Slow Fashion Citizen: Jerome Sevilla

Slow Fashion Citizen: Jerome Sevilla

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH // Today I’m thrilled to share the work of Slow Fashion Citizen Jerome Sevilla of Gridjunky. I’ve been following Jerome on Instagram for several years, and while his craftsmanship, choice of colors and fibers, and his designer’s approach to textiles make him one of my favorite creatives to watch, it’s his use of recycled fibers that actually blows my mind. He makes beautiful hats, scarves, sweaters and bags but oftentimes by unraveling a quality secondhand sweater or tenderly dissecting a family heirloom to be made into new creations. The boldness and thoughtfulness in his approach to materials is something that comes with his passion and commitment to simply make the most beautiful things.

What if the highest quality fibers are out of our price range but we don’t want to settle for their affordable counterparts? How can we shift our thinking of “new materials” and be resourceful in accessing the very best fibers anyway? In Jerome’s case, by unraveling a beautiful Banana Republic sweater or cutting into his mother’s stash of beloved table linens. Combine this discernment for materials with the trained eye of a graphic designer and a minimalist bent on what makes beautiful garments and, well, it’s a powerful result. Jerome’s drive for the most gorgeous fibers combined with his willingness to take apart the materials around him manifests in a particular magic that’s all his own. It’s a refreshing and inspiring approach to truly making Slow Fashion work regardless of budget.

. . .

I love imagining how your work as a graphic designer informs your work with textiles. Can you talk about any overlaps or shared aesthetics between the two?

I think the creative process in general is an important overlap. Visual designers aren’t trained to come up with one idea per project. We come up with ten, or twenty, depending on the concept. Then we start killing the weaker ideas, and nurturing the stronger ones. This idea of “killing your babies” was first introduced to me in high school when I took photography. This was way back when, so we’re talking about chemical photography, with the darkroom, and stinky solutions, and staring at timers, and shaking canisters. And we eliminated bad shots the same way we weed out good ideas. Each roll of negatives was cut and printed en masse onto one print, and you circled the ones you wanted to enlarge into actual prints. Successful designs rely heavily on one’s ability to self-edit. My textile work is cultivated in the same way, where everything starts as a bunch of ugly sketches.

How did you learn to knit? To sew?

I’ve been hand sewing all my life. My mother and grandmother were a constant resource. I grew up making this and modifying that, and it wasn’t really about practicing heritage skillsets, it was just a necessary skill to have. I’ve always been different from everyone in terms of personal style. Being able to modify clothes was a major part of my identity and individuality.

Knitting was one of many things that piqued my interest on the internet. Back then Jared Flood had this blog that I liked a lot. I’m pretty sure it was called Brooklyn Tweed back then, but I could be wrong. There were a lot of people on Flickr back then, too. So I just decided to do it one day, simple as that. Took me about a month to really get the hang of it. That was … gosh, 2009. Wow.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Jerome Sevilla

Your work with recycled or redesigned yarn is stunning. What inspired you to deconstruct that very first sweater so that you could work with that yarn? Weren’t you intimidated to start unraveling?

Thank you. No, it wasn’t intimidating at all. I was really into it! Maybe it’s a creativity thing, but I like destruction. And if I can take something and kill it, and turn it into something else, that’s power. The object represents creative power. I’m inspired by that. That process of destruction and creation is addictive. When I started recycling yarn, it wasn’t nearly as profound. I killed that first sweater because I was poor and had no money for yarn. Technically, this is still the case.

You’ve mentioned cost is prohibitive in buying quality new yarns, yet you’ve chosen to deconstruct vintage garments to gain access to their valuable fibers. This makes me cheer! It’s something I think about so much in my work: Choosing quality secondhand fibers over cheap new ones. But in this equation we choose the value of time — our own time — to locate, acquire, wash, deconstruct, redesign and work with quality fibers over the money of buying new materials. Can you talk about this tension and thoughts about value, about making something new from something old and investing time — sometimes so much time — to access quality materials?

I see it as an act of defiance. Think about the value that this person placed on that sweater. That value becomes zero when they decide to donate it or throw it in the garbage. I defy that assessment of value. The fast-fashion industry trains us to want more, and we apparently do. That’s so stupid. The best silk thread I’ve ever worked with was recycled multi-strand from a Banana Republic sweater. I have tons of it. I’d estimate the value of this black silk at about $100 or so a skein. I’ve sewn with it, knitted it, and wefted it into cotton. That sweater wasn’t worthless.

There’s a minimalism in your work that has such power. Do you consciously try to work with minimalism — paring color, line or composition back as far as possible as you design — or does this just materialize organically as you work?

I just don’t like a lot of fuss. I believe the subject of a work should be concise and clear, and there is nothing easier from a production standpoint than minimalism. I wonder if that’s a terrible thing to say? Either way it’s true. I’m no artist; I’m a designer through and through. Things should be neat and beautiful at the same time. I suppose this goes back to the self-editing thing. Composition requires a conscious awareness of the layout, and how the work is seen. There has to be negative space. In magazines it’s white space. In knitting it’s stockinette (for me, anyway). Patchwork looks amazing when there are long swaths of consistent color.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Jerome Sevilla

Mending, you know it’s my passion. So when I see your work with denim, hand-stitching and mending it makes my heart race. Do you find working with denim and working with yarn to have any similarities?

Well, working with sharps is a nice change from the knitting needles, but it is more physically intensive. I have so many compositions in progress, it’s pathetic. With my knitting, I have a max of two projects, but in sewing I believe I have five or so. In that respect, the two are very different. Sewing is a very quick process most of the time, so I tend to favor whichever project I’d most likely wear. On the other hand, I’ve been knitting this alpaca shawl for two years because I basically hoard the process of knitting. I like picking it up every once in a while. I like that it’s there. Sewing isn’t like that. Either I finish it, or I kill the idea.

In one of your blog posts you wrote, “I guess what I’m trying to say is that the meaningfulness of these fragile things is paramount in my thoughts, and that working with them gives me a very private sense of accomplishment and emotion.” I love this. I’ve been thinking about the connection between healing, mindfulness, and cultivating connection or meaning through slow fashion. Can you talk about the meaningfulness or sense of accomplishment that results from handwork and redesigning fragile textiles?

The majority of my yarn and fabrics is recycled. The yarn was bought second hand as sweaters, typically from flea markets and thrift stores. However, the fabrics are all recycled directly from my home, mostly from my own wardrobe, but some also came from my family. The things I make out of these fabrics carry the memory of our lives, and the places we’ve lived in. They’re not worthless. They’re immensely valuable to me.

Lastly, can you point us to three artists, designers, or makers currently inspiring your work?

Dan Bell’s videos of dead malls, Techland’s FPS survival horror game Dying Light, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Jerome Sevilla

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 Citizen: Rebecca Burgess and Fibershed

Photos © Jerome Sevilla, used with permission

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Slow Fashion Citizen: Rebecca Burgess & Fibershed

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH // Sometimes individual contributions to the slow fashion movement result in larger systems thinking, advocacy, and even establishing a nonprofit organization to better support this work. As was the case when Fibershed founder Rebecca Burgess embarked on a local wardrobe project aiming to source her clothing from a 150-mile radius that would become the seeds of launching the now internationally recognized Fibershed. I’m fortunate enough to have met the small staff behind this massive effort and I’m thrilled to share the story of the organization — and its creation by natural dyer, author, and leader Rebecca Burgess.

As the slow fashion movement gains momentum, expands to include multiple voices, priorities, practices and professions, it’s thrilling to see an organization like Fibershed support these efforts through various programs and projects. I’ve been eyeing the biannual fashion shows and annual symposium, and each newsletter — spotlighting a new initiative or highlighting a new member — is like a mini course in sustainable fiber farming. I’m grateful for the sharing of knowledge every time.

But mostly, Fibershed is a great reminder that a group of focused and committed citizens can absolutely spark and sustain change, and sometimes two of the most important things we can do as concerned citizens are to better educate our selves and to support the tremendous efforts of the organizers forging the way. I applaud the efforts of this incredible organization in so many ways. Welcome, Fibershed—

. . .

Fibershed is such a hub and an incredible advocate in the sustainable fashion movement. How do you describe the organization and its work?

A fibershed is a strategic geography, akin to a watershed that traces how tributaries flow into streams and lakes in a hydrological system, or how a foodshed describes the movement from farm to table. By defining our natural textile resource base we begin to understand the people, processes and places that contribute to our clothing and shelter, from soil to skin, in our home region.

As a non-profit organization, Fibershed works to advance bioregional fiber systems that build healthy soil, sustainable livelihoods, and account for the true cost of textiles. We do this through public education, research and prototyping on “soil to soil” goods and garments, and cultivating economic and social connections between urban and rural communities. The Northern California Fibershed is our home base, where we organize an active Producer membership of nearly 150 farmers, shearers, spinners, weavers, knitters, designers, manufacturers; we host an annual Wool & Fine Fiber Symposium to cross-pollinate educational resources and hands-on skills; we support a biannual fashion show including this past September’s Climate Beneficial Fashion Gala; and we loft supply chain collaborations that strengthen our regional fiber system, such as the Community Supported Cloth program.

Engaging with our fibershed fosters a systems-thinking approach; we like to think that in the Northern California Fibershed we are putting forth a new approach to decentralized textiles – bringing production back home and drawing on ancient technologies while being firmly rooted in the place, context and community of today. We are honored to support a grassroots network of over 50 Fibershed Affiliate communities around the world, who share these values and are self-organizing and adapting this approach to revitalize their regional fiber system.

Fibershed grew out of your founder, Rebecca Burgess, launching a project to dress locally — within 150 miles of where she was living. Did the project bring the awareness of the need to organize and create systems within slow fashion or was she interested in launching an organization before she started?

The 150-mile wardrobe began as a personal project – a challenge to truly embody a fossil-fuel-free closet with known origins and really rely on one’s community. The wardrobe was a functional experiment in that Rebecca wore it for 18 months or so, but really it was a catalyst for building community through the collaborations that resulted in clothing: taking California College of the Arts students to meet the farmers and sheep as a source material for a design, learning the history of naturally colored cotton breeding from Sally Fox, and sharing feedback from knitters with fiber producers and mills to make softer and more consistent yarns.

Community members who gathered together through and for the 150-mile wardrobe hatched the mission of the organization to continue to grow this work, and Fibershed became a 501(c)3 non-profit in 2013. Although it wasn’t a premeditated trajectory, the challenge of dressing locally served in a way as the initial needs assessment for organizing Fibershed, by tracing the supply chain from soil to skin and asking questions like “Who grows or raises fiber? Where can it be milled? How and where and by whom does it transform into clothing?”

Slow Fashion Citizen: Rebecca Burgess & Fibershed

I’m in such awe of the work that Fibershed creates from beautiful newsletters, annual events and member spotlights, to national organizing, and constantly forging new pathways for farmers, textile mills, and producers of sustainable cotton, hemp, and wool. Can you tell us about the vision for the future of Fibershed? What’s the dream for, say, 5-10 years?

First of all – thank you! We truly appreciate your kind words and support. The strength of our work speaks to the incredible talent, skill and vision of our community, from our Producer members to the affiliated Fibersheds around the world, and the many individual supporters who share with us the ways they are engaging with their regional fiber system.

Our dreams for the immediate future center around doing all that we can to support the stabilization of our climate and the nourishment of right livelihoods. There’s a very exciting and tangible way that we can reverse the effects of climate change: by supporting the drawdown of carbon from the atmosphere and into the soil through a variety of techniques called Carbon Farming. These practices — like cover cropping, rotational grazing, planting a windbreak, or applying compost to rangelands — can be implemented at any scale of agriculture, from a homestead to vast ranch, and with proper planning we can actually measure the carbon sequestration and soil health benefits.

Climate Beneficial materials are those raw fibers and even dyestuffs that are raised in a Carbon Farming system, and by adding a small price premium to those goods, we can pool funding for land managers to cover the costs of these practices. This means that brands and consumers alike have a direct role to play in supporting and scaling Climate Beneficial Wool and supply chains.

California is also supporting Carbon Farming at the state level with the Healthy Soils Initiative launching this year, which will support more farmers in adopting and measuring their positive climate impact.

Scaling this work will take greater attention from all angles: land managers identifying potential Carbon Farming practices, brands designing with and investing in Climate Beneficial materials, consumers affirming these decisions and asking for more Climate Beneficial goods, government agencies like Resource Conservation Districts as well as non-governmental partners providing technical support, and communities working to weave these pieces together in their home region.

Along with the rapid adoption of Climate Beneficial fiber systems, we envision a near future of resilient, decentralized textile systems, where fossil fuel reliance in the form of synthetic dyes and long-distance transportation is replaced with local infrastructure that values the natural hues of fibers complemented by colors from organic (fresh carbon) sources. This is a paradigm shift calling on investors to recognize and fund economic actors who play a vital role in supply chains – our mills, manufacturers, and small businesses – coupled with a cultural transformation as we place value on the textile materials that are already in circulation and consciously add to our wardrobes to build the future of our fibershed.

There’s such a range of specialties to consider in slow fashion, from farming, mills, weaving, dyeing, pattern design, construction, distribution and retail, to the life of clothing in and after our closets. Fibershed focuses on the beginning of this process from fiber farms to sustainable designers but how do you research the processes at each stage to better support the systems?

Our work evolves out of needs assessments, through listening and responding to the Fibershed community. It’s really about tapping into the fiber system and the wealth of knowledge that is contained on the landscape and in our network. For instance, an early Fibershed Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of the ecosystem footprint of clothing was created in partnership with Dr. Marcia DeLonge of UC Berkeley. Technical partnerships with researchers in formal institutions as well as those who are experienced in the field form the backbone of our research.

In the case of hemp research, we are fortunate to work alongside agricultural and mechanical partners in Kentucky, Colorado, North Carolina, Minnesota and Nebraska. Everyone is bringing skill and dedication to the table, and together we are prototyping and refining these blended textiles: gathering data from field tests, exchanging feedback on fiber softening, sharing yarn blends with local partners, and communicating the results.

So much of our work hinges on connectivity. Harkening back to the 150-mile wardrobe, where the supply chain stakeholders were literally connected to form clothing, our research now involves drawing together collaborators and open-sourcing our work to proliferate collaborations. With textile systems there can be so many gaps in any one body of knowledge – fashion designers receive incredible training without ever learning what it takes to produce cotton or how polyester is made, or fiber producers with a wealth of information about grazing their animals but little understanding what weavers look for in a yarn – we support regional, regenerative fiber systems simply by bringing people together to bridge these gaps.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Rebecca Burgess & Fibershed

If you could ask Slow Fashion advocates — the makers, artists, designers, consumers and other folks really looking to be active in this movement — to do just one specific thing to support regenerative fashion, what is that one thing that we might be overlooking?

There is so much talent and inspiration in this movement, and the diversity of activities and approaches is what makes it so strong. When it comes to regenerative fashion, or engaging with your fibershed, it’s hard to prescribe one pathway to recommend across geographies and economies.

The one thing we can (and should) all do to be active in this movement is to identify what you can contribute to your regional fiber system. As mentioned above, these forms of research, economic models and educational resources are created by connecting community members – to get involved in your local fiber community, we should consider what kind of skill or resource exchange we can offer.

Perhaps that takes the form of contributing by investing in local fiber through buying supplies for your next project from a nearby farm or mill, or maybe it means writing or photographing stories from your fiber system to raise awareness.

We can all start by identifying what we’re able to offer, and reaching out to understand what our community needs. Within the soil to soil circular system, there are so many access points to take part in growing a resilient and regenerative fiber system.

Lastly, what project of Fibershed’s are you the most excited about right now? I’m swooning over the reintroduction of hemp, climate beneficial wool, and also the fashion show you just hosted in California. I know it’s so hard to choose, but what currently has your heartstrings?

The annual Wool Symposium is just around the corner and absolutely has our hearts this year – it’s our “keystone” to connect to and with community, to frame the work that we’re supporting and moving forward. This year’s theme is Nature’s Resilience: illuminating the cycles and processes that clothe us, and we are exploring that through panels and presentations that touch on some of the most pressing negative impacts of the fashion industry, and shed light on examples of projects and paths that ameliorate or internalize these costs. It’s a rich day of educational exchange and a way of roadmapping a way forward for our community.

The Symposium is November 11th from 9:30 to 5 at the Dance Palace in Point Reyes Station — a gorgeous place to spend a Saturday. The programming will also be broadcast live from our website so that anyone can tune in for free; afterward, we make the video recordings available on our site too.

Another component we get excited about each year is the hands-on demonstrations and marketplace at the Symposium: for two hours in the middle of the day, the grounds of the Dance Palace showcase elements of the value chain from soil to skin, including sheep shearing, spinning, weaving, felting and more. This year we’ll have a mending circle, and specialty fiber activities like angora shearing, flax processing, and a heritage breed sheep display.

The demonstrations and marketplace are free and open to the public, and offer the best opportunity to get to know your fiber farmer, clothing designer, natural dyer, yarn producer — the people who provide for our essential need to clothe ourselves. The marketplace is open throughout the day to connect with and support the small businesses of our fibershed, who come from nearby and farther reaches. In the wake of the recent North Bay wildfires, it feels restorative and hopeful to host a communal gathering in support of one another and the landscape that sustains us.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Rebecca Burgess & Fibershed

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 Citizen: Jen Hewett

Photos by Paige Green Photography, courtesy of Fibershed

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Slow Fashion Citizen: Jen Hewett

EDITOR’S NOTE: After three years of collaborating with Jen for Fringe Supply Co. (and taking her online class), I’m thrilled to have her on the blog today!
—Karen

Slow Fashion Citizen: Jen Hewett

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH // It’s an honor to share the work of talented printmaker, fiber artist and surface designer Jen Hewett in this week’s interview. I adore Jen’s use of color and shape in her bold and wildly inspired prints but I was also smitten with her Print, Pattern, Sew project where she printed her own fabric to make into garments. This allowed her to fuse her abilities as a surface designer and a sewer — rendering her garments unique and also imprinting her aesthetic not just in the silhouettes or combination of color and fibers, but in the bold and beautiful graphics of the garments, too.

I’ve known Jen for several years through the San Francisco Bay Area arts community, and while I loved her work from the very beginning, I always appreciated her candor, commitment and critical eye, too. Also, several years ago she brought champagne to my birthday brunch with a silver spoon because it’s known to keep the bubbly from going flat, and I fell for her then and there. Who knew silver spoons keep champagne from going flat? Jen did.

It’s that grace, humor and thoughtful nature that she brings to her work and her community. Watching Jen continue to push herself in her prints and in her technical skill is something that makes my heart race — she’s always inventing new projects, experimenting with new color palettes, and pushing outside of her comfort zone to make work that is simultaneously refined and absolutely alive. Welcome, Jen!

. . .

Your printmaking work is sublime. I adore your graphic prints, choice of fabrics, and the particular way you combine shapes and color to create bold and beautiful prints. Can you talk about what inspired you to start printmaking?

I’ve always been creative, and had started a stationery company in my twenties. I ran that until 2004 when, carrying a lot of credit card debt from the business, I sold the stationery company and started working a corporate job. My job was very uncreative (although I worked with a lot of designers and writers), but it allowed me to pay off my debt, and it gave me the time to figure out what to do next.

I needed a creative outlet, so I took a screenprinting class on a whim in – I think – January 2007. I was quickly hooked, and spent a lot of my free time in the screenprinting studio. I was laid off from my corporate job in December 2008, at the peak of the Great Recession. No one was hiring. I went to the studio as often as I could, and began selling my prints. My art career grew from there.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Jen Hewett

I remember when you launched your Print, Pattern, Sew project and it was thrilling to see your printmaking work applied to your wardrobe. This was a beautiful moment in slow fashion when your craft was transferred to your wardrobe and resulted in unique and meaningful garments. What led you to start Print, Pattern, Sew?

In 2014 I had a weekly project called 52 Weeks of Printmaking. Every week I’d create a different print, and would share it on my blog and social media. Halfway through the year I decided I wanted to do something more complex in 2015.

I took Jess Swift’s class, Pattern Camp, which is an online class about creating digital repeat patterns. It wasn’t much of a leap to figure out how to do this manually. At that point, I had been sewing my own clothes for a couple of years, and thought it would be fun to merge my love of sewing (and clothing) with my love of printmaking.

Every month in 2015, I hand printed yardage, then sewed that fabric into a different garment using either a self-drafted pattern or one from an independent pattern designer. At the end of the year, I had twelve truly custom garments, as well as a book proposal based on the project.

So many folks are intimidated to begin making their own clothing. Fear of imperfection, clothes that won’t fit, poor craftsmanship or somehow getting it wrong. Of course, we all have to start somewhere but were there any specific classes, patterns or tutorials you adored when you first started making your own garments?

As a working artist, I’m used to starting things that are just beyond my abilities and then figuring out solutions along the way. I approach sewing in this manner, too. Of course, I started with simple garments – April Rhodes’ Staple Dress was the first garment I sewed, quickly followed by Sonya Philip’s Dress No.1 and Dress No.2. None of those garments were perfect. Nothing I sew now is perfect.

Really, the best advice I can give anyone is “practice.” You can spend a lot of money on a good machine and nice fabric, but none of those things will make up for lack of skill. The only way to build your skills is to work on increasingly more complex garments, learning from (and fixing) your mistakes along the way.

Printing your own clothing is really a beautiful act in reclaiming fashion and making the garment truly your own. Designers talk about emotional attachment or why we keep certain garments forever even if they might be more sentimental than practical — the wedding dress is the typical example. Your printed clothing has the added emotional attachment of being designed and printed by you. Do you feel a certain attachment to these garments that you haven’t experienced in a store bought garment? Would you think twice before sending one to the Goodwill?

I don’t really treat any of my clothes as precious. I believe that clothes are meant to be worn, and not to be stored away in a closet for a special occasion (except for true special-occasion clothing). Wearing a garment regularly means honoring the time and money that went into its creation. And I tend to wear my clothes until they fall apart, so that by the time I’m ready to discard an item, I feel that I’ve gotten full use from it.

I probably won’t ever discard garments made with my hand-printed fabric, though. I do have an archive of my printed fabric, and will likely just add the garments to that archive.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Jen Hewett

It seems we’re craving connection and that’s one driving force in Slow Fashion. We’re exhausted by mass production and want something special or something valuable that can’t be so easily replicated in fast fashion. We often equate value with money but it’s also that triad of money, time and craftsmanship. Do you think making your garments for Print, Pattern, Sew altered your concept of the value of your garments?

I have always valued quality over quantity when it comes to clothing. I grew up wearing a uniform to school. I had five white blouses, two skirts, a sweater and a blazer. I got two pairs of school shoes each year, and they were meant to last the year. These were unexciting but durable clothes, and I had to take good care of them. But because I didn’t have to have a different outfit every day, my parents allowed me to splurge a bit on non-school clothes, buying a few pieces of well-made clothing that would hold up under repeated wearing. I didn’t have a lot of “free dress” clothes, but what I did have was of a good quality.

Sewing has changed how I shop for clothes, though, breaking my occasional impulse shopping habit. I rarely go to the mall or shop in boutiques anymore, unless I have a very specific purchase in mind. But the real excitement for me in making clothing is less a desire to opt out of fast fashion (partly because I never really bought into it in the first place, except for a couple of years in college) and more in the ability to create something that fits me and my style.

Any tips you might have for someone just starting to sew their own garments? Maybe tools you particularly love or something else that you learned through your project that inspired you to continue?

Always make a muslin when you’re trying a new pattern. It may seem like extra work to do so, but it saves so much work down the line. From my muslins, I’ve figured out that I’ve cut the wrong size, or that I need to make bust or dart adjustments. It’s much better to discover this before you’ve cut into your good fabric and have started sewing.

Also, buy good fabric. Your garment is only as good as the time and materials you put into it. Why spend all that time making something with shoddy fabric?

And finally, invest in a serger and an invisible zipper foot. I spent so much time making French seams before I had a serger. That was time I could have spent on something else! And I used to avoid anything that required an invisible zipper because I found them so intimidating. Once I had an invisible zipper foot, a whole new world of sewing opened up to me.

Lastly, your first book is underway. Congratulations! When can we expect it to be published? And could you tell us maybe just one thing about the book that you’re particularly excited about?

My book, Print, Pattern, Sew, will be published by Roost Books in May 2018. I’ve just reviewed the final, pre-press layouts. I think it’s such a beautiful book. I worked with the best team, and I’m excited for us to finally have it in our hands. I’ve been teaching some of the practices that are included in the book both in person and through my online classes, and I’m also thrilled that I’ll be able to reach so many more people through this book!

Slow Fashion Citizen: Jen Hewett

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 Citizen: Kristine Vejar

Photos © Jen Hewett, used with permission

Slow Fashion Citizen: Kristine Vejar

Slow Fashion Citizen: Kristine Vejar

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH // A Verb for Keeping Warm is one of the loveliest fabric and yarn shops I’ve ever visited and yet it’s so much more than a supply store for San Francisco Bay Area fiber enthusiasts. This space also hosts community events, book launches, classes, fiber clubs, an outdoor dye studio, a full range of materials for knitting, sewing, weaving, and regular appearances by the knitting world’s luminaries. Yet it’s also just a friendly place to buy fabric. To browse craft books. To trail your fingers gently across naturally dyed yarns and find some respite from the bustling pace of urban life.

Kristine Vejar (@avfkw) is the owner of “Verb” and she’s also an avid researcher, dyer, maker, author and teacher. Her passion for creating connections in the natural dye world, inspiration for a homemade wardrobe, and dedication to supporting the handmade community all spill over into the aesthetics, energy and attitude of her beautiful shop. When you enter Verb it’s like you’ve entered Kristine’s auxiliary living room. It’s difficult to summarize Kristine’s contributions to the Slow Fashion community because they are so wide, wonderful and heartfelt. She’s a savvy businesswoman, an artist and author, and she’s just so good at making folks feel welcome in her space.

Her book The Modern Natural Dyer is iconic in the natural dye world. It’s exquisitely designed, highly informative, and chock-full of gorgeously styled photos. Yet I get the sense that all of this is just the beginning of Kristine’s offerings.

. . .

A Verb for Keeping Warm is so much more than a shop. Was it always your intention to create a community gathering space when you opened?

Yes! Absolutely! The times in my life when I have felt most connected to others, and most understood, was through the act of stitching and making textiles.

I grew up within my grandmother’s knitting and sewing circles in rural Illinois. My grandma’s best friend, Doris, owned a yarn and gift shop named The Black Sheep. It was in a little house on the town square, across from the amphitheater where the local orchestra played Sunday evenings in the summer. Women were always gathered knitting and stitching. I adored going there as a child and still, in my memory, it is the epitome of a knitting store.

Years later, I went to school in India to study art and architecture. I found myself gravitating to a specific collection of bright, colorful textiles created by nomadic herders named Rabari. I traveled to the desert and found myself feeling at home amongst large groups of women stitching. Upon returning to the US, I learned to spin yarn and joined a spinning group. Again, in the circle of spinners, I felt at home. Oakland and the Bay Area have a lot going on. It can be overwhelming and exciting. I found that having a group to spin and knit with have helped me turn this big town into a small town. I felt I had a sense of place.

When I opened my first natural dyeing studio in Berkeley, I had studio sales and began to meet lots of people. By the end of the year, I rented another space, turned it into a little store, and more people began to gather for events and classes. Finally, I was at the crux of needing to decide the next direction for Verb. Would we move into a warehouse and cultivate a wholesale business, or would we go the community route and open a shop and school?

Due to my memories of stitch circles, I decided to go the community route and opened in our current location on San Pablo Avenue in 2011. I wanted to teach people how to use fiber, yarn, fabric and natural dyes. I wanted people to meet one another who share this same interest. And I hoped others would experience a sense of belonging brought on by textiles and community.

I think of others who make products similar in ethics to Verb as my community. So I felt that by creating a shop, I could support this community and carry their products — like Brooklyn Tweed, Quince and Co, Stone Wool, Spincycle, Manos, and Twirl yarn, as well as Merchant & Mills fabric, Fringe Supply Co. goods, etc. This year, we have traveled a lot to study natural dyeing and have brought a lot of materials and dyes home to Verb. It has been great to be able to support these independent artisans and farmers.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Kristine Vejar

Verb focuses on sustainable, handmade, independently designed, small batch, or otherwise ethically produced fibers. Was sustainability always at the forefront in your work?

When I went to school in India, we traveled way out into the country. I stayed with a family and farmed. To be honest, it was hell. They had one cow, a plow and a mud hut. (There is absolutely nothing wrong with having only three things in life, if it is a choice and if there is a safety net – security that if your crop fails, you will not starve.) I spent my time there on my haunches in over 100-degree weather, weeding. I had already been pondering the differences in socio-economic conditions between people: why and how such disparity existed, and why it is acceptable. And in that experience on the farm, my world and perspective broke open. In the following days, everything I saw – t-shirts, pants, rice, flour, vegetables – I saw those farmers bent over, for endless hours and days. I thought if I am paying only 5 cents for a bag of rice (or even in the case of the $10 t-shirt in the US), given how many hands all of these products must have travelled through, what must the farmer earn?

Meanwhile, still in India, I wandered into a shop one day. There was a man behind the counter wearing clothing which in my mind looked traditional – or what I had seen in photos – a kind of cloth pill-box hat, and a shirt which had a short collar and 4 buttons along the chest. Behind him in glass cases were stacks of cloth and clothing. I asked to see these pieces. There was a rustic quality to them – although sometimes the fabric was very fine – there was an irregularity to the threads. I looked above him and there was a photo of Gandhi. I felt confused. He gave me a book to read. I had known that Gandhi led India’s fight for independence from Britain in 1947, but what I learned is that Gandhi encouraged people to spin their own cotton and weave it into cloth, in their homes, as a way to boycott their British colonizers. The action of making cloth undermined Britain’s financial hold on India. The cloth in that shop was handspun and handwoven. It is called khadi cloth. And to this day, the government subsidizes these shops. I found this incredibly inspiring on so many levels. Cloth having the power to either indenture someone or free them. Individuals taking the power back by creating their own cloth. And the fact that each person, in their own small way, can make a difference. Cloth was and can be a medium for social justice.

About a year later, when I was again in India, I was working with dyers. There were chemical dyes in puddles. I began looking into what these dyes were made of. And again, I questioned how the choices I was making through my consumption were altering the lives of others in negative ways. And how does the health of the Earth impact the health of humans? How can we co-exist with the Earth, work with our hands, and be healthy and financially stable? Why do we value and are willing to pay programmers or CEOs millions of dollars but not the people who grow our food and fiber? How can I redistribute this money to those whose work I believe in – those who treat people, the Earth, and their animals kindly. People who are purely profit-driven are behemoths. So how do I focus my attention and energy on all the “little people” whose work resonates with me.

I began to think about equality. No one should work so hard and have to suffer. And I certainly did not want to contribute to this suffering. In that moment, I wanted to make things better. I wanted to help increase the value of these everyday objects that are so easily taken for granted. Life is complex and complicated. I was stunned by what to do. I felt judgmental to insert what I believed should or could be done in a country that was not my own. So I returned home to the United States, where I thought that possibly I could engage in a conversation and/or create a product which could increase value for the work of those around the world. That said, I was really young and lost. I got a 9-5 job. It was a good job but not my passion. This came as another life lesson: There have to be others like me for which corporate culture makes them unhappy. I began thinking about the possibility of being able to create a company that could employ others, like me, interested in textiles and people.

And then the conversation about global warming began to be more widely discussed. I went to school for Art and Art History so I had a lot to learn (still do). I began to learn terms and theories – like thinking about my carbon footprint. Of course, from living in the Bay Area I was aware of Alice Waters’ work and growing food locally in order to reduce one’s carbon footprint and to support local farmers. So as I began my yarn line, I desperately wanted to have yarn made from local farmers’ wool. But it was a puzzle. Every time I could find local wool, it was really scratchy. I liked it but I knew it would not sell well. Natural dyeing is labor intensive and the dyes can be expensive. Every time I found soft wool, it was very expensive and available in small supply. I pushed forward using imported yarn.

Also, something to note is that investing in local fiber typically means investing a lot more money up front. In most cases, there would be a distributor who would make that initial investment and order thousands of pounds of yarn at once, and we would receive the opportunity to order small quantities of yarn on demand. As we have moved towards more local fibers, we oftentimes pay thousands of dollars for wool, which we will not see in yarn form for 6-9 months. Once we receive the yarn, we still need to dye it, so it could be a full year before that yarn hits the shelves. So before we could fulfill my mind’s eye, we had to have enough financial (and emotional!) stability to feel confident enough to take the plunge.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Kristine Vejar

In 2012, I met Sally Fox, the notoriously independent, organic, colored-cotton breeder, and we hit it off. She lives about 90 miles from me. With her guidance, I made my first local yarn from the wool of her sheep and named it after her: Pioneer. We are now on our 4th batch of Pioneer and have made at least a half dozen other yarns composed of California and/or US wool.

There are more people now who care if my yarn is made of US wool, but for many years, and somewhat still to this day, there are other things of greater importance to customers – like color or price point. So using US wool is something that I care more about, and intend to supply, than the current demand. This is a risky place to be in — most business advisors recommend seeing where demand is and filling it. You know, give people what they want. I guess I am stubborn. For instance, we are in the process of shifting our yarn called Annapurna, which is made of imported superwash merino, cashmere, and nylon (an extremely popular blend industry-wide) to California Rambouillet wool. While it is soft, it is most definitely not going to be as soft as Annapurna and the hand is going to change slightly. We might really upset our long-term customers. So the question becomes: When might people alter the expectations (softness/color/hand), to support wool with a lower carbon footprint that will help the environment and which will support a local farmer? Or who knows – maybe the stars will align, everyone will love the new yarn and I will have spent many nights worrying for nothing.

I’ve come to learn that my days of working in 100-degree-plus weather on a farm are far from over as I’ve helped Sally over the years with her farm: planting cotton, dye plants, skirting fleece and lots of weeding. And still, as I’ve spent hours, and look out and see how much is left to do, or how there’s been too little or too much rain, needing to surrender to what is, I think of those farmers in India – and of the thousands of other farmers around the world growing fiber and food. And once again become committed to leveling the playing field, education and uplifting the value of farming.

There’s such an incredible community of textile artists, knitters, crafters, makers and otherwise insanely talented people in the Bay Area. Are there particular ways that you proactively engage community through the shop or through your work with teaching and dyeing?

We hold a monthly meeting called Seam Allowance that is essentially a support group for people who have pledged to make at least 25% of the clothing they wear on a daily basis. People share what they have been making, perhaps where they are stuck, and what they hope to make in the future. It’s been amazing to watch people’s progress. We have had people who just learned to knit make sweaters, and eventually learn to sew, and make dresses and shirts. And there is a sector of this group that has become really involved in learning about materials and is focusing on farm-raised, local materials.

We also host many teachers from around the world. It is wonderful to have the community come together to take class from these teachers. And then, like you said, we have very talented local artists and makers in this area and they teach at Verb as well. I love being able to support their work and to offer their products to other makers. We also offer a series of free knitting and sewing demos.

This year is different than prior years. Since June 2016, we have traveled to Iceland, Oaxaca, Indonesia and Japan to research natural dyeing. Usually, I am home nearly the whole year and teach natural dyeing about once a month and classes focused upon the work of Natalie Chanin and Alabama Chanin. Then, about three times a year, I host a community indigo dip, where people are invited into the studio to dip a piece of fabric and try their hand at indigo dyeing. Seeing first-hand dyeing of fabric in India was so life-changing for me that I try to expose people to the process of dyeing, spinning, weaving, knitting and sewing so they may be drawn into the process and engage! In 2018, I am planning to travel less, so we will be able to resume more of these community-specific events.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Kristine Vejar

There’s been so much interest in natural dyes lately and it is so exciting to see a wider audience taking interest in plants dyes. Can you talk about the opportunity natural dyeing creates for you to connect with your garments or fibers?

It is so exciting! I don’t think a day goes by when I’m not in awe that color can come from plants and attach to cloth. The more I learn about natural dyeing, the more I realize I have only scratched the surface. For example, although I work with plants on a daily basis, I know .5% (maybe less, there is that much to know) about plants. There is SO much to learn regarding the different plant families and the properties of those families, and how their relationship to soil affects pigment.

Even scientists, such as botanists, are discovering new plants and learning more about plants on a daily basis – especially as it becomes easier to test genetics. In the past five years, a type of indigo grown in Japan shifted in name from Polygonum tinctoria to Persicaria tinctoria. Sometimes I find this overwhelming. I crave an answer. The answer. I want to understand. I don’t want the answer to change. For me, natural dyeing symbolizes the ability to surrender to the unknown, but finding beauty along the way, staying curious, being a student, and feeling uncomfortable because I am stretching my knowledge and understanding of nature.

I am most calm when I am in the woods. Natural dyeing is a way to bring the woods with me in the form of my clothing. Natural dyeing is a challenge. How can a rich, beautiful palette, possibly consisting of 100 colorways, be made with 7-10 plants? How have people around the world used materials found within 100 miles of their homes to create clothing, embedded with color and motifs, which upheld their culture and community through the cultivation of their distinct local fashion, where the clothing is worn with pride of place, as a signifier of connection to the land upon which they live and work for survival?

The Slow Fashion movement is so exciting right now for the multiple ways it’s engaging makers — dyeing, mending, sewing, knitting, weaving — but I always try to consider the way folks might engage if they aren’t at a technical place to make their own garments. What do you suggest for folks who are truly beginning or not yet making clothing?

There are so many points of possible engagement. Anything from purchasing clothing secondhand to purchasing clothing from a local designer, possibly one who is manufacturing their clothing locally, and possibly also looking closely at the materials chosen to make the clothing. Learning to thread a needle and take a few stitches. Dropping into a yarn shop and acquiring yarn and needles to make a simple garter stitch scarf. Try dyeing a piece of clothing.

Have a few extra hours? Perhaps a local farmer, small yarn producer, or designer needs an extra set of hands. Maybe you are a writer, and can lend your voice. (If I have to read one more New Yorker article about the dawn of time, and not have textiles mentioned as an incredibly influencing factor over just about everything, I am going to scream.) Or an artist, who could create a piece of art reflecting the images and portraits of things you find inspiring and motivational. A song would be great!

People might laugh at my answer, but I truly think for this movement to take root, we have to explore the natural affinities clothing shares with other pillars of our culture – like food, shelter, art, literature, music and dance. Plus, that crossover can be so interesting, and draw in more people who have not previously thought of clothing as more than something to just cover one’s self. And sometimes, from the inside, it is hard to see. So having someone new come to the table and add to the experience is a wonderful thing.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Kristine Vejar

You have a beautifully handmade wardrobe ranging from knitted garments to sewn garments, dyed garments and so much more. What have you learned to be the best combination for patterns, fibers and colors? We’re all looking for that magical combination in a homemade garment that we can wear over and over again. Do you have a formula like, say, neutral colors in natural fibers that are loose fitting? Or is it more serendipitous?

Aw, thanks Katrina! You know, funny enough, I have a long history of making things that wouldn’t be called basics. I do have a history of following fashion, i.e. making things that go out of style. The first time I sewed my entire wardrobe was when I was going to work in Washington D.C. at the Textile Museum in 2001. It was January. I had been working at Poppy Fabrics (R.I.P.) and I made my pants, blouses, dresses and coat. I loved everything I sewed but it was made solely for that experience. I was there to work as a consultant for about two months. None of that clothing transitioned back into my life in Oakland.

The same thing happened when I returned to D.C. that summer. And again, when I went back to India to live. And now it continues: I find myself most apt to sew when I am about to go somewhere. I make these little collections. The geographic location and climate cultivates the restraint around what design I choose and the materials I use. Otherwise, I find the process can feel too open-ended. Some of these pieces do make it into my daily wardrobe. Currently, this tends to be a collection of linen dresses which I mainly wear to keep cool.

I am what some might call boring. I tend to like all neutrals and indigo blue, and all natural fibers, especially linen, cotton and wool. The focus of my clothing is more where the fiber is grown and what it is dyed with than a high level of technical sewing skill. My knitting tends to be more technically adept. Although because I find myself dialed in so much to my dyeing, which can be quite fussy, I will fully admit to wimping out and forgoing a sweater pattern because it is written to be knit in pieces (rather than seamless). So in other words, I am most satisfied when I enjoy the process of making, the materials I am using, and then feel comfortable wearing once complete.

Lastly, tell us three tools you personally cannot live without.

My Addi Turbos! Specifically the super sharp Rockets and the interchangeable lace needles with long handles. I love that these are made in Germany and are traceable. They are smooth and help me knit very fast!

My camera, as it helps me to record a visual journey of my time traveling, researching and creating.

My dye journal so I can understand how I have achieved specific colors and to learn more about plants.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Kristine Vejar

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 Citizen: Karen Templer

Photos © Kristine Vejar, used with permission

Slow Fashion Citizen: Karen Templer

Slow Fashion Citizen: Karen Templer

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH // It’s a special day when I get to interview the creator of this gorgeous blog, Karen Templer. When I first conceived of this monthly series Karen was one of the people at the top of my list to feature. Now that we’re entering Slow Fashion October I’m thrilled to turn the spotlight on our beloved Karen.

Karen’s approach to slow fashion is one of my favorites from all the slow-fashion folks out there — and there are so many talented and dedicated folks. But Karen gives permission, she makes space, she grows community, and she’s not shy about the challenges or shortcomings either. Let’s be honest, she makes some stunning garments, knits sublime sweaters and curates a gorgeous corner of the Internet, so her down-to-earth attitude combined with her swoon-worthy aesthetic make her a true inspiration.

Karen creates space for all of us — all of our criticisms and concerns and somehow we can show up here in our flannel shirts and mended jeans or our fashionable indie dresses, and we can join in this community together as we are right now today. She cheers for the handmade, the indie designed, the sustainably purchased but also applauds the mended, dyed, dusted, darned, beloved and otherwise decade-old factory fashion garment that’s still hanging on. It’s that sense of community, that permission for different perspectives, that interest in widening the access points and truly fostering slow fashion into a more welcoming movement that makes me excited to show up for this series every month.

Lastly, it makes me a bit giddy to feature Karen’s thoughts today because she so often sits behind the scenes and orchestrates her magic without hopping up on that stool and sitting in the limelight. So, Karen, thank you for creating this space for us and for agreeing to sit in the figurative light for this post. And, of course, thank you for organizing Slow Fashion October!

. . .

What inspired you to start Slow Fashion October or “Slotober” as it’s been called?

I published the proposal for it in May of 2015, which was a pivotal time for me. I’d been knitting for a little over 3 years, which had rekindled my interest in sewing and had brought me into the orbit of a lot of people who were really putting a lot of thought into how they clothed themselves. I guess you could say I’d been going through a very slow awakening to the various issues and considerations that were already so central for many of these people. But then I had emptied out my closet just before deciding to move across the country, where I wound up living out of a suitcase for two months … all of which had me really thinking about my own fashion over-consumerism and how to make good choices as I rebuilt my wardrobe. Meanwhile, I’d been watching #memademay for a couple of years, feeling a little left out because I had only a couple of sewn garments in my closet and May isn’t exactly sweater season. But also, at that time there was a portion of MMM that was people frantically making things and taking daily selfies and lamenting some imagined imperative to not repeat a garment in those selfies, and so on. And it really struck me that there this dichotomy in the handmade wardrobe community — people making and buying clothes more thoughtfully than I had ever witnessed, and people making things with the same kind of unconsidered fervor as the shoppers of the world.

I had long been one of those shoppers, and had also been having the all-too-common experience of knitters and sewers where you are just making the wrong things — things that don’t ultimately become productive members of your wardrobe. (For the record, paying attention to what gets worn and how to make better choices was, as I understand it, the original impulse of Me Made May.) So your question caused me to go back and look at my original proposal and see what I actually said at the time about what kind of conversation I was craving:

“… the world doesn’t need another me-made month, per se [but] I’d like the scope of this to be different and broader. I’d like us to be able to celebrate not only our own makes (although definitely that!) but clothes that have been made for us by others; worn over the course of years or decades; handed down or rescued from thrift shops or attics; mended; handcrafted in the small studios of slow fashion designers and/or from ethical fabrics; and so on. I want it to be about responsible and sustainable fashion in all its splendor, in other words. An opportunity to discuss and explore the wide range of topics that are at the core of slow fashion.”

I’d been reading a lot and thinking a lot, following people who were so far ahead of me in all of this, and just really wanting to be able to have a larger conversation about it — to learn from others, think through some thoughts, have my preconceptions challenged. It’s such a complicated conversation — sometimes I think it’s harder than discussing politics — but so worth having, as I learn so much from everyone. Speaking of which, I’m surprised to see the word “ethical” in there, which is a word I try to avoid, but that must be one of the things I’ve grown more sensitive to over the course of the conversations.

Sustainability seems to be embedded in the ethos of your shop and your personal work with growing a homemade wardrobe. From heirloom tools to wool from small farms, support of indie makers and shops, supporting community and initiating conversation — it all circles around a larger concept of sustainable making or sustainable living. Was this intentional when you launched Fringe Supply Co?

Not on such a conscious level, but I think all of it has evolved in parallel. There’s an extent to which I’ve always been an environmentally conscious person (child of the ’70s) and a lover of quality goods and natural materials — things that are built to last — and that has informed my whole life and so of course was there from the beginning with the blog (which started in December of 2011) and the shop (November 2012), but it has deepened — or maybe come to the forefront more — over time as result of these explorations and conversations.

The part about supporting farms and indie makers and other small businesses is huge for me. It really matters to me whose pocket I put money into when I shop for myself (whether it’s yarn or a pair of pants or whatever) or when I place orders for the shop. It means the world to me to be able to help people get to do what they do, because it’s very difficult if you want to have an existence that’s outside of our increasingly corporatized system. And I love getting to know and talk about where things come from as much as that’s possible, so it’s win/win.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Karen Templer

For many of us, general stewardship for the environment and a desire to deepen our relationship to the environment might have been present for a long time but there’s often a pivotal shift in mindset when we realize “I can go so much deeper,” and that often results in a shift in habits. Was there a light bulb moment when sustainability came to the forefront in your life or work?

It’s funny to me that my clothing habits were such an anomaly and blindspot in my life for so long. I have always furnished my homes chiefly from flea markets and antique malls, loving the hunt and the fact that everything has character and a history. All the years we were living the Bay Area, a lot of our food came from farmers’ markets or local fish markets or our backyard, and it’s taken time to re-establish those habits in Nashville, but we’re now in a CSA and have a winter’s worth of local meat in the freezer. (We don’t have the luxury of our own vegetable garden here.) I care about my carbon footprint. I drove the same car for 19 years until it would go no farther, and still it had very low mileage for its age — even though it was our only car for most of those years — because we walked or took public transportation more often than not. I never turn on an overhead light until it’s absolutely necessary; use heat and air conditioning as little as I can get away with. On and on. So you’d think I would have been thrifting and hand-making and dyeing all along, right? But no, I was a devout and fervent mall shopper. Total clothes junkie.

I don’t think there was a lightbulb moment as far as wanting to do things differently in that regard — really more of that slow awakening or gradual transition. There was a tipping point that I wrote about just a couple of months before proposing Slotober. And there was a very vivid moment, later, where I realized I had again crossed over into new territory. I was in my once-favorite store with my husband, looking at the vast racks of clearance clothes. And where before I would have been piling things onto my left arm to try on, I was left completely cold by all of it. It just couldn’t compete with the handmade and known-origins clothes I’d been slowly collecting, and the stories those clothes contain. So whereas in the beginning of all of this, fast fashion felt like a hard habit to break — like I’d really really want something and have to remind myself why I didn’t want to buy it — I realized I had reached a point where I was completely void of the want. There was no more need to talk myself out of it — it had simply lost its appeal. It’s a process.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Karen Templer

I love how you are so relatable as a sustainable fashion leader—I don’t feel like I have to make every garment of clothing for myself when I read your blog. I feel permission to make some things, buy some things secondhand, buy some things ethically made, and still hold on to those factory fashion garments I’ve had forever but still love and wear so much. Can you talk about access in sustainable fashion? Or about various entry points to a more sustainable wardrobe?

I don’t feel like a leader, but thank you. I’m just a person who’s thinking and trying and learning and doing what I can; I just happen to be doing it in public and sharing my progress, but I certainly don’t think of myself as an expert or role model or anything of that sort. And I think that’s an important point to make, because one of the most interesting and difficult things about these conversations is how much we all feel judged, or judge ourselves against others. The frequency with which people have said “I can’t make all of my own clothes” is really striking, as if anything less than that is sub-par somehow. Or “I can’t afford slow fashion — all of my clothes come from the thrift store.” That, to me, is the epitome of slow fashion.

I love knowing where my clothes come from — whether it’s that I made them myself or I bought them directly from the people who made them. Both of those things are unattainable for a lot of people. For me, I wish I were a better thrifter — I’m just not — but I am lucky to have access to a lot of remnant fabric because I live in a town where there are a lot of small fashion companies. If I were still in the Bay Area, I’d be shopping at the remnant store, but we don’t have one here. I can’t know where all of my fabric comes from (as much as I would like to) but I like knowing at least that some of it is me keeping remnants out of the landfill. So that’s something I can do, even if it’s not 100% of the time. (And I could also stand to buy less fabric — I’ve gotten a bit gluttonous about that lately!)

I mentioned before that I have local meat in my freezer. Sometimes we can also get a loaf of bread from a local baker, and lettuce from our CSA. It’s wonderful — it’s more nutritious and delicious than factory food, and I’ve supported small-scale farmers and bakers in the process. I also often get a perfectly tasty turkey sandwich for lunch at the deli near my work, and that’s factory turkey and factory bread. It’s a reality of life, and it doesn’t make the local stuff any less wonderful — in fact, it makes me appreciate it even more, because it’s not something I can do for every meal.

I feel like this is a really common way of thinking where food is concerned. Like people might go to a farmers’ market now and then, and appreciate the food and the experience, or even grow some vegetables in the backyard. But nobody says “I can’t grow or raise 100% of my own food!” as if they should or could. We don’t put that unreasonable expectation on ourselves, and yet so many people do where slow fashion is concerned.

Certainly some of it is plain old, unavoidable envy — I remember what it felt like to see other people’s handmade or traceable wardrobes and look at my J.Crew-stuffed closet and feel envious or think “I’ll never get there.” I get it. So I think we have to keep in mind that it’s not about trying to achieve some mythical goal of pureness or traceability, or comparing yourself against anyone else. We all have different wishes and circumstances and budgets and time constraints and skill sets. But also: You never know what will happen once you start. Three years ago, I would never have imagined as much of my wardrobe would be homemade as it currently is, but that’s what happens when you make a few garments a year. It takes time, but they add up. Same if you’re thrifting or sourcing responsibly or whatever it is that you can do and enjoy doing.

So my feeling is do whatever feels right and good and doable to you, cherish that, and don’t beat yourself up about the rest.

What’s one beloved homemade garment of yours that’s become a staple in your wardrobe? Why do you think that one garment is so successful for you?

I can make all the showstoppers I want, but it’s the simplest things that get worn the most and are therefore my favorites, because they just make getting dressed in the morning easier. Especially the little sleeveless tops like this and this, which can be worn on their own or layered under everything else. Although I’m expecting to wear my jeans and my fisherman sweater for years and years to come. So there are the inconspicuous workhorses and the treasures.

You’re embedded in the knitting and maker community but I’m curious if you might share some inspirations from outside this community that have inspired your work with sustainable fashion. Could you share a few authors, artists, activists, or other thinkers outside of the craft world that have inspired your work?

I’ve definitely been more steeped and for a longer time in the slow food movement than slow fashion. I’ve read most of Michael Pollan’s books over the years as they came out, but I was especially influenced by This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow when I read it in the early aughts. I find farmer-innovator Sally Fox hugely inspirational on so many levels. And the same goes for my friend Molly DeVries of Ambatalia (maker of the beloved Bento Bags), who is one of many striving for both conscientious production and a nondisposable life. To name just a few!

Slow Fashion Citizen: Karen Templer

PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizen: Sasha Duerr

Top photo by Zachary Gray, remaining photos © Karen Templer

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sasha Duerr

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sasha Duerr

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH // I’ve known Sasha Duerr (@sashaduerr) for nearly two decades—from something of a previous life or previous lives in my early days in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late ’90s. When I met Sasha I was instantly drawn to her kind nature, open heart, astute observations, and also her thoughtful approach to fiber arts, gardening and her wardrobe. Fast-forward a few lifetimes, jobs, relocations, children and homesteads later, and Sasha and I have remained steady friends while finding more in common in our creative and professional lives.

I mention our friendship because it’s this kinship and kindness that’s part of Sasha’s nature across her personal relationships and her relationship to her work that offers something so unique in her contribution to Slow Fashion —she’s generous, kind, intuitive, and deeply invested. And this tending, this attention, or this attunement is something that’s so prominent in her work with natural color. Sasha’s been working with natural dyes and “regenerative fashion” for nearly twenty years but her relationship to her work and to the slow fashion community feels like it’s own sense of stewardship—she’s protecting dye recipes, creative practices, and slow fashion community for generations to come. Her work evolves from her passionate connection to the land and permaculture but it extends to color, fiber, and human interactions. She lives a very intentional life as an artist, teacher, mother and homesteader, but from the bustling, urban and decidedly modern space of Oakland CA.

It’s an honor to share Sasha’s work and words in this series. Though it’s apparent she is just scratching the surface of what she has to offer at the intersection of permaculture, art and design, it’s this shifting of mindset and language that I always cherish in my interactions with Sasha. I leave our conversations wanting more insight into her resources, mentors, and philosophical approach alongside tips to creating those gorgeous plant-based colors. Welcome, Sasha!

. . .

Your work has been inspiring me for years and it’s such a thrill to share your story. Can you start by giving an overview of your journey working with natural dyes? 

I was fortunate to grow-up spending most of my time outside—splitting every 6 months between the northern coastal woods of Downeast Maine and the rainforests of the Big Island of Hawaii. Living within these very different ecosystems deepened my love and relationship with plants at an early age.

Studying painting in college, my work focused on transformations found in nature, but I was using primarily oil paints and acrylics. Ironically, I started to get sick from working with my materials, and as I researched ways of making my own lesser and non-toxic colors realized that much of the information was outdated, difficult to understand, or with recipes that used toxic sources. This led me to travel (towards Indonesia and India) and to seek out teachers and lineages of this knowledge. Upon arriving back in the US, it also brought me to women in agriculture — on farms and deeper research and knowledge in the indigenous communities that I had grown-up within.

Early after college, I also became active in urban gardening and working with the slow food movement in the Bay Area, recognizing obvious and striking parallels between not knowing where most of our store-bought fashion and textiles came from and how disconnected most were from the process of production—as well as the exploitation and environmental degradation that lies below the surface of the sale bin.

While working on my MFA in Textiles at California College of the Arts in 2001-2003, I received a two-year grant to develop natural dye curriculum at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, California. Through my work there, I started focusing my thesis on the direct connections between slow food and slow fashion — how sensory experiences were key to change.

After graduate school I explored natural dyes in my studio, through research, teaching workshops, hosting conceptual natural color related events and sought out further studies in gardening — particularly Permaculture. This work led me to found Permacouture Institute to explore ideas for regenerative design in fashion and textiles.

From 2008 through 2012, I collaborated with my friend and designer Casey Larkin on the creation of a locally made and all seasonally naturally dyed (by me) alpaca knitwear. We learned alot about what was possible and what was needed in slow fashion, local and natural fiber dyeing production, especially as new moms, but the work we created together was invaluable and I evolved so much in terms of knowing the power of storytelling through plant palettes and slow fashion. (I am now so grateful that Fibershed exists to connect the gaps between farmers, producers and designers to rethink regional production as it is very needed!)

My work in natural dyes also led me to develop curriculum courses in the intersection of social practice and slow fashion and textiles at my alma mater, CCA. I have been a professor there for the past 10 years and teach a course called “Soil to Studio” where we done an abundance of research and experimentation over the years in plant dyeing recipes and natural dye applications, we also maintain a community edible, fiber and dye garden with a fiber and dye seed saving library (available for any student, faculty or staff to check out) and collaborate with community partners, such as UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley. Cultivating the connection of creating color from by-products of food, flora, medicinals, and plants beneficial to our ecologies has become my life’s work — and for me there is no comparison to the beauty of the true hues that have emerged in the process.

It seems that maybe your personal migrations from Maine to Hawaii to California play a part in your approach to dye work, foraging for dyes and working with the local landscape. This also has the benefit of allowing you intimacy and familiarity with local plants in various ecosystems. Would you agree?

Absolutely, paying attention to and knowing the plants in our immediate surroundings connects us wherever we are. Plants can often become invisible to us in our everyday landscapes. It’s surprising how few most of us know by name — even trees in our own backyards.

As an artist, I am also fascinated by how natural color can become a vital tool to help us become more aware — to realize that what we know about our everyday surroundings can constantly surprise us, and that a brilliant spectrum of hues can be found in places that you may never expect, beautiful colors made from compost from a dinner with friends, or a rainbow from the weeds you pass by every day without a second thought. What we consider “valuable” is always an interesting question as well. For instance carrot tops provide gorgeous gold and green colors, we take it for granted and we toss the tops or they are pre-cut for us at the grocery store but at one point carrots were actually grown for the tops and not the roots as they are very medicinal and flavorful!

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sasha Duerr

Your work with natural dyes feels so much deeper than creating color and experimenting with various fibers. You mention Permaculture in your work and you founded the Permacouture Institute. Is there a deeper philosophical or ecological approach to your work with dyes and plants?

What I love about Permaculture is that people and planet are considered equally when thinking about a system. In 2007, I founded Permacouture Institute (with the help of dear friends and supporters). Permacouture became a great way to explore ideas of slow fashion and textiles and to bring people together, to document, research and create through multisensory events and ultimately environmental connections.

Throughout the years we’ve nurtured programs and events to think holistically about natural dyes, slow fashion and textiles. We’ve organized social events about rethinking consumption called “Weed Your Wardrobes” where we dye unwanted clothing and textiles giving them fresh life while weeding urban community gardens and using those same weeds to dye the garments. We’ve explored plant-based “compost colors” by hosting “Dinners to Dye For” and “Seasonal Color and Taste Palette” workshops with slow food chefs, bringing communities together through seasonal meals and using the byproducts of those very same meals.

There are so many ways in which working with natural color can connect us deeply to people, place, and to the planet. The process of growing a dye plant from seed, or of reusing plants that may be taken for granted, plant colors can connect us to something greater, bringing a naturally embedded meaning not possibly squeezed synthetically out of a tube. When you are working with natural fibers and color as well as with fair and just labor, in contrast, you’re constantly aware that you are working on nature’s schedule, not just your own. This allows you to be directly involved with the natural world, communities and individuals, as well as with a plant or animal’s life cycle in relationship to your own.

Cultural continuation, celebration of biodiversity, and awareness and appreciation of supply chain and the labor involved in creating and making additionally helps in stewardship of resources and care of materials.

The growing conditions of the Bay Area for experimenting with natural color have also been a blessing. Knowing the full and unique dimensions that plants can provide —food, medicine, color, fiber— supports deeper roots in our communities, culturally expands design possibilities for food and textiles, and purely from an ecological perspective a healthier and happier future not just for people but for all life.

You’ve been ahead of the trend with natural dyes and sustainable fibers. Although we’re the same age I always consider you an elder in this work — you’ve been considering fiber sources, dye plants, slow living, and sustainable fashion for over 15 years now and that seems like forever in slow fashion. Can you talk about the broader shift you’ve witnessed in the past 10 or 15 years in relation to the interest or awareness in slow fashion?

A major shift that I’ve seen over the past 15 years is that there is now so much more support, strength and organization both within the slow fashion movement and from the mainstream. It has been so wonderful to see how the facets have grown and how many slow fashion and textile nonprofits, artists, advocates and designers are now working in the field.

I think the general consciousness of embracing the uniqueness of artisan and plant-based color has definitely gained more awareness. Navigating the complexities of our wardrobes and where things come from can be nothing less than overwhelming to the average wearer. One way that plant dyeing has been a very successful tool for the slow fashion and textile movement is in how easy the process (which is nearly if not identical to the process of cooking) of applying plant-based color to anything that you already have in your home or wardrobe as a connective and sensory process, thus allowing you to WANT to know more.

I will say that I am also happy, especially as a teacher and professor who has borne witness to so many talented souls and their creative ideas, to see all the diverse practices emerging in the ways that we can think about, approach, participate and add to this movement. There really is not one way. Being creative with what you have in your own individual life, connecting with your community, rethinking and strategizing modes and methods of art and design, supporting others in their efforts all add in the ways in which we can begin now, right where we are.

Your work just gets richer and richer — it feels like your connection to sustainable living and your practice as a colorist are entirely intertwined. I see your work as equal parts process and product. As if the teaching, gardening, art making and personal living are all interconnected. Can you talk about this blurring of boundaries and how one influences or provokes the other?

The process of making a dye bath often becomes an ultimate form of creative “flow” for me, it can awaken all the senses from growing and gathering the plants to the smells, even tastes when you are working with edibles, and of course witnessing unique and multifaceted living color. For me, it is a constant renewal of awe.

I enjoy working holistically, collaborating and connecting with the process, starting with what you have and going from there. I have always loved the practice of plant dyeing both for the process and the results as well as a tool to talk about bigger picture aspects. I believe one of the greatest plights of our modern times is the true cost of over-consumption. Plant dyes, whether you are connected from the seed of growing the color or are just conscious that by pruning your fruit trees in winter you can not only help your peach tree to grow healthier fruit in the summer but the clippings themselves can also provide an abundance of other uses including but not limited to all the seasonal color inspiration and ingredients one may need.

In addition to your work as an instructor and fiber artist you’ve also consulted with various fashion brands around their sustainability efforts. You mentioned the metaphor of “Turning an ocean tanker around versus turning a row boat” meaning that most of the independent artists, designers, and makers have an easier time switching directions, taking risks, and responding to information than a large institution that already has so many systems in place. Can you expand on this thinking of flexibility and adaptability?

Yes, I always say this to my students as they are at a point of starting small and being able to grow intentionally and with new creative initiative. Although there can be big changes and ripple effects that happen when large companies re-approach their methods toward more ethical practices (both environmentally and socially) independent artists and designers play a particularly important role as starting small and showcasing how things can be done differently, with more intention, care, collaboration or innovation can be extremely powerful. Starting small often allows you to see what works and to build in ways that can be most effective. Flexibility is also key to design for what an individual or community may actually need and what can best support their needs in changing or growing in the process.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sasha Duerr

You recently published your second book, Natural Color, and it’s a favorite on my bookshelf. The how-tos in this book focus primarily on food scraps, foraged plants and easily accessible dye materials versus prepared extracts, powders or natural dyes you might order online. Is this connection to the whole plant pivotal to your work?

In my own practice of working with plant-based color, I often use whole plants rather than extracts, I need to be aware of their seasonal availability, growth cycles and color potential. With this knowledge I can develop a color palette specific to a time of year, much like planning a seasonal menu. Working with plant color is one of the easiest and most accessible ways of connecting with the cycle of our ecologies and applying that knowledge directly to the design practice.

I love starting with the whole plant because I think it provides the opportunity for an added level of sensory connection to the process and therefore to the product. There is something so profound about the transformation that occurs when you start with the whole. I also love sharing with others the wow factor of taking something ordinary, like an avocado pit, and showing the gorgeous pinks and grays that can be conjured so easily, or from a bouquet of roses. Meanwhile you get to eat the avocado or enjoy the roses before they hit your dye pot — very difficult to do when you start directly with a powder or an extract.

Working on Natural Color was an absolute joy. We took an actual calendar year to collect and document the seasonal recipes made from gleaning, growing and harvesting a biodiversity of common and less-common plants as sources of dyes. Natural Color was also inspired by a project I’ve been working on for several years now called the Seasonal Color Wheel, which showcases natural colors you can make seasonally from common plants, often weeds and byproducts in various regions, especially urban centers.

In Natural Color we get a sense of this deeper relationship to sustainable living through your essays. The Slow Fashion movement only has a handful of theorists writing nonfiction at this point — Kate Fletcher quickly comes to mind — but it feels like the movement is rapidly developing leadership. What are your thoughts about connecting theory and practice in such a rapidly developing field?

Slow Fashion theory is important as there are so many people who will never grow their own fiber, sew their own garments or dye their own clothes, but supporting and understanding why these practices are important is equally valuable.

I often reference Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose’s book Fashion & Sustainability: Design for Change; it is an incredible resource on diverse ways of thinking and designing. The environmental disaster that is fast fashion and textiles as we currently know it cannot be changed with consumption as usual even if it is replacing “toxic” materials with “eco-friendly” ones. Consumer behavior; how can we connect to what we have more deeply; how can we choose and care for what comes into our lives; how can we change or adapt what we have, transform it into something new; or whether ultimately that garment is designed for the compost pile or re-imagined all matter tremendously.

A topic that I love to think about with natural dyes is that these colors can have different life cycles, like our life experiences and relationships. Not everything (or every color) is meant to be permanent, and at one point fibers and dyes, just like with food, were so biodegradable that they left no trace. Our own sense of fashion is often dependent and driven by change and cycles, not permanence. In fact, our openness to recognizing this truth philosophically could also open new avenues toward how we provide stewardship for the future of natural color and how we can also increase the biodiversity of our palettes to include wider ranges of hues, potentially by being on nature’s timing and expressing different waves of sensory beauty in new forms.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sasha Duerr

I love your use of the phrase “regenerative design” versus sustainable design. You write, “Permacouture … focuses as a dedicated educational and environmental arts lab that continues to research, teach, experiment, build curriculum, consult, and encourage regenerative design practices for textiles and fashion.” Can you explain the concept of regenerative design particularly within slow fashion?

“Regenerative” as a word can be an incredibly useful tool. It can help us to imagine new ways that we may actually be able to ADD positively to a system rather than merely just to sustain what already exists. It expounds on ways that we can build upon a practice and evolve it into something greater, renewing the system with additional life and energy. I think this word is especially powerful for fashion and textiles as it motivates us to think beyond the boundaries of what we may presently think is possible, while at the same time caring for and deeply nourishing the best of what already exists.

So many folks are hesitant to experiment with natural dyes because of the mordants. Or because of the fear they’ll get it wrong. What’s your advice to folks just starting out with natural color—maybe a few favorite dye plants you like best for beginners?

Plant dyes can so easily be made with ingredients already in our kitchens or gardens, or with materials already on their way to the compost pile. For beginners I suggest knowing your materials: choose all-natural fibers, clean them well, and remember when making a dye bath “longer is stronger.” Getting started, just like with cooking, can be a process of being aware, being patient, being open, and continuing to practice, practice, practice. A few of my favorite fall plant dyes for beginners to get started (and that don’t need an additional mordant added) are pomegranate peels; avocado pits and rinds; golden onion skins; and black walnut hulls. AND, as an added win/win, these colors are also all delicious byproducts. So you can have your color and eat it too!

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sasha Duerr

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 Citizen: Adrienne Antonson (State the Label)

Photos © Sasha Duerr, used with permission

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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.

. . .

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.

. . .

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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