Slow Fashion October, week one (a bit late)

Chances are, if you read the latest and greatest in knitting and crafting blogs, you've already heard of Slow Fashion October. There's an Instagram for it - @slowfashionoctober - and it's got its own hashtag. #slowfashionoctober is the brainchild of Karen Templer of the Fringe Association website and shop. SFO kicked off last week, and of course, I'm just a little late to the party on this one because, well, life and kids and work and that big renovation project (which is moving right along, by the way):

Six guys did this in six hours. Amazing. 
The prompt for Week One, which ended yesterday, is simply to introduce yourself and tell about what you make and why, and why you want to participate in Slow Fashion October. I've been mulling over this for a little while. I have a lot of feelings about this event, and I have to admit that while most of my feelings about this are positive, not all of them are.

Let me start with who I am and what I make. My real name, as most of you know, is Susan. I hold  advanced degrees in music (several), and I teach piano part time at a local institution and do freelance work as an accompanist for all kinds of people, from young musicians through graduate level students at the university here in Madison. My husband and I have two children; Daniel, 9, and Anya, 7, make frequent appearances here and on my other blog so I feel like they don't need that much introduction. Here they are on picture day wearing stuff handmade by me! (That was a proud moment):

I make a lot of stuff and for a lot of reasons. I garden, I cook, I knit, I sew, I play the piano. It's not because I'm trying to live a life of domestic bliss as much as the fact that I have a need for tactile input almost all the time. Wool yarn, dirt, piano keys, bread dough are all things that might be manipulated under my fingers on any given day, and that keeps me happy and productive. It also helps me stay in touch, perhaps in a small way, with how we come by the things we need. It's a lot of work to learn a piece of music for others to enjoy, to make a batch of bread we eat at breakfast, to knit a pair of socks by hand, or grow a crop of Swiss chard (the only thing in my back yard garden that wasn't a total flop, by the way), so investing time and effort into those things keeps me grounded.

I've been making stuff since I was a kid. I am from a creative family, so this should come as no surprise. My dad has done some woodworking, and my mom is a well-respected quilter in her local guild. My brother is an engineer, a self-taught guitarist, and he writes some wicked funny limericks. We all cook. I myself learned to knit and sew in 4-H (my mom taught the knitting classes, and I learned garment sewing from her and another teacher who is pretty amazing.) I've done a bit of quilting off and on - nothing too complex - and I want to learn to crochet for the sole reason so I can make snowflake-shaped coasters and Christmas ornaments. (Right now those crochet charts look like doodling to me!)

I feel like I can rightly say I'VE BEEN MAKING STUFF SINCE BEFORE IT WAS COOL. So for me, the modern handmade/maker/DIY/whatchamacallit movement is long overdue, and very welcome. It's no longer dorky and weird to knit your own sweaters or sew your own tops. It's just cool. (Usually).

I'm also an advocate of eating well, supporting the local food economy, and teaching kids to grow their own food and learn about natural spaces. I spend a lot of time volunteering for the outdoor and garden program at the elementary school for these reasons, and also because it's just plain fun to get outside and dig in the dirt with a class of 9yos. Really, it is.

Digging potatoes is a blast.

All of this brings me to Slow Fashion October and why I'm participating. For me, personally, the more time and effort I invest in the clothes I wear and the food I eat and the music I play, the greater the reward. If my clothes fit and look good and feel good, then I feel good. If I know who raised and harvested the ingredients in the food I carefully prepare, it tastes better and we all enjoy it more (with the notable exception of a batch of chili last weekend that was god-awful. I think the dried anchos were terribly bitter and ruined the whole pot. It was dreadful...) If I prepare my music well, frankly I get paid better and more people hire me. Win win win.

But let's be totally honest. The reason I'm participating specifically in Slow Fashion October and not just continuing to make things in my own isolated life is because I enjoy the social media game. I like seeing what other people are making. I like showing off what I'm making. Yes, I'm admitting to some serious aspirational feelings here.

Also, I'd like to see if SFO can grow into something bigger than an blog/IG challenge and have a true impact on the fashion industry. If it does, that would be terrific, because as much as the world recoils in horror every time there's another horrible garment factory tragedy, and as much collective hand-wringing the maker community engages in about origins and sustainability, it feels like there's not a whole lot we can actually do about it. Most people don't have the privilege of time, money, and knowledge to make and mend and buy second-hand. Most people don't have the privilege of time, money and knowledge to research every single article of clothing that they wear, much less make it. Somehow, consumers have to demand accountability (actual accountability, not just platitudes) from the industry or nothing will change in the garment factories in Bangladesh or dye houses in India. I'm not sure how that's going to happen. Fast fashion is doing very well.

I plan to involve my children in this discussion. I want them to be aware of these issues. They are young and naive but still old enough to understand injustice. Also, I don't see kids and kids' clothing in the wider discussion much at all, and I want to bring that to the table. I think I know why kids are left out. Kids grow. They grow fast, which makes it hard to sew and knit clothes for them (Felicia of The Craft Sessions being one notable exception!) and/or prohibitively expensive to buy sustainably made clothing for them, even if you can find it. And - this will come as a surprise to no one - once kids reach a certain age, most of them are not interested in wearing handmade or secondhand clothing. Because you know. Dorky. Maybe showing up at school wearing snazzy rocket-print shorts will make your kid the coolest in the class or maybe it will make him a bully target, but likely he doesn't want to take that chance.

So we've reached the point where I am having conflicting feelings about this whole business. On the one hand, I'm absolutely in support of the idea of a carefully chosen, handmade wardrobe. I'm definitely on board with having less stuff in general. As a family of four living in a small house (yes, we're making it bigger, but only by a little bit, and only in the kitchen where our clothes and my stash don't live). And as far as I am able, I am certainly in favor of making things with sustainably-produced materials whose origins I can trace. But on the other hand, let's acknowledge that only a small sliver of society can afford - in terms of money, time, skills - to do this at all. There is a terrific discussion over on Bristol Ivy's SFO post on IG about this, by the way. If you have the time, I encourage you to go read it.

It's messed up that making something costs more money than buying that same thing made by someone else halfway across the world in deplorable conditions. Totally messed up. Yes, lots of people could choose to purchase differently, but many, many simply can't. In the words of Jesse Jackson, that ain't right. And that's what bothers me the most about ALL of this and why I feel so conflicted about it.

So here's what I'm going to do. Rather than get all preachy about ethics and sustainability while simultaneously rolling my eyes at words like "origin" and "sustainable" and "capsule" and "curate" and "creative-as-a-noun", I'm going to let go of all that and share. I'm going to share my skills with my kids (if they want to learn) and with others. I'm going to share my stash (giveaway alert!). And of course I'm going to share all about it and more on Instagram.

A lot of my posts look like this. Sock knitting and Scrabble.

Slow Fashion October, here I come! Er...wait for me!!


Clare said…
Hi Susan,

I left a comment for you on Fringe, but wanted to leave one here as well. I love your post so much. It so fully articulates much of what I have been feeling about what is going on in the Maker movement. Kudos, and look forward to sharing craft!

karentempler said…
Great post. I think whatever terms you choose to use or roll your eyes at, the goal is the same: to do the best you can, share whatever that is, and hope to get someone else thinking in the process. Raising awareness is the first step toward effecting any kind of change.
Suze said…
Thanks, Karen. I think at the heart of my conflicting feelings is that it's a fine line between educating and raising awareness and just being preachy. I am always walking that line. I feel very passionately about sustainable food production and the more I learn about the fiber and clothing industry, the more strongly I feel about that, too. But I look at the children my kids go to school with, and I know most of their families are not on this wavelength at all. Sure, some of them are. But many of them are struggling to get by at all and they don't really have much of a choice about the food they eat and the clothes they wear. It's a delicate thing to educate people whose socioeconomic status is so far removed from my reality.
Julie said…
I love your thoughts on SFO, and why you make things! You raised a lot of very valuable points. There is one thing I will put out there, though- unfortunately, in many of the countries where those terrible factory tragedies happen, young girls in poverty are extremely vulnerable to being married off as children to older men because their families need the money. When those girls work in those factories, their income helps the family and delays marriage for many of them. I'm not saying that we all need to buy cheap clothes to keep 12 year olds from being married off, and certainly there are more women working their than just the young girls, but it adds an extra dimension to this problem for me. I very much care about women and girls in countries where the education rates are low and the opportunities for women are few have a chance to work, because it increases their roles in society and will hopefully, as they become more and more commonplace in the working environment, be able to fight for better standard and better wages and better conditions, much like women did in factories in other countries in decades past. When those factories shut down, the jobs are gone. I would very much like to support clothing companies that are keeping factories in places like Bangladesh but inspecting themselves, and ensuring that the conditions are better than the country's average and that the women and girls are treated with respect.

Sustainable food, though- a whole other thing! I think everyone should grow at least a few things, even in pots. And I'm admiring your fresh potatoes- when my family started growing some potatoes in the garden, I was totally blown away- I had no idea that potatoes could taste so good! I had only ever eaten cheap grocery store potatoes that were probably old as the hills.

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