Slow Fashion Citizen: Adrienne Antonson

Slow Fashion Citizen: Adrienne Antonson

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH // The deeper I move into this work with Slow Fashion, the more I admire designers making thoughtful choices at each turn — considering fiber sources, ethical labor, longterm wearablity, options for repair/ reuse, and also what might happen to the garment after it leaves our closets. But perhaps the most inspiring part is watching a designer make these choices on the scale of production and distribution, and seeing a designer embrace upcycling or redesign in her work. I think Adrienne Antonson’s design of the State Smock might just be the epitome of refashioning on a commercial scale: She’s taken something that’s readily available as a castoff garment with very little value as is — the ubiquitous men’s shirt — and has made it wildly useful, amazingly stylish, and ultimately a beloved garment that holds signifcant value. It’s brilliant. I own two State smocks and love them so much I sometimes have to force myself to wear anything else.

So I started this interview imagining I’d learn something about Adrienne’s genius tendencies for natural fibers and refashioning, and more about her swoon-worthy aesthetic. Instead, I learned she has this very inspiring and varied history — as a fiber artist making stunning bug sculptures out of human hair; a traveling spirit who has called North Carolina, Washington, Brooklyn and rural Georgia home; and an entrepreneur who launched her slow-fashion brand, State the Label, while inspired by the alpacas she was tending on an island in the Pacific Northwest. What’s not to love?

Through this lens of getting to know her history I could see the depth these experiences offered to her work, but I was also reminded how sometimes inspiration, life experience and imagination cannot be overlooked in aesthetics and work ethics. How we must honor these aspects of design as much as we honor materials, labor and craftsmanship. In a very digital and polished world, there is something so refreshing — maybe even shocking — about remembering that inspiration and mindset are perhaps the most important aspect of slow fashion and slow living. Without inspiration and awareness, we really can’t create momentum or sustain change. So thank you, Adrienne, for this insight into your incredibly inspiring and imaginative process.

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It’s an honor to share your work and to feature State in this series. You have such a rich and inspiring history as a fine artist, urbanite, alpaca farmer and clothing designer, while holding deep ties to the Brooklyn arts community. Can you talk about the beginning of State and what inspired you to launch a clothing line?

I started State while I was living and working on an alpaca farm, on an island off the coast of Seattle. Looking back, it was like a dream. I would rake the farm’s fields during the day and look after the herd, and I would sew for hours at night. This was back in 2010, and the ideas of sustainability and local production were just starting to get a foothold in the fashion world. I was endlessly inspired by my access to raw fibers. (The barn was filled with 500+ lbs of raw alpaca fleece just sitting there!) I convinced the farmers to let me set up a felting studio in the barn, and I spent hours teaching myself how to felt. Once I got the basics, I immediately went big. I was felting rugs, wall pieces, etc. I was totally hooked. I remember telling my husband that deep-diving into felting — a totally tactile and intuitive process — felt like falling in love. It consumed me. I would work until bedtime and then wake up itching to get back to the barn. I felted through the winter, my fingers going totally numb in the water. Usually, all my creative endeavors eventually lead to fashion, making something wearable, so it wasn’t long before the felting turned into garments. I was making bonnets and elements that I would incorporate into one-of-a-kind clothing pieces. They involved a lot of hand sewing and reclaimed materials — deconstructed garments, parts of old shoe leather — and found a high-end audience in Seattle that really got it. That was truly the start of State. It’s grown and evolved a lot since then, but it all started in a barn.

You have a background in fine arts and studied art in college, but I believe you’re a self-taught designer. Do you think your background in fine arts allowed you to approach fashion, and in particular sustainable fashion, with a fresh, outside perspective? Your work feels so unique and alive.

I studied painting and sculpture at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. I did a high-school fashion program at SCAD one summer and never felt quite at home with the “fashion girls.” I don’t read fashion magazines or keep up with trends or brands, so I always felt like an outsider. Art was always where I felt truly myself, so majoring in Studio Art seemed wise. (Haha, NOT what my parents thought!) My sculptural work – mainly out of human hair – was based on garments. I made an entire collection of lingerie out of hair that set the stage for much more sculptural work post-graduation. (Random Fun Fact: My insects made from human hair are collected in Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museums all over the country!) CofC was a great school but did very little to prepare the art students for how to actually make a living after school. It was only a few weeks after graduating that I decided to start my first clothing company, Spinster. I had NO clue what I was doing but dove in head first. I read business books, talked to SBA advisors, hired help, and just went for it. And truly, I’m still that same girl just making it work every single day. I think being a fashion outsider is fitting for me because I like making up my own rules. Same goes for owning my own business. I don’t think there’s any other path for me.

On your website you say, “Sustainable, organic, and recycled fabrics, reclaimed materials, and hand painting techniques are used in all designs.” Given your early work with redesigned garments, I’m guessing this was always central. When you launched State did you have slow fashion and sustainable design as the primary focus of the work, or did that evolve as the clothing line developed?

When State launched, the mission was to use the best fabrics and processes I could find. And that’s still the case today. I think what’s changed is that seven years ago it was a big choice to work that way. Now I think it’s a standard. In the beginning we talked about being “green” and “sustainable” constantly. But, thankfully, that’s become more of what designers and customers expect so, to me at least, it’s less of a talking point now and more of a given. Currently, with that as the foundation of the brand and how we approach things, I’m able to focus more on the other elements that inspire me to move forward. In the past few years we’ve been working to create jobs in our small community (population less than 7,000!) and to move more of our production locally.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Adrienne Antonson

Let’s talk about your smocks, because they blow my mind. They are such a perfect adaptation of secondhand clothing into something more stylish, more versatile, and ultimately holding greater value. I love how you created a pattern to use a men’s button down shirt for an artist smock so it can be replicated but each smock still has the unique properties of the original shirt. It’s magic. What inspired you to create this design?

I made my first smock to wear as part of my farm uniform! I needed something that could hold my farm tools and treats for the alpacas. I wore it daily and loved it. Eventually I put a few in the early State collections and they always sold out first. So it wasn’t long before that became a staple of the line and now it’s our biggest seller. [Editor’s note: The #smocktuesday feed is a favorite.]

Making an item from reclaimed materials isn’t the easiest or most scalable thing in the world. When I first started hiring outside help, I made a formula for how it’s sewn. Since each shirt is different and has different measurements, stitching, etc, each piece is unique. But once my seamstresses knew the steps, they were sewing circles around me!

Any chance there will be other patterns like the smock that redesign readily available secondhand garments? I see you’ve taught alteration classes at TAC in NY and you offer workshops in your Georgia studio—any chance you’ll offer patterns or classes on redesigned garments?

I’d love to add more reclaimed pieces to the line one day. It’s something we always toss around. After this next issue of the Secret Catalog releases, I’ll be able to turn my attention back to scheduling classes here in the studio. It’s something I’m very passionate about and know that it can impact our community and the region in a positive way. We have big plans for new classes this next year and hope to bring in a lot of visiting instructors.

I love when designers use upcycled garments in their work but I know it can be so impossible when considering sizing, scale and replication. Could you shed some light on this difficulty and maybe why it’s not more widely used in the sustainable-fashion community? Why, perhaps, organic cotton yardage might be more practical for a slow-fashion designer than thrift store finds?

Upcycling is challenging because there are so many variables. We have our smocks sewn cottage-industry style. Meaning: seamstresses sew each one from start to finish in their own sewing studios. This allows them to take on each smock as a new piece and sew it to completion. Factories and larger manufacturing solutions don’t have the infrastructure to think about each unique piece. Working with one large roll of cotton is much easier and is how factories are set up to function. For us, the best solution is a trained team of smock-sewers who know exactly where to cut each one, what steps are necessary, and how to troubleshoot if, say, a pocket is bar tacked or the sleeves are skinny. My ladies are rock stars!

Slow Fashion Citizen: Adrienne Antonson

Your work with The Secret Catalog is exciting. It feels like a celebration or a community art event or a party. Your role seems to be curator, shop owner and publisher, all combined through this one project. Can you briefly describe the project and your inspiration to cultivate this “catalog” community?

The Secret Catalog came about when I was living and working in Brooklyn. I was meeting so many incredible designers and makers and wanted a way to collaborate on a large scale. I’ve been a lifelong lover of mail order catalogs (Delia*s anyone?!) and the idea to make an alternative catalog with the work of small brands seemed like a great way to bring everyone together. We’ve since grown the concept a great deal and are currently working on our sixth issue. It’s the perfect mix of publishing, designing, curating and styling — all areas I’ve previously worked in and love having in my life. It’s truly a labor of love. It’s a TON of work, but totally worth it each issue. It’s a wonderful thing to work with brands of all sizes. In a past issue we had Ace+Jig and Alabama Chanin next to new designers who barely have websites. I think our audience loves being exposed to new and fresh work, and I love finding it for them.

We have big plans ahead for the catalog and see it shifting into a new model after the Kids issue. (Yes, a whole issue of Kids’ stuff!!!) So stay tuned for what we have up our sleeves.

On your website you wrote, “As an artist, I’ve continually struggled between my desire to create new, boundary-pushing work, while balancing customer expectation and demand. It can be a hard tightrope to walk, and so The Secret Catalog seemed like a project that could inspire everyone involved — me, the other designers, and our customers.” Is The Secret Catalog something of a respite from making clothing? Or does one ultimately inspire the other?

I’m an artist, first and foremost. So I get bored easily. I love new challenges and ideas, and the rush of excitement that comes when you try to creatively figure things out. So the catalog is the perfect project for me. Each part of it is a total variable from issue to issue. From the very start I made it clear: There are no rules when it comes to the catalog. We can do anything we want, take risks, think outside our box, and it usually works out in our favor. It’s a wild and free creative space for everyone who works on it, and I think you can feel that when you hold one.

Each issue, I’m inspired to make a collection for the catalog that is fresh, a little crazy, and that will really excite our customers. I also love the freedom to make whatever I damn well please! This last issue I made some weird latch hooked straw hats, collaborated with Turkish towel makers to make round beach towels, and had washcloths hand-crocheted here in town. My dream is to be able to have a brand where we can make anything we desire — not just clothing. And the catalog is a place where I can live that dream a little right now.

I loved the Bomb interview where you talked about the bug sculptures made of human hair. I actually see your work with fiber art and sculpture and then fiber farming as a natural progression into sustainable fashion, but I imagine some folks see them as separate. How do you see your trajectory from sculpture to alpacas to sustainable fashion — surprising, inevitable, or just pure circumstance?

This is the struggle/story of my life! I’ve always had a bit of an identity crisis when it came to what I am — designer, sculptor, curator, farmer?! If I had the money I probably would have spent my 20s in career therapy! And to be honest, I still have these debates within myself. Just the other day, I was telling my husband I wish I could be a fine art painter full time. (I don’t even paint anymore!) I just love making and creating, and it’s hard for me to stay in one lane. Some days this is a blessing and others a curse. I’m sure there are a lot of other artists who feel the same way. To me, all my various bodies of work somehow feed into each other. I remember there was a year when I did two large collections of clothing, and made two large shows of insect sculptures. To begin, I would transform my tiny studio into a sculpture studio — jars of hair, adhesives, source images on the walls, etc. — and work for months making insects. When that show finished, I’d totally rearrange the studio. I’d shelve all my sculpture tools, give it a deep clean, and pull out my sewing machines, fabric, dress form, etc. I’d then set about making a collection of clothing. Because I was balancing two very different creative modes, I needed to totally switch my brain (and space) from one process to the other. It was the only way I could truly focus. And I found that a pair of wings I had painted for a moth sculpture inspired the painted pattern I’d do on a dress. Alternately, the tiny hand stitches on a neckline would prepare my hands for the meticulous work of sculpting beetle antennae. So, yes, to me everything fed into each other. I just always fretted that I needed to choose.

You have such an inspiring vantage point of the contemporary art and design community, and your work with The Secret Catalog highlights the work of so many truly amazing artisans and makers. But if you had to choose just 3-5 artists or designers that are currently inspiring your work, who would you choose?

Oh man, this is a hard one.

First, my mom. She’s incredible. She and my stepdad just finished making the most incredible dollhouse (a replica of their own Art Deco house!) for me. It’s featured in the next Secret Catalog and is truly one of the most incredible things I’ve seen. She’s a self-taught woodworker and is constantly pushing her boundaries. Collaborating with her is my most favorite thing in this world.

Tara St James of Study NY is a brilliant designer, and I’m lucky to call her a friend and contemporary. On top of being an incredible designer, she’s also smack in the mix of the sustainable design, technology, production and sourcing worlds in NYC. She works at the BFDA in Brooklyn and is always working on the most inspiring projects. Conversations with her leave me so energized and motivated to change the world! When I first moved to NYC and had zero clue about how actual fashion stuff worked, I would bribe her with cookies and coffee in exchange for asking her a million questions about the industry. “What is a linesheet?” “Where do you get patterns graded?” She’s an endless source of wisdom and I often joke that WWTD is a frequently uttered phrase around my studio.

Hillery Sproatt is one of my favorite designers right now. She makes a range of work (blankets, illustrations, embroidered mobiles, etc.) and everything she touches is so fresh and special. She’s been in two of our catalogs, and I have loved everything she’s made. Her style is totally unique and that’s rare to see.

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Thank you, Adrienne! Such an honor to share your work in this series.

Katrina Rodabaugh is an author, artist and slow-fashion advocate. Visit her website www.katrinarodabaugh.com or follow her on Instagram at @katrinarodabaugh

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PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizens: Elizabeth L. Cline

Photos © Adrienne Antonson, used with permission

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Slow Fashion Citizen: Elizabeth L. Cline

Slow Fashion Citizen: Elizabeth L. Cline

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH // There are few books I can wholeheartedly recommend the way I can recommend Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion to anyone interested in sustainable fashion. That’s right, anyone. I first came across this book by Elizabeth L. Cline when I heard her interviewed on NPR a few years ago. I promptly bought the book and read it cover to cover. I actually think it should be required reading for anyone interested in the slow fashion movement. Can we have required reading for sustainable movements?

Overdressed follows Cline’s journey as she comes to the realization that her own closet is spilling with cheap clothing and she needs a major wardrobe overhaul. But then the book follows her journalistic research into the history of the fashion industry in America, and why and when it moved overseas; the shift in American ideals around value and scoring a bargain; the shift in consumer habits to shop all the time, all year round; the life of secondhand clothing once it leaves our closets; and her own solutions to reclaim her closet and better align with the ethics and ecological values of sustainable fashion. But mostly, this book changed my life.

I’ve now read dozens of books on sustainable fashion and I certainly have a handful of favorites, but Cline’s remains at the top of my list as essential slow-fashion reading. It’s so important that we understand the history, politics, economics and psychology that led to fast fashion, and that we better understand the potential of our impact as slow-fashion supporters. So, I imagine it comes with very little surprise that I’m absolutely thrilled to share this interview with Elizabeth Cline. Welcome, Elizabeth!

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It’s not every day that I get to say that someone’s book changed my life, but I can confidently say that Overdressed changed my life through my relationship to fashion. I stumbled upon it in spring 2013 just after the Rana Plaza factory garment collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and your book offered exactly the information I was craving. How did we get here in fashion? How did we get to this place where nearly 1,200 people died in a structural failure and simultaneously t-shirts sell for only $5? Your book so eloquently addresses these questions and so much more. Can you talk about the initial questions and concerns that lead you to research and write Overdressed?

That’s so wonderful to hear! When I wrote Overdressed I had no idea the kind of impact the book would have. People are continuing to discover it, which makes me very happy. It also changed my life beyond imagination too, so it feels good to know that there are many people on this journey together and with me.

My own extreme shopping behaviors led me to write the book. When cheap, fast fashion came along in the early 2000s, I went from being a mostly secondhand shopper to buying only cheap fashion and buying exponentially more clothing than ever before. I was binging on cheap fashion, without even thinking about it, as was everyone around me. As a journalist, it got me curious what had changed in the fashion industry and what the hidden costs were behind all this cheap clothing.

Your book is comprehensive in its exploration of the development of fast fashion. You write about the history of the American fashion industry and the shift to manufacturing overseas but you also write about the American psychological shift in overconsumption—how we crave a bargain and simultaneously undervalue fashion to the point of its being disposable. I think this straddling of the international and the personal is really what we’re trying to tackle in slow fashion. Can you talk about this balance? About how your closet became a symbol for tackling a global industry while you personally refocused your fashion habits?

One thing I really enjoyed about writing Overdressed is digging into the history of retail, shopping and consumerism in America. It’s so fascinating to me. Many people, prior to reading the book, think it’s an investigation into the environmental and human rights catastrophes of fashion. But it’s also a story about consumerism, globalization and shifting American values.

One of the legacies of writing Overdressed is trying to bring people back to a place of connection with clothes. It’s not easy nowadays, since clothing is made overseas and engineered by massive conglomerates that have supply chains so huge that no one really knows where or how anything is being made. It’s hard to be a responsible consumer citizen now, as tracing the origins of what we wear is murky at best. Because consumers aren’t as interested in value for their money and quality, because everything is cheap, I think a lot of consumers have lost their vigilance as well.

I think that one way to get people to care is through slow fashion, because caring about clothes feels good. And owning and wearing good clothes feels even better. Asking questions, getting engaged in clothing and seeking out well-made clothes can be a source of joy in our everyday lives. That’s one thing I couldn’t have fathomed at the beginning of this journey, is that there is this whole world of better clothing outside of cheap, fast fashion. Slowing down and buying for quality and caring for your clothing is better for the planet, but it can also make you better dressed, help you save money, and make life more enjoyable.

Your work is often compared to that of Michael Pollan — claiming that your work does for fashion what Pollan did for food. Do you agree with this comparison between Slow Food and Slow Fashion? Do you think fashion is on a similar pathway?

Michael Pollan is such a great writer. I always appreciate the comparison. What food and fashion have in common is that they’re both essential human needs and completely vital to culture and society. These are both crucial sectors to hold responsible to our values. That said, there are some important differences between these two industries. First of all, our food supply was never globalized to the same extent as the fashion industry. Much of it remained in the United States. Creating a more local or traceable food system is simply easier because of that. Secondly, most crops and meat production have been highly mechanized, so labor costs don’t impact the final costs of food as much as fashion. In other words, because food is less labor-intensive, you can make local food and traceable food without driving up the cost of food. With clothes, everything we wear requires labor from many people. On a typical store-bought t-shirt, as many as 14 different garment workers sewed each seam on that item. So it makes a huge difference if you make that shirt in the Dominican Republic versus the United States. This means that our movement has different challenges.

In Overdressed you write, “Ethical fashion of years past was associated with such style-blind, drab clothes as hemp shoes or plain organic cotton t-shirts that put the politics before good design. Not surprisingly, it had only a niche following. Organic and local food is popular because it adds to the experience of eating. Today’s slow and local fashion movement is finally promising the same enhanced experience for pursuers of style.” Can you talk more about the enhanced experience for consumers of slow fashion?

Sure! This question is much easier for me to answer nowadays. When I finished writing Overdressed, I was so new to the experience of shopping slow that I was almost guessing at how it was better. But let’s first think about the experience of fast fashion. Fast fashion offers very little in terms of a lasting emotional reward. It’s fun in the moment to buy something cheap, but there are major downsides in that it fills your home with clutter, is a waste of money and can land you further away from a working wardrobe that reflects your personal style. Shopping at fast-fashion chains reminds of that feeling you get when you’re in a technology loophole and you can’t stop checking Facebook and Instagram. It’s this compulsive, low-level habit of wanting things because they’re cheap.

Slow fashion as a practice is much more about the big picture and discipline and creativity. You have to start with the premise that clothes matter, and that your self-expression through clothing is legitimate and important. And that the lives of the people making your clothes are important. And that the environment is important. Slowing down helps you find treasured wardrobe pieces that you want to wear for a long time. It’s just a totally different philosophy that is about engagement and it just feels better as a result.

I absolutely love how your book addresses the trajectory of thrift-store garments — what happens to our garments once we donate them, and how there’s a glut of low-quality garments clogging up the charity thrift shops and recycled textile market. In Overdressed you summarize this journey ,“Chapter 5: The Afterlife of Cheap Clothes,” and this section was a revelation for me. I realized I couldn’t just donate my castoffs anymore with a clear environmental conscious. Could you summarize the life of clothes after our closets?

The story of secondhand clothes continues to blow my mind. I now work in the secondhand industry as a sorter and a seller on eBay. I’m also filming a documentary on textile waste and traveled to Kenya, which is just one of the dozens of countries that buy up tens of millions of items of our unwanted clothes every year.

Back to your question of what happens to donated clothes. Thrift stores and charities are only able to sell about 10%-15% of what we donate. The rest is sold to other countries like Kenya or, if it’s not in wearable condition, to textile recyclers. Why don’t thrift stores sell it all themselves? There’s simply too much of it. Just to give you a sense of the scale, Americans are donating or recycling the equivalent of 20,000 t-shirts a MINUTE in the United States. The volume we donate in a year could fill more than 250,000 Olympic size pools.

Donating is a perfectly acceptable way to part with unwanted clothes. Clothing should never go into the landfill. But as you can see, we also need to reduce our consumption of new clothes and get far more life out of what we wear. The cycle of consumption and waste is moving way too fast.

I follow you on social media and I notice that you are willing to mend, alter or otherwise repair your garments to keep them in good working condition. You’ve even mentioned mending garments before donating them to thrift shops to increase their odds for resale. Can you talk about this shift in tending to the garments we already own instead of buying new?

Mending is so much fun, and contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be an expert sewer to do most common repairs. Working in the secondhand industry, I see a lot of “broken” clothing that gets thrown away because it needs a very simple repair. For example, I see a lot of small holes in sweaters, ripped linings in jackets and missing buttons. These are all things that can be fixed with a needle and thread, and by just giving it a go. Most repairs don’t require some high level of expertise. All clothing will get some sort of wear or damage in time, so mending skills are essential, in my opinion. And yeah I would say once you slow down and decide to spend more time with the clothes you already own, mending and cleaning come into the equation pretty quickly.

In Overdressed you write, “I checked the label on my eggs, but not on my T-shirts.” Why do you think this is so common amongst so-called environmentally minded folks? It seems like organic food and LEED platinum buildings are becoming more and more mainstream but somehow fashion has been left out. Why do you think this happened?

I answered some of this in the question about Michael Pollan. It’s just easier to create a local and transparent food industry than it is for fashion, but people are also motivated by their own health to choose local, organic, responsibly sourced products. And with LEED platinum buildings, there is an incentive to owners and renters to do the right thing because the buildings actually save money on energy costs. You’re probably noticing a pattern here: These movements offer something to the consumer in return for doing the “right thing.”

With responsibly sourced fashion, we are at this crossroads where it often costs the customer to buy into it. Brands are starting to offer products that are superior to fast fashion in terms of design and quality, which is helping to close this gap.

What do you think is the first step towards creating a Slow Fashion wardrobe? If someone was just going to make one singular shift what would you recommend?

Here’s the easiest slow-fashion rule: When shopping, stop and ask yourself if you really want or need that item, and if the answer is “no,” skip it. Skipping those impulse purchases has many benefits. It saves money, cuts down on clutter, and helps you zero in on your style and what you’re really looking for. The vast majority of fashion purchases are bought on impulse, and according to consumer studies those impulse buys are very likely to end in regret. Cutting out those regrets does wonders for the environment, as we’re consuming less and creating less waste. It’s actually a very powerful consumer act to just refuse something.

I love the Vivienne Westwood concept to “Buy Less, choose well, make it last,” but I know that some individuals or families simply cannot afford to buy garments at a higher price point regardless of their desire to support slow fashion. I think of this particularly with small children who outgrow their clothing quickly. I think your book and your ongoing work does a really great job of offering several solutions and alternatives to fast fashion. Can you speak to the opportunity to engage with ethical fashion at various price points? What can folks do to support slow fashion if they’re on a tight budget and/or clothing young, fast-growing kids?

To anyone out there who needs clothes, I would say buy them! And buy them at a price point you can afford! The fashion industry is not going to be saved by conscious consumerism alone. We need better regulations, better laws, better trade deals, better options, and to actively pressure the brands that make our clothes. It’s just as important for us to engage as citizens with fashion’s problems, as it is to purchase “ethical clothing.” All that said, secondhand (AKA the sharing economy) is the perfect on-ramp for ethical fashion enthusiasts on a budget. As I’ve mentioned, there are billions of items of clothing in circulation at any moment in the United States. Getting these items into the hands of the person who might want them is a technology hurdle that we’re finally able to meet. There is a growing number of websites like thredUP, Swap Society, and Swap.com where parents or anyone else can find fashionable and nearly-new, pre-owned clothes for dirt cheap. I am blown away by the amount of children’s clothes that I see given away in like-new condition. This tells me that we need even more tools that make it easier to share and swap kids clothing.

There’s so much great writing and organizing happening around ethical and ecological fashion. Can you list 3-5 of your personal favorite authors or organizations furthering this work?

Yes! Project Just is one of my favorites. They vet major brands and rank them on their environmental and labor efforts. I also love Fashion Revolution, which has just launched a MOOC or online education course to help consumers research brands. I learned a lot about how to trace the supply chain of the fabric in clothes, for example. Fashion Revolution also does an annual ranking of brands called the Fashion Transparency Index which is very handy, as is Rankabrand. Lastly, I love Livia Firth’s Green Carpet Challenge, which puts A-list celebrities in sustainable gowns at high-profile award shows and brings the much needed celebrity exposure to our movement.

. . .

Thank you so much, Elizabeth!

Katrina Rodabaugh is an author, artist and slow-fashion advocate. Visit her website www.katrinarodabaugh.com or follow her on Instagram at @katrinarodabaugh

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PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizens: Sonya Philip

Photos © Elizabeth L. Cline, used with permission

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Slow Fashion Citizen: Sonya Philip

EDITOR’S NOTE: When Katrina and I were first discussing this column and comparing notes, one of the people we both had on our shortlist was Sonya Philip, who was a big influence on me when I began knitting and sewing again a few years ago. Not surprisingly, Sonya was apparently also on the radar of my friends over at Mason-Dixon Knitting, where she was recently announced as their newest columnist. Go, Sonya!
—Karen

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sonya Philip

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH // It’s a pleasure to introduce friend, artist, maker and homemade-wardrobe icon Sonya Philip of 100 Acts of Sewing. I’ve known Sonya for several years, and her work and personhood are true examples of the intertwining of one’s passions with their values, lifestyle and work. Sonya’s homemade wardrobe is inspiration for so many of us who sew, stitch, knit, crochet or otherwise make clothing, but this inspiration was also always present in our San Francisco Bay Area outings and adventures. Whether we were meeting for lunch, walking our kids and dogs around the neighborhood, gathering with other artists for meals or backyard dye parties, I always felt inspired by Sonya’s aesthetic but also by her outlook, opinion, influences and the way she generally shows up with open arms to make this world a more beautiful and encouraging space.

There’s a depth to her work as an artist and maker that stems from her very center as a human — her work, her home, her writing, her inspirations and her very being all seem to align towards an intentional and thoughtful compass that guides her forward. The 100 Acts of Sewing project retains its authenticity and influence as the outcomes shift from Sonya’s personal wardrobe to her classes, patterns and public offerings. On a practical note, Sonya’s dress patterns are some of my personal favorites. They are simultaneously stylish and simple, and yet they allow for an assortment of design choices that shift the entire garment — bright pockets on the Dress No.1 and a contrasting binding make for a very different dress than sticking to just one fabric for bodice, pockets and neckline. These choices, of course, are left to the individual maker.

It’s a great honor to share Sonya’s story and her wisdom in this series: Her steadfast commitment to honoring our bodies, our wardrobes and our journey as creatives is a testament to what slow fashion can achieve inside and outside of our wardrobes. Sonya’s version is grounded, inspired, authentic, and her wholehearted vision feels like a balm to the messages we typically receive from the fashion world. In Sonya’s version there is not just a beautiful homemade dress and a coordinating shawl but there’s a healthier, happier and more confident human underneath.

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Hello, my friend. Taking your 100 Acts of Sewing workshop was such a pivotal moment early in my slow-fashion journey. Even though I’d made garments in high school and college, your gentle approach to sewing and discerning patterns was such welcomed encouragement. I get the feeling I’m not your only student who feels this way. Can you give us a brief overview of the 100 Acts of Sewing project? When did it start and how did it shift from a yearlong project to an ongoing endeavor including teaching and design?

I learned to use a sewing machine in middle school and it seemed as if each sewing project from that point on resulted in an unwearable botch job of cloth and tangled thread. My love for textiles found an outlet when I learned how to knit in my early twenties. Then in 2007, I joined a Flickr group called wardrobe_remix. It was started up by Tricia Royal as a place for people from around the world to share what they were wearing, from handmade, ready-to-wear, to upcycled or thrifted pieces. Taking photos of myself and sharing them made me think about what I was wearing and what I liked to wear in a way I really hadn’t up until that point.

Even though I failed at many attempts to sew garments, I had some success at refashioning some long linen thrift store dresses. Finally, at the urging of Kristine Vejar, I took a pattern-drafting class with Cal Patch at A Verb for Keeping Warm. A week later, I had drafted a pattern and made three dresses. That was late January 2012. After it became clear sewing dresses was all I wanted to do, I decided to turn it into a project — making dresses for myself and others, and documenting the process by posting photos online.

What I wanted, because I was making dresses for all different women of all different sizes, was a basic template. For me, the pleasure wasn’t so much in the construction but in combining the patterns and colors. I approached each dress like a fabric collage. I started teaching classes and, because of the response from people seeing my dresses, released my first pattern in the spring of 2013.

I love your approach to garments. I love your sewing patterns and simple lines but also your personal aesthetic, use of fabrics, and that your garments can really be layered to create an entire wardrobe. On your website you say, “The pattern consists of just four seams and a hem. The simplicity of the design makes it accessible, meaning people leave [workshops] with an identifiable end-product and an important sense of accomplishment.” Do you draft all your patterns with this guiding principle of four seams and a hem? Do you consciously take this firm minimalist approach when designing so the patterns remain accessible?

What I strive to do in all of my patterns is really distill a garment to its most basic form. I do this very purposefully, making a pattern appropriate for a complete beginner, but then someone with a little more experience can modify it to make it their own. Before I started 100 Acts of Sewing, I would periodically wrestle with my sewing machine, fabric and a commercial pattern. Those patterns always seemed to have about two dozen different pieces and one would invariably get lost or put in upside down.

I bring all those memories of frustration to the way I design patterns. I make a garment over and over again until I’ve made all the mistakes and I’m confident I can clearly walk a person through the construction. While seams and darts are wonderful for shaping, they also add a level of complexity that a lot of people aren’t ready for, especially when they are just getting used to operating a sewing machine.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sonya Philip

You and I have talked quite a bit about perfectionism — about how it works as a roadblock in so many creative pursuits. And yet, we’ve both shared our appreciation and admiration for incredible craftsmanship. But I think there’s something to overcoming fear of making a mistake that you address beautifully in your workshops and your work. Can you talk about perfectionism?

I think there’s an ingrained rigidity which appears to take over once we leave school. It’s as if children spend all these years being receptive to learning and then the tolerance to being a beginner declines sharply. Much of sewing is about rote learning, getting better at doing something incrementally by doing the same thing over and over again.

Our collective patience grows more and more thin as each new app and device makes waiting for things obsolete. It’s as if the involvement of a machine increases this expectation for instant results. While the mechanization does produce faster results, it is still a tool. We tend to see mistakes as personal failings, rather than necessary steps on the path towards proficiency. I tell my students to laugh at their mistakes.

What started out as a personal project to teach yourself to sew has become something of a political statement against fast fashion and against the underlying messaging in mainstream fashion or overconsumption. Your project encourages us to make our clothes, love our bodies, and define our own personal style. You write, “When we know how to sew with our own hands, we can make and remake and make well. We become more discerning of our goods and create the possibility of rejecting mass produced items.” Did you intend the project to have this political message when you first began?

100 Acts of Sewing started out with just so much joy, I was doing something I had convinced myself I could not do, and then to find out otherwise was thrilling and I couldn’t stop. So in the beginning it was really just a giddy rush of creativity, and that started to fold into my worldview — one of supporting indie makers and small businesses. But in actuality, it was pretty easy for me to step off the fast-fashion train, because it really wasn’t something that I was on in the first place. Having a larger body size most of the clothes in stores didn’t fit me, so most of my shopping was already done in thrift stores. I was coming from a place where my needs were already under-served.

You write so beautifully, “Alternately encouraged by and excoriated by the media, women in the US forge a deep discontentment with their bodies that leads many on a constant search for clothes that alter appearance.” Can you talk about this media effect? And how your work is something of an antidote or balm?

This is something that I have been thinking about a lot lately. It’s not just the media — I feel that the media just amplifies a lot of the messages. Women are judged by how they look and what is considered beautiful at this given moment. Oftentimes the value is based upon someone else’s judgment. It takes individual thought and desire out of the picture and discounts them. Consequently the quest for external validation is incredibly insidious. It makes getting dressed a very fraught experience, filled with the anxiety of not being enough, whether thin enough, young enough or any number of harmful self-judgments.

Dressing for your true self is in effect creating agency with the pleasure derived from how the clothes make a person feel, be it by the cut of the garment, the color or material. All of these choices are in the hands of the maker rather than handed over wholesale to another, unknown person.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sonya Philip

We tend to put such an emphasis on formal education but sometimes we forget that informal education is just as important if not more influential. Although you’re self-taught as an artist and designer I believe your father was an architect and your mother was an interior designer. Do you think this access to arts and design at home influenced your thinking as a child and even as an adult? Meaning, do you think this informal training acted as a form of early arts education for your current design work?

I travelled a lot with my family, and every trip would involve stops into museums, churches or castles. I think it absolutely taught me to look and notice things. I find myself always pointing things out to my kids and in turn they show me things. That act of noticing and describing is really important to me, that way we interact and process the physical world around us. Observing what we find pleasing is a way of developing our own tastes.

You and I also have this other random connection that we went to the same MFA Creative Writing program at Mills College, although we graduated in different years. Do you think this parallel study of writing and poetry somehow influenced your work in fashion and craft? I sometimes think that training in any creative medium allows for a certain exploration, deepening of engagement, attainment to details, and ultimately creating a toolset of inquiry, critical thinking, observation and experimentation that can be adapted to other art forms. While you didn’t formally study design you formally studied poetry — do you think there’s a link between the two?

What I learned with poetry was the importance of developing a practice, as well as using a series as a means to construct a larger body of work. My poems, like my artwork, are very small, and grouping them together to create a larger and more sustained piece was a big Eureka moment. From my education as a whole, I loved being an undergraduate — each new course catalog was a packed full of possibility. I am thankful that I was able to take so many classes in many different subjects and really feel there was opportunity for a cross-pollination of ideas among them.

Your work sits at this intersection between fine art, traditional craft, fashion, social practice and contemporary design, but it also sits in the larger community of Slow Fashion. Can you name 3-5 leaders in the movement that you find the most inspiring right now?

For me, Cal Patch is the godmother of 100 Acts of Sewing — without her gentle guidance I would still be convinced I couldn’t sew. Another person I gain lots of inspiration from is Tom van Deijnen and his Visible Mending Programme. His care and attention to detail just blows me away. Lastly, if you haven’t looked through the photos of Kate Fletcher’s Craft of Use project, you need to set aside a few hours to look through this incredible site.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sonya Philip

Looking outside of Slow Fashion at your earlier and ongoing work in fine arts, fiber arts and poetry, can you name 3-5 artists, authors or poets who continuously inspire your work in Slow Fashion?

I am enjoying both the fiction and nonfiction work of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — she writes so eloquently about feminism as well as the experiences of immigrants. Another person is the artist David Ireland, after visiting his house at 500 Capp Street, I was in complete awe of his work, this embodiment of social practice. Lastly Ruth Asawa is inspiring to me as a hometown artist, but also as someone who worked to create an arts program in local public schools when the budgets were cut. I greatly admire balancing those roles of artist, activist and mother.

And lastly, three creative tools you could not live without?

I could not live without a notebook and a pen — I am always writing lists or jotting down thoughts. Also I would be pretty lost without a sewing machine!

Katrina Rodabaugh is an author, artist and slow-fashion advocate. Visit her website www.katrinarodabaugh.com or follow her on Instagram at @katrinarodabaugh

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PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizens: Liz Pape of Elizabeth Suzann

Photos © Sonya Philip, used with permission

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Slow Fashion Citizen: Liz Pape of Elizabeth Suzann

Slow Fashion Citizen: Liz Pape of Elizabeth Suzann

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH // There is so much to love about the clothing label Elizabeth Suzann it’s dizzying to know where to begin. The obvious entry point might be the beautiful lines and subtle geometric shapes of her garments that push these classic designs into cutting-edge contemporary minimalism but somehow beckon to the studio artist and the professional urbanite simultaneously. (Just look at that oversized diagonal pocket on the beloved Harper Tunic for solid proof.) Or maybe it’s the beautiful natural fibers, ranging from linen to silk to wool in the most delicious neutral colors, and how they effortlessly combine with other garments in her collections to make the dream wardrobe for linen-loving minimalists everywhere.

But if the designs and fibers didn’t immediately win you over, just scratch the surface of designer and owner Liz Pape’s ethical fashion philosophy — why she offers a living wage to all of her employees; how she’s kept her operations under one Nashville TN roof; that she sources beautiful biodegradable fibers, refuses to follow the traditional seasonal collections of the fashion world and instead makes three collections for all months and seasons (Signature, Warm Weather, Cold Weather). Then start reading her blog. Just start with any post. Just dive in with any question about why she creates clothing the way she does — and, yes, why she needs to charge the prices she charges — and I promise even the toughest critics among you will feel a quiver of light and hope in your Slow Fashion-leaning heart.

If you still aren’t convinced, take four more minutes to watch the video for the Diversity Campaign because it’s the best thing I’ve seen in fashion videos, maybe ever. What designers go this far to connect with their customers and to let their brand be defined by the actual community of humans supporting this important work? So much love. So much celebration. So much connection, all through clothes that are made with intention and worn with pride. Swoon.

I’ve loved Elizabeth Suzann for a few years but sharing her story in this series made me an official Fan Girl. If I could give Liz Pape the Gold Star of Contemporary Ethical Designers, I’d hand it over in two seconds flat. I can’t think of another fashion label that I’d rather support in all their efforts to create a more ethical and ecological fashion future. Liz Pape is the real deal and she’s raising the standards for designers and consumers alike.

. . .

Welcome, Liz. I admire your designs and your work ethos so much, and it’s truly an honor to be able to share your story. To get started can you just tell us about the beginnings of Elizabeth Suzann? When did you launch? What was your impetus for creating an ethical clothing brand?

I launched Elizabeth Suzann in late 2013. It was a very organic thing – I didn’t have this big concept or pitch or business plan. My husband and I moved to Nashville right after I finished undergrad so he could attend law school, and I was in a kind of limbo for a year. I was planning on pursuing grad school (studying art history), so I was taking some time to look at schools and make a game plan. I had sewn in college and made money on the side that way. I reevaluated what I was making, really simplified things aesthetically and thought hard about what I wanted to make, worked on my pattern drafting skills, and experimented with different textile techniques. I took a very small selection of pieces to a local craft fair – Porter Flea – and everything did really well there. After that weekend I realized there was some actual potential here, and I started taking things seriously.

I got a business license, did all of that jazz, and started selling online in addition to traveling to craft shows in cities like Brooklyn, Chicago and Austin. Customers I met at craft fairs would come back and order from my Etsy shop, and shortly after I had enough online business that I stopped doing the shows. I moved off Etsy to a standalone site, and we just kept rolling from there. I think it was a few months between that first craft show and moving into my first studio, in the back of a gym downtown. I was doing everything myself (design, drafting, sourcing, cutting/sewing, packing/shipping, support, web design, photography — all of it) in the beginning, but I brought on an intern, then hired a part-time seamstress, and another — it just kind of happened one step at a time.

In regards to starting an ethical clothing brand, I don’t really look at it that way. I started Elizabeth Suzann because I was making things I loved; things that I thought had value. The way that I made those things was just the way that made sense to me. There wasn’t a decision point where I chose to “launch an ethical brand.” I try to do the right thing whenever I have the opportunity to make a decision, and the result of many decisions like that is a responsible business. In the beginning I did think really hard about the choice to add physical products to the world. I knew that to feel comfortable bringing consumable things into existence, they would need to be damn good, and they would need to be made in a way that I feel good about. I have no interest in being one of many, in producing products you can buy elsewhere. I have no interest in being ordinary or adding detritus to an already detritus-filled world.

Your designs are timeless and classic, and yet they have this compelling contemporary edge. Your website says, “We seek classic silhouettes that are still modern, with style that transcends time and place.” Was this minimalist approach at the center of your brand from the beginning? Meaning, did you set out to create clothing that was somehow both classic and contemporary?

I think the seeds of it were there in the beginning. When I first started selling clothing in college, it was ridiculous. It was all incredibly kitsch, bright, printed – lots of vintage inspired things, lots of lace and trim and excess. It was popular with the college crowd, and it was what I was wearing at the time. But I never felt like myself in garments like that – I always felt like I was wearing a costume. That’s still how I feel about a lot of color, or anything too “of a style.” So when we moved to Nashville and I started working on that first little collection for Porter Flea, I tried really hard to get to the root of why I never felt comfortable in my clothes. I found that the images that really resonated with me as a person and the things I felt most comfortable in were the simplest ones. Denim, white cotton, blacks and creams. Basic button downs, well-fitting pants.

This kind of light bulb went off, and I realized that I was trying so hard to express myself with all of this color and noise and complicated shape, but in reality I was drowning my identity. I began to appreciate the challenge of communicating more with less. I think the first year of ES I was still figuring this out and navigating my relationship with color and shape. (I am naturally drawn to exciting, loud things and still love this in others’ work – I just knew it wouldn’t be my highest point of contribution.) I think I really hit my stride aesthetically at about year two, in 2015. The sustainability of simplicity is huge to me as well – you will get exponentially more wear out of a garment that feels timeless and can pair with anything than you’ll get out of that beautiful but highly particular printed blouse.

I admit, I first fell in love with your silhouettes, but I was really sold on your use of natural materials. Since beginning my Slow Fashion project in 2013, I’ve become very interested in the fibers used to make my clothing. Your designs use the most beautiful natural fibers like linens, silks and wools. How do you go about choosing your fibers and fabrics? Which one is your personal favorite?

Natural fibers are so divine. Sometimes it’s hard to describe to someone who isn’t familiar with textiles why natural fibers are so wonderful, but it’s one of those things you can’t ever go back on once you’ve fallen in love with them. As a teenager and early twentysomething, I couldn’t tell the difference between polyester and silk. But I did know that all of those poly-chiffon tops I wore made me incredibly sweaty, and they looked great on the hanger but always fell flat when I put them on. I somehow ended up with a silk blouse in my closet from a thrift store, and it just felt so different. It felt alive; it felt luminous. It was comfortable and soft, and complemented my skin. Now I can’t unsee the difference — I can spot polyester, nylon and viscose from a mile away. Silk and linen have been my favorite fabrics from the beginning. Silk for it’s luxurious and unbridled beauty (the subtle sheen, unbelievable movement) and linen for it’s durability, rustic but elegant aesthetic, and complete comfort. I added in cottons and wools where we needed them for pants, coats, etc., but linen and silk will always be our core. I really love fabric and enjoy getting to the bottom of the source to make sure we’re using the best product possible. Last year we developed a new wool supply chain with an incredible ranch in Oregon, and I’d like to go that far down the supply chain with each fiber, one by one. When designing products now, I always start with fabric first. I review swatches, order sample yardage and test wash a few yards. Then I can start looking at silhouettes and get a feel for where the fabric will serve best.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Liz Pape of Elizabeth Suzann

So your designs are incredible, your fibers are beautiful, but your work ethos really melted my heart. When I read the post about your transparent budget — when you shared your costs on the Artist Smock and showed blog readers your actual profit — I was hooked. I so appreciated this cost breakdown and your thoughtful approach. Were you nervous to show these figures? Did you think it might dissuade costumers in some way? Sharing finances can seem so private.

Thank you! That was definitely a scary piece to write. As I’m sure so many of you are familiar with, the price of high quality, ethically produced clothing made with good materials is a sensitive subject. Some shoppers feel that prices are astronomically high, some think they are fair, others are willing to pay it but think that companies like ours must be rolling in cash. I felt a need to kind of clear the air and get our story out in the open. I am really proud of our business, the unique way we manufacture things, the opportunities we’re able to provide for our staff, and the products we make. I don’t ever want there to be any confusion or doubt surrounding the way we run our business. I was really nervous to share real numbers, primarily because private companies almost never publish that kind of information. I was bracing myself for a lot of negative feedback, but it never came. It was our most popular piece of content ever, and customers really appreciated the concrete, no-frills information. I think brands can get so caught up dancing around the truth, trying to present things in a way that customers will understand. That is exhausting, and customers are smart. Telling the truth in a non-watered down, non-salesy way resonates really well with our audience.

I imagine there are plenty of hurdles in running a sustainable fashion brand but could you tell us about one of your biggest challenges to date? I imagine sometimes just finding time to sleep might be the week’s biggest hurdle, no?

Ha — I think you are right on. We’ve certainly had our fair share of unexpected challenges, and every day is an exercise in fire-fighting and rapid problem solving. But I think the longest, hardest hurdle I’ve encountered is figuring out how to not always be working. The growth and never-ending pace is exhilarating, but also a recipe for burnout. Our team is incredible though, and this year we’ve seen staff really step up, which has brought a bit more balance to my life.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Liz Pape of Elizabeth Suzann

And then, what’s been the biggest reward in running a Slow Fashion company? Because I think your work is SO important, but I wonder what you think is the most satisfying aspect.

I think the biggest reward has been seeing and hearing our customers and staff articulate our vision in their own words. That feeling that others are really understanding and believing in what you’re doing — and also feel invested in it on their own — is incredibly fulfilling. It’s like our mission has a life of its own, and it resonates a bit differently with everyone, which is magical.

In my opinion, your work is some of the most exciting work in fashion design right now. But I’d love to know what you think: Who do you think are the most exciting Slow Fashion designers creating work today? Could you name a few of the folks you think are truly at the forefront?

Han Starnes is a local favorite. She has such impressive aesthetic discipline — she never puts out any work that doesn’t perfectly align with her vision and perspective. I admire that so much, and wish I had a bit more restraint. She uses absolutely divine fibers, and manufactures things in a very careful and intentional way.

Alabama Chanin is one of the icons here — they have taken slow fashion to the next level. Their hand-stitched pieces are literal works of art, made by a team of artisans in Florence, Alabama. All organic cottons, all beautiful silhouettes from the mind of Natalie Chanin. She’s also created such a strong community around the brand — I love the whole ecosystem there.

Your Diversity Campaign made me love your work even more. I watched the video of the selected customer-models visiting for the photo shoot and I was actually teary by the end. There was so much joy and connection in that room! Did you expect it to be so moving?

We absolutely did not expect it to be so moving. I was incredibly excited about the project, and of course had high hopes for it, but man I was totally unprepared for the emotion and strength in that room. Meeting the women who embody the spirit of the brand, hearing how our clothing has impacted their lives, watching them be both vulnerable and strong in front of each other and the camera — it was incredible. It felt like summer camp, and we all left with a group of friends for life. It was so powerful and meaningful both for our customers to get this immersive, personal experience with the brand, and for our team to get this immersive, personal experience with the women we serve. Epic.

Okay, top three creative tools you couldn’t live without?

1 – My iPhone. I know that’s probably awful! But seriously, I take notes all day long (I send myself emails with thoughts all day long — by the end of the day my inbox is a mess), screenshot images that inspire me, and use it to stay connected with our customers. Our business would be very different without this device!

2 – A good, fresh pen.

3 – A blank bulletin board. I just can’t get that into Pinterest, I need to see things physically, on a large scale. Old school mood boards all the way.

Lastly, advice you’d offer to emerging fashion designers interested in sustainable and ethical fashion? Any tips or encouraging words you might lend to someone who is just starting out?

Don’t be afraid to take risks, but more importantly don’t be afraid to work your ass off. This isn’t the exciting, magic trick advice most people hope for, but I truly believe that what separates most successful businesses from those that never get off the ground is sheer effort. The product must be great, the process must be great, but those two things alone won’t cut it. You have to be willing to put everything into it. The encouraging flip-side is that, if you’re willing to put in the effort, I’m pretty confident you can do just about anything. Focus on filling a need, find an original way to contribute to the conversation, find your unique perspective — that is where you’ll add value. Don’t try to cash in on an idea that’s already saturating the market — you’ll just be playing perpetual catch-up. Trust your instincts, do the right thing, and you’ll be fine.

. . .

Thank you so much for joining us, Liz. It really is an honor to share your story in this series. Your commitment to Slow Fashion — or more simply to people and the planet — is so exciting and inspiring. I can’t wait to see what you do next. I’ll be cheering from the sidelines.

See also: How much can we know about where our clothes come from?

Katrina Rodabaugh is an author, artist and slow-fashion advocate. Visit her website www.katrinarodabaugh.com or follow her on Instagram at @katrinarodabaugh

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PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizens: Tom of Holland

Photos © Elizabeth Suzann, used with permission

Slow Fashion Citizen: Tom Van Deijnen

Slow Fashion Citizen: Tom Van Deijnen

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH | It’s a true honor to share this interview with today’s Slow Fashion Citizen, Tom Van Deijnen otherwise known as Tom of Holland (and @tomofholland). Tom is a crafter, knitter and teacher based in Brighton, England, and he is also one of my Slow Fashion heroes for his work founding The Visible Mending Programme. (That’s right, heroes — and I don’t use that word lightly.) Soon after I started my slow fashion project, Make Thrift Mend, in 2013 I stumbled upon Tom’s images of high-contrasted handknit sweaters and my heart ached with how much I loved them.

You know that feeling? You ache a little. You might stumble. You might lose your breath. You might have to sit on that impossibly small bench in the center of the gallery and stare a little bit longer at what just leapt off the wall and tried to crawl under your coat. Because now it’s burrowing under your skin and it’s heading for your heart folds and suddenly you gasp at the sensation of this thing crawling into your heart but also at this incredible experience of seeing something so beautiful and necessary and relevant and absolutely new. There’s just one word for it and that word is YES.

This was my reaction in stumbling over Tom’s work with the Visible Mending Programme. I had to sit down on that figurative tiny bench and catch my breath. The colorful darning filling in the missing sections of yarn brought visual interest to an otherwise beautiful garment but the repairs were also arresting, defiant, edgy and demanding all at once. “Look at me, there was a hole here and now it’s even more beautiful.” I was instantly drawn to the interplay of craftsmanship and color — the required knitting skills and knowledge of darning necessary to technically repair the garment, but Tom’s artful approach to celebrating the repair and adding visual interest through high-contrast stitches. YES. And thank you. And swoon.

Tom’s work with the Visible Mending Programme has absolutely influenced my work in sashiko mending and I’m confident saying he’s influenced the work of many contemporary repairs around the globe. Tom’s work lends a rich voice to the conversation about Slow Fashion, textile arts, homemade wardrobes, knitting and repairing garments because of the invention of the Visible Mending Programme. It’s as if there is an international conversation about mending through images and repaired articles of clothing and imperfect stitches meant to celebrate the most beloved garments that naturally breakdown, but through our mending we can make them even more meaningful. And certainly Tom is one of the most distinctive voices in this ongoing conversation. Let’s welcome this month’s friend from the UK, Tom of Holland.

. . .

Tom, thank you so much for joining us today. I adore your work and you’ve been such a huge inspiration for me in my own mending, repairing, and rejuvenating garments. Can you start by telling us about the Visible Mending Programme? How did it begin and how has it evolved?

Hi Katrina, many thanks for having me! I’m so pleased to hear that you find my work inspirational, as that’s exactly why I share my work. The Visible Mending Programme seeks to highlight that the art and craftsmanship of clothes repair is particularly relevant in a world where more and more people voice their dissatisfaction with fashion’s throwaway culture. By exploring the story behind garment and repair, the Programme reinforces the relationship between the wearer and garment, leading to people wearing their existing clothes for longer, with the beautiful darn worn as a badge of honour.

By writing my blog, running darning workshops and taking repair work commissions I provide mending inspiration, skills and services to people and hopefully persuade them that shop-bought clothes deserve care and attention too, just like a precious handknit. Even as a teenager I was always interested in buying clothes with the aim to wear them for a long time, even if they were cheap. As I’ve always enjoyed needlecrafts, I naturally started embellishing and repairing them when I felt the need. This has grown very slowly and organically into the Visible Mending Programme as it stands today.

I always credit you as the founder of the term (and the hashtag) “visible mending” — it’s really the perfect phrase. How did you invent the term? Why did that phrase feel so important when you started this work?

The term Visible Mending has very simple roots: when I first started repairing, I attempted to make my repairs invisible. As this requires a lot of skill to achieve, I never quite managed it, and over time I have come to accept that my repairs can be visible, and now I positively celebrate a visible repair and have started to use the term Visible Mending. By repairing in a visible way, I can add to the story of the garment, and show it has a history. I like things that look used, as it gives them character and makes them more individual. And when it comes to shop-bought clothes, adding a Visible Mend is also a chance to add some of your own creativity.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Tom Van Deijnen

One of the things I absolutely adore about your work is that you have this very developed craftsmanship through knitting that you apply in this completely original and inspired way through high contrast darning and mending. It’s as if you are honoring the tradition of the craft while simultaneously pushing it forward into a contemporary and more innovative space. I know this an impossible question but I’m going to ask it anyway: Do you think a crafter needs to first learn the rules before he/ she breaks them?

This is indeed a difficult question! My initial reaction was: Absolutely! Learning the rules allows you to understand how things fit together, but it will also allow you to start questioning tradition and see whether you can push yourself in new directions. However, it can be very liberating to start playing with a craft without knowing anything about the baggage that may come with it. It is a completely different way of pushing boundaries, and you’d soon learn whether certain things work or not. For me personally though, I enjoy researching how things are done traditionally, and compare and contrast techniques. It’s like having a discussion with the past, and on some things we’d agree, and others we wouldn’t.

I see your work as central to the Slow Fashion movement because it forces us to reconsider usage. But then it goes beyond usage and basic repair to embrace the creative opportunities in darning through basic design elements like color, scale, texture and composition. I find this really pushes the work to the intersection of fine art and craft. You not only repair the garment but you celebrate the usage and the opportunity for design. Can you talk about this embrace and the importance of this angle in Slow Fashion?

As my practice has grown so organically, I have developed my creative language at an equally slow pace. I’ve always been drawn to the used and imperfect, as opposed to the new and perfect. Clothes that you like wearing rarely stay looking new and perfect for long, so it makes sense to me to embrace and celebrate the fact that garments have a history, and to use a repair opportunity as a way to be creative. If we can make a change in what people find acceptable to wear, and are happy to wear something that no longer looks pristine, then that removes a reason why some people feel they need to replace their clothes so frequently.

When did you learn how to knit? Was it love at first stitch or did your knitting evolve more slowly or labored over time?

I was originally taught to knit at primary school, and also by my mum, although I remember not enjoying it much when I first started out. I made a little scarf for a teddy bear. It had brown and cream stripes and a cable. The tension was way too tight, so every stitch was a struggle. I then didn’t knit until I was an adult, and things went surprisingly easy for the beginning. I never looked back since!

Slow Fashion Citizen: Tom Van Deijnen

Who do you consider to be the most exciting makers in the Slow Fashion movement today? Why?

There are a few exciting makers I’d like to mention, although some of them you may not consider a maker as such, but each and every one of them provides me with lots of inspiration and food for thought, hoping to be able to implement some of their practices into my own:

Manonik (Yoshiyuki Minami): Manonik makes amazing clothes, the cloth for which he weaves himself, and sometimes also spins the threads. His weaving is shaped according to the pattern pieces required, which reduces waste considerably. All materials seem to be sourced from small, independent producers such as Sally Fox’s beautiful cotton, or made especially by or for him.

Gridjunky (Jerome Sevilla): Jerome recycles a lot of old clothes, and documents his processes meticulously. Sweaters are unraveled and the yarn reknit into new garments; jeans are carefully picked apart, and every bit, including the sewing thread, will be used again. I like his considered and mathematical approach to creating new items from the old and undervalued. [ED NOTE: More on Jerome here]

Logo Removal Services (Miriam Dym): I first met Miriam at the first MENDERS symposium in 2012, and we got on really well. She does a variety of slow textile related things, but I picked Logo Removal Services because I love the subtle subversive message of excising unwanted brand names, logos, tags, stains and marks, and replacing them with new shapes in fresh colours and contrasting threads. It makes a mass-produced item completely individual.

Bridget Harvey: Bridget is another person I first met at the MENDERS symposium, and we’ve worked on a few things together since. Bridget makes me think about the interventional act of repairing, and what that means for the object repaired: by repairing similar objects in many different ways (for instance, a series of broken plates are repaired by using glue, plasters, wire, tape, etc) the use and function of the object is questioned and re-contextualised.

Craftivist Collective (Sarah Corbett): Sarah might not be considered a maker as such, although she’s definitely making waves as the founder of the Craftivist Collective. Through this collective, Sarah shows people how they can use craft as a tool for gentle activism aimed at influencing long-term change.

I’ve noticed that lately you seem to be collaborating with larger brands, institutions, or shops. Was this an intentional step for you to move into darning in a more public space or was this just a natural extension of your work teaching, exhibiting, and knitting? I love that you’re taking the work to a larger audience through your collaborations, particularly the work with The New Craftsmen.

Although not an intentional next step, in the back of my mind it’s something I have dreamt about doing for a while. By being able to work at “the next level” I hope I can share my way of looking at the world with a wider audience, and make repaired clothes and other items something acceptable and normal. Working with, for example, The New Craftsmen, let’s me lure people into my world, which allows me to show them that repairs can be beautiful, thoughtful, and made with great skill and integrity.

If you could identify one most important aspect about Visible Mending what would it be? What’s the most single most important aspect of this work for you personally?

I think the most important aspect about Visible Mending is to inspire others, and be inspired by others. This is why I write blog posts, run workshops and take repair commissions. In this way it’s possible to strike up a conversation, and explain to people why I want to repair things, and at the same time I can learn from others, hear their stories and concerns around slow and fast fashion. I love it when people share their visibly mended items on social media, and I would encourage everybody to do so, and use the hashtag #visiblemending. This way you can inspire others, and be inspired by others.

What’s your advice for folks who are just starting to darn or mend? Any tips or encouragement you’d offer?

I think you need to give yourself some time to learn the skills needed to darn, and don’t be too critical of your own work. Start with something manageable, and if you’re not sure, do a little practice run on a scrap of fabric. Look at other visible mending examples. See if there’s a Repair Café or other communal mending groups and join in, either as a volunteer, or to learn how to repair.

Three favorite tools for knitting or darning that you cannot live without?

Apart from the obvious such as the tools needed to do the job: My notebook to write down how I’ve done something, makes notes and sketches and keep track of things (I’ve started using the Bullet Journal method); my library of mending and knitting books, which are mostly about techniques. I have relatively few books with actual knitting patterns in them. A large stash of wool yarns and threads for making and mending!

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Thank you SO MUCH, Tom. I have this daydream that we’ll get to teach together someday so I’m going to cross my fingers that will actually happen. Until then, I’ll keep applauding your work from across the Atlantic.

Katrina Rodabaugh is an author, artist and slow-fashion advocate. Visit her website www.katrinarodabaugh.com or follow her on Instagram at @katrinarodabaugh

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PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizens: India Flint

Photos © Tom Van Deijnen, used with permission

Slow Fashion Citizen: India Flint

Slow Fashion Citizen: India Flint

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH | It is such an honor to bring you today’s interview with India Flint, aka @prophet_of_bloom. India is an Australian-based natural dyer, fiber artist, visual artist, costumer, teacher and author, best known for creating the “ecoprint” dye technique. Her natural-dye methods lead to eco-friendly, plant-based, biodegradable and locally foraged color for cloth and yarn, allowing the maker or designer to reduce the toxic impact of synthetic dyes while also gaining traditional skills and connecting with the land through foraging, gardening, or even using food scraps like onion skins or carrot tops before they head to the compost.

I first came across India’s work when I started my fashion fast in 2013 — her books Second Skin and Eco Colour were instrumental in my natural dye experiments. Second Skin is also a great book for considering how to thoughtfully care for our clothes, including some thoughts on mending, repairing, enlivening and ultimately honoring our wardrobe. When I started focusing on using quality secondhand fibers like denim, linen, silk and wool in my wardrobe, natural dyeing and mending became instrumental ways of repairing, rejuvenating and otherwise adding meaning or connection to clothing I purchased secondhand.

But more than her natural dye recipes or techniques was the visceral impact of India’ work and her ethos — this hard to describe, palpable modification of the cloth and wool as if to receive not only the imprint of the dye object but also the imprint of her passion for the environment. There’s a confidence and complexity to her work that I find to be the mark of a lifelong process — the journey to the core of one’s individual aesthetic that can only really be defined as self-recognition and confidence. It’s as if the journey of experimentation and surrender to the process is as much about gaining intimacy with her materials and with the immediate environment as the resulting finished object.

Technically her work might best fall into categories of fiber art and natural dye, but her dye method results in printmaking and surface design while her work with choreographers, galleries, and publishers pushes it further into an interdisciplinary practice that defies genre. I categorize India as a leader in the Slow Fashion movement as much for her dedication to natural fibers and natural dyes—more specifically local Australian wool and native eucalyptus — as for her ongoing experimentation with eco-friendly processes, slow fashion community-building through teaching and writing, and her attempts at harmoniously living with her environment. I love the term “regenerative design” in sustainable fashion and I see India’s work as regenerative and rejuvenating—to the actual cloth but also to the approach of adding color to our fiber.

India regularly travels to teach workshops around the world. If she’s coming to a workshop near you please attend one for me.

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Your book Second Skin is something of a revelation for me. I think it really embodies the ethos of the contemporary Slow Fashion movement — the way you gracefully move between origins of fiber, caring for our clothing, and sharing your own intimate connection with your wardrobe through natural dyes. Do you consider this work part of the Slow Fashion movement? It seems so intuitive to you, but how would you encourage readers to make this connection in their own wardrobes?

It’s the way I was raised, really, and just makes sense to me. I develop warm relationships with my clothes (no pun intended) and like to have them last as long as possible. So I wash gently, air and mend as required. Sometimes I re-dye. I don’t follow fashion trends and couldn’t give a hoot what people might think of the way I dress. My family practiced slow gardening and slow cooking well before such terms were used. As a child I stitched tablecloths while my mother knitted our sweaters. I’ve always chosen to wear natural fibres (synthetic ones itch, I find) and I’d rather wear things that are naturally dyed than have my skin come in contact with synthetic dyes.

Tell us about your journey to natural dyes. I know you’ve done extensive research on eucalyptus — the variations between species and the resulting variations in natural dyes — and that you’ve collaborated with choreographers and shown work in various visual arts contexts, but I’d love to know how natural dyes became the center of your work.

Not only did I grow up in a family of dedicated gardeners, I also spent many hours with my maternal grandmother, a thrifty woman who from time to time refreshed faded garments in naturally prepared dyebaths. As I was finding my path in my work I was for a time seduced by synthetic colour, but I returned to natural dyes when it became clear to me just how dangerous these products were. Research into various means of ‘natural dyeing’ led me to the conclusion that the traditional metal salt mordants used in natural dye work should also be avoided, and so I began to investigate less toxic means of coaxing colour into cloth.

Slow Fashion Citizen: India Flint

You’re the founder of the ecoprint dye method — using steam dyeing and bundle dyeing to wrap the leaf or plant material inside the fabric and gain the actual print of the leaf on the finished dyed cloth. I’ve tried my hand at this method a number of times and I’ve yet to yield results anywhere near as distinct as yours. Can you talk about your work with this particular method? How you were interested in conserving water? And how you developed this method as something of a form of printmaking or surface design on the fabric?

For most of my life I have lived in places where water was a precious commodity that we actively harvested from the environment. Traditional dyemaking with eucalypts (as explored by Jean Carman in her book of the same title) uses large quantities of water and leaves. When I first discovered the ecoprint I thought it a useful technique that would allow dyers to easily assess individual eucalypt species for their colour potential, as the print showed what the dye outcome would be if pure water were used to make the substrate. It did not take me long to realise that quite beautiful patterns could be made by combining different species of eucalypt. And then venturing into other genera, I found that the eucalyptus frequently had a contribution to make as a co-mordant.

The simple trick to making distinct prints on both cloth and paper is to remember that the key word is “contact.” Tight bundling to ensure contact is the answer.

Your books and your Instagram feed have this connection to the land — this interweaving of land, art, plant and fiber that feels holistic and profound. How do you communicate your connection to the natural world in your work? Or is it just so inherent for you at this point that you just continue that dialogue in your images?

It’s simply such a deep part of my makeup as a human being that I cannot imagine working in any other way. My love of the land feeds my work, and the work itself (in whatever form) becomes in turn an ode to the whirled/world.

Your books are gorgeous. I use them often in my studio and in my workshops. I love Eco Colour for the way you explore mordants and dye techniques from so many angles. You don’t just offer one-step solutions but various techniques. Do you still experiment with multiple techniques in your own dye work? Or have you found what works for you and you stick with it?

I am always playing and experimenting. In recent years this play has led to new book folds, new patterns for garments and to the discovery of more techniques for dyeing (many of which have not yet been published yet). I’m particularly pleased with one of my mordant ideas for cellulose fibres, shared with a couple of workshops so far but yet to go into a book. And I’m working on making naturally derived paints (for paper). Of course when I am dyeing cloth that needs to be resilient I stick with eucalyptus, but it doesn’t mean I cannot play with other things.

Slow Fashion Citizen: India Flint

As I mentioned above, you work across arts platforms in collaboration with performing artists and choreographers, visual arts institutions, and you also work as an author and teacher. How do these various aspects of your work inform each other? I find that leading workshops actually strengthens my creative practice because students ask difficult questions or share their challenges and I have to respond to their needs. Do you find this to also be true? Is there a synergy between your work for stage, exhibition, books and the classroom?

Absolutely. I love creating exhibitions because installing them allows me to manipulate space as much as simply showing my work. I teach and write primarily because I need to earn a living. I’ve been a sole parent for over a quarter of a century and though my children are all independent now, I still need to earn my living. There is no safety net. Travelling and teaching allows me to work with a broader spectrum of flora and to experience the influences of different water qualities as well as new environments. Making things that dancers are able to leap about in requires a different kind of thinking to making things that will hang on walls. I delight in taking up residencies from time to time, as they allow me to gain a deeper experience of place. And frankly, maintaining a diverse work practice offers the safety of not having all of one’s eggs in the same basket.

Who are three of the biggest influences or mentors on your creative work?

It’s hard to limit the answer to three. My late great-aunt, master bookbinder Ilse Schwerdtfeger continues to be a huge influence on my work. I think she would be quite proud of some of the folded books I have invented in recent years. American architect Roger Buckhout has been both friend and mentor to me since I was ten years old, and continues to be a light in the darkness. And lastly I must pay tribute to my late father, climate scientist, writer, musician, adventurer and consummate polymath Prof Emeritus Peter Schwerdtfeger who passed on to me an indefatigable curiosity about the whirled and a deep appreciation for nature.

Favorite dye tools or materials you can’t live without?

I have a couple of large cauldrons that have done sterling service over the years, and my favourite materials would have to be wool and eucalyptus. That’s a match made in Heaven.

Your work, your wardrobe, your surroundings and your photographs have this continuity and strength. When you post on Instagram your images are instantly recognizable. When do you feel like you hit your stride, so to speak, with this consistency in your work? Was there a surrender or “Ah-ha” moment when you felt aligned and had an added or increased momentum?

I cannot really put a finger on it. I decided to reject synthetic dyes completely in 1998 (the year I turned forty), was grateful for the development of digital photography because it allowed so much freedom compared to film (though I do miss those long nights in the darkroom) and will confess I love the magic of the iPhone as recording device. I think I am still learning, though, and I have a lot yet to learn — the vocabulary is growing and at the same time consolidating into a language that’s beginning to make sense to me.

Slow Fashion Citizen: India Flint

Advice for the novice natural dyer just starting out? In my experience you just have to begin and be willing to experiment but it can seem so intimidating at first. Any suggestions to quell the fears?

‘Do not be afraid.’ Play, it’s how I learned most of the things I know — at the same time, read. Inform yourself about the properties of the plants you choose to work with. When interesting results happen, consider all the elements that have played a role and try and repeat the process while they are fresh in your mind. Keep notes. And have fun.

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Thank you SO much, India. It’s really a pleasure to share this space with you. Your work has been so instrumental in my own slow fashion journey and I applaud you for all your efforts to lead the rest of us towards a more meaningful relationship to our wardrobes and to our textile arts practice.

Katrina Rodabaugh is an author, artist and slow-fashion advocate. Visit her website www.katrinarodabaugh.com or follow her on Instagram at @katrinarodabaugh

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PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizens: Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran

Photos © India Flint, used with permission

Slow Fashion Citizens: Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran

Slow Fashion Citizens: Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH | I’m thrilled to launch the Slow Fashion Citizen series with Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran, the founders of Fancy Tiger Crafts in Denver. Many of you already know Fancy Tiger Crafts as a yarn shop, fabric store, workshop host, community space, or other craft-centered bricks-and-mortar but I’m most excited to talk about their role in sustainable fashion. I love the ethos of Fancy Tiger Crafts as an independent business dedicated to supporting other independent designers, farmers and businesses, but I especially love how Jaime and Amber embrace this ethos in their own wardrobes and their own homemade textiles.

When Jaime recently posted an image on Instagram of her most-worn homemade garments I was completely smitten. It was exactly the type of clothes I’d want for my own closet, and so I promptly emailed Jaime and Amber to ask them to launch this series with me. In the coming months I’ll share interviews with artists, makers, designers, writers and advocates for slow fashion. Some will be makers and some will not. Some will buy their clothing from ethical designers while others will shop secondhand and others yet will make their own garments — some will do none of the above or others all three. We each enter the slow fashion movement with our own life experiences, skill sets, aesthetics, budgets, schedules and lifestyles, and I aim to share a variety of these stories with you through my interviews.

There was something so joyful, so friendly, so accessible, so relatable and so refreshing about Jaime’s outfit in that post. It seemed to say, “Hey, I made these beautiful garments and I know you could too.” And that’s the spirit I wanted to offer as I begin these interviews. I absolutely love that Arthur Ashe quote, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can,” and I reference it often in my work with slow fashion. Typically, we just have to begin. So today we begin with Fancy Tiger Crafts to get a better sense of their history, sustainable fashion journey, and their incredible homemade garments.

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Tell us about the founding of Fancy Tiger Crafts — was it an impulsive beginning or was it calculated? Did you two already work together in some capacity or was the business partnership new? 10 years! Congratulations.

Thank you! Amber and I met in Galveston, Texas, in 2001 and were fast friends. I moved to Denver in 2006 to open Fancy Tiger when Amber was still in Galveston. She relocated to the Western Slope of Colorado to open her own yarn shop in early 2008 and that was when I asked her to partner with me instead. She did! The shop started very small and we’ve slowly grown over the 10 years we’ve been open. We moved in 2012 to a larger location where we are still located today.

Did you make clothing and then start a business or start a business and then start making clothing? When you started, who were your maker or handmade wardrobe icons? Who are they now?

We both started making clothing a year or two after we opened Fancy Tiger. I hardly sewed at all and was only knitting scarves and hats when I opened Fancy Tiger. Even though I was a novice crafter, my passion for crafting was limitless and I was motivated to inspire our customers so I poured my heart into learning more and more. It helps being surrounded by our awesome staff and instructors. In 2006 there was not this same movement, nor was there the same online community (no Pinterest, or Instagram) so I didn’t have any handmade wardrobe icons. There were some local makers here in Denver that were inspirational such as Christina Patzman and Sunne Meyer. They both began teaching at the shop early on and are still sharing their knowledge here today.

Slow Fashion Citizens: Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran

On your website you say Fancy Tiger Crafts is a “revolutionary shop”. Can you say more about the revolutionary part? (Because I agree and I love this part.)

Fancy Tiger Crafts is a revolutionary shop because it was the first of its kind when we opened. Before Fancy Tiger Crafts, shops were usually committed to one craft — just yarn, or quilting or needlepoint. We wanted to do it all, so we sold supplies and taught classes for a variety of crafts, including quilting, garments, knitting, crochet, spinning, felting, embroidery and cross stitch. We were also unique in our age (we were in our twenties when we opened) which gave us a different aesthetic than the typical craft store of the early aughts and before.

You have such a great aesthetic and a great sense of community. How do you decide which products to carry or which artists to invite to teach?

Amber and I have very similar aesthetics so it is easy for us to decide what to carry — we carry what we love! We are both passionate about US-made yarns, natural fibers, sustainable products, and supporting small designers, farmers and businesses. All of this informs our decision of what to carry. We love carrying products when we have made a personal connection with the company or people behind the company. We have become friends with a lot of the makers we support.

Slow Fashion Citizens: Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran

Your handmade wardrobes are so inspiring. Did you consider sustainability or ethical fashion when you first started making clothing? It seems so central to your mission as a business.

We didn’t! We mostly started making clothes because we wanted to make a skirt out of that cute new Japanese cat fabric or something selfish like that. I think when you first get into making clothes it can be a bit of a novelty, and it’s cool to have fun with that. Of course, the more we make our own clothes the more the issue of sustainable fashion comes into play. Everything is a process and it’s been a journey to get to where we are today.

Jaime, you recently posted on Instagram about your favorite handmade garments, listing the patterns, fabrics and pieces that you were wearing in that image. I love your outfit! And I loved the blog post where you both share your most-worn handmade garments. How do you decide which pieces to make for your wardrobe — do you have a sense of your own fashion style, body type, material comfort or fiber preferences? Can you tell when you start making something if it will be a favorite, or is it a matter of serendipity that all the elements come together just so?

Thanks! I have very strong ideas about what I like and a good idea of what will fit my body. I’ve been making my own clothes for a while and they are not always a win, but it’s always a learning experience. Currently I’m into very simple and flowy, square-shaped tops. Sometimes I fall in love with the fabric or yarn first and then I have to find the right pattern to work with it. Sometimes I fall in love with the shape and fit of a pattern and have to find the right material. Since we buy for the store, I usually know what we have coming in and often have ideas of what I want to make with it before it even arrives.

I think so many beginning- to intermediate-level textile enthusiasts are scared off from making clothing. I think this is part perfectionism — fear we’ll get it wrong — and part that we’ve lost these basic skills and basic confidence because we can buy new clothing so inexpensively. Of course, cheap clothing comes at a high ethical cost but it’s often “cheaper” to purchase. So … how do you encourage students to take a risk on making garments? Was there a moment when you had to just dive in and start pushing outside of your own comfort zone? How do you calm the inner perfectionist as you sew or knit?

Absolutely, you have to take risks! It’s the only way to grow. We’ve made tons of mistakes. Sometimes we still wear things even when they aren’t perfect or didn’t end up how we imagined. If we’re not going to wear something, we will gift the item or put it on display here at the shop. The important thing is to learn from those mistakes instead of being defeated by them.

What’s your advice to other folks who want to make a garment or even an entire handmade wardrobe but haven’t yet taken the plunge?

Start small and then actually wear the thing you made! The confidence and excitement you get when you finally wear something you made will boost you to keep going — I promise. You are aware of every stitch in the garment and all the “mistakes” that might be there because you sewed every seam up close and personal; no one else will notice this. Your friends and family will all be impressed and inspired by your handmade garments, trust me.

Slow Fashion Citizens: Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran

You carry such amazing materials and you are at the center of this amazing crafter’s community but if you had to recommend just three crafters for current inspiration who would you each suggest? And three favorite products or tools you personally cannot live without?

Jaime’s three current craft heroes: Tara-Lynn of Good Night, Day; Devon of MissMake; and Julia of Woodfolk. Jaime’s three tools: Swedish tracing paper for sewing, rotary cutter (how I cut out all my garment pieces), and 40″ Addi Turbo needles so I can knit anything I want using magic loop.

Amber’s current craft inspiration: Jen Beeman of Grainline Studio; Carrie Hoge of Madder; and Kristine Vejar of A Verb for Keeping Warm. Amber’s three tools: Oh, man, I agree with Jaime’s three picks. Those are essential. If I had to choose three other favorites I’d say a nice sharp seam ripper, a steamy iron — I love the Panasonic cordless irons we have in our classrooms — and a dependable sewing machine. I’m in love with my Janome Skyline and its automatic thread-cutting magic.

Thank you SO much for joining me. I’m so inspired by your business, your products, your classes and your amazing handmade wardrobes!

Thank you!!

Katrina Rodabaugh is an author, artist and slow-fashion advocate. Visit her website www.katrinarodabaugh.com or follow her on Instagram at @katrinarodabaugh

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PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizens: Introduction

Photos © Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran