Slow Fashion Citizen: Adrienne Antonson

Slow Fashion Citizen: Adrienne Antonson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow Fashion Citizen: Adrienne Antonson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow Fashion Citizen: Adrienne Antonson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh man, this is a hard one.

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

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

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

. . .

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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Photos © Adrienne Antonson, used with permission

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Elsewhere

Elsewhere: Yarny links for your clicking pleasure

While I was putting this list together last night, I was listening to the Close Knit Podcast episode with the always giggling Brandi Harper (who you know from this and this) (photo top left), in which they get into a conversation about the lack of diversity in the knitting/crafting community as represented on blogs and social media and such, which is such an important conversation. I have literally moved from one town to another in the past because the lack of diversity was so unnerving to me, and it puzzles me about this community. I know that the knitters of the world are not as overwhelmingly white as the faces I see on my Instagram feed, so thanks to Ani and Brandi for opening up a dialogue about it, and I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts.

With that, links!

– This little personal project by Kristin Ford (of Woolfolk) is too ridiculous for words: this, then this, and come on!

– Enormous thanks to everyone who pointed me to the Dirt to Shirt segment from a night of the PBS NewsHour I clearly missed — so good!

– I love this interview with BT Tech Editor Robin Melanson — if you don’t know what a tech editor is or does, it will give you new appreciation for what goes into a quality pattern! — but my favorite part is her incredibly beautiful cable sketch-chart

– I take issue with their definition of what constitutes 2 different outfits, but this is still thought-provoking: 33 Articles of Clothing = 25,176 Different Outfits (thx, Jess D!)

The MyBodyModel Kickstarter is now live — if you’re excited about sketch templates customized to your shape, you know what to do! (bottom left)

– Looove this visualization by Elizabeth Suzann of what happens to natural fibers vs synthetics (top right)

“You have to be willing to be bad at it to get good at it.” (Don’t matter what “it” is!)

Look at these gorgeous old sweaters

– and favorite Instagram photo of late (bottom right)

SHOP NEWS: We’ve got fresh stock of Bento Bags and all three volumes of Making, among other treats! And thank you again for your enthusiasm for the army-green Porter Bin!

Happy Friday, everybody! I’m so eager to get back to my Archer and am hoping to finish off another piece of my fisherman. What are you up to?

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PREVIOUSLY: Elsewhere

Books lately

Books lately

In addition to the two gems that went into the shop recently (ALJ and The Artisan), there have been a lot of beautiful, inspiring, thought-provoking books piling up on my table over the last … uhhh .. nine months or so that I’ve been wanting to tell you about. Here they are all at once!

The New Garconne: How to Be a Modern Gentlewoman by Navaz Batliwalla has no DIY angle and isn’t even specific to slow fashion, per se, but the women featured are the sort who take their wardrobes seriously — in the sense that they add pieces with thought and intention and expect to wear them for years, whether they’re bought new or vintage. I.e., the normal attitude from the days when we didn’t need a special term for it! It’s a collection of interviews with a variety of women — artist, fashion editor, perfumer, etc. — about their clothes and their lives (peppered with informal shots of their homes and workspaces), followed by a one-page tribute to each of the key wardrobe elements and a bunch of great street-style shots of additional women of great style. It’s beautifully designed, fun to flip through, definitely on the aspirational side, and I’m rationing the 14 interviews for myself to make it last a while. (Hardcover)

The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees grew out of the wardrobe-planning blog Into Mind, which you may remember me raving about here. It’s an encyclopedic guide to re/building a wardrobe, with guidance on everything from choosing a color palette to understanding what works for you to being a more conscious consumer. It’s quite dense and I haven’t gotten to read any of it yet but have seen lots of raves, and would love to hear below from anyone who’s spent real time with it. (Paperback with French flaps)

In Search of the World’s Finest Wools by Dominic Dormeuil and Jean-Baptiste Rabouan is a big, gorgeous glossy coffee-table book — a tribute to the farmers and herdsmen around the globe (from Australia to Central Asia to South America and beyond) who are literally preserving ancient traditions on which we all depend but who are under increasing global pressures. From the intro: “We must never forget that a splendid cashmere garment worn by a model in a Paris fashion show only exists thanks to a Mongolian nomad … . [Rabouan’s] photographs capture the beauty of traditional methods of animal husbandry, amplified by the magnificence of diverse natural environments. However, this beauty must not blind us to the difficulties facing wool growers everywhere. … [C]an we do enough to ensure the survival of the last guardians of these beautiful and rare fibers? Their disappearance would take with them part of the history of human civilization.” It’s stunning from cover to cover. (Hardcover, sent to me by the publisher)

Color Confident Stitching: How to Create Beautiful Color Palettes by Karen Barbé (I love her) is the perfect intro to color for those who didn’t go to art school and study color theory (as I tend to forget not everyone did). It’s not a textbook — it’s slender and beautiful and accessible — but it’s a fantastic overview of how color works and how you can make it work for you, from how to use and think about the color wheel, to how color affects us and our moods, to how to create a palette for your next project, whatever it may be — colorwork yoke, cross-stitch sampler or living-room decor. In the back of the book are a handful of lovely stitching projects, incorporating embroidery, cross stitch and duplicate stitch on knits. (Paperback with French flaps, sent to me by the publisher)

Cocoknits Sweater Workshop by Julie Weisenberger is one I’ve mentioned before but wanted to include here anyway. This is Julie’s master explanation of her modified top-down methodology which leads to sweaters with English-tailored shoulders and set-in sleeves rather than the common top-down raglan method. She describes the process in the front of the book, explains how to calculate and track the numbers you’ll need, and all of that is followed by eight (highly adaptable) sweater patterns and a detailed run-through of the abbreviations and techniques they employ. Another gorgeous book, and I’m dying to try out her method!

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PREVIOUSLY in Books: A Year Between Friends

 

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Slow Fashion Citizen: Elizabeth L. Cline

Slow Fashion Citizen: Elizabeth L. Cline

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

Thank you so much, Elizabeth!

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

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PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizens: Sonya Philip

Photos © Elizabeth L. Cline, used with permission

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Origin Stories: Cestari Yarns

Origin Stories: Cestari Yarns

BY HANNAH THIESSEN // Knitting can happen to anyone, at any time — with needles, yarn and lessons or tutorials readily available online, in local yarn stores, or even stashed away forgotten in a closet. Animal husbandry, agricultural science and managing a working farm, on the other hand, are huge undertakings, yet it seems like new shepherds and wool farmers are emerging every year, taking hobby flocks’ wool to the market under their own label, or selling to other small businesses. This small-to-small model is what makes a large farm like Cestari (est. 1946) — run by Francis Chester, whose extended family had been farmers in Italy — all the more exceptional. Cestari has become one of the largest and strongest wool producers in the US, and it’s pretty unbelievable to think that it all started in Brooklyn with a boy whose dream was to own livestock. He began with a small farm stand, selling goat-milk products and home-grown vegetables at ten years old. He used the money to put himself through law school — not a passion project, but a backup plan that would prove fruitful later in life. He has since put the law degree to use helping small farms retain their holdings in the face of big businesses seeking to take advantage of tough times.

Chester and his wife relocated to Virginia in 1968, where they fulfilled his life-long dream of owning a larger farm. Augusta County, just outside Lynchburg, is idyllic countryside, complete with the type of rocky soil that sheep tend to love. Chester has also made room on his farm for a less mobile fiber: cotton. Cotton comes with a wide variety of challenges and concerns. Soil depletion is a major impact of the industry as cotton pulls nitrates out of soil at an alarming rate, and has to be rotated to avoid stripping farmland entirely. (You can read more about cotton production and challenges in this wonderful article from Seamwork.)

Luckily, Virginia soil is ideal for a nutrient-rich, underground product that has proven to be the perfect pairing for cotton: peanuts. Cestari Farms work to crop rotate every acre of land dedicated to their cotton product with peanuts in order to keep the soil in good condition and avoid the pitfalls often associated with its production. The resulting lightweight, soft cottons in their 100% Cotton Old Dominion Collection are grown, processed, spun and dyed in their own mill facilities, which means the family is comfortable and familiar with the process and can answer questions and concerns from their customer base with confidence.

Perhaps better known than their cottons are Cestari’s wools. Having started with his own small flock of Targhee and Columbia sheep, Chester felt that the processing of the wool was just as integral to its quality as the growing. In 1969, he and his wife added a mill business to their farm business. They wanted to preserve their wool’s hard-wearing softness over time by not removing too much of the lanolin — a natural oil that sheep produce, which is often removed from wool and sold as a side product to the cosmetic industry. Wools processed at their mill are all scoured gently, not carbonized (an acid burning process that is used frequently in wool production). While Cestari’s Traditional yarn lines tend to have a bit more vegetable matter in the wool, they have a higher lanolin content and the wool retains more of its natural crimp, softness and spirit. When I met Mr. Chester during his recent visit to Nashville, I was impressed by a sweater he was wearing and asked if it was new. He laughed, and said that it was almost two decades old — the lanolin in Cestari wools protects the fibers and increases their longevity, which results in better-looking finished garments over time. Cestari garments can truly be the heirloom pieces that so many knitters intend to make.

As the demand for Cestari wools grew, so did Chester’s network of farmers and farms. He began carefully sourcing wool from other US producers, allowing them to keep doing what they loved, raising high-quality sheep and fleeces. His faith in the domestic textile industry is contagious — listening to him speak about his projects infects you with a desire to cast on and begin knitting something exceptional.

What I find most special about Cestari is not just that they are domestic producers who care about the wool industry, but that they have been able to expand in such a big way and still retain the intrinsic values of their company. In fact, Mr. Chester told me during his visit that they are intending to expand into textile industry education, with a new project on the horizon: a museum on their Virginia property that will show the history of American textile production to the modern day, which is sure to inspire countless future knitters.

Hannah Thiessen is a freelance creative and social media strategist who specializes in yarn and fiber. She knits and dabbles in other crafty pursuits on her blog, www.handmadebyhannahbelle.com, and you can follow her on Instagram as @hannahbelleknits

Origin Stories: Cestari Yarns

PREVIOUSLY in Origin Stories: Wing and a Prayer Farm

Francis Chester/family photos © Cestari; used with permission / yarn photo Hannah Thiessen for Fringe Association

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sonya Philip

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

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sonya Philip

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sonya Philip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sonya Philip

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sonya Philip

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

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

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

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

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

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PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizens: Liz Pape of Elizabeth Suzann

Photos © Sonya Philip, used with permission

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Army Green + Elsewhere

Army Green Porter Bin! + Elsewhere links

So the big news of the day is that the much anticipated army-green Porter Bin is finally in the shop this morning! To everyone who snatched them up at Squam last week, thank you for your enthusiasm! To everyone who’s been emailing and asking and pleading to preorder, thank you for your patience! This is a limited batch but we do expect to have more in the not-too-distant future. I don’t have any more specifics than that at the moment, but for now what we do have is there for the ordering — further news when I have it!

UPDATE: It was a quick feeding frenzy on the army green stash but they’re NOT GONE! Remember our shopping cart expires after 10 minutes, so as long as there’s still an Army Green option in the dropdown, it’s not sold out and there’s a chance it will exprire out of some of those carts. So if you get the message that they’re all in somebody else’s cart, just check back after 10 minutes. They’re not gone as long as it’s still an option in the dropdown.

And with that, a bit of long-overdue Elsewhere

– I failed to note that last Saturday was Knit in Public Day — you were doing it anyway, right?

Knitting as wartime esionage tool (thx Leigh and Jess!)

I love Felicia’s check-in on how Stash Less has changed her

Colorwork meets street art

And tilework begging to be colorwork

The Sewbots are coming! (so many mixed feelings about this)

“Reknitting” gives me a lot to think about

For anyone considering sewing their own bras

– Has anyone tried the Good On You app?

Or pondered the deeper meaning of Mr. Rogers’ cardigan colors?

Love this history of Rowan (and hence of the knitting world of today)

Kate Davies’ open letter to the Shetland Islands Council makes me sad (Signed, future Heritage Tourist)

A spot of craft-room organization inspiration

Yes to crochet appliqué logowear

Yes to one-of-a-kind dresses from scraps (and also to bespoke leftover quilts)

– AND … #growyourownmarl is my new favorite hashtag

Have an amazing weekend! Hope to see you on the #summerofbasics feed.

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PREVIOUSLY: New Field Bag + Elsewhere

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