2017 Remake 2 + Slotober wardrobe challenge

2017 Remake 2 + Slotober wardrobe challenge

It was my intention for today to post October outfits and a fun little wardrobe challenge, but I got caught up in my own challenge and didn’t get the outfits done! Here’s the idea: Have you ever seen Lee Vosburgh’s 10×10 challenge or similar sorts of things? Lee routinely challenges herself to pick out 10 garments and make 10 days of outfits out of them. I’ve never actually done it, but it’s fun to watch! Jess Daniels suggested to me last year that it would be fun to include something similar as part of Slow Fashion October and I didn’t manage to pull it off. During Slotober last year, Jess set a challenge for herself of picking 1 garment per week and wearing it 6 different ways (documenting each day on Instagram), and there have been a couple of people the last two years who wore 1 dress 30 different ways for the month. I don’t know if I could do any of that, but I love all of those ideas and, as you know, my quarterly wardrobe planning thing this past several seasons has boiled down to me picking out 20 or 30 garments that will form the core of the season for me, and putting them together any variety of ways. I also really loved my Paris packing list (and my Squam one, for that matter) and how many outfits I got out of those very few garments.

So I decided that for my October wardrobe planning, I would challenge myself to pick 20 garments (including shoes??) and make 30 outfits out of them. It’s a 20×30. And I’m wondering if you might want to play along — with this idea or any of the above, or any variation you might cook up for yourself. It’s a parlor game, sure, but it can also be pretty amazing to see how far some pieces will go. And it’s also a great way to make sure things get worn that you keep meaning to wear but somehow don’t. That’s the challenge part!

And then here’s what happened: I had plans to make more of my beloved toddler pants (like my olive ones) and knew I wanted them to factor heavily into my October, so have been head-down at the sewing machine since Friday night. Plus there’s a refashion I’ve had in mind for three years that I decided to do yesterday — live in my Story on Instagram — in honor of the first day of Slotober, after finishing the second pair of pants (which I’ll show you soon). So instead of putting together my 20×30 this weekend, I was sewing for it! But it was extremely productive, and it’s not like I can’t get dressed in the meantime, so I’ll have my 20×30 plan to share on Wednesday (after tomorrow’s Slow Fashion Citizen interview with yours truly).

Meanwhile, what about this remake? This is an army-green men’s shirt I got off the clearance rack at the J.Crew outlet three summers ago, when we had just moved to Nashville, our stuff was in storage, and I was living out of a suitcase for two months. It’s perfect in a lot of ways, but in addition to being a little too mannish and a little too military, even for me, it was weirdly high-cut on the sides, awkward. From the beginning, I’ve had the urge to lop it off and make it into a cute little cropped shirtjacket. So yesterday I cut off the bottom, sliced those scraps into 2.75″ wide strips, sewed them together into two long strips (deliberately not caring where the seams wound up — I love random piecework), assembled them into a waistband and reattached it all. It took me a couple of hours, as I was making it up as I went, but I had a blast doing it. And now instead of a regrettable unworn thing taunting me from the end of the clothes rail, I have this awesome new little layering piece! You’ll be seeing more of it.

The only thing I really debated was the button tab on the new waistband. That’s how I’d always pictured it, for some reason, but when it came time to commit, I wavered. In the end, I’m glad I went with it. “First thought, best thought.”

This is just the sort of thing I used to do all the time as a teenager — cutting stuff up and hoping for the best. This one worked out better than most of those high-school experiments, and I hope to be doing it more often!


PREVIOUSLY in FOs: My first jeans

Slow Fashion October is upon us!

Slow Fashion October is upon us!

In under 48 hours, depending what time zone you’re in, it will officially be the 3rd Slow Fashion October. I still think the best description I’ve ever given of this event is the one in the @slowfashionoctober profile: “A celebration of the small-batch, handmade, second-hand, well-loved, long-worn, known-origins wardrobe.” Slow fashion, to me, is all of those things — from the thrift-store find to the me-made to the special purchase, and everything in between. Slotober is meant to be fun, thoughtful, enlightening and challenging, and has been for the past two years, so I’m looking forward to this year’s conversation.

How and how much you participate is completely up to you. If you want to weigh in daily/weekly/just once for the month; here, on the #slowfashionoctober feed or elsewhere; in brief or at great length, I applaud that. I’ll be posting on my @karentempler account and trying to share highlights on the @slowfashionoctober account as in years past. And here’s what you can expect to see here on the blog:

1) Katrina is doing four Slow Fashion Citizen interviews for this month (essentially one per week), and she asked if I would be one of the interviewees, which is a little weird for me but also a great way to organize my current thinking on all of this. So I agreed, and that will appear here on Tuesday. But in the meantime, I do want to offer up some links to past posts for those who might be new to the conversation or the subject, and I hope you’ll share your favorites (from wherever) in the comments:

How much can we know about where clothes come from?
Why I make (most of) my own clothes
Can Slow Fashion impact Fast Fashion? (Or why I don’t make all of my clothes)
What makes a garment slow fashion?

2) Tomorrow (hopefully, or soon thereafter) I’m going to post some further thoughts and details following our chat about the idea of a clothing swap.

3) I mentioned before that I’m going to do outfit lineups one-month-at-a-time for the foreseeable future, and my October outfit plans will be up on Monday — along with a little wardrobe challenge for anyone who’s up for it.

4) And since a lot of people feel strongly about the conversation starters, I’m going to give you/us a topic each Friday for the next few weeks, starting today — a question or thought to respond to wherever/however you like. (Or simply to ponder for yourself!)

THE WEEK ONE TOPIC IS: WHO. As in not only who are you (i.e. introductions) but who has influenced or inspired you to think or do differently with regard to clothing yourself, and in what way? And if you’ve set any goals or plans for yourself this month, include them in your introduction!

ALSO: If you are hosting or aware of any tie-in events or promotions, are posting on your own blog, or have anything else to point to or share, please do include a note and relevant links below!

And with that, we’re off. See you in the comments and on the #slowfashionoctober feed — have fun and happy weekend!


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Can Slow Fashion impact Fast Fashion?

Photos above from 2016 via @repair_revolution, @whistlinggirlknits, @anloubroen, @clairemadeit, @mollieelle, @stitchinschmitz, @ecoage, @romidesigns, @thecharmofit


Q for You: Want to have a worldwide clothing swap?

Want to have a clothing swap?

I’m planning to kick off Slow Fashion October this year on September 29th, since the 1st of October falls on the weekend — and somehow that’s this Friday! I know a lot of you have already been thinking about projects, goals or challenges for yourselves, and I look forward to hearing them as we approach the starting line next week, but I’ve also been mulling the notion of organizing some sort of worldwide clothing swap, and my Q for You today is: Do you want to swap — and/or host or help?

I’ve never hosted a clothing swap (so hey, why not attempt a worldwide one?!) but there are two basic possibilities—

ONLINE: I know lots of people use Instagram for swaps and sales in various ways — either posting on their regular feed or creating a separate one for listings. Anyone who wants to could go about it however they like, or we could try to come up with some sort of standardized system that would help people find those who are listing stuff as available. (Maybe #SlotoberSwap hashtag, at least?) Thoughts?

IN PERSON: Likewise, I could just say “Hey, why not think about hosting a clothing swap!” and hope a bunch of people will do so. Or we could try to put together some sort of best-practices guidance and a calendar of events. I’m particularly interested in hearing from people with a shop or studio space where they’d be willing to host, and any thoughts on how to make it logistically manageable for people who are interested. (Does there need to be an RSVP and max # of people in attandance? Is it a free-for-all, or 1 “token” for each garment you bring, take turns picking …?)

Please share any and all tips and thoughts in the comments, below, and I’ll post a follow-up with an action plan if one takes shape in the conversation. And if anyone would like to volunteer to take charge of this initiative, please raise your hand!

Also, again, please consider donating workplace appropriate clothing to an organization like Dress for Success, or other very targeted donation opportunities where your clothes are most likely to be adopted, and not discarded. Anyone who knows of other great organizations with specific needs — especially any relating to all of the current disaster relief efforts — please share them below.

Also, Samantha of @agatheringofstitches is planning to organize a fabric swap, so follow her and be on the lookout for news on that.


PREVIOUSLY in Q for You (one of my all-time favorites!) : What stitch are you?

Can Slow Fashion impact Fast Fashion?

How can Slow Fashion impact Fast Fashion?

There’s a corollary to my post on why I make my own clothes, which I think is an important point on which to end the month (aka Slow Fashion October). That is: I don’t make all of my own clothes, nor will I. Not only do I think it’s not necessary to make 100%, and not only do I not want to restrict myself in that way, I believe it’s critically important to support the companies that are trying to make a difference in our messed-up clothing industry. In other words, opting out of fast fashion is a good step, but so is opting in to better alternatives.

If there’s one thing that’s become crystal clear to me in these past four years owning a small business, it’s that it really does matter where you spend your money. For one thing, every dollar you spend is a vote. When you give money to a business, you’re encouraging them to do more of whatever they’re doing, whether those practices are harmful or beneficial. More so, money is fluid — handing it to a company isn’t the end of it. I’ve come to see myself as a caretaker of people’s money. When you buy something from me, you’re supporting me and my business and my two part-timers, of course. (And thank you!). But more important, you’re entrusting money to me, and I consider it my duty to re-spend it responsibly. I spend it on product that creates jobs in Nashville and New Hampshire, where our Field Bags and totes are sewn. I place orders that support the businesses of small producers like Ambatalia and Bookhou and Little Seed Farm who do quality, conscientious, beautiful work. And I give a percentage of it to charity — specifically to Heifer, who in turn provide fiber animals to impoverished families, where those animals represent milk and fiber and income. My point being not to pat myself on the back at all, but simply to say that I know first-hand, feel it daily, and understand quite deeply that how you spend your money matters — whether that’s a farm or a small business or a corporation. And that informs my view of all of this.

As for me and my closet, I love pulling on handmade garments, and yes feel quite humming on those rare occasions when I’m dressed entirely in handmade (apart from my underwear and shoes). But what actually feels best to me is any outfit that’s a blend of all the things we’ve talked about this month — long-worn/mended, second-hand, handmade and small-batch/known-origins. Say, a handknit vest and homemade top with local jeans. Or a locally made tunic with my ancient mended camo pants. Or even a ten-year-old t-shirt (from who knows where) with a handmade sweater and jeans from J.Crew’s made-in-L.A. line, Point Sur. I like knowing that I’m not just opting out of the ready-to-wear industry altogether and hoping the situation will improve without me, but that I’m using what purchases I do make as a way to support sustainable small-batch makers and even big companies that have done something I want to encourage, like J.Crew making jeans in L.A.

On those occasions when I’m able to buy a piece from Elizabeth Suzann or Lauren Winter or Han Starnes (because I’ve shopped less, saved by making, and then waited for a sale!) I feel like the purchase is the message — I’ve supported their business and cast a vote for them to do more of what they’re doing. But when deciding to buy from a mega-company like J.Crew because they did a thing I support, I feel like I need to go beyond just making the purchase and actually tell them that I bought those jeans as a result of that choice they made, that it’s not incidental. And to add that it would be even better if they’d use North Carolina denim.

And what about those overseas factory workers? I’ve heard so many people say that we’re doing them a favor — that the jobs created by our spending are better than what they had available to them before. Maybe that’s true — I have no way of knowing. I agree that people in other countries need jobs, too, but I also see that our corporations don’t have to insist on impossibly cheap price tags on our behalf. They don’t have to pocket enormous profits after telling the factory they won’t pay enough for the goods that the factory can afford to pay the workers a decent wage. We’re keeping people in poverty with our insistence on $6 t-shirts and $15 button-downs. So I’m raising again that I want to find a way to communicate to these companies that there are a lot of us who want another option — to pay a fair price and know the workers were fairly paid as well. If you have any specific ideas about that, please share them!

The conversation we’ve been having this month has been amazing and meaningful and I know for real that it impacts people’s thinking and choices. But we have to make ourselves heard in the marketplace. Consumer demand is the only way change happens, and financial support is the only way new things are possible.

. . . . .

As I’m always saying, there’s no such thing as a pure closet. Everything we make and buy will have some element of trade-off; the point is to maximize the good and minimize the problematic as much as we can, to be thoughtful about our choices, and to do whatever is possible and affordable within our own circumstances. Even the smallest steps add up when enough people take them.

Here are just some of the possible steps to consider:

– Wear the things you already own for as long as possible. Using what you have (rather than discarding it and/or acquiring anything new) is the most environmentally responsible act there is. (And don’t forget: No one wants your old clothes)

– Additionally on the long-worn front, acquire things second-hand — either via thrift stores, online consignment or clothing swaps. Thrift stores can also be a great source for fabric, as well as sweaters for unraveling into yarn.

– Make as many of your own clothes as makes sense for you. For every garment you make, you can be sure no factory worker was exploited in its making. If you can also use traceable yarn or fabric, and avoid materials that may have been produced in damaging ways, so much the better.

– If you have a fabric outlet in your area that sells remnants and overstocks, support them. Even if the fabrics weren’t sustainably produced, you’ll be putting them to use and keeping them out of the landfill. (And saving money!)

– Buy directly from small, sustainable brands if that’s within your reach. Help them survive, thrive and multiply.

– If you shop in small boutiques in your area, ask them what they have that’s from sustainable brands. Let them know you want that. The same with your local yarn and fabric store — make a point of asking what’s local/sustainable/traceable, and support what you can afford to.

– If you see “import” on a product page in lieu of where something was actually made, ask them to be more specific. If they aren’t willing to say “Made in Bangladesh” or “Made in Cambodia” they shouldn’t be manufacturing there in the first place, and we (the consumer public) shouldn’t let them get away with not disclosing that.

– And the hundred things I’ve overlooked that I hope you’ll make up for in the comments. ;)

. . . . .

I can’t thank you all enough for the amazing conversation this month. I always think I’m hyper-aware that I don’t have all the answers — far from it — and you still always challenge me in ways I didn’t see coming. The discussion on #slowfashionoctober this month has been smart and introspective and inspiring on so many levels. I know everyone will carry it forward throughout the year, but today I’d love to hear from you what your most important takeaway is, how your thinking has changed, or what you plan to do differently.

And if you missed anything here on the blog, the full batch of posts from this year can be scrolled through here.


top left: 10-y-o J.Crew cardigan, even older and very mended J.Crew jeans, homemade plaid top
top right: homemade wool gauze pullover, J.Crew striped top, Point Sur jeans (made in US)
middle left: handknit vest, Fischer wool button-down (made in US), old J.Crew ponte pants
middle right: homemade linen dress and handknit vest
bottom left: very old and mended Gap camo pants, homemade top
bottom right: Elizabeth Suzann sample-sale tunic, same ancient J.Crew mended jeans
[Gap boots from a few years ago (China), very old tan J.Crew sandals (Italy), Salt Water sandals (China)]

PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Slow Fashion resources

Slow Fashion resources

Slow Fashion resources

This final week of Slow Fashion October, “Known Origins,” has been amazing so far — the comments on my last two posts alone are so fantastic; go take a look here and here if you haven’t read them — and then there’s the wealth of great contributions on the #slowfashionoctober feed, which will continue through the weekend. As always, I’m calling out a few on @slowfashionoctober, but it’s impossible to do such a rich conversation justice.

For today’s links, I had this grand idea that I was going to put together an extensive, categorized resource guide for us all to lean on and build over time, and got completely overwhelmed just trying to get it started! It’s a deeply daunting task. So I’m just going to share a few links that either I personally know and believe in or that came from you guys and I’m particularly excited about. And I’m going to ask that you leave more suggestions in the comments below. Even (or especially) if you’ve left them already on other posts or on Instagram, I would love to have them all on one page, so please repeat yourself!

What’s below barely even qualifies as a scratch in the surface, but it’s what I can do at this moment — I hope it’s of some use.

Please note that it is not my intention to imply that “made in USA” is automatically a clean bill of health — it’s not. The following are all companies with a stated mission of sustainable practices. Most of the “made in USA” ones actually do in-house production, but some are simply sustainable brands doing domestic factory production.

. . . . .


Made in USA:

Alabama Chanin – one-of-a-kind garments hand-stitched by a network of independent sewers, using organic cotton jersey
Han Starnes – clothes made the in the south (sweaters in Peru), with an emphasis on traceable materials
Elizabeth Suzann — clothes made-to-order in their Nashville studio, plus transparency about many of the fabrics
Imogene+Willie — jeans made in Los Angeles, generally of Japanese or North Carolina denim
Jamie and the Jones – clothes made in their Nashville studio, many with locally loomed fabrics
Lauren Winter – clothes made in their Portland OR studio with an emphasis on sustainable materials
Pansy – organic cotton undies and bras, made in California
State – upcycled smocks and garments sewn in GA and NYC of sustainable materials
Tradlands – menswear-inspired clothes sewn in Chicago, emphasis on quality/longevity and timelessness
Zady – garments with every detail of the supply chain spelled out on the product page

Responsibly made elsewhere:

Ace & Jig — work directly with Indian weavers to develop their woven fabrics (top photo)
Blockshop Textiles — work directly with Indian blockprinters to develop their printed fabrics
Everlane – claim to use only the best overseas factories, less concerned about materials
Patagonia – activewear with an emphasis on sustainable sourcing and fair-trade sewing
Rêve en Vert – designer goods, limited to brands with sustainability at their core

. . . . .


Made in USA:

• Bryr – handmade in San Francisco of US leathers (European bases) (bottom photo)
Cobra Rock Boot Company – handmade-to-order in Marfa TX
Sven Clogs – made of US leather and sheepskin (bases from Austria and Sweden)
L.L. Bean – their famous duck boots are still made in Maine

Responsibly made elsewhere:

Jane Sews – work with artisans in South Africa (also small-batch clothing)
Nisolo – work closely with artisans in Peru, offering above-fair-trade wages and job training

Really looking forward to what you guys will add to this batch, especially.

. . . . .


Hellgate Fabrics – natural-fiber fabrics from countries with fair labor practices
Huston Textile – fabrics loomed in their Rancho Cordova CA mill
Organic Cotton Plus – organic cotton plus hemp, wool and more
TN Textile Mill – fabrics loomed in their Nashville TN mill
Vreseis – fabrics woven from Sally Fox’s organic color-grown cotton

. . . . .


The thrilling thing is there are WAY TOO MANY great traceable/sustainable yarn options to even begin to list — which I don’t think I could have said even a couple of years ago. (Here’s hoping the same can be said of fabrics a few years from now!) I covered some ground in this yarn resources post last year, so please take a look at that — and at the comments on it for even more. And again, please mention your favorites in the comments below! We’re blessed that there are so many …



PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Is it more expensive to make your own clothes?

Is it more expensive to make your own clothes?

Is it more expensive to make your own clothes?

We talk about all the many reasons there are for making our own clothing (chief among them being the joy and learning and pride), and “saving money” is rarely cited as one of them — even though historically that was the case. You might have noticed as I’ve been documenting my finished objects this year, I’ve stated the cost for each one,* which I’ve done as a form of research and so we could talk about it here in Slow Fashion October. It seems to me the general consensus is that it’s more expensive these days to make clothes than to buy them (feeding into the frequent refrain that only “privileged” people can make that choice), but that depends on about a million things. First and foremost: more expensive as compared to what? In a world where fast-fashion chains will sell you a “cashmere” sweater or tailored blazer for $19.95, we’ve lost all baselines and benchmarks, and all sense of perspective. There are, of course, costs beyond what’s on a price tag — from the human and environmental cost of fast fashion to the value of the time we put into a homemade garment. And there’s also plain old subjectivity. I used to wander into an Anthropologie once in awhile and marvel at the fact that there are apparently quite a lot of people who’ll pay $200 for a poorly made polyester dress. But if you’re accustomed to shopping at Target or Old Navy, you’ll think Imogene+Willie $195 jeans (made in LA of North Carolina or Japanese denim) or a $160 Lauren Winter top is “expensive,” when in reality those prices reflect the cost of quality materials and construction and workers making at least our minimum wage, etc. And then there are Designer prices, which are obviously much higher, even though quality and materials and transparency often aren’t better. So what do we compare our homemade garments to?

I honestly don’t know, in a broad sense, but what’s amazed me as I’ve tallied up my homemade clothing costs this year is how truly inexpensive it’s been, by and large. Here’s the breakdown:

$15.00 : Wool gauze pullover
30.00 : Blue striped dress
15.00 : Muumuu
7.00 : Black sleeveless top
6.00 : Striped sleeveless top
29.00 : Striped skirt
26.00 : Black sleeveless t-shirt
9.00 : Linen box top
7.50 : Striped box top
18.00 : Indigo camisole top
13.50 : Ikat camisole top
14.00 : Green camisole top
$190 — average price of $15.83 per garment

$27.50 : Black lopi raglan
140.00 : Bulky blue pullover
122.00 : Black vest
75.00 : Black cardigan
$364.50 – average price of $91.25 per sweater

For me personally, the best comparison is J.Crew, since that’s who got 90% of my clothes money in my store-bought wardrobe days. (And also: I could have bought that many garments in a couple of orders from the J.Crew clearance section back in the day. Cost aside, this represents a huge reduction in the number of garments acquired within any 10 months of my life.) Obviously, every one of those sewn garment numbers is substantially lower than even 40%-off-the-clearance-price prices at J.Crew. (Compare my cotton camisoles to this, for example.) The sweaters are a different story. Even with that $27.50 lopi sweater in the mix, the average sweater price might be higher than I would traditionally pay for a J.Crew sweater. It’s hard to say, having never tracked and averaged it, but I would guess between the mostly sale purchases and the occasional splurge, I probably spent an average of more like $65-70. Some of which I’ve worn for ages and still cherish; others of which looked like crap in no time. Regardless, I think ninety bucks is a very fair average price for a well-made, natural-fiber sweater.

So yes, between the reduced cost of these items and the fact of homemade clothes necessarily appearing in my closet at a slower rate (I can’t make things nearly as quickly as I could buy them), I am definitely spending way less money on clothes than I used to. That works out to $55 a month! (Or less, in reality — since Purl Soho gave me the yarn I used for the cardigan.) Even if you factor in the handful of store-bought items I’ve acquired during these 10 months, it’s way less than I used to spend.

I should note that the sweaters currently on my needles will have skewed that average by year’s end. One of them is lopi, so another $30-ish dollar line item. My striped Pebble sweater is probably about a $200 sweater when all is said and done (although Shibui gave me yarn). But I also made a very conscious decision to spend about $300 on my Channel Cardigan in progress, and it will be by far the most expensive garment I’ve ever owned. If I saw that sweater at J.Crew for that price (in 100% undyed baby-camel yarn) I would snatch it up in a heartbeat and consider it a worthy investment piece. But in reality, they’d be charging 2-3 times that much for it, and I wouldn’t be able to have it.

There is also the question of start-up costs to consider. For a new knitter or sewer, tools costs real money. And sewing requires space. I don’t know how to factor for that, but it does have to be said. And again what this doesn’t take into account is my time, but I wouldn’t put a price on that — those are my pleasure hours. If anything, I’d credit the learning and enjoyment I get against the cost! How much are those many hours of enjoyment worth to me? And aren’t those the same hours most Americans spend wandering malls or surfing shopping sites? I think choosing homemade over store-bought is a way of buying the time to do it, if you see what I mean.

Anyway, this is the first time I’ve stopped to add up the year’s costs like this and there’s a huge grin on my face right now. But I also want to say these numbers will go up in the future. I’ve been lucky that almost all of the sewn garments up there are in fabric I bought as remnants from local fashion companies. I feel really good about being able to both save money on the yardage and put those remnants to good use, and those aren’t the only fabrics I own that I feel good about. But during the course of this month’s discussion I’ve decided I only want to buy known-origins fabrics and I’m willing to pay for it. So beyond what’s already in my stash, I’ll be trying to stick to good traceable linens and wools, or fabric from my friend Allison’s mill or that’s been woven from the organic cotton of farmers like Sally Fox who are trying to survive. I want to support these farmers and businesses and to know the fabrics have clean origins, which means the yardage will cost me much more than I’ve spent in the past, which will put the garments back in J.Crew full-price range. That alone with keep my stash in check and my new clothes infrequent, and I’m ok with all of that.


*Except things made as gifts. That seemed gauche.


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: How much can we know about where clothes come from?

How much can we know about where clothes come from?

How much can we know about where clothes come from?

So far with the Slow Fashion October conversation (here and on the #slowfashionoctober feed), we’ve been sticking mostly to the pleasant parts — talking about the ways and means by which we can and do opt out of Fast Fashion (see Long-Worn and Handmade) and feel good about those choices. That’s all a lot easier to talk about than this week’s subject, Known Origins, which is sticky on multiple levels. I finally watched The True Cost Saturday night and was reminded in technicolor that the more you know about the actual global humanitarian and environmental crisis that is our clothing industry, the more hopeless it can seem. There was not much in there I didn’t already know, and yet it kept me awake that night — and honestly, just thinking about it makes me want to cry.

Can I describe the problem of fast fashion in a paragraph? I can try. Major corporations in the western world want to sell us as much clothing as possible, and to reap the highest profits possible. They’ve decided the best way to do that is to sell things at impossibly cheap prices. While the prices have plummeted in the last couple of decades, the cost of making clothing has not gone down — someone has to grow (or manufacture) the fiber, weave it into cloth, cut and sew the cloth into clothing, ship it across the ocean, distribute it to stores, advertise it, and still put half of the purchase price into the brand’s bank account (with a good chunk of that, in turn, going directly to the CEO). And yet, they’ve decided even a complicated garment like a pair of jeans should cost less than $20. (I’m suddenly being followed around the internet by an ad for Walmart jeans for $6. Think about that!) That means they need a factory to sell them the jeans for a few dollars, including the cost of the fabric and the hardware — and the labor. That mathematically can’t be done in America, where we have minimum-wage and other labor laws, so they do it in countries where there are no such laws. People in places like Bangladesh and Cambodia are working in garment factories for a few dollars a month (and we’re not talking about a 40-hour workweek), being poisoned by the toxic waste that’s continuously dumped into rivers (because there are no regulations, either) or worse: dying in unsafe buildings when they collapse or burn down. They are literally giving their lives so our clothes can be as cheap as they are. And they are cheap in other ways, too: If the corporation is only going to make a few dollars per garment, they better also make sure we buy new ones every week. So they’re literally clogging the planet with shipload after shipload after shipload of badly made, largely synthetic (read: non-biodegradable), sweatshop-labor clothing. We, on the whole, buy them up as quickly as they crank them out, in record numbers of garments-per-person, and dispose of them just as quickly. And of course, there’s nowhere for them to go.

Those are the known origins of most chain-store clothes. So what about the opposite? There are people in the US and elsewhere trying to bring back garment jobs and industry — people like Elizabeth Suzann, for example, who I know a little bit socially and admire tremendously. I don’t know of a better example in this regard. Liz has insisted on in-house production since the moment her company grew beyond just her sewing alone in her spare room for her Etsy shop. Every garment is sewn in her Nashville studio, where you can walk right in and see the cutters and the sewers and the big bright space they work in. All along, many of the garments have been sewn from cloth woven for her here in Nashville by my friend Allison Volek-Shelton of TN Textile Mill (formerly Shutters and Shuttles). And for her latest collection, she’s gone so far as to source the wool from Imperial Stock Ranch (makers of Imperial Yarn) in Oregon. If she could, I believe Liz would raise and shear sheep on her property and grow cotton out back. She wants to know that every laborer, every bit of waste, every detail all along the way is handled with care and respect for the humans and the planet. The “problem,” such as it is, is that making clothes in the US is unusual and thus difficult and thus costly. Even though they cost a fraction of factory-made (often synthetic) designer goods, not everyone can afford her clothes — and decisions like known-origins wool only drive the prices higher. But for those who can afford them, it’s critical to support her efforts and those of anyone like her, because it’s the only way any version of a garment industry will become viable in this country again. Others will see that they’re doing it successfully, and they’ll do it too, and as it becomes less rare and less difficult — as resources return to support these businesses — prices will come down.

Likewise the farmers. Imperial is a great example of a yarn where you can know exactly where it came from and what sort of people and practices you’re supporting by buying it. In Texas and California, there are cotton farmers who want to grow cotton without poisoning the land and themselves with pesticides. There are people spinning that organic cotton into yarn and weaving it into cloth, and again, because these things are rare, they are difficult and comparatively costly. But if enough people buy the cotton and the yarn and the cloth, then they’ll be able to keep doing it, and hopefully more farmers will follow suit. The only way it can happen is through consumer demand.

As garment makers, if we care about these issues, we want to know more about where our yarn and fabric come from. As I’ve said before, yarn is increasingly easy. Just a few years ago, when I was first knitting, there weren’t that many yarns in the world that were transparent about their supply chains, making public efforts to support what’s left of yarn infrastructure in this country and encouraging its regrowth. But these last few years have seen a huge surge in small-batch yarns and mini-mills. Knitters have begun paying attention and supporting small yarn producers with their purchases, and creating a market so that more and more people have jumped in. It’s still the case that the people selling the yarn often aren’t able to make any money on it — even at $24/skein. The costs are still too high. But the more people keep making it, the more business the supporting businesses (scourers and dyers and mills) do, the more things will change.

The same can’t be said for fabric, unfortunately. Whether in finished garments or as bolts in the fabric store, fabric is much harder to trace. There’s a rise in blue-jeans manufacturing in LA these days — more and more brands supporting the factories there, and consumers supporting them in turn, which is a fantastic step in the right direction. But in most cases, there’s still no way of knowing where the cotton came form or how it was dyed. If you ask a big bolt fabric company about the overseas factories they work with, you’ll get a boilerplate response about how they abide by all the labor laws. But the point is: there aren’t any; that’s why they manufacture where they do. It’s the same as the big clothing companies.

So what’s a concerned consumer who can’t make 100% of their clothes (from traceable materials) to do? That’s what I’d like us to talk about this week — the small steps we can take with regard to our consumption. What are the better-if-not-perfect sources for store-bought clothes and shoes? What clothing and shoe brands are doing production responsibly — at home and overseas? Where can we find fabric we can feel good about? How do we continue to support and grow the known-origins yarn market? And how do we convince the mega-corporations that our clothes don’t need to be dangerously cheap — that there are some of us who’d rather pay a fair price and know the workers were fairly paid, too.

PHOTOS: (Top) a mountain of discarded clothes and (middle) Texas cotton farmer LaRhea Pepper, both from The True Cost; (bottom) a model in Elizabeth Suzann’s 2016 Cold Weather Collection shot with the Imperial Ranch sheep that provided the wool


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