As a purpose-driven business that exists within the fashion world, we believe it is our responsibility to stay informed about the movements happening around us – be it social, environmental, ethical or political – and to do our part in conversations that matter. This is why we are writing a series on Sustainability in Fashion to dive deeper into what sustainable fashion really means.
When we first started, many told us that artisanal craft is a sunset industry, that sooner or later mass production would take over as a quick and easy replacement, but we held strong to our belief and wanted to help people see that craft has instrinsic value. We continue to believe so, especially in light of our commitment to make fashion more sustainable.
Here are some lessons about the importance of artisanship that we have learned:
1. ARTISANAL IS THE MODEL FOR SLOW FASHION
Quality Over Quantity
When it comes to sustainable fashion, reducing the need to throw and buy again is crucial. Artisans are skilled labourers who work with traditional techniques. These techniques have been around for centuries, passed down from a time when machine made, “disposable” fast fashion did not yet exist. Meaning, artisan hand-crafted garments generally lasts longer, and can also be mended if they experience slight wear and tear.
Craft is inherently slow because the entire process of production is tied to variables like serendipities of weather, harvest cycles, religious festivals, celebratory customs, and the heavy, inherent reliance on the artisan themselves.
On top of this, many brands that sell artisan made clothes work around the philosophy of slow. They value the exquisiteness of handmade pieces that are made to last a long time and are intentional in their commitment to sell what they value. This means their design process has to work a little differently too. One way we show respect for craft is to reinterpret textile heritage into prints that tell stories of where and why they are made. A lot of thought goes into this process, as the entire life cycle of the garment is taken into consideration. This is why the complete turnaround time of production can sometimes take up to half a year. Slow fashion is a response to fast fashion, and artisanal craft is slowing down fast fashion quite literally.
TIP: Although artisan products are often handmade and crafted with minimal use of machines, by a skilled worker from a developing country, it isn’t always sustainable – the three aspects of sustainability still applies.
2. ARTISANAL CHANGES YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO YOUR CLOTHES
Compassion For Your Clothes
Recognising the intricacy, patience, and tedious labour that goes into the craft gives us a new perspective on our wardrobe. It was our visits to our artisan partners in India that made us realise how the value of craft is intrinsically interwoven into the lives of Indian culture and society. It taught us that clothes are not merely commodities, easily disposable and replaceable. Clothes that are made with love demands to be cared for with love. While fast fashion disconnects us from the supply chain behind a product, and makes us prone to throwaway without much thought, artisan-made clothes teaches us to treasure what we have, because we are connected to a face, a family, or a culture behind what we wear.
Compassion For The Community
Artisans are also typically part of a generational family business. They have grown up around the knowledge of the craft, and were taught their skills from their forefathers, making them essential to the continuity of the tradition. Many of these artisans love what they do, but many also leave because it is not financially feasible for a family to survive on craft labour.
Our hope is to connect artisans with designers and customers to make their work accessible to the larger market. This support boosts their local economy and empowers the community to continue what they do. Craft means much more than just “slow” or “handmade”. It is heritage, the richness of a culture’s unique identity, a part of their beautiful contribution to humanity’s diversity. Understanding what artisan means, and how it interacts with the social environment around us can help us grow more compassionate toward the world beyond ourselves.
3. GREATER SUPPORT MEANS MORE AFFORDABLE CLOTHES
We are making progress in the way we think about sustainability ethically and environmentally, but there is another pillar that completes how we should approach sustainable fashion. That is, sustainability needs scalability. Many sustainable garments are expensive, because making ethically made clothes means paying at least, or above, the current minimum wage (which has proven to be unsustainable). On top of this, the processes involved in sourcing natural materials and using safe dyes also adds to the cost.
Yet there is a difficult catch 22 situation to work around. For sustainable fashion to be economical, the fashion world needs to size up profitable production of ethically made and environmentally friendly clothes at a low cost. Yet companies cannot do this until there is a public demand for sustainable fashion, and they cannot do this until sustainable fashion is more affordable. This is why support is so crucial.
TIP: Support for artisan-made encourages sustainable production of slow fashion. If we can afford to, we should pay for sustainable fashion.
Sustainable fashion has indeed come a long way, but it still needs improving. We believe great things are done by a series of small, meaningful actions brought together. Doing our part to stay educated on this topic, and to help those around us understand more about sustainable fashion is a step forward in the right direction.