Slowing down the fashion machine
SARANAC LAKE — Living in a place where winter lasts six months a year can be a challenge to the fashion-conscious.
Adirondackers can’t just throw something on and saunter out the door — even if it’s beautiful and warm at the moment, the temperature may drop 40 degrees between the time you leave your house and when you return. Fashion dilemmas in the Tri-Lakes tend toward deciding if you can squeeze a few more wearings out of that sweater, jacket or pair of pants before your loved ones refuse to be seen with you.
But guess what? If eking your limited wardrobe out as far as you can is your style, you may be at the forefront of the latest trend: slow fashion.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
At the Earth Day Celebration last month at the town hall, a half-dozen “models” posed in recycled clothing, thrift shop or castaway items that had been re-sewn or remade into new garments. And although they were goofing around a little, their mission was serious: to get people to think carefully about where and how their clothing is made.
One of them was Cris Winters, owner of the Pink House Art Gallery on Woodruff Street. Winters used the occasion to began an email list to try and connect members of the community interested in slow fashion.
Slow fashion means instead of buying things that are cheap and low-quality, people buy fewer items and make them last longer. Slow fashion involves the global economy and the environment.
“It’s a lot like slow food, because people are trying to look closer to home for clothing sources,” said Winters.
“I think it’s all tied to the climate thing,” said Barb Curtis, who has owned the Main Street Exchange consignment clothing shop on Broadway for 12 years. She buys and sells used clothing out of lifelong habit, but also out of moral conviction.
“All the cheap clothing made overseas is polluting the earth, and not a little. It’s polluting it a lot,” said Curtis.
A human rights issue
Fast fashion is implicated in human rights abuses. In 2013, a five-story garment factory building in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,134 garment workers and their children who attended the factory’s day care. While the building owners and government inspectors were blamed — and some prosecuted — many in the fashion industry blamed the disaster on the dictates of fast fashion and the pressure to churn out huge amounts of apparel in a very short time.
“It’s basically slave labor,” said Curtis. “The workers are paid pennies a day.”
Some proponents of slow fashion favor locally made stuff, but that’s hard to do here.
“One of the problems here is there are no clothing factories, and the climate won’t support anything but wool and maybe linen,” said Winters. “Some people think we should be growing hemp. People are looking closer to home for clothing sources.”
Winters remembered the Bangladesh factory collapse. Recently, she called her favorite clothing company, L.L. Bean, to find out where its clothing is made.
Winters was pleasantly surprised.
“After that disaster, they started to go into high gear. They’re part of what’s called the Bangladesh Alliance [for Workers’ Safety]. They seem to be doing good things. They have a relatively new factory, and somebody who travels regularly to that country to check on conditions.
“The Bangladesh Alliance does regular monitoring,” Winters continued. “I asked [the woman at L.L. Bean] about wages. It appears that not buying from Bangladesh is not the solution, because if you shut the factories, then there are no jobs. A lot of people are encouraging the increase of their wages.”
Winters said the L.L. Bean representative was glad to know of her interest. “I think the manufacturers need to know we care about these things.”
More clothing, worn less
Proponents of slow fashion point out that the apparel industry is the No. 2 global polluter, right behind the oil industry. Since 2000, the number of items of clothing manufactured in the world has almost doubled while the number of times each item is worn has decreased. According to the World Resource Institute, the average consumer bought 60 percent more clothing in 2014 than in 2000, and kept each item of clothing half as long. The Huffington Post told readers in 2016: “You’re probably going to throw away 81 pounds of clothing this year.”
While most people would rather give away used clothing than send it to a landfill, that’s not an unqualified good deed.
Curtis said she can’t sell everything in the consignment shop, so after a few months she puts it “in the orange bins,” the clothing donation boxes at Fusion Market or Heath’s Auto Repair. The orange bins are owned by a Christian for-profit company, Rock Solid Provisions, which uses profits to fund Christian schools. Other destinations for unsaleable clothing are homeless shelters and thrift stores, but ultimately, many castoffs end up being shipped to developing nations, where traders buy them by weight and resell them.
Meanwhile, that soon may become more complicated as some of those destination countries are pushing back.
Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan pledged two years ago to ban imported used clothing by 2019, saying that taking more powerful countries’ cheap castoffs depresses their own clothing industries and keeps people out of work.
In response to complaints by the used-clothing industry, United States trade representatives canceled Rwanda’s duty-free status because that country raised taxes on imports of used clothing. Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania all backed down in the face of U.S. pressure. The U.S. exports about $260 million worth of using clothing to East Africa per year.
There may be a Slow Fashion event as part of the June Art Walk on Thursday, June 21. Anyone interested in participating should contact Cris Winters at the Pink House on Woodruff Street.