In the past 20 years our values as a society on the whole have shifted to a championing of environmental causes. Some people probably recall Al Gore’s, An Inconvenient Truth, back in 2006 as the initial wake-up call to the severity of global warming. The overwhelming irony today is the United States’ exemption from the Paris Climate Accord, of course.
In any case, consumer behavioral patterns have been a great area of interest not only for economists, but for designers and global fashion brands over the past few years. Sustainable and ethically produced clothing is actually in demand. According to research recently published by the Business of Fashion in partnership with McKinsey & Company, 66 percent of global Millenials are willing to spend more on brands with some aspect of sustainability. More importantly, it’s not only Millenials who are drawn to sustainability. Demand for ethically made products is a trend extending far beyond the world of fashion to the beauty and food industries as well.
Across the beauty and food industries, it is understandable why natural, local ingredients are important deciding factors in making a purchase. What we ingest and what our skin absorbs should sound familiar to us, right? Certainly, and if it goes for makeup, skincare, food and drink, then the same way of thinking should be applied when it comes to the clothes we wear.
Sustainable fashion aims to respect environmental limits and support positive social impact by safeguarding people’s health and wellbeing. A great motto coined by Vivienne Westwood dictates, “Buy less. Choose Well. Make it Last.” Let’s unpack this. If we were to follow the lifecycle of one plain white t-shirt sold in the basics section of a popular fast fashion chain, we would probably find roughly 500 grams of pesticides that have been used in the cotton farming process. Such extensive pesticide usage affects more than the cotton crop, but the farmers, local civilians, and the water supply. In contrast, if we followed the sustainable alternative to this plain white t-shirt, we would ideally find no pesticide usage and an article that holds up better over a longer period of time. In the sustainable model, the entire garment lifecycle is strategically considered in order to reduce environmental impact and make a garment that will last longer and perform better.
One of the most common things I hear about sustainable fashion is that it’s unaffordable. This is tricky because it can be very hard to rationalize paying anything more than $10 for a plain white t-shirt when the fast fashion basics section seems so convenient. This is not a lecture. This is a reminder that the power to change and improve systems lies in large part in our buying power. Though the sustainably produced t-shirt made from organic cotton may cost 10-20% more than the regular one, supporting the more costly one is worth the extra money when considering the big picture and our role in contributing to positive change within fashion industry practices.
At the core of this entire movement is transparency and the pivotal moment in which transparency became a selling point. Westwood’s point is about trading in passive consumerism for a more holistic approach that respects people at every step in the supply chain. It can even be useful to think about a sustainable purchase in terms of an investment in people and the planet. If we take Westwood’s words to heart and remember them the next time we are shopping, there is a chance for every person to make positive change and do good. In order for sustainability in all realms to be sustainable itself we must train ourselves and condition our attitudes to understand why something like sustainable fashion are vital in the long run. For more on the current state of the fashion industry, check out the following report.
Slow Factory’s Fall 2016 Collection is inspired by all the women behind great scientific progress. Growing up, girls are not exposed enough to female role models in fact, in 2016 a survey asked children to draw draw a firefighter, a surgeon, and a fighter pilot to which the students drew 66 pictures in total -- but only five of them depict women. Inspired by the movie Hidden Figures about the life of Katherine Johnson, Slow Factory created 8 scarves, each celebrating a woman who inspires in her own right:
Here are the 8 women we printed for Fall 2016
Katherine Johnson, American physicist, space scientist, and mathematician.
Amelia Earhart, American aviation pioneer and author.
Kathryn D. Sullivan, American geologist and a former NASA astronaut. A crew member on three Space Shuttle missions, she is the first American woman to walk in space.
Mae Jemison, American physician and NASA astronaut. She became the first African-American woman to travel in space.
Margaret Hamilton, Director of the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, which developed on-board flight software for the Apollo space program.
Nancy Roman, American astronomer who was one of the first female executives at NASA.
Christa McAuliffe, American astronaut, one of the seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
Jan Davis & Mae Jemison, Astronauts Dr. N. Jan Davis (left) and Dr. Mae C. Jemison (right) were mission specialists on board the STS-47 mission.
(Still from our documentary, Are We There Yet, shot in the Lebanese refugee camps to document our work with our give back partners the American Near East Refugee Aid - ANERA.org thanks to the flash grant we receive as part of the Shuttleworth Foundation). The documentary is being edited as we speak in Beirut, Lebanon and we are so excited to be sharing our work with you all soon!
The wholesale model of fashion sales and distribution is crumbling. For larger brands, full vertical integration is the way to make brick-and-mortar stores work (think Uniqlo, Zara/Mango etc), while for smaller or newer labels, thin margins are pushing many brands to go online-only and often aggressively push new types of marketing or business models (eg. Everlane, Warby Parker).
We will now be stopping all wholesale for a number of reasons, and want to be vocal and clear about why.
Pricing is of course a consideration, but perhaps surprisingly not the main one. When you sell to stores or distributors, you essentially sell at half the price that you would sell directly to a person. This is due to ‘markup’ and the overhead of “middlemen”, and is a big part of what makes consumer goods cost so many times more than it takes to produce them. Payment schedules also mean that small designers have to pay up front to produce goods, then wait many months to get paid back which can be hard for small businesses. But all this financial stuff has known solutions.
The main reasons Slow Factory is going to sell online-only are about our philosophy of sustainability, and working against the disposable concept of fashion.
Selling through stores and distributors tends to perpetuate things that Slow Factory is actively fighting against. A really big gain we get from staying online only is to set our own timeline, to avoid the Fashion Calendar.
The Fashion Calendar
The fashion calendar encourages a few really bad behaviours:
It pushes the idea of constant change, “planned obsolescence” and literal disposability of clothing and accessories. The constant over-consumerism mindset.
At the height of “fresh” clothes, prices need to be very high to absorb all the costs of middlemen. Pricing is also set knowing that stores give deep discounts as things go off-season, a phenomenon which encourages distrust between brands and consumers. If we see a major pendulum swing from high prices to massive discounts, buyers feel that “only suckers pay full price”, and don’t trust the value and cost of goods produced with more ethical practices.
Cheap materials and production: there are clear environmental costs of using cheap materials and production methods; notwithstanding the very expensive Green Washing Marketing campaigns from H&M to Uniqlo, Fast Fashion is still the second most polluting industry right after Big Oil.
Cheap production through cheap labour: let’s not forget about the very real human costs of using exploitative labour practices; sweatshop and industrial labour in the “developing” world are still major issues, often hitting women the hardest.
When advocating for a slow fashion movement and more sustainable industry one has to walk the talk and stand with integrity with their vision. For our 2017 plan we will be revisiting or pricing structure, removing the wholesale markup we will be offering our customers our wholesale prices directly online.
Cady Lang works at Time’s Newsfeed vertical, where she covers pop culture, focusing on topics ranging from fashion to music. Her first love was and always will be fashion, which is where she got her start in journalism, working at outlets such as Vogue Runway and Stylecaster. Read her interview with Naomi Campbell and Edward Enninful, and her piece on the style of the 2016 NBA draft as part of her ongoing interest in fashion as a larger extension of culture.
Tessa Crissman is a handmaker and entrepreneur based in Denver, Colorado. She makes hammered wire jewelry and knitted and crochet wearables for summer and winter which you can buy online at her Etsy store Wool and Hammer. She also works as a craft party host at Wool and The Gang, which focuses on making high fashion knitwear sustainable and affordable. Shop Wool and Hammer
Two of your favorite conscious companies — THINX & Slow Factory have partnered together for a hyper-limited edition collaboration called Distrupting Spaces, a celebration of menstruation's ties to the moon. Slow Factory created a custom full moon print that sits on the front of THINX's Hiphugger (two tampons worth) & Cheeky (one tampon's worth) styles. The synergy between brands is cosmic — with THINX's sustainable period underwear leading the pack on eliminating pad & tampon waste, & Slow Factory's commitment to a supply chain that's 100% clean and fair trade. Both brands are also deeply entrenched in their respective giveback missions — THINX partners with AFRIPads, an on-the-ground organization in Uganda that provides reusable menstrual kits to girls in Uganda, and Slow Factory supports various environmental and humanitarian causes.
I wrote my very first personal essay on Refinery 29. Would love your feedback!
This is the picture of our refugee status back in the 80's when we escaped Lebanon's civil war. It is among the few pictures from my past that we managed to save. Notice how my mom looks amazing while probably inside her is a tornado of feelings.
My earliest memory is fleeing war-torn Lebanon when I was three and a half years old. My father had safely made it abroad and was waiting for my mother, my younger sister, and me to join him, holding on to hope that he’d see his family once again. As we said our good-byes, I remember the wet kisses from our relatives; I remember the sobs and the tearful wishes for our uncertain future. We were leaving our homeland as refugees, hoping to re-establish the meaning of “home” somewhere safe.
One of the biggest decisions a designer makes involves selecting the material for their creation. In the world of textiles, there are essentially three families of fibers: natural fibers, synthetic fibers, and semi-synthetic fibers. Today, we want to briefly introduce each family of fibers and to share with you why Slow Factory has made a commitment to exclusively using natural fibers. We’ll talk about the progress we’ve made, and the work we have yet to do.
Natural fibers are those that come from plants and animals, including cotton, linen, wool and silk. Natural fibers originate from the same source that our food comes from: the farm. On the opposite end of the fiber spectrum are synthetic fibers, which are fibers that do not occur naturally, but rather are man-made (in a factory). Synthetic fibers, like polyester, nylon, and acrylic, are petroleum-based, meaning that the source of the fiber is oil, which is extracted from the earth and then processed into fiber. Semi-synthetic fibers are usually fibers that have a natural source, such as wood, but that require some mechanical or chemical processing to be turned into a soft fiber that could be used for clothing. This family of fibers includes rayon, lyocell (Tencel), and bamboo.
Ellesmere Island Large Silk Scarf. 100% fine silk crêpe de chine. Made in Italy. Buy it here.
When Slow Factory was starting out, Céline was committed to creating a totally clean, fair-trade supply chain. She wanted to ensure that the materials she used were not harming the environment or the people involved in the material production process. Her first factory was an eco-friendly, fair-trade certified factory in India that used 90% less water to print and treat their fabrics. She chose to work with two fabrics: a 100% silk georgette crêpe de chine and silk-cotton blend. After her first year of production, she switched from producing in India to producing in a centuries-old Italian silk mill in the Como region of Italy.
Slow Factory’s current mill in Italy holds three sustainability certifications. First, the textiles are Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certified, which means that they have passed rigorous testing for safety on our skin. Second, the mill is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which is widely recognized as the highest global certification standard for forest management. With deforestation as one of the major environmental challenges of our time, FSC certification means that the mill’s textiles (such as wood-based rayon and modal) do not come from endangered or ancient forests. Finally, the mill is Fair Trade Certified, ensuring that the people who supply the fibers and fabrics along the supply chain are fairly compensated for their labor. The mill also uses eco-friendly dyes. Slow Factory prints on three types of fabric: 100% silk, a silk-cotton blend, and 100% modal.
Island and Clouds Large Silk Scarf. 30% silk, 70% cotton. Made in Italy. Buy it here.
With all of this said, we want to take some stock and reflect on the sustainability of our material choices. In terms of what we are doing well, we are pleased with the low impact of our mill, and we want to continue to use 100% silk, given that silk is a highly environmentally friendly fiber that has been used by many civilizations over thousands of years. In terms of what we can do better, we know that blended fabrics, which are comprised of two or more fibers, such as the silk-cotton blend we use, are not environmentally friendly as they can’t be recycled. We also know that modal, which is a semi-synthetic fiber is more sustainable than rayon, but less sustainable than lyocell because it requires quite a bit of chemical processing to be transformed from its natural wood source into a fabric. So moving forward, we’d like both to move away from blended fibers and to start working with lyocell over modal.
In the very near future, we are also hoping to expand our use of recycled fibers, and cutting edge eco-fibers. Our promise to you is two fold. First, the quality of our scarves is always our top priority, and we are unwilling to compromise on that. Second, we are constantly working to improve the sustainability profile of our fibers and of our company at large. Stay tuned for exciting news on the Slow Factory fabric front!
On May, 6th I received an unexpected email from the ShuttleWorth Foundation informing me that I have been nominated (WHO ME?) by Sean Bonner "to receive a Shuttleworth Foundation Flash Grant in support of your work." (WHAT?) That's not an email you get everyday. I was so excited and in complete disbelief that I texted Sean right away to make sure it wasn't some kind of spam email. Here is a glimpse to my reaction receiving this grant:
The grant comes with only one condition: "The only string attached is that we ask you to live openly, tell us and the world what you have done with the money."
Since I will be traveling to Lebanon in July and August and was planing on documenting the amazing work ANERA (our NGO partner) is doing in the refugee camps in Lebanon as well as the Education initiative we are helping them fund through our We Are Home Collection, I will use this grant to hire my Lebanese filmmaker friends to shoot an amazing short documentary shinning the light on the 1.5 Million Syrian refugees stranded in Lebanon.
“The world headlines parade millions of refugees as faceless, nameless people in need of shelter… But here they have a face.”- ANERA
I am so grateful to Sean and to the Shuttleworth Foundation for giving me this grant and contributing in our efforts to raise awareness about the biggest Human Rights crisis since WWII and helping us and our partner ANERA reaching a wider community of supporters. The crisis has been under documented, the refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Greece, Turkey and Europe have not been properly supported by the International Community. We join others in the mission to push the boundaries, stereotypes and judgement to inspire social change in the region and support the refugees with all the means we have.
You can expect a thoughtful, honest and intimate look at the situation in Lebanon my home country. We will be collaborating with ANERA throughout this documentary and will hopefully have it online by September.