What is “slow fashion” and why should you care about it?

Regina Bauman holds a piece of authentic leather that will be turned into a slow fashion handbag in the leather shop. Piles of leather are draped on the work bench behind her.

First of all, let’s familiarize ourselves with a few of the terms being thrown around the fashion world these last few years. Here are a few quick definitions, so that we’re all on the same page!

Slow Fashion

Slow fashion is about shopping intentionally and realizing that less is better. It is making the purposeful choice to buy better-quality items less often than purchasing cheap items frequently. When purchases are made, they’re environmentally and ethically conscious rather than trend-driven. The garments are long-lasting and lend themselves to repairs, not disposal. Slow fashion is also about transparency; we like to know where our clothes are coming from, and often, who is making them.

Ethical Fashion

Ethical fashion represents a different approach to the design, sourcing, and manufacture of clothing by asking how your clothing was made and by whom. Ethical fashion focuses on maximizing benefits to people and communities while also minimizing the impact on the environment.

Sustainable Fashion

Sustainable fashion, also called eco fashion, is a part of the growing design philosophy and trend of sustainability, the goal of which is to create a system which can be supported indefinitely regarding human impact on the environment and social responsibility. It can be seen as an alternative trend against fast fashion.

A few of us have argued that we cannot applaud slow fashion producers without also condemning fast fashion producers and saying that they don’t care about their impact on communities and the environment. The truth is that we, as consumers, control more of the fashion industry than you might realize.

In this relatively new world of brand accessibility, consumers can talk directly to designers and fashion houses by following and engaging with them on social media. Fashion producers listen to consumers — if they want cheaply made, quickly available clothing then that is what they make. If we keep asking for quality over quantity and show more interest in how our clothing is made than how much it costs, the industry will have to adjust their practices to meet demand.

 

Why should I care about this?

Buying ethically is something that has only become important to me since starting my own brand of quality leather bags. As I started carrying these leather bags, and they became a part of my everyday wardrobe, I began looking at my clothing differently as well.

Understanding how I loved my leather bags more and more as I carried them for one, two, and now four years slowly started a shift in my mindset. I used to frequent the handbag aisle every few weeks — now I only walk in there for design inspiration, to understand what women are carrying today.

We don’t focus on starting new trends. We focus on classics, on timeless styles. When I walk through the handbag aisle I don’t look for something I’ve never seen before, I look for the styles that are always there and think of how I can create something that will fit into an everyday lifestyle based on what women are carrying now. I look for styles that I’ve seen over and over, to understand what really makes a classic.

I realized that I could do the same thing with my clothing. I could shop for brands that I was excited about supporting. I could invest in well-made wardrobe basics that would stay in my closet for years. I honed in on what my personal style was so that I could feel confident investing in more quality pieces because I knew they would still work for me in several years. (I write more about finding your personal style here.)

 

3 common objections to buying ethical fashion

• We don’t know where to find stylish, quality clothing.
• We’re intimidated by the price.
• We’re worried that if we buy online, the clothing won’t fit.

So to face off with the first objection, thanks to the Internet and social media platforms this is no longer a hindrance! A lot of socially conscious smaller brands use social media to show their audience just how they source and produce their clothing.

Usually, when I find a new brand I am interested in, I follow them on Instagram for a while, get to know them and their process. It’s a great way to connect with brands on a personal level. Also if brands are not very transparent and personal with their audience, then maybe there is a reason they don’t want to show their process. Either way, this is the best place to find out who they really are! I also collected a list of some of my favorite ethical brands at the end of this post.

Second: We’re pretty hesitant to pay the price if we’re not sure it’s necessary. I totally get that, and it’s a very valid objection. If you have a solid sense of your personal style, investing in timeless basic pieces you will wear for years is so much easier. I have been collecting quality basics over the past few years, and usually, add only a few new and on-trend pieces every season. This helps me keep a smaller closet, as well as helping me afford those quality pieces because they last me for years.

We don’t always have the budget, but we also don’t always have the why. Why would I spend $100 on a top when I can buy something else at H&M for $15?

Elizabeth Suzann is a local fashion designer who produces gorgeously made pieces in their Nashville location. She wrote a blog post called Money Talk which has some amazing information on pricing structures for small fashion producers.

Here is a quick chart made by her which details the real costs and net profit.

A clothing production cost graph.

I think (perhaps controversially so) that shopping from ethical, high-quality brands actually is affordable for most with nothing more than a mindset-shift. If we take the simple concept of cost-per-wear into consideration, a $10 H&M tank that loses a strap after three wears is, at best, a $3.33/wear investment. My Clyde Pants (I have the first sample pair I ever made in late 2014) have been worn a minimum of 100 times over the past two years. With a retail price of $245, they’re currently at $2.45/wear, and have at least two more years left in them. Source

So before we can decide to pay $245 for a pair of pants, we have to know our own why.

Our third objection is valid. If we’re going to drop that kind of money on clothing, we want to be sure it will fit well, and much of this type of shopping is done online. Most small companies have generous return policies, as well as sizing charts, and if you reach out to them, they will usually be happy to help you find a good fit. Just note the return policy ahead of time, pay close attention to measurements, and take a chance! I wrote more about buying online here. Also if I’m spending this much money on one piece, I become much more intentional about it.

 

How does our leather stack up in the ethics discussion?

All the leather we use is sourced from local southern tanneries who use USA sourced hides. These hides are also a by-product of the food industry. It’s then tanned by local tanneries where it’s full-grain is retained for optimal durability. We only use pieces of leather cut straight from a full hide for the ultimate in durability and quality. We use only solid brass or stainless steel hardware. There are no zippers in our designs because we want no breakable parts, and we test prototypes by using them in our everyday lives.

All of our handbags are made from start to finish at our little leather shop in Muddy Pond, TN by Ruby and Brittany. They carefully cut and stitch every single piece with pride, skill, and creativity. We are passionate about finding a place for everyone on our team to use their gifts and talents where they bring the most value.

We all love what we do, and are proud to each have a part in creating a beautiful product that will simply fit your everyday.

Ruby Schwartz works with leather by hand to create slow fashion leather bags for Urban Southern.

Ruby Schwartz and Regina Bauman chat in the leather shop, behind the scenes at Urban Southern.

Brittany Hershberger carefully sews a leather product.

Ruby Schwartz cuts out pieces of leather in the leather shop.

A little girl browses through a rack of hanging leather bags.

Photos by Nancy Center Photography

Sources to find Slow Fashion and Ethically Made Garments

The Garment

Morgan is a great source for finding multiple brands, and also educating us about the why and how of Ethical Fashion!

Elizabeth Suzann

This is a local Nashville based designer who is doing some gorgeous designs in linen and flax. I have the Georgia Midi on my wishlist! This brand is owned and run solely by her.

Nadaam

They blend cashmere of the highest quality straight from Mongolia with silk to create an incredible fabric they call liquid cashmere. Nadaam sources and produces their own materials, cutting out the middleman and creating better prices. I have personally bought from them and highly recommend the liquid cashmere: the feel of the fabrics is truly fantastic.

PACT

Organic cotton undergarments and loungewear at affordable prices, I have bought from them as well and love the pieces.

FashionAble

I’ve been at a few of the same shows as FashionAble, (they are based in Nashville) and loved getting to browse their denim and jewelry collections in person! Their manufacturing is all done by women who have overcome extraordinary circumstances, and their mission is to impact communities locally and globally, creating jobs and ending the cycle of charity dependency.

Nisolo

Another Nashville based footwear designer, I’ve been following them for awhile and would love to have a pair of their shoes someday! Their aesthetic is very simple and classic.

@groceriesapparel

When I find a new brand I think I may be interested in, I like to follow them on Instagram. It’s a great way to “get to know them,” see more of their styles and learn about them as a company in a more personal way.

It Is Well L.A.

A small business offering simple, easy silhouettes made from quality fabrics. Their collection is conceptualized, designed and manufactured in DTLA.

Me Mi Collective

Clothing for living. Have fun, move and then throw it in the washer and not worry about it.


Sources:

Five Truths the Fast Fashion Industry Doesn’t Want you to Know

How are Ordinary Consumers Transforming the Fashion Business?

Leave a Comment