Shopping

How slow was 2017?

What does slow fashion really look like facing the everyday realities of time, money and life that gets in the way?

I have looked at my numbers for 2017: what I bought, what I made, how much I spent, how thoughtfully I purchased, the mistakes, the successes. In short, all the nitty-gritty details of an honest, imperfect attempt at making better clothes decisions.

(Pour yourself a cup of coffee because this is a long one.)

 

How many new items?

20 (including shoes, not counting underwear)

Of those 20 new additions, 2 were bought second hand.

 

11 were handmade!

 

How many of the new items were a success?

14 of the new additions were a success.
2 were okay, but not fantastic.
4 were wardrobe flops.

14 out of 20 makes a success rate of 70%. But what about the wardrobe flops?

 

The wardrobe flops

Looking back at the wardrobe failures, two were due to the trial and error of learning. The edging on the jersey tops I sewed curled after the first wash. That is okay. I want to make my own clothes and keep pushing my skill set, and mistakes are part of that process (however annoying it is to admit it).

One was due to bad decision making. The second hand pair of hiking trousers just don’t fit and I should have faced up to that before I bought them. I could take out the waistband, but I might as well sit it out for a while and see what my body looks like in a year or so.

One was an unforeseen flop. The zero waste jacket didn’t end up being worn. I think, because I sewed it while at the beginning of my pregnancy and I still feel a wave nausea each time I look at it. Weird, I know. I’ll bring it back out when I’m ready.

 

Were the items sustainably sourced?

pie chart sustaiably sourced.png

The good: 8 items


The okay: 7 items

  • Two leggings and two tops sewn in organic cotton jersey, though produced under unknown working conditions. Leggings adapted from the True Bias Hudson pant pattern. Tops self-drafted. (Images at the top of the post, first row.)
  • Dress from Gudrun Sjöden in organic cotton, but produced under unknown working conditions.
  • Purple boxy dress sewn in a standard cotton jersey from my stash, pattern from Stoff & Stil. Not ethically sourced fabric, but points for using up what I already had. (Image at the top of the post, bottom left.)
  • Winter boots from Ecco. A quality-focused European brand who own most of their supply chain, though I know nothing about the labour and materials that went into these boots.
  • Zero waste jacket sewn in a wool/poly blend. While a zero waste pattern reduces textile waste, the fabric was not ethically produced, known-origin nor 100% wool. (Image at the top of the post, first row, second to the right.)


The bad: 5 items

  • 2 store-bought jumpers in alpaca, but from unknown origins and produced under unknown working conditions. (Plus, I wouldn’t have bought these if they hadn’t been ridiculously cheap sale items.)
  • 1 fast-fashion item bought in a haste
  • 1 pair of trainers, not only produced under unknown working conditions but with a sole that probably won’t decompose for another 1,000 years.

 

How many repairs and refashions?

7 (counting all the darned tights and socks as one.)

  • Jeans - sashiko-style knee patch
  • Jumper to cardigan refashion
  • Second hand jacket - hand-stitched the facing
  • Wool camisole - darned
  • Socks and tights - darned (lost count of how many)
  • Maternity jeans – ripped and reinforced
  • Winter boots - repaired at a cobbler

 

What did it all cost?

I spent 11,100 NOK on clothes and shoes, bought, handmade and repaired last year. That is about €1,155, £1,020 or $1,408 US.


Handmade vs. ready-to-wear

pie chart cost.png

Ready-to-wear items (new and second hand) made up 60% of the total cost of clothes and shoes.

Looking at the number of items per category, the handmade garments were cheaper in average than the ready-to-wear garments. This surprised me, because for most of the handmade items I deliberately tried to source my materials more thoughtfully. While, on the other hand, several of the ready-to-wear items were very cheap.

With this in mind, I realise that making garments myself means quality, ethical fashion is within reach. I thought the cost of ethical fabric would make it unattainable, but really it is finding suitable fabric that is my main challenge. The most expensive handmade item last year was the blue Kalle shirt dress, which added up to 800 NOK (€83, £73, US $101) including pattern, ethically sourced fabric, shipping and taxes. I can live with that. I would rather reduce the number of items than skimp on the fabric.

The repairs gave most value for money, though here the numbers are misleading. I only paid for one repair: the boots I took to the cobbler. For the rest I used materials I already had.

 

How do you measure slow fashion success?

I added more items and mended fewer than I would have wished. Another question just as relevant as the number of pieces added, is the number of pieces that went out. Where did they go: into storage, donated, thrown out, repurposed as fabric? I didn’t keep track of that. But there certainly were things that went out of my wardrobe last year.

 

Ideal vs. real

Ideally, all the new additions to my wardrobe last year should have been real wardrobe workhorses and they should all have come from sustainable sources. Ideally. Realistically, I am not there yet.

As a second-time mum, my body has gone through big changes over the year and I am still waiting for it to settle into its new shape. As an adult and woman I am still figuring out how I like to dress. As a professional I am still finding my place. And as a maker I am still learning. This all takes some exploration, some trial and error, some time to hone in on.

Slow fashion is not only about the amounts of clothing I have. It is as also about having the right clothes, for me and for my lifestyle. Do I feel comfortable in my clothes? Do I have clothes that work together? Do I have clothes I want to wear and will want to repair when they need it?

Adding and subtracting clothes in a thoughtful and more sustainable way is my goal. Getting there is a journey.

 

Was 2017 a slow fashion year for me?

Well, it kind of was and it wasn't. I am thinking: mend more, buy less and enjoy the process of making.

Desire to buy: How to stay mindful in a shopping culture

January, the month of new beginnings and high goals, is coming to a close. Have you started the year with a resolution to buy less, buy more mindfully or not buy at all? How do you stick to your resolutions while the sales are on to tempt you?

 

Be rational about it

Often, the advice for being more mindful about your wardrobe purchases is to ask yourself some timely questions before buying anything new, like:

Sound advice. But how far does rational reflection take you once desire has kicked in?

 

Awareness is not enough

In a recent episode of the sustainable fashion podcast Magnifeco, designer and fashion theorist Otto von Busch talked of the difficulty in bringing about a sustainable fashion. As he says on the podcast: awareness is not enough.

Drawing a parallell to food, von Busch points out that even when we are aware that sugar is bad for us, the craving for the snickers bar is still real, and in fact extremely hard to hold back.

He suggests the same emotional responses are present in how we relate to fashion. For, in a visual culture, continually re-inventing ourselves through fashion and social media is a way to feel acknowledged and loved. And we all want that.

How do we then deal with an unsustainable cultural desire for fashion?

Von Busch suggests we need to build other social reward mechanisms. We need to train building our self-worth in other ways than through the feedback loop of social media likes.

 

Emotional needs

It is a fact that a lot of marketing tries to get straight at your deepest emotional needs. The Maslow theory, with the well-known hierarchy of human needs, is much used in marketing. That is why, for instance, cars are often marketed for their safety, rather than for their luxury interiors or design. It appeals to your need for safety and security, the second most basic human need, according to the Maslow theory.

Fashion, I imagine, is often marketed to trigger your need for belonging, love and esteem. And in the case of fast-fashion, to the urgency of keeping up.

 

FOMO

Social media escalates that sense of urgency. FOMO, the fear of missing out, feeds on you continuously checking in on social media to see what others are doing. Apparently, you can’t help but compare yourself to others, according to this article siting a study from 2016.

Do we all need to unhook from social media?

There is a lot to be said for avoiding temptation. What you don’t know can’t hurt you. On the other hand you probably neither can, nor want to, completely shield yourself from the influence of the world around you.

 

Feeling cool - sexy - worthy - loved - good enough

If von Busch is right, the desire to shop is not just about the clothes, or the other stuff, you buy. It is an expression of your humanness. We are all social beings and we all want – need – to feel good enough.

The weird thing is how that translates into buying things.

Thought experiment 1: Your feeling good list

Take a moment to list twenty things that make you feel good and give you joy.

Are there things on your list that do not involve buying stuff? No? Then keep going.

Your list is a gentle reminder that there are other, more fulfilling things for you to do besides shopping. Armed with it, hopefully you will build resilience against that familiar pull to buy new things in response to an emotional need.

Thought experiment 2: Pop the lifestyle bubble

I heard a speaker at a conference once, say that no-one sells products anymore. It is all about selling a service and a lifestyle.

Well, what if you pop that lifestyle bubble before the purchase?

Imagine you want to buy something, like really want to buy it now. What if you stop for a moment and consider two related, but very different questions:

  1. What does the thing represent to you?
  2. What is the actual object you will take home with you, once you have paid?

Okay, here are two things on my wish list: a pair of trekking trousers from Fjällreven and a wax-canvas shoulder bag from Ruralkind.

Each of these things represent a whole lot more to me than the actual object itself. I look at the trekking trousers, for instance, and I see this healthy, wholesome, energy-filled life with authentic close-to-nature experiences and happy family adventures.

But, it is just a pair of trekking trousers.

With or without them, I will still be same old me, no more miraculously happy or outdoorsy than I am now. Okay, fine. But actually, I still need a pair of trousers for outdoor activities.

Yet, the British-made wax-canvas bag: it is just a shoulder bag.

Aah, well. I don’t really need another shoulder bag. What I need is the feeling of being cool, creative and interesting, living a hands-on, craftsmanship-type lifestyle. Another bag, however well-made and beautiful, won’t really fix that.

Of course, I can still buy the bag. (Or I could in theory if I had that kind of money.) But then at least I would know why I was buying it and why it probably wouldn’t change my life.

Bursting the lifestyle bubble before the purchase, makes it easier to see your real reasons for wanting to buy that thing.

 

Acknowledging our humanity

Now, don’t get me wrong. It is okay to buy new things. It is also okay to make mistakes. We all buy things for the wrong reasons sometimes. At least I do.

Feeling content with what you have is difficult. Not because something is wrong with you, but because you are human and have human needs, both material and emotional. If we want to address an unsustainable shopping culture, perhaps the first step is to acknowledge our humanity?

Ethical shoes guide 2: Where to shop

In the first part of the Ethical shoes guide I talked about all the hard questions around sustainable and ethical shoes and gave you no clear answers. Now, here is what you have been waiting for: a list of 14 more ethical and sustainable shoe brands.

Bear in mind that this is not a comprehensive list, but simply the brands I have come across in my own search for more ethical shoes. If you know of others deserving a mention, please share in the comments! Also, none of the brands listed are perfect. So, don't forget to think for yourself. Right, let's go!

 

14 shoe brands pushing for good

 

Ethletic

Sustainable materials, fair trade

Trainers, flats and sandals for men and women.
Headquarter in Germany, production in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka.

Starting out as a sports brand, with the first fairly produced football on the market in 2004, the company has since 2007 produced shoes using its existing supply chains. It sources natural rubber from FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) plantations on Sri Lanka, certified organic cotton from India and was certified in 2010 with the fairtrade seal for organic cotton.

At the manufacturing facility in Pakistan Ethletic has implemented its own scheme, where it pays an additional 15% of the value of their orders to an employer-represented elected body or “welfare society”. The society uses these extra funds for social benefits of their own choice, like health insurance, doctor visits, clean drinking water and so on.

On Rank A Brand’s dutch site Ethletic was rated with a B.

 

Veja

Sustainable materials

Trainers for women, men and kids.
Headquarter in France, production in Brazil.

The shoes are manufactured in Brazil and made of organic cotton, recycled materials, natural rubber from the Amazon, and “low chrome” leather. The association of cotton farmers they work with are fairtrade certified.

There is a fair bit of information about their commitment to sustainability on its site, including prices on natural rubber and cotton, and social audit reports from their manufacturing facilities from 2008 and 2009. The company also openly acknowledges some of the challenges it faces with respect to its production.

In Rank A Brand’s test Veja was rated with a C, doing well on labour conditions and environmental protection, though facing the complaint that its sustainability reporting should be more up-to-date.

 

Avesu

Sustainable materials, vegan

40+ sustainable shoe brands for men, women and kids.
Based in Berlin.

Avesu brings together a wide range of ethical, sustainable and vegan shoe brands with everything from trainers and hiking boots, to lace-ups and heels.

Avesu ensures the brands they stock meet its standards of fair working conditions by inspecting the brands' non-EU supplier factories. The company states that the majority of the shoes are sourced within the EU where there are already strict laws to ensure fair working conditions. However, as mentioned in the first part of the Ethical shoes guide, a recent report by the Clean Clothes Campaign and Change Your Shoes describes the shoe industry in low-wage European countries as notorious for poverty wages and bad working conditions.

Avensu offer some interesting input to the discussion of leather, stating that all skins go through a chemicals-intensive tanning process whether or not this is labeled “vegetable tanning”.

 

Oliberté

Sustainable jobs in Africa

Leather shoes for men, women and babies.
Headquarter in Canada, production in Ethiopia.

Oliberté started out in 2009 partnering with factories and suppliers in Sub-Saharan Africa, later establishing its own factory in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia in 2012. All its shoes are made there, and the factory became the world’s first fair trade certified footwear manufacturing factory in 2013.

Materials are sourced from within Africa: leather from Ethiopia (mainly form a tannery which is said to have the world’s only chrome-recycling system), natural rubber from Libera, South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia, and tags and insoles form Mauritius.

Oliberté is a certified B-Corporation.

 

Sole Rebels

Sustainable jobs in Africa, fair trade

Boots, flats and sandals for men and women.
Headquarter and production in Ethiopia.

A range colourful and fun shoes made of hand-spun and hand-woven cotton, reclaimed textiles, hemp and old tires. The company puts emphasis on job creation and fair working conditions, stating for instance that its workers are paid three times the average wages in the industry. They creatively re-use materials and support traditional handcraft techniques.

Sole Rebels is a World Fair Trade certified company.

 

The Root Collective

Supporting small-scale artisans in Guatemala

Boots and flats for women.
Headquarter in the US, production in Guatemala.

A small range of handmade shoes in leather and cotton, produced in partnership with small-scale artisans in the poor areas of Guatemala. The fabric is handwoven by women in Guatemalan highland villages using the traditional back-strap weaving technique. The shoes are stitched in family workshops in the slum of Guatemala City.

The Root Collective is a certified B-Corporation.

 

Allbirds

Sustainable materials

Wool trainers for men and women.
Headquarter in the US, production in New Zealand and Italy.

Allbirds produce trainers made of merino wool from New Zealand processed into a special fabric in Italian textile mills. The shoes are said to have a 60% reduction in carbon footprint compared to standard trainers of synthetic materials. The natural properties of the wool help minimise odour, regulate temperature and wick moisture.

The merino wool is ZQ certified and the company is in the process of gaining a B-Corp certification. However, there is no mention of where the shoes are manufactured, working conditions, detailed supplier lists or a code of conduct.

 

El Naturalista

Own most of its supply chain

Shoes, boots and flats for men, women and kids.
Headquarter in Spain, production in Spain, Italy and Morocco.

The shoes are mainly made of leather, which is claimed to be “chrome-free”. There are also some vegan alternatives made of poly microfibres.

El Naturalista own three manufacturing factories across Spain and Morocco, and all its shoes are produced in these. Leather and other shoe components are sourced from Italy.

There is a code of conduct and a supplier list available for download on the site. However, in the report "Trampling worker rights underfoot" by Change Your Shoes it is pointed out that the factory in Morocco and the tanneries in Italy are not included on the list. The report concludes that while the company report generically on supply chain responsibility on the website the whole supplier chain is not included.

In Rank A Brand’s test El Naturalista was rated with a D, faced with the complaint that the company should be more transparent about its sustainability policies.

 

TOMS

One for one model

Canvas flats for men, women and kids.
Headquarter in the US, production unknown.

The company's focus is on the "one for one" model and its promise to give away a pair of shoes to children in need for every pair bought. So far, about 60 million pairs of shoes have been given away through various charities and local organisations in over 70 countries.

As mentioned, in the first part of the Ethical shoes guide, the TOMS model has received criticism regarding its shoe donations. This led to the investigation of the impacts of TOMS shoe donations in this recent paper published in the World Bank Economic Review.

Regarding corporate responsibility TOMS states that it is working towards more sustainable materials for its shoes, like organic cotton, hemp and recycled polyester. In general terms the company states it is committed to fair labour practices and require its suppliers to comply with their code of conduct. However, I found no information on suppliers or the code of conduct vaguely referred to on the site, except for casual reference to production in China, Ethiopia and Argentina.

 

Ecco

Own most of its supply chain

Mainly leather shoes for men, women and kids.
Headquarter in Denmark, production in Indonesia, China, Thailand, the Netherlands and by other subcontractors.

Ecco emphasises quality in production and take pride in craftsmanship. It states that it is the only major shoe company to own its own production and retail facilities, which suggests that it has better control both with the quality of the production and the working conditions at these sites. Ecco’s code of conduct is publicly available on the website.

Ecco did not partake in the company assessment report by Change Your Shoes. The report confirms that Ecco owns most of its supply chain, but also remarks that it uses subcontractors. The report concludes that it is fair to assume that Ecco takes responsibility to ensure fair working conditions, though it is unclear whether they have a comprehensive human rights due diligence procedure in place.

In Rank A Brand's test Ecco was rated with a D, for although the company fares well with regard to its tanneries and energy efficiency, other criteria regarding labour conditions and the environment are left unanswered.

 

Birkenstock

Job-creation in Germany

Sandals and flats for men, women and kids.
Headquarter and main production in Germany.

Birkenstock is a family-run business in its 6th generation, claiming roots back to 1774. The company has a strong emphasis on quality and comfort in its shoes.

The classic Birkenstock sandals are made of natural cork leftovers from the wine industry, sourced mainly from southern Portugal, and with soles of natural latex (or “rubber milk”). Most models have leather components, though they also have some vegan models made of poly microfibres.

The company’s code of conduct is available on the website.

In Rank A Brand’s test Birkenstock was rated with a C, doing well on labour conditions, but lacking information on environmental policies and climate change.

 

Kavat

EU Eco-label

Leather shoes for men, women and kids.
Headquarter in Sweden, production in Bosnia, Sweden and by other subcontractors.

A Swedish company with roots back to 1945, though not established as a brand until the 1970s. There is a small production facility in Sweden, maintained in cooperation with a local industry museum. The company owns a factory in Bosnia, which was established 2009 as a response to the influence of many Bosnian refugees that came to Sweden in the 1990s. This factory complies with ISO standards 9001 and 14001, and the EU Eco-label. The company also uses subcontractors, but don’t present a detailed supplier list.

On its website, Kavat states that more than 50 models are certified with the EU Eco-label.

 

Atheist

Handmade

Mainly leather shoes for men and women.
Headquarter in Germany, production in Portugal.

A small company based in Berlin, working with a shoe workshop in Porto in Portugal who manufacture the shoes. Atheist started as an art project, but grew into business in 2012 after an image of the first shoes went viral and led them to start a kickstarter campaign and launch their business.

The shoes are mainly made out of leather, which is said to be “natural and unprocessed”, only vegetable dyed and gently tumbled (but see also what Avesu write about vegetable tanned leather, above). There are also one or two vegan alternatives made out of microfibre from recycled plastic. The soles are made of natural rubber.

There is no specific mention of working conditions or the origins of the materials they use.

On a side note, Atheist offer a very unusual, and rather macabre, custom shoes option where you can get shoes made from your dead pet’s skin.

 

The White Ribbon

Handmade, reclaimed materials

Leather boots, sandals and flats for women.
Based in Berlin, Germany.

A small artisan company designing and making shoes by hand in their Berlin workshop. The shoes are made of leather from over-production in the Italian fashion industry, and also reclaimed vintage fabrics.