There may be no more relevant time than now to talk about Slow Design, specifically Slow Fashion, as the body count in a collapsed garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh – a factory that churned out Fast Fashion for American consumers – surpasses 900.

As we prepare to travel to New York for MAKESHIFT 2013 to discuss where fashion, food, design, craft + DIY intersect and how we define and transform the intersection of fashion, food, design, craft + DIY through innovation and collaboration for the better good, we find ourselves asking why MAKESHIFT might be relevant in the wake of the Dhaka, Bangladesh tragedy.

The Slow Design movement’s roots are based on the same premise as the Slow Food movement, both historically intellectual factions often viewed as exclusive clubs. (Penelope Green wrote a great article in the New York Times on Slow Design that brings the concept to a relatable level). Slow Food has become more democratic in recent years, thanks to the many chefs who dedicate their kitchens and menus to locally, sustainably grown produce and humanely raised meat (the fashion industry has a lot to learn from these guys). Planting home gardens and buying from local farmers markets has become a trend and good habit for many of us. We can feel and taste the personal benefits even when we can’t tangibly appreciate the long term benefits on our local economy and farm land.

Ironically, Fast Fashion was established with the “democratic” moniker, where the latest trends and styles on the runway are not just available to everyone, but sold with a bill of entitlement to own them. We buy clothes, wear them once, or until they wear out (too soon), and throw them in the landfill. Not only do we further the demise of our environment and negatively affect climate change, but now we see how our Fast Fashion habits affect innocent workers abroad. According to Elizabeth Cline in her book Overdressed, only 2% of clothing is made in the U.S. today, down from 50% in 1990. Roughly 41% of our clothing is made in China. Many of those garment factories are unregulated and built illegally, posing grave danger to those reporting for work every day, and for very low wages.

Alabama Chanin is built on the Slow philosophy. Everything we produce is slow. Our fabric is custom dyed, then cut by hand in the studio, stenciled by hand, packaged and distributed to local artisans who hand-stitch every garment from seam to appliqué to beaded embellishment. It takes roughly three to six weeks to produce a garment. The very nature of our process is in direct conflict with the predominant practice for delivering clothing to the masses.

When we hear chefs dedicated to using locally grown products talk about where their produce comes from, they always talk about relationships, about knowing their farmers. Transparency and collaboration appear to be at the heart of the Slow Food movement and it seems natural to expect the same of Slow Design and Slow Fashion. MAKESHIFT was born from the idea of shifting the way we make. In essence, it’s a shift in the way we consume as well. Small, sustainable and environmentally minded businesses can’t compete with mass-produced, low-cost goods, but through collaboration, great things are possible.

We talked to pirate Richard McCarthy last year about cultural assets and Slow movements, and the subject of sustaining local commodities, like food, came up. In the same way locally grown food is distributed through supermarket alternatives, like farmer’s markets, Slow Fashion may also need distribution alternatives. The opportunities for collaboration and innovation appear to be ripe, and necessary.

Our hope is to see the possibilities for collaborative growth and conversations around Slow Design and Slow Fashion become as common as our predilections for locally, sustainably grown food.




8 comments on “SLOW DESIGN

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  1. emily

    amen. thank you for saying this, and for being this, and for sharing what you believe and what you do so that we can know this way too.

  2. Kacie

    So unfortunate that such a tragic event had to happen, but hopefully this will begin to shed more light into the importance of sustainable fashion. I am inspired by the folks in Northern California who have put together an interdependent community of farmers, designers, weavers, sewers, and other textile aficionados to make their Fibershed into a reality. ( I feel like it is time for the South to ban together and create something similar.

  3. britt

    thank you so much kacie for sharing info about fibershed. i had never heard it and am really enjoying looking through there website.

    i also had no idea about that horrible ordeal. just makes me more resolute for making my own clothing! thank you ladies for keeping everyone aware. and i look forward to all the makeshift info to come!

  4. Julie B

    I would argue that Alabama Chanin is already providing that alternate distribution method by open sourcing your supplies and knowledge, allowing those of us who are so inclined to create our own clothing. It is a bright beginning.

  5. Nina

    I love what you do at Alabama Chanin, and everything you’ve said here, but there’s no way around the fact that this version of “slow fashion” is very exclusive: even your unembellished basics are way out of my price-range. I agree with Julie B that your generosity in making all your materials and designs available to crafters is a really important part of what you do, but I’m not convinced that it’s a realistic solution for the “masses”. Once you really get into it, you start to see that these issues can’t be truly solved without major social change – if everyone’s time and work was valued more equally, we should all be more able to afford each other’s work.

  6. Vanessa G

    This post reminds me of a quote I read somewhere.
    “I pity the man who wants a coat so cheap that the man or woman who produces the cloth will starve in the process.” – President Benjamin Harrison 1891
    I really enjoy making my own clothing and spending time on the details. Thank you for helping to change the way people see clothes one person at a time!

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