An Antidote for Fast Fashion

Lately I’ve been thinking about the concept of artisanal craftsmanship. Right now, the fashion industry loves the word “artisan” – it seems to be everywhere these days. The more I see it, the more I wonder: what does artisan mean? What qualifies someone’s work as artisanal? As I mulled these questions over in my mind on a bumpy NY-bound flight, I happened to notice my seat-mate’s coffee cup: when “artisan” shows up on an Einstein’s to-go cup, we need to have a talk.

My first step was to consult the experts, Merriam and Webster:

ar·ti·san

: a person who is skilled at making things by hand

: one that produces something in limited quantities often using traditional methods

May I elaborate a little? Artisans are masters of their craft. They have studied and honed their skill to a point of expertise: they are PhD-level makers. They have not turned to mechanization of tasks, and they do not cut corners in order to decrease costs, save time, or enhance profit margins. Continue reading

Dear Mom

My mom has taught me a lot over the years. Whenever I’ve needed a sounding board to help me think through decisions, she’s who I call. She breaks down the big complex problems until their solutions look simple (moving all of my belongings to a new city on the other side of the country), she always has sound advice to offer (like that one time she advised me against taking a 12 hour all night bus ride), and she’s my exploring buddy whenever I move to a new place (Texas, Florence, Utah, and New York – some more enticing than others…).

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She also shaped my views on clothing. It is because of her that I (begrudgingly) wore skirts that were “appropriate length” when all my friends hopped on the cutoff denim skirt trend. She taught me how important it is for skirts and dresses to be lined, how to tell if a garment fit properly across my shoulders, how to care for my clothes, and how to keep them looking nice (hang them up and actually pull out the iron once in awhile).

As much as I used to push back on her rules, over time I came to adopt them 110%. You will never see me trying to get away with a skirt that’s too short or a dress that is see-through. Instead, I’ve become quite picky – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve passed on what appeared to be a perfectly good piece, simply because it needed another inch at the hem. I once resisted her point of view, but now she is the first person I turn to for a second opinion.

In addition to these guidelines, my mom taught me that in order to get the quality you want, sometimes you have to pay a little more. I would gawk at a price tag; she would say, “But it will last.” I’m not talking about exorbitant prices here: all I’m saying is she helped me graduate from my ‘buy a ton of cheap clothes’ mindset to a more reserved place where each piece I buy serves a long-term purpose. In fact, she’s been on the right track all along – I’m just now starting to see it.

What it all boils down to is this: my mom taught me about quality. She taught me about beautiful construction and about paying attention to the details. She taught me to view clothing as an investment, not something I should be comfortable throwing away. Why else would she teach me how to care for my clothes if not to keep them around for more than one season?

For everything you’ve taught me (even when I didn’t want to learn), thank you.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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Luxury Leading The Way (Again)

The names Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, and Alexander McQueen have very strong connotations for consumers all over the world. Even for those of us who have never been a customer, each name stands for something. Luxury, craftsmanship, heritage, and quality are a few of the words that come to my mind. Expensive and aspirational might be others. If I asked a group of 100 people, I’m sure many of these characteristics would surface again and again. One word I am fairly certain would not make an appearance? Sustainable. Continue reading

Matters of Cost

If I had to pay me to make my clothes, I couldn’t afford it.

Ignore the reflexive nature of that statement for a minute and allow me to explain.

Back in November I took a course at the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn where I learned how to drape muslin on a dress form and turn my creation into a paper pattern. Naturally I got it into my head that after this one course, I would never need to buy another piece of clothing because I’d be capable of making my own. While I did make significant strides in that direction, I am by no means there yet – or even close. Since taking the class, I have made a total of one skirt. Slow clap? Continue reading

Don’t Forget to Think

It’s almost here.

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The day retailers anxiously await, the day their sales finally turn to black. The story goes that retailers operate at a financial loss for most of the year; it isn’t until the holiday season (which kicks off with Black Friday) that they generate a profit. Another version attributes the name “Black Friday” to the massive traffic jams and overcrowded sidewalks that result from the flood of people racing to scoop up good deals. In the midst of this chaos, nobody thinks – they just do. Continue reading

Thoughts From My First Shopping Hiatus

The average American buys 68 new pieces of clothing every year. I recently did an inventory of my closet to see how many pieces I had in total and it wasn’t pretty. My cheeks are burning red as I type this, but here’s the breakdown:

  • Shirts: 58
  • Sweaters: 15
  • Vests/Outerwear: 13
  • Pants: 9
  • Skirts/Dresses: 13 (there are more but all my summer clothes are in a box somewhere)
  • Shoes: 24

The sad thing is that these numbers represent my closet after a major downsizing operation and they don’t include any of my athletic apparel. I’d be lying if I told you I wear all of these pieces regularly – it’s not possible. It was quite the wake-up call, so I moved into action. Or rather, inaction. Continue reading

To Wash Or Not?

Earlier this week, Levi’s released a graphic showing how much water could have been saved if everyone wearing Levi’s in California had washed their jeans according to the care instructions:

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Talk about putting things in perspective. 35 billion liters. All because we’ve been programmed to think our clothes are not clean if they aren’t washed after every use. Kate Fletcher, the founder of the slow fashion movement, put it this way:

“Keeping clean used to be about disease prevention, but now the culture of whiter than white has weakened our immune systems, lined the pockets of detergent manufacturers, and led to the startling fact that the energy needed to wash your favorite garment is about six times that needed to make it.”

You read that right: 75-80% of the total environmental impact of a shirt is due to consumer care. On average, garments are washed after 2-3 days of use, yet only 7.5% of laundry is actually heavily soiled. Continue reading

Clothing Reconstruction

Otherwise known as: what happens when you take scissors to your clothes.

Let me preface this post by saying this is not something I excel at. Other than changing a few hemlines over the years, I have never looked into my closet and wondered which item I wanted to cut apart that day. This idea is daunting in some respects, because why would I tear apart an item I paid for? Somebody took the time to make my clothes and they look just fine as they are – in fact that’s why I bought them…

Valid points all around, but what about those clothes that you don’t love anymore? Or the one with the awkward fit or the stain on the collar or the hole in the sleeve? Most likely those pieces are headed to the trash can (provided that they aren’t in good enough condition to be donated). If that’s your answer – congrats! You are 100% average. That’s because the average American throws away 68 pounds of clothing every year. Continue reading

Introduction

I have loved fashion for a long time. Somewhere between picking out my outfits for school and using a sewing machine for the first time, I decided I wanted to be part of the fashion industry in one way or another. As I grew older, I did my best to figure out what this would look like: I joined a fashion board at a local retailer, took summer classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology, worked as a sales associate at some of my favorite stores, and ultimately pursued a degree in fashion merchandising. Besides one misguided semester in college when I thought I should study biology and become a doctor, fashion is all I’ve ever considered for my career. So, you can imagine the sinking feeling I experienced when I discovered the immense gap that exists between the values of this industry and the ones I hold personally.

Halfway through my degree program I found myself thinking, “Is this really the industry where I want to build my career?” Continue reading