You don't necessarily hear "London" and think "culinary extravaganza." Imagine how surprising it was to find the food as engrossing as the fashion during February's London Fashion week (and we don't just mean potato chips). After sampling as many TreeHugger-recommended restaurants as possible, locally-focused Canteen, with all its ingredients sourced from England, and Konstam, which gathers everything from a 100-mile radius, stood out. How could we not draw connections between delectable slow food, and the slow fashion buzz inside the tents? We all know how fast food operates: processed ingredients from unknown origins, grown with chemicals by low-paid workers, become not-so-nutritive nourishment.
Fashion works a little differently, of course, but there are parallels. Fast fashion involves a sort of democratization of style. Runway looks are reproduced as quickly as possible for consumers with Target, Old Navy, and H&M; budgets. Designers like Marc Jacobs franchise second and third lines, allowing the masses an opportunity to buy a bit of mystique. The garments don't have to last, since the styles are ephemeral. This translates to resource-intensive, disposable clothing. As with food, there's little emphasis on who made a garment and how, or the social and environmental effects.
The slow food movement has focused on making connections between the way a morsel is grown, and how it tastes, helping us reflect on how our consumer choices relate to human and eco impacts through transparency about origins. At London Fashion Week, designers at the Estethica exhibit used similar language to describe design and production processes. Slow fashion means clothing and accessories that start with thoughtfully-chosen beginnings, are constructed by well-paid individuals, and are meant to remain wearable for years to come.
Beate Kubitz worked for years as an advocate for Amnesty International before teaming up with designer and community agriculture expert Nicola Sherlock to create knitwear company Makepiece in 2004. Farmer and business manager Beate beams as she shows pictures of Daisy, the orphan lamb she raised, on her cell phone. By rearing their own sheep, and keeping all production in the UK, they are able to vouch for environmental, ethical, and animal well-being standards. Their two yearly collections offer trans-seasonal beauty.
Entermodal's Larry Olmstead spent years researching sourcing and production for his Cradle to Cradle-minded luxury leather bags. While looking into the ethical aspects of using leather, Olmstead has picnicked in the grazing pastures of cattle who may one day become purses. He can tell you when in the year the leather is actually a surplus product, and how long it took to find Italian factories equipped to take on low-impact, vegetable tanning. The stunning bags last for years, and can be returned to Entermodal at end of life for conversion to smaller accessories.
Sarah Ratty of Ciel creates Future Heirloom pieces which she describes as items you might loan to a friend and then, in a few years say, "Oh shit, I want that back!" For Sarah, slow fashion means classic, locally-produced pieces that take time. Consumers invest not only in a piece that will look incredible for years, but the integrity of the process.
On one of the last nights in London, I invested in a celebratory meal with friends at Konstam. We sat next to the open kitchen, where our courses were prepared at eye level. When we didn't know what gooseberries were, the smiling manager grabbed a jar from the collage of them on surrounding shelves. Even after the the Earl Grey and Orange Cream pudding, I wanted seconds of the beet and goat cheese perogis, fried briefly in grapeseed oil for a flavorful crunch. Was the experience worth $200? Absolutely. Even though it meant slumming it on less local fare in subsequent days.
As it is now, not everyone can afford a $500 Entermodal handbag, or a slow meal. But can the value and mystique of slowness begin to overshadow the status and up-to-the-minute style compulsions that buttress fast fashion? Will we see an upsurge in regional clothing design? How long can we make slow fashion the next big thing?