Slow Fashion October: Introduction

October really sneaked up on me this year. We've had unseasonably warm weather (the new norm, probably, because #climatechangeisreal) and the school year/fall semester hasn't exactly gotten off to an easy start. It always takes a few weeks for my freelance schedule to fill up and for me to settle into a regular practice/rehearsal routine, and on top of that, the kids have already been through two rounds of illnesses (one is still home today). I'm just not in my groove, and yet we're talking about Halloween costumes and I think the holidays will be here before we know it.

But that's not really what I meant to post about! Slow Fashion October is upon us again, and once again there are a lot of really good, thought-provoking posts on what it means to have less waste in one's wardrobe. 

Here I was wearing my linen Gemma Tank from Made-by-Rae, and my Milk Stout Cardigan in Julie Asselin's Nurtured yarn

I'm not sure I really have anything new to say about my feelings about a handmade wardrobe, or my discomfort with the textile industry and fast fashion, and my mixed feelings about what this means for families (the handmade clothes industry is almost exclusively marketed toward women, even though many people who aren't women also wear clothes!!). It's nothing I haven't already said, and most of my sentiments on these topics have been written about already, quite eloquently, by others.

If you care to read the posts I wrote last year, you can click on the links below:

Week One: About me

Since a year ago, I've made more sweaters, tried and failed at making jeans (I've not given up for good, though) and gotten better at sewing with knits. I have made several t-shirts for my daughter and have nearly given up on making anything for my son except for a pair of neon pink socks he stole from me on a hiking trip this past summer. (He is 10, so wearing things your mom made is decidedly not cool. I'm ok with that.) Slowly but surely, I think I'm moving towards more of a handmade wardrobe for myself, which is a fun and rewarding creative exercise for me, though I'm not sure if it's really as virtuous as I'd like to believe.

Aren't I funky in my Cloud9 Luna Pants (also MBR) and new wool shoes from ?
So here's the thing about so-called slow fashion and handmade wardrobes, and here's where I'm going to say some stuff that will probably not necessarily go over well with other people in this movement: For one thing, it's simply not practical for someone like me to make all my own clothes. This is not because I have a huge wardrobe and need to dress for all occasions, but more because I don't have the time or skills or inclination to make everything I need to wear, like underwear and running clothes and sturdy hiking pants. And jeans that don't look ridiculous. A lot of times, someone else like REI or T9 does it better. And it's definitely not practical to make all the clothes for people in the family. So maybe I'm making 10% of the things my household wears, but a lot of the rest (namely kids' clothes and underwear) is from fast fashion.

For another thing - and here's where I might step on some toes - I think we have to be careful about getting too caught up in our sense of virtue by focusing so much on clothes and their origins. I see the slow fashion and handmade movements as one way of coping personally with issues of environmental destruction and humanitarian crises that are almost too large and frightening to ponder. This is certainly true for me! It's distressing and overwhelming that humans are gobbling up fossil fuels and other natural resources, polluting the air and water, dumping trash everywhere, and exploiting each other for labor, with little or no sign of slowing down. It's a natural reaction to find some small part of your life to try and get control over some part of that so that you can say to yourself (and possibly anyone who will listen/read on social media): "Look at me! I'm making a difference! I'm a good person! I care!"

It's not just clothes. This feeling of virtue drives decisions in other aspects of people's lives, like the food we eat, the cars we drive, and even whether or not we shop at thrift stores or buy from Amazon. It makes us feel better about ourselves. It feels like the more effort you go to, the better it must be somehow, like making vegan cupcakes or re-using a priority mail envelope or biking 2 miles to the ATM instead of driving there. Whether or not these individual actions are really making a difference on a global scale is debatable. (For the record, I do two out of those three - can you guess what they are?!)

Yes, I'm cynical. I believe that without strong enforcement of environmental laws, without a forceful change in the way major countries (including ours) approach energy production and consumption, without a complete restructuring of the global market, these small actions are going to take a very, very long time to add up to any significant change. Not that we shouldn't try.

I haven't even gotten to my thoughts about marketing and privilege, but that's a post for another time.

Now then. Despite my pessimistic comments in the previous paragraphs, I want to be mindful of the origins of the things I consume! I try very hard. I do not in any way intend to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. In fact, I do ride my bike and buy local produce almost exclusively and reuse packaging and, of course, I make some of my own clothes.

Another Gemma, this time out of rayon I bought at a yard sale.

All that said, I don't have any particular goals for Slow Fashion October. This is partly because I'm still trying to sort out my schedule and figure out how to get a household routine running smoothly so focusing on clothes just doesn't fit into that right now. It's also because I am pretty happy with my making life (lots of knitting, spurts of sewing here and there) and I don't want to disrupt that.

Readers, what do you think? Am I totally a party pooper here? Am I way off base? Or is there something to what I'm saying? Please comment and let me know your thoughts (politely, of course).


Anonymous said…
I appreciate your honesty (and came here through a comment on Karen's blog). I also struggle with the question - does this really make a difference? Shouldn't I be putting more effort into driving legislation and REAL change instead of trying to source local wool for knitting? Is that really going to fix a systemic problem? But the fact of the matter is, this is one small change... and maybe if enough people get behind it, it could lead to bigger things. One person reusing a single envelope may not make a difference. But if lots of people do? That's a lot of paper saved. Will it reverse global warming? No! But it will lead to a little less demand on that resource.

I like to think that Slow Fashion October is more about ripple effects. Maybe if, for at least a month, we're all a bit more conscious about how we consume, we'll notice impacts in other ways.
Suze said…
I do agree that many actions by many people coul actually add up to a difference! And the ripple effect is important too. I just think we should be cautious about over estimating our own impact and too much self-congratulation when in the big picture we have such a long way to go as a society.
Anonymous said…
Hey Susan, I really enjoyed your post (which I found on Fringe and commented there as well). Definitely thought-provoking. Your follow-up comment in the blog, about "over estimating our own impact and too much self-congratulation" seems like a poignant thought to keep in mind this month. It seems like you're assuming that most who are participating are creating from an intention of self-righteousness, and I'd love to invite you to examine this. Below is my blog, and I look forward to continuing the discussion!

Best, elizabeth -
Suze said…
Hi Elizabeth!
You're right, of course. I didn't mean at all that anyone intends to be preachy or self-righteous with their participation in slow fashion and handmade things, but I totally see how what I wrote can come across that way. I guess what I really mean is that advocating for change on a bigger scale must go hand in hand with our own individual actions if we really want to see the whole situation improve.
Unknown said…
Great thoughts. I, too, struggle with how much making (some of my own and my family's clothing, in my case) can or should dominate life. Have you read Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond? I guess it's an oldie now but I think about it a lot. Basically, it deals with how societies went from situations where there was very little role specialization (the ultimate DIY) to societies that could HAVE role specialization because things like agriculture made it no longer necessary to do everything oneself. While I definitely have the DIY tendency, and find much joy and meaning in it, I'm also always thinking about how it doesn't really make sense to go completely in that direction. I do think it's good that we CAN have careers/paths in things like science and music. :) And if we try to do EVERYTHING ourselves, that would never be possible.

I think for me it comes down to the psychological effect of making things for myself. It's that overused word...intention. But by getting my brain in that groove (make things out of fabric I LOVE, make things that actually FIT, express love for my kids by making things) I wind up doing better things and being focused in a good way on doing other things that are important in life.

I wholeheartedly agree that sewing my own clothes is not really going to help slow down climate change. I think it will just help reenergize me in a way so that I can be productive outside the sewing arena! (Or so I hope...:))
Sarah said…
Great thoughts on a complex topic. I too cannot make all that my family wears - I'm a mother of two 'tween' boys who wear athletic clothes most of the time and wouldn't wear a handmade pair of ... Well, anything. I know what it feels like to spend time and money and energy on knitting a garment to have it go unworn, and will not knit for those who won't wear what I make. No guilt here, just realistic perspectives.
Hannah said…
Loved this. There is definitely a tendency towards conspicuous parading of one's eco-virtue which often goes along with a certain level of material privilege. (And, all too often, with saddling up one's judgey high horse and looking down on others for Bad shopping habits.)

I don't think the small efforts we can make as individuals are necessarily meaningless - even if it only holds us back from despair, that's not nothing - but we need to find a balance between "be the change you want to see in the world" and large-scale action by governments.

Complicated things are complicated *sigh*
bethrian said…
Really appreciate you tackling this angle. I think living with an economist means I get a bit of the "downer" attitude at home-- but I prefer to think of it as encouraging critical thinking. To me, the purpose of the self-made/slow-fashion movement is to encourage consciousness around consumption... which should naturally extend to other kinds of consumption. And because it tends to promote a community involvement, I think (hope?) that has to trigger some kind of political involvement, at least as far as speaking up.
Maybe weirdly... I also think of it as a kind of hedonism. It's promoting the prioritization of joy and pride in your stuff... simple stuff, maybe, and less of it, but still. I like to think that maybe it's a different kind of joy, when you have put time or thought or are choosing to support someone else for doing that kind of work for you?
More thinking to be done. Thanks for putting your thoughts out there!
Anonymous said…
I followed your comment on my comment on the Fringe Association blog and landed here. I agree with your post! Being able to choose (expensive) sustainably grown and manufactured food and textiles are definitely a privilege of those who can afford to do so, a choice not available to those who have little fluid cash at any given point in time.

And yes, kids' growth rates! Unless you have the climate and desire to dress your children in loincloths, you pretty much have to buy cheap clothing for them. Maintain those clothes, yes; pass them on to others who will use them, yes; but it would be ridiculous to spend a lot of money on children's clothes in their growth spurt years.

I was also thinking the same thing as commenter Valerie G above, that civilizations are are considered 'advanced' depending on how much each member is able to specialize. If everyone had to do everything -- out of need rather than as a conscious lifestyle choice -- it pretty much takes us back tens of thousands of years.

Personally speaking, I have always loved making, and will find ways to fit it into my life. But I know I would be deeply resentful if I *had* to create everything from scratch.

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