François-Henri Pinault, CEO of luxury conglomerate Kering, unveiled the G7 Fashion Pact this week, a coalition of 32 fashion houses which includes Prada, Tapestry, Nike, Adidas and Burberry, committed to protecting the world’s climate, biodiversity and oceans. The Pact is the result of a clarion call from French President Emmanuel Macron and will build on initiatives already in operation by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Fashion For Good. Pinault told the New York Times, “We have acknowledged the 21st century’s environmental issues, and we are taking our responsibility through collective action and common objectives.” However Kering donated 100 million dollars to the restoration efforts when Notre Dame cathedral was devastated by fire in April but it has not stepped up to donate to the wildfires destroying the Amazon rainforest, and President Macron assembled a G7 Amazon aid package of only 20 million dollars.
The coalition’s members represent some of the biggest players in the market-driven economy of global fashion. It remains to be seen what will come of this week's high-profile announcement. But the truth is that we consumers don’t need committees, foundations or coalitions to take action. While those gathered at the summit figure out a bold blueprint for going forward, we can make a personal Fashion Pact: we can embrace slow fashion.
The term “slow fashion” appeared in the mid-00s round about the time the slow food movement emerged. Smaller runs, fewer seasons, less consumption, the answer to our industry’s problems seems to lie in downsizing. The language associated with all major sustainability goals––reduce, phase out, curb, eliminate, lower––leads us to conclude less it more, in which case we don’t need to seek guidance from the G7 Goliaths. We Davids have our own role to play in this worldwide battle. Some academics believe the best new design is no design, and even zero-waste design is a distraction to allow companies to push product onto a planet glutted with garments, bloated and overburdened. We have maxed out our credit.
Vintage shopping involves no new manufacturing to satisfy demand and a glance at the label might reveal the item was made domestically at a time when homegrown craft was respected above overseas cost-cutting. That’s worth cherishing in itself. Buying gently-used clothing is a little like choosing a family pet from a rescue shelter; you are giving a garment a new home and extending its life story. By embracing the old you may also create brand new narratives as I experienced earlier this summer. Shopping for a September wedding to be held in Somerset in the south of England, I stumbled upon an art-nouveau printed cotton maxi-dress with rows of covered buttons, snug bodice, and billowing sleeves from Honeymoon Antiques, one of the handful of quality vintage stores remaining in NYC. A brief chat with the owner, an aficionado of timeworn classics, and I was informed that the designer of the dress, Hilary Floyd, was part of the English school of the late 60s-early 70s which included more famous names such as Ossie Clark and Bill Gibb. What romantic karma, I thought: I have a historic piece of British Bohemia to wear to an English country wedding from a store called Honeymoon Antiques.
It doesn’t get more local than your closet. Trends recycle themselves often so there are undoubtedly treasures hidden in there that deserve renewed critical appraisal. Like a gardener, cultivate, weed, and replant garments from your closet within new contexts so that they bloom afresh. Customize and learn basic sewing techniques to modify, lengthen or shorten existing items. Make do and mend like women did during the second world war because the battle to save the environment is one in which we’re all fighting on the same side. Search for pretty velvet ribbons or trims–-again, vintage are best, and can be found at thrift stores and markets as well as online––to rejuvenate old favorites.
With a scavenger’s optimism the new generation approaches the crisis: Parsons BFA student Josefina Muñoz’s graduate collection was made using repurposed dustbags which accompany luxury shoe purchases, while CFDA’s 2019 Emerging Designer award winner Bode presents one-off menswear staples out of bedlinen and quilts which have been labeled “modern heirlooms” or “love letters to the past.” Fashion Institute of Technology graduate Aldrian Diaz repurposes hair scrunchies into gender-neutral garments and Pratt’s Xarea Lockhart, inspired by her grandma’s quilting, bonds together lace headers donated by luxury lacemaker, Solstiss, to create her own fabric.
In a booming resale market ThredUp received 175 million dollars in funding this week and The RealReal continues to dominate as customers aspiring to own less can still rotate their closet regularly with high end designer items without buying new. If you’re looking for a hobby, learn to sew and turn a pair of vintage curtains into a simple shift that looks so Dries Van Noten that the Antwerpian designer himself would tip his hat to you. Try vegetable dyeing at home with tumeric, avocado, or beet––a collaboration between slow food and slow fashion. Block print a repeat motif on an old cotton shirt on the kitchen table using nothing more high-tech than a potato for a charmingly homespun result that could fetch hundreds of dollars in the right Hamptons boutique. Remember, if you are your workforce, your supply chain is entirely transparent and no one is exploited
Aims of the G7 Fashion Pact such as implementing 100 percent renewable energy across the industry, phasing out plastic by 2030, and being carbon-neutral by 2050, are necessary, and we will be watching. But in the meantime, personal progress is where our immediate attention should lie. A commitment to slow fashion is a pact we can all sign.
Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.
Images: Wikimedia Commons, Pink knitting in front of pink sweatshirt. Photo by Johntex. 12 February 2006; BodeNewYork.com