Slow Fashion Shows Consumers What It's Made Of

Slow Fashion Shows Consumers What It's Made Of

1:15pm Apr 24, 2015
The Zady clothing line sources cotton from the Texas Organic Cotton Cooperative in Lubbock, Texas.
The Zady clothing line sources cotton from the Texas Organic Cotton Cooperative in Lubbock, Texas.
Zady
  • The Zady clothing line sources cotton from the Texas Organic Cotton Cooperative in Lubbock, Texas.

    The Zady clothing line sources cotton from the Texas Organic Cotton Cooperative in Lubbock, Texas.

    Zady

  • PLANET MONEY MAKES A T-SHIRT: The world behind a simple shirt, in five chapters

    PLANET MONEY MAKES A T-SHIRT: The world behind a simple shirt, in five chapters

    NPR

  • Worker-owner Alfonso Gonzalez pieces together Zady's T-shirts at the Opportunity Threads cooperative in Morganton, N.C.

    Worker-owner Alfonso Gonzalez pieces together Zady's T-shirts at the Opportunity Threads cooperative in Morganton, N.C.

    Zady

  • Zady's "slow fashion" T-shirt costs $36.

    Zady's "slow fashion" T-shirt costs $36.

    Zady

  • For some shoppers, like Angelique Noire (left) and Jenny Rieu, "ethical fashion" means lining up for a vintage clothing sale.

    For some shoppers, like Angelique Noire (left) and Jenny Rieu, "ethical fashion" means lining up for a vintage clothing sale.

    Nina Gregory / NPR

If you're into "slow food" — the ethical response to "fast food" — you probably want to know how the animals were treated or whether pesticides were used on your vegetables. Now, the "slow fashion" movement is in the same spirit.

"It's about understanding the process or the origins of how things are made," says Soraya Darabi, co-founder of the clothing line Zady. "Where our products come from, how they're constructed and by whom. Slow fashion is really indicative of a movement of people who want to literally slow down."

This idea of slow fashion has been around for a long time. But over the past two years it has surged into a small-but-dedicated movement, partly inspired by the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh. In 2013 some 2,000 people were making clothes — mostly for large, western brands — when the building they were working in collapsed. More than 1,100 people were killed.

Pietra Rivoli, a professor of finance and business at Georgetown University, says tragedies like the one in Bangladesh are a result of fast fashion: Consumers in the West buying lots of cheap clothes that are made in countries with little or no oversight of fire safety and fair labor.

"We talk about a race to the bottom in apparel production with production chasing the lowest costs," Rivoli says. "I think the bottom right now is in Bangladesh."

Rivoli is the author of The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy. She traced the origins of a T-shirt from Walgreens that cost $5.99.

"A lot of times there are demand surges from the West," Rivoli explains. "You know, 'We need more of those pink T-shirts by next week,' and these brands had never really thought about the fact that they might need to be monitoring for actual structural integrity of the buildings. That wasn't something that was really on their radar screen."

Supply chain integrity is important to Soraya Darabi and Maxine Bédat, the co-founders of Zady. They've come out with a new T-shirt that's an example of "slow fashion." It was made entirely in the U.S. by companies that Bédat says try to be eco- and labor friendly. The cotton is grown by the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative.

"The fact that it's USDA. Organic is very meaningful to us because what that means is there is a government representative that's actually visiting these farms on an annual basis and they're checking to make sure these organic standards are being met," Bédat says.

Then the cotton goes to North Carolina where it's spun by a multigenerational family cooperative. "The actual sewers own part of the company," Bédat explains.

The T-shirts are also dyed in North Carolina by TS Designs.

"What we're doing is piecing together what is left of an industry that has totally been decimated," Bédat says.

Zady's T-shirt costs $36.

"It is a little bit of an upfront investment, but it's also, we believe, the way of the future — to own fewer but better things," says Darabi.

Like the Zady founders, Linda Greer likes the idea of slow fashion, but her definition is different. Greer is a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It's intentional manufacturing with 'mindfulness' — to use current terms," she says.

Greer thinks the slow fashion movement should hold large retailers accountable for its manufacturing abroad. The NRDC has a program called Clean by Design that works with retailers and designers to "green the fashion supply chain."

Greer says 33 textile mills in China have adopted efficiency standards that have reduced pollution. These are mills that make clothes for Target, H&M and The Gap among others. But she says the apparel industry still has a very long way to go.

"The conundrum consumers face into trying to know where their clothing comes from is that even companies don't know where that clothing has come from," Greer says.

On a recent weekend, a line snaked around the Goodwill in Los Angeles for a vintage clothing sale. For these consumers slow fashion is recycling hats, dresses and purses that have some history.

"It was owned by someone living somewhere at some point and it already had a life and I'm here to give it maybe a second or third life," says shopper Jenny Rieu. Her Goodwill finds are unique and cheaper — not to mention friendlier to the environment.

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

That tragedy caused many people to think more about who makes their clothes and how they're made. Many people are pushing for what's called slow fashion. As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, it's partly modeled after the slow food trend.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: People into slow food often buy local. They want to know how the animals were raised and whether pesticides were used on crops. Slow fashion is similar, says Soraya Darabi, co-founder of Zady, a new clothing line that's trying to practice sustainable manufacturing.

SORAYA DARABI: It's about understanding the process or the origins of how things are made, where our products come from, how they're constructed and by whom.

BLAIR: This idea of slow fashion has been around for a long time, but over the last two years, it has grown into a small but dedicated movement, partly in response to the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh. Georgetown University professor Pietra Rivoli says tragedies like the one in Bangladesh are a result of fast fashion - consumers buying lots of cheap clothes that are made in countries where there's little or no oversight of things like fire safety and wages.

PIETRA RIVOLI: We talk about a race to the bottom in apparel production with production chasing the lowest cost. I think the bottom right now is in Bangladesh.

BLAIR: Rivoli is the author of "The Travels Of A T-shirt In The Global Economy." In the book, she traced the origins of a T-shirt from Walgreens that cost $5.99.

RIVOLI: A lot of times there are demand surges from the West. You know, we need more of those pink T-shirts, you know, by next week. And these brands had never really thought about the fact that they might need to be monitoring for actual structural integrity of the buildings. That wasn't something that was really on their radar screen.

BLAIR: Supply chain integrity is important to the founders of Zady. They've come out with a new T-shirt that's an example of slow fashion. It was made entirely in the U.S. by companies that co-founder Maxine Bedat says aim to be labor and eco-friendly. The textile industry is one of the world's biggest polluters.

MAXINE BEDAT: It's producing a product that's really tackling, in one T-shirt, all of the issues that the industry is facing.

BLAIR: The cotton for Zady's T-shirt comes from an organic cooperative in Texas. The shirt was cut and sewn by a North Carolina company, where the sewers own part of the company. And it was dyed by TS Designs, which says it uses the least environmentally damaging method of dyeing. The company also makes a T-shirt it calls Dirt to Shirt. Maxine Bedat says slow fashion does take a lot of time.

BEDAT: What we're doing is piecing together what is left of an industry that has totally been decimated.

BLAIR: Zady's T-shirt is $36.

DARABI: It is a little bit of an upfront investment. But it's also, we believe, the way of the future - to own fewer but better things.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Right now, we have enough merchandise to last till about 3 maybe 4 o'clock.

BLAIR: On a recent weekend, a huge line snaked around a Goodwill in Los Angeles for a massive vintage clothing sale. Jenny Rieu was there looking for clothes from the 1960s.

JENNY RIEU: Because I love the mod style. I love crazy prints - so hopefully. Who knows?

BLAIR: Rieu says for her, slow fashion is about recycling - hats and dresses and purses that have some history.

RIEU: It was owned by someone living somewhere at some point, and it already had a life. And I'm here able to give it maybe a second or third life. So that makes me feel something. And also, you find more unique stuff.

BLAIR: Rieu says at the vintage sale, she bought a number of accessories from the 1950s, including pink cotton gloves and a wide-brim straw hat with flowers. She says it feels good to buy clothing that has lasted a long time without spending a fortune or leaving much of a footprint on the environment. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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And I'm David Greene. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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