Words Emily Bartosiewicz
Illustration Julija Moroz
Not much more than a year ago, I was introduced to the concept of slow fashion. It all started with an article I stumbled upon through a friend with the striking headliner “Fast Fashion is the Second Dirtiest Industry in the World, Next to Big Oil”. This article, along with depicting many abhorring facts, underlines Eileen Fisher, herself being a tycoon in the clothing industry, advocating the importance of fixing fashion’s environmental impact.
Prior to this, I had always thought fashion was harmless, superficial maybe, but really just as fun as a game of playing Barbies. I never once gave fashion a negative connotation. But to learn about these horrific facts, about polluted rivers, outrageous levels of CO2 emissions, poorly treated workers, I was instantly washed over with guilt. It made me question how much I valued the clothes I wear, while having just acquired a newfound perspective.
This led me to look back at my personal fashion timeline and assess my relationship with clothes and the underlying element within everyone’s wardrobe – the fashion of trends. Within my analysis, I was able to trace a few pivotal moments that have shifted my mentality towards the jeans that I wear and the sweater that I pull off my hanger.
My Mom has always been greatly influential in my personal search for style. She has always been remarkably composed and has continued to hold onto her very individual style as she approaches becoming a senior. But the most dominant message that she has given me – the value of investing in one quality, perhaps more expensive, item, rather than many cheap shirts to fill up your closet.
Styles and trends fluctuate greatly, but they somehow seem the most dramatic when you’re in the stages of growing up. The activity of going shopping is a pastime, a way to bond, and that’s a great thing. We see the word “sale” and we become happy. Shopping only ever had a positive impression on me - it was a massive part of building friendships and fitting in, and it was honestly a lot of fun.
Going to the shops, people become enamoured by the new products being displayed in the windows each season. These “trends” are something deemed attractive by the greater fashion Gods and when they hit the runway, they are something exclusive and desirable to everybody. Then, some brands will take the trends and make them possible for a commoner to have a taste of the illustrious fashion world and to join the club of exclusivity. It’s incredibly hard not to be lured in, especially for an insecure little twelve-year-old girl trying to fit in with her peers.
It wasn’t until my late teenage years that I began to realize the value of my mother’s mantra. Buying one, good quality item, versus a myriad of closet-filling goods instilled this notion of “less being more” at a very early point. I started to develop a taste for quirky and unique articles of clothing and would choose things depending on how they flattered my body as I began to grow. As most children who take the role of the youngest in the family hate the fact that all their clothes came from their older siblings, I, unusually, would appreciate hand-me-downs.
Then, I became aware of the “vintage” trend coming alive. Secondhand shopping became the new favourite pastime amongst my friends and I. While this also was the effects of me falling under the spell of a trend, I can see now that thrift shopping is something beneficial to the slow fashion side of things. It encourages the idea of recycling clothing, instead of sending them to a landfill. It can keep the consumers’ money recycled within the local community and also, in the bigger picture, cut down on the demands of clothing manufacturing and shipment from other parts of the world.
Fitting into adult sized clothes, one begins to observe the fashion industry with a more vulnerable perspective. As a child, the main resource for discovering trends was through peers during recess in the schoolyard, but as an adult, trends come through fashion magazines, TV programs or from the runway. They then find their way to the racks in the shops at the local shopping mall, or on the bodies of our favourite celebrities, and eventually into our wardrobes. The influences of the trends are inevitable, in any consumer situation.
Yet, considering the socially driven urges, we have to follow fashion trends, one’s wardrobe is still something very personal. While we have these trends spoon-feeding the stores around the world, we still have the room to develop a personal taste in clothes. Perhaps to question what you like about a product - what fabrics are comfortable? What colours or patterns look nice on your complexion? What shape or fit of clothes suit you? Avoid the dictation from the designers, the magazines, the shops and instead reflect on what you actually like or what your eyes are instinctively drawn to.
But this is a lesson I only really came to learn with my move to Copenhagen. I was nineteen and pursuing my career as a ballet dancer and was then exposed to the world of Scandinavia, which is almost a brand name in itself to North America. Scandinavia was something new and it was exciting to me, mirroring how we, as consumers react to the new collections released by designers each season.
I was so initially enamoured by this idea, but snapped myself out of being hypnotically lured into yet another trend. It took me a year before realizing that, while there were elements of Scandinavian style I did like, by conforming completely to it, I wasn’t being entirely honest to my taste.
Another important lesson that came with my move was learning how to minimalize my closet. I had to narrow my massive wardrobe down to a single suitcase.
These concepts of minimalism and essentialism are applicable to more than just one’s closet, but also in one’s lifestyle. We live in such a naturally fast paced society, where every material object we own needs to be bigger and better. The morals driving us have, somewhere down the road, shifted to “quantity over quality”.
This has also become increasingly evident in the fashion industry. In today’s time where people throw out t-shirts after only a month’s wear, it’s hard to imagine that once people used to only own not much more than a couple of handmade outfits. It’s interesting to see how the slow fashion movement is influenced by these modern day ideas of minimalism, but at the same time, we return to the handmade, local crafting methods that were used quite a long time ago.
Today, my shopping conscience has been altered quite a bit. I shop less frequently and no longer buy things on impulse or because of a temptingly low price. I am learning that I can get by living with only what I need and not to be over indulgent or excessive. I recall my mother’s mantra of buying one, good quality item, versus a myriad of closet-filling goods.
I am also trying to be self-sufficient in ways that I know how. I try to knit and sew on my own and use crafty problem solving, like embroidery or patches, to mend things and avoid throwing them out too soon. In addition, I’m constantly on the lookout for sustainable brands and for local designers to support and write about on my blog.
It’s not always easy and I can’t say it’s been an immediate transition for me. In all honesty, if I look at my own wardrobe, it’s almost entirely made with no ethical focus in mind. One good thing about fast fashion is, it’s easy. We all lead busy lives so we make choices purely on their convenience in our lifestyles. If I need a new dress for a work dinner, maybe H&M is the first place I would go to, simply because it would be a quick fix. But, now that I have a clearer idea of what fast fashion versus slow fashion is, I am shopping less and have slowed down my lifestyle in the world of consuming. So maybe instead of going to H&M, I’ll ask a friend if she’d be interested in swapping dresses for the night.
I’ve never exhausted myself as an environmentalist, but that isn’t to say that I don’t care. I do care, quite a lot, but climate change is a massive dilemma that can’t be solved by only one person. To me, it seems obvious for many reasons now that our planet is in a sufferable state, so if the fashion industry is culprit of depleting us from our resources to a degree nearly as detrimental as the oil industry, I think that this is an easy way as an individual to help the environment.
After being exposed to the facts of slow fashion, it’s hard to go into any big chain retail shop without feeling a hint of guilt. I’ve started to find myself Googling brands, searching their policy on ethics, looking into the source of their materials, before pulling out my wallet to pay. As I said before, it’s a slow transition, not only personally but globally as well, but the more aware we are, the more we can make a conscious choice.