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Slow Fashion’s artisan brands lead the way in sustainable luxury – WWD



Fashion, like pant silhouettes, tends to change course once the pendulum swings too far in one direction. And while fast fashion defined the 2010s, slow fashion may be the hallmark of the new decade.

For years, the industry has driven production and mass consumption at such a rapid rate that the fast-spinning, churn-out fad is now falling out of favor and giving way to its more measured counterpart. COVID-19 has helped accelerate this redefinition of fashion – both luxury and at other price points – as clothing designed with sustainability at the forefront.

“The pandemic has helped foster a ‘buy less, buy better’ mentality with an interest in products offering more value and longevity compared to disposable fast fashion. There has been a greater push on artisan products and items with an emphasis on craftsmanship, further supporting the slow fashion trend, ”said Kayla Marci, market analyst at the Retail Intelligence Platform. Edited. Creating exclusivity with handmade and made-to-order items is now “the ultimate luxury in the current state of mass production,” she added. “With so many new players trying to enter the market, brands offering conscious and ethical products are on the verge of gaining visibility and gelling themselves among young consumers because they have a more substantial offer compared to luxury brands. traditional.

As defined, slow fashion is a movement towards thoughtful design, creation and consumption. It gives priority to the quality and longevity of the products; plans to minimize waste of all kinds and maximize social impact. He advocates curbing production for the sake of it, which, without a clear sense of demand, often means more fodder for landfill.

In practice, slow fashion resembles what Agua by Agua Bendita does.

The luxury ready-to-wear brand founded in 2018 and produced by Colombian artisans said in August – although it already releases fewer collections than more traditional luxury brands at just three a year – that it was slowing down even more its fashion cycle.

“Starting this season, we will be working at a more organic pace for the sake of our creativity and, above all, to reduce our impact on the environment. We believe in creating pieces that can be worn and loved for years to come because of their timeless design and excellent quality. We want to create less and create better ”, posted Agua by Agua Bendita on her Instagram.

The move would seem bold in a fashion industry long beholden to bottom lines and the retail industry’s constant need for novelty, but it’s a move the brand believes in and what shoppers and shoppers will need to turn to. . From now on, Agua will only create two collections per year, dividing them by drops.

“We found that the collections didn’t live in stores long before they went on sale, and we didn’t find that lasting,” Isabella Behrens, one of the brand’s creative directors, told WWD.

The goal is to have more time to create, a notion that has, in some cases, been abandoned in fashion, luxury or otherwise, with a “faster” model in its place. And at Agua, the creative process is complex.

Agua Collection by Agua Bendita Wallflowers

A piece from Agua by Agua Bendita’s resort 2021 “Wallflowers Collection”.
Agua by Agua Bendita

The concepts begin as a collaborative effort between the brand leaders led by women and a collective of 700 women artisans from vulnerable communities in and around Medellin and the greater Antioquia region of Colombia. The artisans, who are part of Agua Bendita’s AB Hearts initiative, are empowered to transform their generations-old Colombian embroidery and beading techniques into their own small businesses, meaning they are able to work from scratch. at home to take care of their children and the households that they are. often at the head of. Together, Agua and the main artisans they employ distribute the work to local women. The prints are hand-painted in designs reminiscent of Colombian culture and history, and pieces – which are largely made from linen and include hand-made embroidery or beads – are donated. to the collective of women that specializes in the type of detail work a design calls for.

Speeding up the manufacturing process for each garment would have a cost that the brand would not be willing to pay at the expense of its product.

“Our embroidery is quite intricate, our prints are developed in-house, so it takes a long time, and we found that we were also at a pace that it was not sustainable to continue and keep creating pieces that people wanted to buy and fall. likes with, ”said Cloclo Echavarria, co-creative director of the brand. “We want to create fewer pieces and make people love them for longer, and we want to work with retailers to have a specific markdown strategy and not bring our items down to 70% because that doesn’t reflect their value. . “

This value goes beyond product quality to Agua’s environmental impact and its efforts to minimize the label’s footprint. Only natural fibers go into rtw designs, which are digitally printed to save water and waste from traditional dyeing techniques. All swimwear is made of recycled polyester from discarded plastic bottles and then sublimation printed with water based inks. Social impact is also part of Agua’s efforts, as it works to share value with the artisans of its supply chain. It’s a realization that consumers today want the brands they buy from.

“We have to work consciously. We work with people, they’re not machines, ”said Catalina Alvarez, who founded the original swimwear-focused Agua Bendita brand with Mariana Hinestroza in 2003 before launching the luxury brand. “The value they give to each piece, I think the consumer will appreciate. It’s a family behind this garment.

Slow, thoughtful fashion can be a trend that shows resistance.

In its Conscious Fashion Report 2020 released in April, global fashion research platform Lyst said that in the 12 months leading up to the report, the term ‘slow fashion’ has generated more than 90 million dollars. ‘social impressions, suggesting what she called’ the beginning of a change in buying behavior. “

Sika Drawings by Phyllis Taylor

A piece from the Sika collection.

Another brand that is poised to continue to come under this shift is Sika.

Founded and created by London-based Ghanaian designer Phyllis Taylor, RTW’s line focused on batik printing is handcrafted and made to order in Ghana. And Taylor, it seems, may have been in the slow fashion movement before he had a name.

What started out of necessity after realizing the challenge of constantly pushing new pieces for a collection alongside his other efforts has finally turned into smart business for Taylor. She chose not to fully follow the seasonal fashion cycle and simultaneously refused to connect with her ongoing riddle about excess inventory.

“I’ve always had the luxury of being able to have a one-on-one with my clients… every client is different and you can’t be sure because you think this color will work when you’re in the production process… that it’s going to translate into a few weeks, a few months later when you start producing hundreds of them, ”Taylor said.

She started producing a handful of pieces at a time, seeing how they sold in her three London stores, and then ordering more as a result. When switching to an online-only model, Taylor didn’t make anything until the consumer ordered at all. “I realized the production team could just do while I was taking the order and there was no point in asking them to make 15 of these dresses and put them in there in case there were 15 people.” in the world over the year who might decide on that particular style.… Plus, I just don’t like the idea of ​​having a lot of stuff.

At Sika, there is zero waste as well as the added luxury of having something made to order and created in a way that means no room will ever be quite the same.

First, Taylor works with batik-making artisans in Accra, Ghana, to develop the fabric patterns and colors. The wax-resistant dyed cotton fabrics then dry on the lawn and the sun sets the ultimate color, meaning time gives each room its own uniqueness. The process continues from there entirely without the use of machines: the fabric is cut by hand and each garment is then sewn individually.

The artisans who make Sika’s designs also earn a living wage, as do most of the garments in Ghana, where cases of forced labor are not part of the culture as they may be in other places that produce the world fashion.

“Sometimes I think our dark history of slavery just isn’t something that we do,” Taylor said of forced labor. “You don’t see people working and touching a bite of bread, you don’t see children sewing anything.”

In June, when the Black Lives Matter movement suddenly drew new attention to black-owned brands that were already making notable contributions, the surge in orders from Sika prompted a post on its site alerting consumers that it would take until ‘to five weeks for their articles. to ship (typically this is a 10-14 day process). But they still ordered. And they waited. In one week, Sika gained 35,000 followers on Instagram.

“Companies like Amazon and other companies that you buy today and buy in your house at night have spoiled some people and they think it’s okay – it’s just not normal. I just think there’s something special about the creation process of asking someone to take the time to create something special for you, ”Taylor said. “I think the whole throwaway culture is playing out a bit now.”

While slow fashion may take a long time to find its way into some consumers’ systems, handcrafted luxury brands will likely lead the change.

“Fashion has a bad reputation, but the way we see it and the way we experience it, it can actually have such a big effect… such a positive impact,” Echavarria said.

As Behrens added, “it’s about being something bigger than fashion.”

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