True Slow Fashion: Understanding the Needs of the Conscious Consumer & the Working Girl
Seven days into thinking about how to start this article and facing what we commonly describe as an uncomfortable writer’s block, some door in my head, locked to me until now, miraculously opened and gave way to my first clothing memory. I was three or four years old and out in the open. The sun was shining and my father and a friend of his were chatting nearby. I was wearing a red-coloured tricot, possibly a dress, but that much I cannot remember. The knitted texture is clear to me. Also, the tiny holes and then the string hanging from the neckline and the tiny plastic embellishment, a well-detailed girl that was hanging from the red string. All of this is so clear that I can still recall the feeling, a feeling of happiness and surprise that I was finding a detail in the shape of a girl in the tiny palm of my hand in the middle of a bright summery day.
Childhood Memories: Cotton, Natural Fibres, Love and Luck
The interest I take in clothing, its bright colours, textures, and shapes is not something I have consciously chosen. It happened to me by chance, just like so many other things in life, with my mum’s helping hand, naturally. She was buying pretty and cute little skirts and tops and dresses, and she was putting great effort into finding the most exquisite there was – I was lucky enough to be her first child. Her preference was for cotton and natural fibres and as soon as I started going to school and was allowed to have an opinion, she started taking me shopping with her. She used to show me the clothing tags with the brand, washing instructions, and details of where the garments were coming from and what they were made of. Quality was very important and she couldn’t emphasise it enough. She would go on and on describing how a piece of clothing has to be of good quality and timeless design in order to be enjoyed in the years to come. She taught me a little trick, her own: she would spott her favourite pieces in advance and then on the first day of a sale, she would go and buy them at a discounted price.
School Days and Life’s Fashion Lessons
During my school years I was required to iron shirts, polish shoes, and even mend socks and other tiny faults. I guess I was doing a good job. One day, my brother had torn his brand-new jacket while playing in the garden. He was so upset thinking about what my mum would do if she found out, that I thought I ought to help him. If only I could mend it in a way so exquisite that the damage would be unseen, then my brother would get away with it. And so I did. My mum did finally notice, or rather, we went straight and and told her all about it afterwards, because children are too innocent to keep secrets. Instead of being upset, my mum was very moved by my act of helping my little brother, as much as she was impressed by my mending skills. There was no punishment whatsoever, only praise. I was hardly twelve years old at the time.
Fashion’s ‘Femme Fatale’ for Inspiration
During my teens, few fashion looks inspired me as much as slim-fit washed out jeans, as worn by Claudia Schiffer in Versace campaigns, and the femme fatale power dressing – I had to own them both. I was an avid fashion enthusiast, but studying fashion design was not even a notion in my middle school environment in the small town I was growing up, so it never even crossed my mind. I did take painting lessons as a kid, but later on a new-born, passion consumed me; theatre. Studying theatre, and later on cinema, I took a closer look at clothing in the form of costume.
A Closer Look at Costumes: What They Revealed to Me
Costume, I was taught, had to convey feelings and meaning, had to give us information about the story line, the characters, and the acts they were about to plunge onto. Life was of a richer texture after that, its true colours were revealed to me. References were not to be found only in books, then, but everywhere – literally. After that, the way people dressed and the statements they were trying to make became a matter of contemplation and research. This research culminated in an MA thesis on fashion and its correlation to everyday social matters, with chapters on politics, economy, the internet and, of course, ecology, where I was studying the the ethical fur initiative as a response to/due to the impact of PETA campaigns.
Fashion is Serious Business.
That’s when it all started: all of a sudden, fashion was a serious matter. It was something that could be enhanced with ethics and values, just like anything else. Around the same time we got our first sustainable idea at the family owned Athenian fashion brand I was working for: we would use up the stock we had from previous years by upcycling it. Not only would we get to sell it instead of throwing it away, but we would give our customers the chance to wear one-of-a-kind creations!
Fashion My Way: The Up-Cycled Collection
The up-cycled collection was a big success and it has become a tradition every season ever since. It was thanks to the European Union Life Long Learning programs, though, that I got in-depth knowledge of ethical fashion practices, realised what’s at stake, and met inspiring sustainable fashion advocates from all over Europe. The project ‘Chic & Ethic’ was launched in 2009 and is run by 7 partners: Fair Trade Hellas from Greece (my home country), and other NGOs from Turkey, Lithuania, Great Britain, Poland, Italy, and Romania. The project lasted for 2 years, during which time mixed teams of fashion professionals and enthusiasts were participating in workshops in respective countries and were learning and practicing sustainable fashion methods. It wrapped up in Budapest with an alternative fashion catwalk where all the teams showcased their sustainable fashion collection. Our Greek team had chosen up-cycling as their technique, climate change as their theme, and the umbrella in particular as a leitmotiv. We all created dresses that revolved around the umbrella as a shape or material and the results were quite impressive. I took my up-cycled dress to the Athens Fashion Week that year and I felt once more how fashion attached to a specific message, like ecology, sustainability, and ethics becomes so much more powerful and meaningful. It’s a pity to waste the chance to make it a vehicle of social change.
Slow Fashion(ista) Advocate: For Our Future
And here I am now, some years later, a slow fashion advocate. After numerous hours of research on the fast fashion industry and its consequences, sustainability, organic cotton, and chemical-free certified fabrics I came to the conclusion that this was a cause close to my heart. This was a cause so important to me, that I could dedicate my creativity and energy to raise awareness, educate a new generation of consumers (why not the old one, too), and, what’s more, create an alternative to the cheap and toxic clothing we are addicted to these days. During the last year I have been facilitating -together with talented fellow designers- the up-cycling workshops that Caritas, Luxembourg is organising, I have stopped buying fast fashion (well, I still wear the items I’ve bought up until now), I have been involved in swapping, recycling, and up-cycling clothes, shown two up-cycled pieces at a fashion event in my home country, and decided to follow my calling full time.
Join the Slow Fashion Movement!
You are more than welcome to join me in my venture towards creating the fashion items a working girl would like to wear in her professional and leisure time. Everything from sourcing materials to finding like-minded people to collaborate with, understanding the needs of the conscious consumer, and finalizing the SS16 collection takes its time, True ‘slow fashion’ without any exaggeration because slow fashion, especially in some European countries is a new path and the processes are not yet mapped out. But, it is the right path, so I will keep going. Wish me luck.
About the Author
Stylianee is an ethical fashion evangelist, among other things. She is passionate about all things sustainable, ethical and conscious and apart from raising awareness and advocating on upcycling, recycling, swapping, mending (not necessarily in this order) these days she is working on the launch of her sustainable fashion brand. Organic cotton, natural fabrics and smart design will do the trick.