignment shops, etc., those all seem like fine options. But clothes eventually do wear out, and there are going to be some unusable scraps leftover from projects (like my shameful collection, pictured at the top of the post). There are giant metal canisters dotted around my city for collecting clothes and textiles, and while they are super convenient, some of them give you zero indication of who is collecting the materials and what is done with them. In my area, there’s at least one that’s very clear about the company, and even touts that by donating your clothes to them, you’re creating jobs and doing something good for the world. I’m sure there’s some combination of second hand shops, scrap recycling, or who knows, shipping them off to another country and contributing to more problems than solutions. (Are we sensing a theme here?) This could use a bit more effort from me before I go dumping my kids’ scraggly old clothes in a canister.
  • Keep the planet and garment workers in mind at all times and do your best by them. YES!! And I’m so glad it mentions garment workers, because I get the sense that many people forget about the human element that absolutely still exists with nearly all fabric/clothing manufacturing these days. I think most of my friends have heard me go off on a rant at some point about how the fashion industry hasn’t had any sort of revolutionary technological advances that replace the need for a real live human doing most of the work of stitching together your shirt (robots are sewing your clothes yet!). So yes, think about them too.

Whew! Yes, it can really make your head spin a bit when attempting to lessen your impact on the world. Another HUGE takeaway I’ve gotten from Slow Fashion October is that, at some point, you must relax. We can’t all be perfectly neutral in our consumption, we can’t float through life without somehow acting in some way that can be pointed to as “part of the problem”. Yes, I buy my kids’ clothes at H&M, I just bought a (beautiful) meter of polyester fabric last week, and I know I’ve made garments that I absolutely knew I would never wear. But… like… I’m trying to improve! We’re all doing the best we can, who could ask for more?

Pats on the back for everybody, and I can’t wait to continue incorporating these ideas into my making for months and years to come!