Dianne Ludwig from Welcome Back Slow Fashion. Image supplied.
The Atacama Desert in Northern Chile is home to a horrific sight. The driest desert in the world is a dumping ground to the excesses of the fast fashion industry. Approximately 39,000 tonnes of unsold fast fashion end up in the rubbish dumps of the Atacama Desert each year.
Fast fashion is defined as the low cost, mass production of garments that borrow style ideas from catwalk fashion. These mass-produced garments are sold at high street clothing stores and online retailers to satisfy consumer demand by being available almost immediately.
However, fast fashion is a disaster. According to Ethical Consumer, the industry is responsible for around 20% of industrial water pollution and 10% of global carbon emissions. They also pay their garment workers, who work in very unsafe conditions, pitiful wages.
A reactionary movement to fast fashion is the appropriately titled slow fashion. Design activist Kate Fletcher first coined the term in 2007. She defines it as “designing, producing, consuming, and living better. Slow fashion is not time-based but quality-based (which has some time components).”
A New Zealand proponent of the slow fashion movement is Dianne Ludwig. Throughout her career and as a partner in an advisory and accounting practice, she had always worked with the fashion industry. “I’d been involved as a board member of Fashion Industry NZ (FINZ). My fashion industry clients were always my favourite, the most hard-working and passionate about their craft, and I’ve always loved fashion.”
Even after her retirement, she remained engaged with the industry as a founding trustee of the New Zealand Fashion Museum. But, in 2015, she started Welcome Back Slow Fashion. It combines her love of vintage clothing with the history of the styles and how to care for the garments. It is all run through Instagram.
Dianne started sourcing the clothes through op shops, TradeMe and her wardrobe. However, with the increasing popularity on Instagram, clients now approach her privately. Every day, Dianne will post photos of the garments she has found with the sizes, and even a little history and style of the piece.
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The overwhelmingly positive response has surprised Dianne, “It turns there are so many like-minded people, who like me love knowing more about the history of a garment, have lots of fond fashion and life memories attached to their clothes and want to look after their clothing and learn the skills to do so.” The history behind the brands will often influence sales as well. “They want to add the best labels to their wardrobes, so brands like El Jay, Fashionbilt, Southwell, Horrockses etc. always sell well.”
Fashion trends, wearability, pieces with a real X factor, and the pedigree of the label tend to drive what’s popular on Welcome Back Slow Fashion. “This year 80s brights are in, but the year before 70s vintage was trending. I am sure the recent interest in Mary Quant will help drive more eyes on 60s vintage.”
Interestingly, the circumstances in which customers find themselves can also push the sales of certain pieces. “As we’ve been in a moment of working from home, casual pieces like vintage hand knits, vintage denim and casual boxy blazers fly out the door. But I’ve also sold a lot of amazing and quite glam 70s maxis in the last 4 months, people wanting some special pieces to dress up in.”
However, Dianne has a scathing rebuke for the ubiquitous fast fashion. “What’s changed and has got us in this mess of unsustainable consumerism is the way fashion companies have driven down the price by moving production offshore to low cost/low pay countries and encouraged consumers to be endlessly buying things they don’t need or may not even wear.” She notes that an unintended effect of this change is that consumers have lost the connection to local labels. “Local fashion industries have been decimated, jobs and skills lost.”
But she reassures me there is a way out of this mess. Consumers must start voting with their wallets. They must start buying less, buy second hand and purchase from more sustainable and local labels. “People should learn to care of their clothes, and value the longevity of a piece. I’d love for it to become incredibly cool to be part of slow fashion and for that to be taught in schools.”
Moreover, the most important element of slow fashion is embracing the value of your clothing, so you’re not encouraged to go and buy another piece. “Personally, I try hard to not donate clothes or excess stock to op shops. The more you must take responsibility for looking after a piece or rehoming directly to someone who wear it, the more you think twice about buying something.”
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