Embracing Slow Fashion
What is “slow fashion”? It’s a term often used as the opposite of fast fashion to represent, in a broad way, what is ethical, aware, and good in fashion. However, for it to truly become an alternative to the industrial system that exists, it is useful to understand what it encompasses, what it impacts, and how it can even be part of your life.
Whether or not to incorporate it is a matter of choice. For us, we embarked upon this journey after seeing that we could make colors from nature and collaborate holistically with artisans. Since starting the brand, we’ve learned that it is indeed possible to “live in the city, and dream in the countryside.” And by working with artisans using natural indigo and plant-based dyes to make natural-dye clothing, we do not sacrifice innovation nor design — in fact, we believe it adds to it.
The layer of handmade clothes and artisanal textiles enables us to innovate by combining traditional and indigenous knowledge with contemporary design and technology. We don’t compete for speed and know precisely where our clothes and natural dyes are from. Whether it’s a weaving community or a small factory that we work with, what we have in common is a commitment to making better clothes and slow fashion represents this.
The point of departure of slow fashion is the reintroduction of the artisan back into the picture and it is the artisan that brings high-quality craftsmanship back into fashion. Our practice embraces slow fashion as it decentralizes production away from urban centers and massive factories therefore offering an alternative. This is post is the first part of a new series to decipher what we do at Philip Huang, step-by-step, starting with the umbrella of slow fashion.
What Is Slow Fashion?
Slow fashion is a holistic and sustainable approach to the fashion industry that contrasts with the rapid, disposable nature of fast fashion. It is not just a matter of speed but priorities — slow fashion prioritizes responsible production, artisanal and ethical labor practices, as well as low-impact environmentally friendly materials. To better understand the approach, we created a checklist of our priorities:
- Quality over quantity: We are focused on creating high-quality, durable clothing and accessories that are meant to last. Oftentimes we work in small batches to ensure that there is minimal waste and minimal deadstock.
- Regenerative: We prioritize eco-friendly and natural fibers that are compostable. We will also be introducing a program that lets you bring back items to re-dye in natural dyes. By exclusively using natural dyes and making natural-dye clothing, we reduce our impact on the waterways and soil as natural indigo and plant-based dyes do not release toxins into the environment.
- Local and artisanal: We work with local artisans and small ateliers, supporting local communities whilst sharing traditional knowledge.
- Ethical production: We know our factories and ateliers and maintain a relationship with them ensuring that there are fair labor practices and safe working conditions for their workers. We do not outsource our production and are in direct contact with the factories and artisans throughout the entire production line.
- Timeless design: We make essentials that are transitional and seasonless. Whilst we do create new seasonal collections, the approach is to build a wardrobe of essentials that do not go out of style and can be worn across seasons and years, each season building on the last.
- Luxury: When thinking of luxury, one thinks of certain ateliers and luxury brands, but luxury also applies to high-quality craft and design. By prioritizing the work done by artisans and specialized ateliers, each item of clothing is touched by hand without compromising on quality and detail, and the luxury pricing reflects these priorities. The higher prices relate directly to the investment per piece, whether it is the artisanal textiles or the natural indigo, ensuring that each piece is in fact artisanal.
PHILIP HUANG's crew with Indigo Grandmas
Why Is Slow Fashion So Important?
Slow fashion addresses a range of human and environmental concerns that for a long time have been overlooked. These can no longer stay in the shadows as the impact of the fast fashion industry on climate disasters and the degradation of the human condition is real. Slow fashion offers an opportunity to re-examine how things are made and consumed, offering an alternative to the doomsday scenario. It shows that it is possible to do things differently without being any less fashionable or compromising on design or luxury.
We consider the human condition and the environment. Although there are many other factors that justify the slow fashion approach, these are the main ones from which others stem from.
The Human Condition
By prioritizing the artisan and the factory worker, the slow fashion approach is mindful of all individuals involved in the creation and production process. This enables slow fashion to prioritize and value workers and improve their welfare and working conditions despite it being more expensive (justified by higher consumer prices).
By moving away from mass volume and the race to the bottom that fast fashion requires (reducing costs to increase profit margins at the expense of human welfare and the environment), the quality over quantity approach enables the artisan and the worker to be placed at the forefront.
Not only is it about ethical production but also being a platform for artisans to pass on knowledge of their craft, which has been passed on to them for generations. In this regard, it is how slow fashion can contribute to the livelihood of artisanal communities beyond the cities and factory centers which have recently seen more frequent floods and environmental disasters.
Red earth dye
The slow fashion approach strives for environmental sustainability and regeneration, focusing on eco-friendly materials, responsible production processes, and reducing the environmental impact of the industry. This stands in stark contrast to the prevailing fast fashion industry which relies on high resource consumption to sustain its massive volumes and fast turnover which in turn contributes to air and water pollution as well as waste.
To address these issues is to also see that there are alternatives that are less toxic to the environment and look at production and consumption which embraces an alternative approach. One of the ways is to move away from a throwaway culture to reduce waste in landfills. Well-made, durable clothing and accessories have longer lifespans, reducing the need for constant replacements, moreover, the regenerative approach means that the same garment can have many lives from being upcycled to re-dyed and repurposed.
The industry’s impact on the environment is structural, the industrial machine has created this volume game which is at the expense of the environment which in turn impacts the human condition as they are intrinsically related.
Indigo Grandmas of Sakon Nakhon
Needless to say, the doomsday scenario is prevalent, but we believe that there is hope if we can see that there are viable alternatives — and slow fashion is the umbrella approach. We are grateful to be part of an ever-evolving community of designers, artisans, makers, and artists who take on the challenge of making fashion that is more aware.
For us, it adds an additional layer to the work, research, and consideration, but ultimately, when looking at the bigger picture, this is where we want to be and need to be, to make clothes that stand the test of time that are in harmony with nature. Transparency is at the very core of how this works as well as trust.
Slow fashion is not called that just for the speed but for the very human relationships that you make with the artisans and collaborators that you work with to make fashion. This is our own checklist that we keep in mind as we develop our collections:
- Research: We do a lot of research before we make something. This is because natural dyes and natural indigo react differently to different materials. Moreover, material research is important for us — asking what can we do better, what better materials exist out there with lower impact and inherent qualities, such as UV-protection or anti-bacterial qualities such as natural indigo. Material research and where and how we produce are vital. The question is always, is there a better way?
- Certification: We don’t only work with artisans in the northeast of Thailand but also sustainable factories globally that pride themselves on the transparency of their supply chain, labor conditions, and quality. These factories are always ready and transparent with certificates that confirm that they are complimentary to international stands for organic textiles or Fair Trade for ethical production.
- Transparency: It is important for us to have transparency in our supply chain, production processes, and sourcing of materials. Our suppliers are able to provide information about their environmental and ethical practices, so that in turn, we can, too.
- Regenerative and natural materials: We prioritize and use eco-friendly and organic textiles. Fabrics and materials that are not natural are deadstock or off-cuts from our collaborators, and these are clearly identified.
- Waste reduction and small batches: We often ask ourselves how we can improve our fabric consumption per meter or how we can upcycle off-cuts to reduce waste. Moreover, by making small batches we minimize waste and deadstock as we don’t sit on excess inventory.
- Quality and durability: We emphasize high-quality, durable products that are built to last. With natural-dye clothing, color fades with time, and we will soon introduce a re-dyeing program to upcycle designs purchased from us that need a refresh of color.
- Timeless and transitional: We aspire to create timeless, versatile designs that resist the rapid cycles of fashion trends. They are designed to be transitional and adaptable enabling interpretation and individual expression.
- Local and artisanal: We always ask ourselves how we can include an artisan in the process and how what we make can activate the community and enable them to express their knowledge.
We have come to realize that working in this realm is a choice, and slow fashion is the approach that we are committed to as it speaks to our values. We embrace alternative ways of producing. Surely, it requires more awareness and the criteria we give to ourselves are extensive. But what w te have also learned is that we don’t have to compromise on design and quality inhe creation of natural dye clothing, natural indigo, artisanal textiles. and handmade clothes. In fact, this could be the new luxury.
What if new luxury meant you know who made your clothes — to know that it was crafted by hand by several communities and cut and sewn in small family ateliers that prioritize quality and are often one-of-a-kind. This approach can be seen whether it is from tie-dye socks or our tie-dye sweatpants and even our signature artisanal workwear Rirkrit tie-dye jacket. Slow fashion is the start, and if that saying, slow and steady wins the race is anything to go by, then we will continue on this track.