Can Slow Fashion Pick up Its Snail's Pace in Atlanta?

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Illustration by: Dasha Lebedev  


This year, I have been trying my best to be a more conscious consumer: I carry aluminum straws in my handmade leather purse, use bees wraps sustainable food storage, Baggu reusable storage bags, and intentionally paint my pout with non-toxic lipstick. But, when Atlanta’s favorite local vintage and handmade goods shop, Coco + Mischa asked the question "Who makes your clothes?" on their Instagram feed during the Fashion Revolution week, I literally had no idea.

My wardrobe is the size of a small NYC apartment, bursting at the seams with feathers, sequins, lace, and pleather draped across hangers haphazardly. The vast majority of my vestments cost about the same as a well-whiskey bar tab. Glancing at the labels in my garments, there aren't many mentions of natural fibers like cotton, silk or linen, but honestly, that wasn't a factor when I was scrolling through the latest Forever 21+ sale pages.

I am a product of America's fast fashion lifestyle. Buy it cheap, wear it a few times, and if it falls apart, no biggie, right? Wrong.

  Photo courtesy of Coco + Mischa

Photo courtesy of Coco + Mischa

I learned through an eye-opening conversation with Melissa Gallagher, owner of Coco + Mischa, that the social and environmental impact of clothing manufacturing has some pretty devastating consequences.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 8,240 tonnes of clothing and footwear were placed in a landfill in 2015 and only 1,690 tonnes were recycled, showing that even though recycling efforts are going up, it’s not enough to offset the manufacturing trends.

If this information alone isn't enough to make you question your shopping habits, let's add on the fact that most "fast fashion" is produced by women living in poverty. Not to mention that many of these workers have to deal with verbal and physical abuse while working in appalling, unsafe conditions for wages that don’t afford them their necessities.

In 2013, the structural collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh killed 1,134  workers and seriously injured a further 2,500 people. Rana Plaza was the deadliest garment-factory accident in history and prompted the not-for-profit "Fashion Revolution" movement to campaign for fundamental reform in the fashion industry. By asking the simple question, "who made my clothes?" consumers were invited to think about the journey that their garments make before reaching their hangers at home.

Now, before you get all dramatic and start throwing out all of your threads because you found them on the Target sales rack, here’s some actionable advice from some of Atlanta’s biggest champions of slow fashion.

The first thing that Rachael Riedinger of the handmade bag and accessories brand Neva Opet suggests is doing your research. "Education is key. Know where your products come from, who makes them, and what kind of effect on the environment that mass-produced products can create. Well made pieces can take time and cost more money, but you can love them for years," Rachel shared.

Another overlooked aspect of conscious fashion buying is greenwashing.  With millennials caring more about sustainability than generations before them, clothing companies have been caught claiming to be “green” through feel-good advertising and marketing campaigns instead of executing business practices that could minimize environmental impact. A great example of this was H&M's "Bring It" campaign that encouraged shoppers to bring their unwanted clothing to their garment collection bins to be recycled. According to slow fashion expert and author of "Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion," Elizabeth Cline, only 1% of those unwanted garments can be recycled into new textiles. It certainly made shoppers feel less guilty, but those who brought donations were given a discount to shop in the store, so the campaign was perpetuating the cycle, not actually breaking it.

It all feels a bit overwhelming, but the way forward is quite simple; care for your clothes, repair them when they need it, and re-wear the hell out of them. If you need to get a new item of clothing, see if you can borrow something, find it second hand, or find a slow fashion option.

"I'm amazed at how much I've learned from just looking at the tags on clothing when I shop. When you thrift, you'll learn that in the 80s and earlier clothes were still made in the USA, and more natural fibers like silk, cotton, and linen were the norm," Melissa Gallagher shared.

Thrifting can fill the holes in your closet without breaking the bank and creating unnecessary waste. There are some killer options in town like Rag O Rama, The Clothing Warehouse, and Kiwi Vintage, and you can always check out the Indie Craft Experience events where brands like Tchoup Vintage and Mood Vintage "pop up" for shopping experiences.

  Photo courtesy of Lynne Tanzer

Photo courtesy of Lynne Tanzer

Another fun (and free) way to get a few new threads is getting friends together and hosting a clothing swap. I thought a clothing swap was a genius idea but had a hard time making it happen. As one of the only plus size ladies I know, I didn't have many friends to swap with, so Melissa suggested I try a 10x10 challenge instead. The challenge entailed picking ten pieces of clothing to wear over a ten-day period. Melissa and her sweet store manager Shelly Searcy went thrifting and found a few funky items for me, and I picked some pieces that I had in my closet to go with them. I had an 11-day vacation in England to visit my family in the books, so it seemed like the perfect time to take on the challenge. It ended up being an eye-opening experience. I paired pieces that I wouldn't usually wear together and to my surprise, I received compliments from so many people, from strangers in the street to my fashion savvy sister. I got inventive with accessories that made me feel like I wasn't wearing the same thing over and over again and my mom even helped me sew new buttons onto my thrifted pieces so that they felt a little more like me. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge, and the ensembles have been ones that I've continued to wear consistently a month after my challenge was complete.  

So now that we've mastered resale options let's talk about buying slow fashion labels, as it's the next best thing. Slow fashion is just like the slow food movement. Kat Collings, the "Who What Wear" editor in chief describes it well: "Slow fashion is about consuming and creating fashion consciously and with integrity. It connects social and environmental awareness and responsibility with the pleasure of wearing beautiful, well-made, and lasting clothing (as compared to the immediate gratification of fast fashion)."

"When shopping for my store,” Melissa said while explaining how she got into slow fashion, “I was spending more money than I had ever spent before. I started to realize the value of my dollars and the importance of spending consciously. I took the Slow Fashion Pledge in the summer of 2016, and I've never looked back! "

Coco + Mischa has an expertly curated vintage selection and offers some fantastic slow fashion brands like Elizabeth Suzann, Sugar Candy Mountain, and Ace & Jig. In an addition to the retail store, Melissa is in the beginning stages of starting "Slow Salvation," an online resale marketplace for slow fashion brands. She hopes it will make it easier for consumers to shop slow fashion online, a gap that needs to be filled if the movement plans to pick up momentum.

"Once you've fallen in love with Slow Fashion, you'll find yourself coveting all these beautiful handmade pieces from designers that you want to support because they're doing something so important. However, many of those brands are quite pricey and buying an expensive "forever" piece doesn't take into account changing bodies and tastes,” Melissa explained. “Plus, with so many of these brands being online only, you're often forced to spend $300 on a jumpsuit that might not fit right when you get it. So what we've seen is this huge community of people buying and selling their slow fashion pieces, but there isn't a central marketplace for it yet.  There are lots of Instagram accounts for this, but it's not a very effective way to shop: you can't search by size or brand, and most postings are obsolete concerning response after two days. Slow Salvation will offer a secure way to shop regarding sending money and having some means of ensuring that you get your product. Buying second hand is still the most ethical way to shop, so this does that while helping buyers save money and sellers see that their investments in slow fashion retain some of their value, much more than fast fashion."

Since starting this article I have fallen down the rabbit hole of watching Youtube tutorials on mending clothes, a great way to salvage clothes instead of taking part in the cycle of fast fashion. I hand stitched my first patch onto a jean jacket that I had forgotten about, and as soon as the summer temperatures are down, I'll be rocking it pretty hard.

I  am planning to take a class at Topstitch Studio and Lounge to get some hands-on experience with guidance from the brilliant Brittani Bumb of "Untitled Thoughts" who is a pattern maker, clothing designer, and the manager at Topstitch.

When joking about my less than stellar sewing skills with Brittani she told me not to give up because learning how to sew can be powerful. "When you know how to make and tailor clothes, you can adjust garments if your weight fluctuates, or you have the skills to make something from scratch if you can't find your size in ready to wear. It’s very body positive and allows for a more loving relationship with your body. You don't have to worry about mainstream fashion fads, gender norms, or color choices. You become the one in the driver's seat.”

Sewing gave Brittani power over her purchases and was a way to express herself that she hadn't had before. I hope that my slow fashion journey affords me the same conclusion. I didn't know the true cost of my fast fashion habits, but I'm going to do better now that I know better. I hope you will too.

Where to buy slow fashion and accessories in Atlanta

Coco+Mischa

Glad and Young

Karen Glass

Kudzu

Maelu Designs

Megan Huntz

Neva Opet

Youngblood

Beya Made

EcoManiac Sustainable Jewelry


Where to thrift in Atlanta

Buffalo Exchange

Cathedral Thrift House

The Clothing Warehouse

Kiwi Vintage

Last Chance Thrift

Lost N’ Found Youth

Lucky Exchange

Mood Vintage

Park Avenue Thrift

Second Life

Step Up Society

Tchoup Vintage

Value Village

Where to mend your clothes in Atlanta

Morning Star Atelier

Ruby Vee

Topstitch Studio and Lounge

White Orchid Bridal


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