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The Rise of Slow Fashion

For many years, fast fashion was on top – cheap, ubiquitous, ripped from the runway designs that were so fast and easy they were literally designed to be disposable. However, the impact of this approach to clothing has come under intense criticism. From enormous quantities of product ending up in landfills to chemical dye pollution and unethical labor practices, the cost of fast fashion is adding up. For consumers and many in the industry, the cost of such an unsustainable model has inspired them to seek out other approaches now coming under the umbrella of slow fashion. Upcycling, thrift flips, resale, micromanufacturing, and made-to-order are becoming more common as the impact of fashion and climate change changes the way we decide what we want to wear.

Today, I’m speaking to Diana Coatsworth, an independent fashion designer from Toronto who has recently shifted her approach to be slower and more sustainable. We’ll also be speaking with Kayla Vickers, an Account Coordinator at SLD who studied fashion from the business perspective, about how social media platforms like Poshmark and The RealReal are influencing the slow fashion movement.

Transcript

Melinda: Hi, I’m Melinda and you’re listening to Think Retail. For many years, fast fashion was on top – cheap, ubiquitous, ripped from the runway designs that were so fast and easy they were literally designed to be disposable. However, the impact of this approach to clothing has come under intense criticism. From enormous quantities of product ending up in landfills to chemical dye pollution and unethical labor practices, the cost of fast fashion is adding up. For consumers and many in the industry, the cost of such an unsustainable model has inspired them to seek out other approaches now coming under the umbrella of slow fashion. Upcycling, thrift flips, resale, micromanufacturing, and made-to-order are becoming more common as the impact of fashion and climate change changes the way we decide what we want to wear.

Today, I’m speaking to Diana Coatsworth, an independent fashion designer from Toronto who has recently shifted her approach to be slower and more sustainable. We’ll also be speaking with Kayla Vickers, an Account Coordinator at SLD who studied fashion from the business perspective, about how social media platforms like Poshmark and The RealReal are influencing the slow fashion movement.

We’re going to start off with Diana. Hello, welcome.

Diana: Hi, Melinda. Thanks for having me.

Melinda: Why don’t you just start us off by telling us a little bit about you and Diana Coatsworth Design?

Diana: Sure, yeah, I have to go back because I’ve had a couple of careers, I guess. I’ve been an actor, singer, dancer all my life. And 20 years ago, I taught myself how to sew, you know, because you need to have something to fill in those gaps when you’re not doing theater. And I started a little business that was very crafty. I was upcycling fabrics and making handbag accessories and that was just great. I would sew during the days and act at night. And I did that for many years. And then I, kind of, put all that away, sold all my equipment and had a break from that. And then cut to seven years ago, I decided to go back to school, to George Brown College for fashion design and techniques so I could learn the real way of how to construct and pattern draft and grade patterns. And I created my business soon after graduating. And so, now we’re getting into the fifth year of my business. So, it’s still fairly new, but that’s it in a very tight nutshell.

Melinda: So, prior to the pandemic, your brand was both upscale-casual and event wear, ready-to-wear but also a lot of custom design for the red carpet and bridal. How did the pandemic change your brand model?

Diana: It completely changed it, basically, a 180. I still do custom when I can, but it’s actually a little different. I’m doing my custom bridal, people are still getting married. I’m doing actually more custom in the new way that I’m working, which is upcycling fabrics, and it’s such a shift.

Basically, back in March of 2020, there was such an abrupt stop to everybody’s business, including mine. As you know, Melinda, I saw a real need for PPE so I started a big group on Facebook called The Sewing Army and 4,000 people got together and volunteered to make masks for healthcare workers, essential workers, and people in need. We were just making, making, making, and donating and you volunteered very kindly as well, a lot of hours towards that cause as well. And at the end of that, by the summer, I was so exhausted.

From the pace of sewing to the pace of running a business pretty much on my own, I had a production team I contracted out, but going into that which was really gratifying and good work, I was so happy to do. But by the summer, I was so exhausted, I needed time to rest and restore. And basically, I gave myself time to reevaluate how I’m going to switch. How am I going to move forward because obviously, who’s wearing anything event wear, who’s going to an event, you know? Nobody.

Melinda: There are no events.

Diana: It’s not the category to be in, let’s just say, in 2020. So, thankfully, that time to reevaluate wasn’t too long, and inspiration started percolating. And by the fall of last year, I started just feeling like, you know, we’re still not able to hug people and see our families, and so I just wanted comfort in what I was wearing, but also some individuality. So, what I started doing was taking pre-loved garments, such as cashmere sweaters, and cotton, and wool, invisibly mending them in an artistic way. And it was, kind of, just suited to what I wanted to wear and the pace I was at. It was very solitary for me, very quiet work, and slow. And it’s just where I was and what I wanted to wear. And I put it out there. And it was such a switch to what I had done before. But still, I was known for my handwork so it wasn’t so far. But I was just so happy with how it was received and it did quite well initially. And I just kept going with that, I kept evolving, and now I’m doing…well, I guess going into spring, I started using upcycled fabrics with my own design and, you know, bringing in more vintage clothes and repairing them. So, it’s like a real morph of all these different categories. But I, kind of, just felt like, hey, why not? I have nothing holding me back from just doing what I want, what I like to wear, the mix of all that. And yeah, it was received quite well. So, I just…I love it.

Melinda: So, you alluded to this, to doing custom but through upcycling. Can you describe what that’s like or give us an example?

Diana: I was always part of people’s very special events before the pandemic, you know, with proms, and weddings, and sometimes funerals, and very big events in people’s lives. And, you know, you have this great relationship and this special moment in creating something so important for the day. And now it’s like a different kind of thing but it’s equally special. I’m taking people’s heirloom quilts, for instance, and making a coat out of it, or I’m taking cashmere sweaters that their mother gave them every year and they have holes in them because moths got to them. But now I can cut around them and make beautiful sweaters that they can cherish. So, it’s like this meaningful creation and in custom with something that means something to them, you know, to each person. And also like all the vintage linens that I’m using, people sometimes donate it towards my stock, or they want something made from that. Like, it’s just, it really is so open. It’s endless possibilities, people come to me with very unique ideas. And I have the time to be able to do that now more than before. So, yeah, it’s been really gratifying.

Melinda: Yeah. And I think that that sort of idea of something that’s handmade and one of a kind, it’s very relevant right now. How have your customers responded to this shift to where they maybe before were getting a brand-new garment fabric that had never been used, how are they responding to the shift towards upcycling invisible mending?

Diana: So well. Yeah, I mean, I guess it’s very important to make sure that the design is there, that the combination works. Obviously, I’m hoping to bring a freshness to it and I’m using quality fabrics. So, that’s all very key, but it’s been exceptional, people have really embraced it and I think they’re looking for it, you know. Because it’s always one of a kind, it’s just so unique and special to them and so I find a lot of people that are either following me on Instagram, or they just check into my website, often they’re looking for the one for them. They’re like, “I love that design, but I’m just waiting for the right fit.” And then, you know, they pounce. And it’s just fun, it’s sort of, like, an excitement.

Melinda: You know, it’s funny that you mentioned people, sort of, browsing and saying, “Where’s the one for me?” Because I’m having that exact moment with one of your coats right now where I’m like, “Yeah, I’m going to see the one, it’s going to happen any day now. I’m going to say the one.” And it feeds right into my next question. So, I did want to talk about social media because indie designers are so reliant on shows to get their name and product out there. But of course, during the pandemic, all of those shows were shut down. And so, indie designers and brands have always been really good at social media. How has that influenced your design choices in how you promote your brand and interact with your customers?

Diana: Yeah, I had to change my approach so much, because I only did 5% of my sales online pre-pandemic.

Melinda: Wow.

Diana: Yeah, because I did so many shows and my things were so tailored. I would always be, like, fitting people in my booth and, like, pinning, and then, you know, customizing it, like tailoring it at home for them afterwards. So, people would just buy if they wished they had bought it or, you know, that sort of thing, they already tried it on, there was only a few that would buy it without trying it. And then, of course, now it’s absolutely the opposite. I was really mindful of having that personal approach online that I get in-person and how to make it personal. You know, I always hand-write a note to each person that buys something, just something that just is showing I care. Also, I had to switch all my packaging to sustainable, compostable packaging and more branding inside and out of my packaging, just things I never thought of before, I didn’t need to think about. Online has been so crucial to building my business.

Also, I’m just thinking now, earlier in the year, I guess it was January of this past year, I’m usually starting to work on the One of a Kind Show and all the shows that come up after that. And this year, I didn’t have that deadline. And so, I was feeling a little lost, I was creating but the weeks were flying by, like, I think everybody is like, “It’s another Monday? It’s another…” Just flying, flying. So, I decided, for myself, there are a few benefits here, for myself, I’m going to do a Saturday morning drop online, every Saturday, which was a lot, it’s a lot. But I just gave myself the permission to do it as small or a little bit bigger as I needed and wanted to do. But I wanted to keep it consistent. So, for most of this year, I did Saturday morning 10:00 a.m. drops, trying to keep it as consistent as possible. And I found it was exciting for people to tune in, and also kept me on track at having a deadline. That was really fun and people could see the whole thing and they can pounce. Or they could be like, “I’m going to think and if, oh, it’s still there, I have to have it,” or whatever. But yeah, that was really part of the success of this year for me, my business.

And then on top of it, I guess, in the fall, I’ve taken a different approach even still. So, I’m always able to morph because my business is, you know, it’s a small business, so I’m able to do that. And I’m doing things as I sell them and as I want to put them up and it’s like, boom, here’s something else. So, yeah, it’s been gratifying.

Melinda: It’s interesting that you mentioned that because I think one of the big advantages of being a small business is that agility that you have, you can make a decision, there’s no board of directors that needs to approve your decision, you can just do it. I’ve really loved watching what small brands have done online during the pandemic, whether it’s, you know, videos, trying on clothes in stores, selling through Instagram, or your Saturday morning drops, those types of things have really…you know, when I’ve been at home, I am a person who loves fashion, I used to love going out and just walking down the street and just looking even in windows, and had to have that duplicated in a way that was really fun during the pandemic. I’ve really enjoyed that. And I think for bigger brands, it’s something that’s really hard for them to duplicate, but there are so many great lessons to be learned from that.

So, I’m curious about how, you know, you’ve had success, people have responded, they like the upcycling, they like being able to bring in, I think it’s lovely people bringing in heirlooms and having them remade. How has this, you know, looking forward as a designer, how do you think this is going to change your approach?

Diana: I just think that it checks all the boxes for me and I always feel the way I, kind of, run my business is it feels right to me, it’s going to connect to others, and it just feels right in all the ways. I just feel like I’m in the right place for me and for the way I want to contribute to the fashion world, I guess. I definitely want to keep with this. You know, I used to go garage selling with my parents every single week. It’s just, I love rooting around for the finds, you know, it’s just like in my DNA. So, I love that. I don’t know where it’s going to go but I really know it’s going to be down this path. As far as my approach to some of the challenges is just, you know, because everything is one of a kind, I have a number of designs that I have made, I have to keep an eye on sizing, I have to keep an eye on styles because they sell randomly, and all of a sudden, I have no sizes in this one section. So, I have to, like, really be on top of that kind of thing, that’s something that I have to be very mindful about.

The other thing is, I’m at the point where I do need to contract out work because I’ve been doing most of my own sewing this year, which isn’t the usual for me. I’ve usually used small production houses that do small brands. But you with what I’m doing now, you can’t bring to those people, like, it’s just such a different way. So, I have to start in the new year creating a little team to help. It’s a little too much to do all on my own, but that’s not a bad problem to have.

Melinda: Definitely not. Thanks for chatting with us. And if you want to check out Diana’s online store, it’s dianacoatsworthdesign.com.

So, as I mentioned earlier, retailers are increasingly dipping a toe into the resale market, as many as 60 percent are trying it in some capacity, even if just at the testing stages. So, to find out what the opportunities are, I’m speaking with Kayla Vickers, Account Coordinator at SLD, who studied fashion at Humber and has a passion for resale as well as her own podcast called Facts, Fibs, and Fairy Tales.

Kayla, welcome.

Kayla: Thank you. How are you?

Melinda: I’m great. How are you?

Kayla: I’m great. Thank you.

Melinda: So, the desire to make fashion more circular makes sense as a driver of resale. But what else is driving this, do you think?

Kayla: I think sustainability is a huge driver. And I think particularly with Gen Z, their generation coming up, they care more about sustainability, they care about getting rid of fast fashion, they don’t like it as much. So, I think that’s a really big driver. And I think as well, millennials and less-so boomers, but millennials are starting to adopt the same trend because they’re also interested in luxury goods, but don’t want to pay high retail prices. So, I think those two components. As well, they’re developing technology that you can…actually, there are two paths that people can take now, you can either resell something yourself on so many of the different apps, people are doing on Instagram even these days, or you can do it through a major consignment store like The RealReal. So, I think those two, it’s just less frictionless. It’s so much easier now to do resale in your own bedroom.

Melinda: One of the interesting things that I read while I was doing research for this was that some people now when they’re purchasing something, they’re factoring the resale value into the cost, which had never occurred to me, but I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting.”

Kayla: Yeah. And I think it’s interesting because I was doing research as well and, you know, there are good points that, like, we’ve been doing resale for hundreds and hundreds of years. Anytime you buy a car, you think about the resale value. So, when you buy an expensive item, it wasn’t that long ago that people would just do it in pawn shops or mom-and-pop consignment stores. It’s been the internet that’s really brought it together and made it accessible for the masses,3 essentially.

Melinda: Yeah. So, a lot of brands are introducing resale in some capacity. I’m thinking about Urban Outfitters, Patagonia quite famously, Levi’s. Eileen Fisher, would you say that it is becoming an essential part of the fashion business model?

Kayla: I think it’s going to, I think it’s trending in that direction. I think the more and more brands adopt it, they realize the benefits of it and the circularness of it and the opportunity to bring back existing customers at a lower price. So, Lululemon does a really great program where you essentially bring back items you used to own, they give you a discount price or a store credit, and then you spend it again there. So, it only serves to benefit the brands, and I think too as sustainability becomes more and more important to consumers, they’ll have to adopt. I was reading some reports that say that resale is going to start to surpass fast fashion in the next 20 years.

Melinda: Yeah, I’ve seen those stats as well. And it’s actually growing faster than any other segment.

Kayla: Yeah, absolutely.

Melinda: So, it is impressive. It reminds me a little bit of…I remember MAC was one of the first brands to do this, where if you brought in six used items, they would give you a new one free – it is building loyalty as well as having a circular and sustainable aspect to it. So, logistically speaking, there are some challenges to integrating resale into your model, what are some strategies brands can use to make it happen?

Kayla: I think partnerships is really the key, there is an American-based website that does resale called the Fashionphile, very similar to TheRealReal but smaller, they just do designer handbags and designer goods. And they partnered with Neiman Marcus and each Neiman Marcus, you can actually go in with your, let’s say, Chanel handbag, drop it off at a counter, get a text in 20 minutes that they’re going to pay you $1,000 for it, or if you want Neiman Marcus Credit, they will give you 10% more. And then, you’re at Neiman Marcus with money in the pocket, you know?

Melinda: Right.

Kayla: So, that partnership is obviously beneficial to Neiman Marcus way more than…not more than it is for Fashionphile but Fashionphile was like a grassroots website for a really long time, and last year, they introduced that partnership. And I think, again, that’s the key and that’s how it’s going to be the most beneficial for everyone.

Melinda: Yeah, and I think, I mean, thredUP I know is partnering with Gap. So, I think we’re going to start to see more and more brands partnering because it does take some of the friction out. Are there other ways that, like, let’s think of a brand that’s, you know, something like that fashion handbag where, would you want to resell goods in your own store or in a separate store? Are you seeing anything like that happening?

Kayla: Yeah, definitely, I think apps like Poshmark and Depop are making it way more frictionless. And especially, I think with COVID, people just had more time to spend at home in their closets, going through things, and more time to spend on the apps looking through for different things they want. So, I think that creates a much more frictionless experience for both the buyer and the seller. So, I think that is a driver as well.

Melinda: Right. What other implications are there for the industry? If we think about resale, if you want it to really go all the way and commit to it, what is the domino effect, do you think?

Kayla: I think fast fashion will decrease in a massive, massive way, I think people will just be more inclined to hang on to their purchases, because they’ll spend more money on it. Like, I’m not going to buy a $20 T-shirt, I’ll maybe buy a more expensive brand like a Patagonia nice, well-made T-shirt that’s been recycled-produced, whatever the fabrics, will hang on to it, they’ll probably get repairs to it, they’ll care for their clothes more. So, I think by that factor, fast fashion will decrease, you won’t actually need to go out and buy another $10 T-shirt to replace this one you spent money on, you’ve invested in. It’s, like, you care for it. I see it as a sort of like caring for your clothes – it’s almost like a hobby. And I think it’s something that people would start to do more and more if they invested into it.

Melinda: Repairs, as you mentioned, that’s an interesting thing to me as well because, you know, things like invisible mending are starting to become more popular. And people taking old garments and having them remade by, you know, a designer.

Kayla: Yeah, absolutely.

Melinda: And I can see those types of things, if you had a flagship location, if you offered that service in the store, could be a really compelling way to get people into the store as well. Yeah, that’s interesting.

Kayla: Definitely.

Melinda: So, on the one hand, there may be people who are happy to trade in their older clothes and shoes and bags for cash or credit, there are some who want to make their clothes last and so, I mean, that’s repair or other services. What other opportunities are there for brands in that vein?

Kayla: I think like you mentioned, definitely, those sort of remaking of previously loved items. The jewelry market is notorious for that. They do a really great job where you bring in, like, your grandmother’s ring and they make it into something that is a little more modern, something you would want to wear yourself. So, I think if fashion brands would capitalize on that, that can be really huge.

Melinda: I think as technology becomes more advanced, better material reuse will become possible as well. Right now, it’s quite laborious to recycle fabrics, especially at a lower cost, it’s fairly costly to do it right now. But I think once we figure that out on the technological side, then it’ll be easier to make things out of recycled fabrics and to make new fabrics out of existing materials, as opposed to just new crops of cotton, etc.

Kayla: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I think smaller designers are really doing it the best. The designer that you interviewed, Diana Coatsworth, does a really great job. I have a couple of friends, they have their own line called Average Babies. They’re graduates of Ryerson. And they made most of their collection recently out of used fabrics, they went to latex stores and got their scraps and assembled them. They asked people for unused denim and do patchwork sort of stuff. So, I think more and more local and independent designers are able to do that and understand the importance of those practices, and also the uniqueness that those practices bring, that fashion lovers really, I think, are interested in.

Melinda: Yeah, yeah. And I think the idea of exclusivity as well. So, producing a smaller line of something used to be very taboo, you didn’t want to do it, because you wanted to put as much of the product out there as possible so everybody could have that red jumpsuit. But now it’s like, “Oh, we’re only making a very small number of these.” And they’re gone in a few days sometimes.

Kayla: Yeah. And I think exclusivity really is a big driver for the market as well, like, even as someone who shops vintage, you’re the only one who has that vintage handbag.

Melinda: Yeah.

Kayla: That’s my favorite joke with my friends who will say, “I love your shirt or bag, or whatever. Where is it?” And I’m, like, “It’s vintage, you can’t get it.”

Melinda: Yeah. I think that also is part of a driver of resale as well, that if you do love vintage shopping, then you love scouring and looking for that one little thing that’s super special, that’s really you, and no one else is going to have it. That discovery, that sense of discovery, and definitely on a lot of the new apps that people are using, it’s easier because it’s curated once you bought a few things or search for stuff, they know what you’re looking for. So, it’s not like shopping through the Goodwill.

Kayla: Yeah. It’s an elevated version of that. And I think too, there’s sort of been a cultural shift in the last 10 years, that people are okay with used items and that there’s no stigma associated with like, “Oh, you don’t have money because you’re buying it used.” I think that’s been lifted a lot. Especially again, when you’re buying, you’re buying used but it’s, you know, a Birkin bag or something.

Melinda: Used Chanel is a little different than, you know, a flannel t-shirt.

Kayla: Yeah, exactly. But I do think that with thrift shopping in general, the stigma is way, way less than it was when I was growing up. I think Gen Z is very much into that like, independent style and, like, “Only I have it,” sort of aesthetic in paving their own way that way. It’s not like when I was growing up in, like, the early 2000s, where everyone was wearing Abercrombie & Fitch.

Melinda: Right. I mean, I’m Gen X so thrifting was cool when I was a kid. So, I think it’s like our kids are now getting back into it.

Kayla: Yeah. Gotcha. Gotcha. It’s that cycle.

Melinda: Great. Well, thank you so much for chatting with me today.

Kayla: Yeah, no problem at all.

Melinda: Whether it’s resale, upcycling, made-to-order, or other sustainable practices, slow fashion is poised to continue to grow. In fact, resale alone is expected to exceed fast-fashion sales in less than 10 years. So, will fast fashion go the way of the video rental store? And how can brands shift their model so they can adapt to this change in a way that feels credible? You can visit us at sld.com for more information and I’ll link in the transcript to an article to get you started. Thanks for listening.

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