In case you thought the Slow Food movement wasn’t white and elite and privileged enough, we now have the Slow Fashion movement.
So why not slow clothing? That’s what then-33-year-old weaving teacher Rebecca Burgess thought in 2011 when she challenged herself to wear garments sourced within 150 miles of her California home. It wasn’t as simple as only buying from local stores: She had to wear clothing with fibers, dyes, and labor exclusively from her region.
“What started as a personal project spiraled into a community of people who helped create this one-year wardrobe: artists, designers, ecologists from UC Berkley who were getting their PhDs in environmental science,” Burgess says. “They felt passionate about the reduction in the toxic load, and of the prospect of making clothes from organic natural fibers.”
The toxic load Burgess speaks of are chemicals and heavy metals generated from producing and dyeing textiles, according to the EPA. In addition, Burgess says the textile industry in California alone produces a tremendous amount of material waste. “After my one-year wardrobe challenge, [Fibershed] did an analysis and found over 3.1 million pounds of wool in the state,” she says. “Over a million pounds are thrown out every year.”
Burgess’ creation of Fibershed, a non-profit 50c3 that invests in locally-sourced clothing, was a direct result of her year-long local fashion experiment. A fibershed (a term Burgess coined) is a “geographical landscape that defines and gives boundaries to a natural textile resource base, engendering appreciation, connectivity, and sensitivity for the life-giving resources within our homelands.”
In the thick of her yearlong experiment, Burgess realized that for slow clothing to take off, there had to be something that everyone would identify with and be willing to wear. The staple she went after? Blue jeans.
She spent the next four years growing indigo herself and fermenting it as dye, cultivating a relationship with local cotton farmer Sally Fox, and employing Levi’s veteran Daniel DiSanto to design a pair of jeans that looked pretty close to the jeans that the public knows and loves. The aim was to combine the traditional jean with everything she loved about slow clothing: supportive of local artisans, using materials only from her region, and 100-percent compostable.
They solved the button and zipper problem that Burgess had experienced in 2011 by using buttons created from the horns of local sheep. They also found a solution to the thread issue, finding a capable mill in Kentucky.
I should just let this go. No one is being hurt here. If people want to do this, fine. I guess it’s not that different than the knitting revival anyway, which makes people happy.
But let’s be clear–this is going to do absolutely nothing to create any sort of social change at all. It’s not going to help the poor people who are making modern clothing. It’s not going to impact the clothing industry. It’s not going to be something that the world’s billions can do for themselves. It’s not a movement at all. It’s just privileged people wanting to feel good about themselves. If it wasn’t for the self-regard, I suppose I really wouldn’t care at all. But there’s a lot of self-regard here.