Sewing Blog

What Is Slow Fashion? (And Why Should I Care?)

Have you ever opened your closet doors and stared at a sea of clothing — and felt like you had nothing to wear? That your abundance of clothing still left you with pieces that didn’t go together, didn’t fit well, looked shabby or shrunken or faded after a few washings, or looked like last year’s trends? Or maybe you bought a lot of things at deep sale prices, but what seemed like bargains quickly turned into things you never want to wear.

Sewing Supplies

If you’ve had this experience, you’re not alone.

Our modern fashion and shopping culture encourages what’s come to be known as “fast fashion” — lots of cheap clothes in trend-focused styles that change constantly, aren’t well made and create a cycle of never-ending consumption and discards.

Behind the scenes, a great deal of this clothing is made half a world away by people living on shockingly low wages, working under difficult conditions and intense pressure to speedily produce more. It’s this system that allows these clothes to be sold to us at rock-bottom prices, but might leave you feeling that there’s simply nothing good to wear.

The slow fashion movement says that there’s another way.

It’s about choosing fewer garments that are made with high-quality fabric and sewn with care, in styles and designs that are flattering and lasting instead of catering to the latest temporary fad.

Ideally, these clothes are made by people who are fairly paid and fairly treated, and maybe even made in the same country they’re sold in, helping to preserve jobs and communities in the textile and apparel industry.

Fabric Pieces Cut to Sew a Skirt

If you’re a maker who sews or knits your own clothes, you’re likely to be a living example of slow fashion.

After all, as garment makers, we learn quickly how much time it really takes to make something well, and that quality materials are rarely dirt-cheap. We want to make things that last, to reflect the value of our work. And we want beautiful things that we can be proud to have made.

We learn to invest in what’s flattering to us, and to build a wardrobe with classic, lasting garments along with a few fun, trendy accent pieces (because we still love fashion!). We learn to respect the process of making something beautiful, unique and comfortable, and made just for us.

Hand Sewing on Fabric

Even fashion designers and clothing retailers are embracing slow fashion as they start to reject the idea of a constant cycle of trends in favor of selling better made garments that will last.

The idea of a core wardrobe of classic pieces is catching on — and still allows for fashion excitement with a few new pieces each season or year. It’s a different way of thinking, but a few key pieces in beautiful fabrics that are made well (perhaps by you!) and fit well will be the pieces you reach for again and again.

In the slow fashion world, there’s also great respect for the traditional textile crafts.

Fiber arts have been perfected and handed down through generations — but we’ve lost them in high-efficiency, high-production, fast-fashion factories. Now makers around the world are working to preserve, celebrate and value these textile skills. As more of us knit, sew, crochet, embroider, quilt and even design our own clothes, we’re restoring craft traditions that are as old as time. Along the way, we discover how joyful and satisfying the slow fashion approach can be.

If you’d like to learn more about this approach to making and wearing beautiful clothes, and want to try a hand-stitching adventure in a class taught by one of slow fashion’s most beloved pioneers and innovators, try our class The Swing Skirt: Techniques & Construction with Natalie Chanin & The School of Making.

Natalie Chanin

The founder and creative visionary behind Alabama Chanin, Natalie Chanin designs patterns and exquisite clothing made to wear for generations. With our class and a kit from The School of Making or your own carefully chosen fabrics, you can create a timeless, beautiful, truly slow fashion garment that will change the way you think about clothes.

11 Comments

Jewnny

Really awesome fashion all with a great way of felling in the fashion working.

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Karen Shannon

Natalie Chanin?!? Squee!! Sorry I was overwhelmed. I can’t wait to sign up. Her books are fabulous, and her clothes are flattering and unique. Thanks Craftsy!

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Nel

I used to buy my clothes from Lands’ End because they were an example of ‘slow fashion.’ They used to be made in the USA, to such a high standard that I could wear them for years. They were proud of choosing best-quality fabric and fabricating the clothes carefully and well. And they had timeless staples in an array of colors that let you dress the clothes up or down depending on what you were doing. Their flared and ‘sport’ knit skirts took me through all the seasons: without tights in summer, they were modest and long enough to wear just with sandals – no worries about less-than-perfect legs. In winter, with tights and a slip, they were warmer than trousers. They packed well for travelling: you could wear their basic knits with a scarf and flats all day sight-seeing, and then add a little glitz with jewelry and heels at night and be perfectly respectable in a ‘nice’ restaurant. They were easy-care and held their shape without pilling for years and years, and thoughtfully designed to mix and match the pieces to make many combinations. And they were the most comfortable clothes I’d ever worn.

All gone now. Now it’s ‘fast-fashion,’ very irregular quality (no longer really guaranteed – try returning something) and often you end up sending things back (read the comments on their site: the company that ‘owned’ the turtle-neck sweater now sells shapeless boxes with necks that either choke you or think they are a cowl, and arms that hang down like an apes’ – who is designing these things?). It’s disappointing because for decades they were so reliable; discouraging because now the search begins to try to find anything in the market close to the original Lands’ End quality (and modesty and fit); and disheartening, because as the article says, this is the way the world is going, and one often feels hopeless to do anything about it.

My response has been to take a Craftsy course in Pattern Drafting from Ready-to-Wear with Steffani Lincecum. I also looked into and bought True Fit Designs dress-making kit (I wish you had classes with them). I made my own underpants with Sewing Panties: Construction & Fit with Beverly Johnson because I was not able to find the quality I had got back when Lands’ End sold ladies’ underwear. I even contacted Lands’ End and told them that since their company abandoned quality and customer satisfaction, I was taking their clothes apart and drafting my own ‘clones’ so I could have the kind of comfortable, versatile clothes they once made (thank you Steffani Lincecum – turns out their knitskirts are really very simple to reproduce).

I definitely think that ‘slow fashion’ needs to make a comeback. And I think that it’s worth the effort to contact any company whose clothes you used to love (even retailers if you don’t know their manufacturers or suppliers) and let them know that because of throw-away quality, cheap fabrics, outsourced jobs and sweatshop working conditions in the Third World, you’re taking fashion into your own hands and making your own quality clothes yourself. All home seamstresses and tailors should let the manufacturers and retailers know that they haven’t just lost a few (million?) dollars: a culture war is gaining momentum, because more and more people are more and more sickened by a society that knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. The high quality of Craftsy classes is a substantial part of that cultural change.

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Marcy Potts

I really like this article. It’s describing the fashion industry perfectly. What’s surprising is the cost of the fast-fashion products. My daughter is one to shop quality over quantity. I have sewn some major projects for her. I’ve sewed my entire life, mostly out of necessity. I get so bothered when I go to the store and see the quality of clothing. I am trying to make some keepsake outfits for my granddaughter. I still have a few of the Daisy Kingdom outfits I made for my daughter when she was that age. Yes, I really appreciate this article. Thanks.

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Glenda Conrady

What an excellent article. It is so good to see someone promoting the craft. Keep up the good work. I love your blog and I love Craftsy classes.
Thanks,
Glenda, the good stitch

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Karen

A lovely lady with COLOSSAL vision and talent! I’m proud to have worked for her in the infancy of her line, and to have her as a friend. She’s also a gifted teacher!

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Lori M.

This sounds wonderful. I have been recycling material from 2nd hand stores. Be they clothes, quilts, sheets or curtains. But I have never thought of stitching together knit fabric by hand… Thank you for the article and I will take a look at the class preview.

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edel

I had a young woman come to me a few months ago with a picture on her phone of a dress she wanted me to make as her debs dress, I looked at it, went to my pattern drawer and pulled out my wedding dress pattern of 24 years ago, she said yes with a few modern twists, ie expensive lace insert in back of dress. She then added’ Ill pick that pattern as I can see from the photos in my house u have made it before’. I did manage to finish it and she looked beautifull on her big night. She was so delighted with my efforts.

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giordana

It has been a great surprise to see Natalie Chanin on Craftsy. I’m very fond of her and from time to time I like to pop in her web site to admire her absolute masterpieces. Thank you Mrs Chanin and thank you Craftsy for this fantastic class!!!

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Joanna Hill

Thank You, Natalie for this post. I am a part of the Slow Fashion World. Even though I am trying to sew and knit my own clothing, it is a slow process. But it is done with enthusiasm; enjoyment.
I can identify with each sentence you wrote from the beginning to the end that I emailed my daughter your essay. Maybe she will read and hear why I am going the slow route. And why I wear clothing that has several seasons until I can make new for myself. I see and read the labels of clothing and think of children in factories, low wages and the durablilty of clothing and place the clothing back on the rack or shelf. I sometimes think and say ” …If I could make my own shoes!” I hope that more Crafters will read this post.

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Stefanie Quinn

This is something I am trying to do this year. Instead of just randomly buying clothes (or even fabric for new projects), I am trying to plan my purchases and only but things I cannot easily make myself. I want to concentrate more on fit and good construction, and not speedily sewing something “good enough” to wear. So far, things are working out well, and I am getting good use of the patterns I have in my stash.

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