STYLE WITHOUT A USE-BY DATE
By Erin O’Dwyer
May 18 2009
Hot on the heels of the slow food movement comes slow fashion.
It started with the food world. After years of having barely
nutritious, cheap and nasty fast food shoved down their throats,
chefs and home cooks responded with an international movement aimed
at taking food back to its honest, nourishing roots.
The result was raw food, then slow food, then mouth-watering,
made-from-scratch nostalgia food.
Now fashion appears to be going down a similar route.
A global trend for "slow fashion" is on the rise, focusing on designs
that will stay in fashion over several seasons and high-quality
fabrics that are made to last.
Where the slow food movement helped us to focus on how food was grown
and prepared, slow fashion aims to limit the use of cheap, unpleasant
materials, to end sweat-shop production and do away with bargain bins.
In Britain, where the movement already has a firm hold, sales in
linen, cashmere and silk are on the rise. People are returning to
trusted brands, digging out vintage Chanel jackets and taking their
Prada suits out of mothballs instead of buying new.
According to Dr Kate Fletcher, an academic in sustainable fashion at
the London College of Fashion, several factors are driving the slow
movement. One is the sincere desire of many consumers for sustainable,
Another is the current economic climate, which has left many people
examining how much they spend on clothing and whether they could look
as good, or better, for less.
Fletcher says the recession is already changing the way people shop
and she cites the current "recessionista" trends for shopping one’s
wardrobe (mining the things you’ve already got at home and wearing
them in different ways) and clothes-swapping meetings.
Mind you, some habits are hard to shake. "People are used to buying
lots and buying cheap and there is at least some of this that will
continue, even through a recession," she says.
"The demographic that is most used to this type of consumption is
too young to remember the last recession and so this is unchartered
territory for them."
Fletcher, whose role as a reader in sustainable fashion at LCF is
in itself a sign of the rise of slow fashion, sees the phenomenon as
more than a trend. Instead she says it is "an alternative production
and consumption system" where quality is paramount.
"There are always going to be trends within the slow movement," says
Fletcher, who is also the author of the book Sustainable Fashion
"And that is important to bring in new ideas. But [slow fashion’s]
roots tap into different ground than today’s industry and to make it
happen takes fundamental industrial restructuring and innovation."
Slow fashion began grabbing headlines at last year’s London Fashion
Week but its history stretches back further.
One major early step for the movement was the British Fashion Council’s
decision four years ago to found the Estethica project to showcase
designers committed to sustainability.
The initiative now promotes labels such as People Tree, Sonya Kashmiri,
Ivana Basilotta and Reet Aus, whose collection is recycled from
mass-produced fast-fashion clothes.
In 2006 the editor of British Vogue, Alexandra Shulman, heralded
the end of throwaway, budget fashion and the return of timeless,
In a column for Britain’s Daily Mail she wrote that modern clothes
had all the "disposability of fast food" and a trip to a chain store
could be "as instantly fulfilling as a Big Mac".
"The thrill will last about as long," she said.
Shulman’s words have proved prophetic. Fast fashion cheap, seasonal,
high-street fashion is now on the outer for many.
Instead, eco-conscious fashionistas are padding out their vintage
recycled wardrobes with new items that give more than a passing nod
to bygone eras. They are meant to be kept, which explains the often
At Levon Karapetyan’s bespoke boutique, G&L Handmade Shoes in
Paddington, the cheapest pair of handmade pumps sells for $499. If that
doesn’t make you gulp, then the exquisite range ratchets out at $1600.
Despite much belt-tightening, Karapetyan is doing good business. The
company is even about to launch online with a design-your-own-shoes
"We can see that there is a more quality customer coming back," says
Karapetyan, who learned the craft as a teenager in his native Armenia.
"You can buy a leather shoe for $50 but you don’t know where that
leather has come from. It’s leather that we wouldn’t even touch for
lining. Here, people can buy a handmade product which will last. They
consider it a luxury but it’s worth more because it is lasting longer
and they can ask about the maintenance later."
In Europe, a new high-end Venice clothing brand, Slowear, has vowed to
keep the same styles around forever. The proof will be in the pudding.
At the other end of the fashion spectrum is Thunderpants. The New
Zealand lingerie company is run by sisters Josie and Sophie Bidwill.
They unashamedly call their merchandise "undies" and promise the
knickers will last for at least three years.
Their sexy nouveau cottontails are a mix of 92 per cent cotton and
8 per cent lycra, handmade in Martinborough and hand-printed locally
in original wood-cut designs.
Thunderpants was born 15 years ago, after the sisters became frustrated
with the lack of choice between frilly lace G-strings and grandma
They began by making seven pairs a week. They now make 700 a week,
selling across New Zealand as well as online to Australia, the US
The business operates on sustainable principles and with a team of
less than 10 people. "We all live in the country, we have outhouses
and chicken coops so we needed it to be functional," says publicist
"But we all love fashion and textiles and we have nostalgia for retro
items. It’s the same pattern that has been going on for 15 years but
we change the print every year."
Sydney Powerhouse Museum curator of textiles Lindy Ward predicts that
slow fashion, spurred on by the financial crisis, will lead to smaller
boutiques, less mass-market fashion and a more varied, fragmented look
on the catwalk. And she wonders whether the fast fashion of the 1980s,
’90s and early 2000s were just a blip on the radar.
"People have always reused and recycled in the past," she says.
"For young people who grew up in the ’80s, it’s something new to
have a skirt five years later and still be wearing it. In the past
people would never have dreamed of throwing anything away. The irony
is that this is the time that we need to be out there buying more to
keep people in jobs."
The answer is that you still buy, just buy sustainable. Choose a few
classic pieces in cotton, silk, wool, cashmere or linen.
Then team them with vintage items, op-shop finds or clothing
swaps. Melbourne designer Karen Rieschieck was well ahead of the trend
13 years ago when she began designing and stocking labels that stood
the test of time.
Her Swanston Street boutique, Alice Euphemia, stocks Sydney labels
such as Karla Spetic, Ellery, Tina Kalivas plus Paddington designer
Marnie Skillings well known for her washed silks, merino wools,
hand-loomed lace and original prints.
"They are all labels that have a strong design and their own identity,
so they’re fresh and you can wear them now but they will also last,"
says Rieschieck. "One of the best compliments we get is: ‘I bought
this skirt 10 years ago and I still wear it.’
"It’s so tempting to go for something shiny and new but if you
choose fantastic fabrics and buy clothes that are well designed,
you’re going to keep them for years."