Entering the cavernous industrial space situated a block from the Brooklyn waterfront, unlike other fashions shows I’ve attended, I’m greeted by tables groaning with woven baskets filled generously with bread, fresh vegetables, empanadas and a sweet cookie. There are earthenware ceramic pots filled with lavender, rosemary and other herbs, free-form wooden bowls filled with artichokes and figs. This show, scheduled around lunchtime, means grumbling stomachs, and the designer has thoughtfully taken this into consideration. Natural light from the floor to ceiling windows in the front illuminates the tables and the rest of the soaring space remains dark. Past the tables are chairs set in two long rows. They are old, dark brown, wood folding chairs; recycled paper rests on the seat revealing a handwritten seat number. Nothing feels artificial. There is a calmness here; none of the usual loud buzzing that precedes a show. Women speak softly in groups of three; some sit alone, quietly in contemplation. I am moved to take photographs that capture this scene; a luscious moment of muted anticipation. Fed, we are left open, relaxed and receptive. We’re more likely to receive the clothes in a way that allows us to more fully appreciate their details. I feel taken care of and I am; by Gabriela Hearst.
Gabriela Hearst is a fan of old; our dictionary definition of old; people and things that live a long time. She creates things that will eventually be old. In fact, she designs them to be old. I like her for this. She has graciously invited me to attend many of her fashion shows since starting her brand in 2015. Each of her shows evidence of an ethic of care; for her guests, for who makes her clothes and nature. She makes the garments with consideration of impact and incorporates craft passed from generation to generation because she is not in denial about what is happening to the earth, what is occurring in the world around her and to women. In this show she collaborated with women-owned rural businesses from the Navajo Nation, a Bolivian collective, Madres & Artesanas Tx. and a frequent collaborator, Manos del Uruguay, a not-for-profit. For the knitters out there, you can find this collective’s hand-dyed wool and patterns here. Also included in her designs is art by a close friend created during a mental health crisis.
The context in which she shows her clothes, the fashion show, is carbon neutral. Every aspect of its production, design and installation process is examined to reduce the resulting carbon footprint to its very minimum. Power usage, transportation, catering and waste are measured to determine the offset amounts. The price of the offset amounts is determined, and a donation is made to a charity such as Our Children’s Trust, which acts to secure a constitutional right to a safe climate.
Perhaps this sensibility comes from her experience of being raised on a ranch in Uruguay; she has a deep understanding and respect for the forces of nature; “we belong to nature, but nature does not belong to us.” There she learned the value of quality as a pragmatic gesture; things had to be made well to last over time and survive exposure to the elements. There, she learned how to design for longevity. She designs less but better. For the sake of transparency, it means her clothing is very expensive.
An ethic of care means that when we act, we act in consideration of the standpoint of others and we attend to the context in which our actions are occurring. As a social worker, this perspective is something (if you go to a school of social work that doesn’t medicalize everything) you get trained in and it gives you a nuanced view of the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of others and how the context we live, labor and love in shapes and constructs us. True sustainable fashion designers attend to all the above, and they manifest this through their actions.
It was the only show I was able, and wanted, to attend during NYFW aside from Colina Strada, which unfortunately I had to miss in order to actualize my ethic of care; attending to my mother. I’ve become more mindful about the brands I support. I’ve tried to be thoughtful and have a slow fashion week; one that involves a minimal footprint. A good guideline for choosing shows has been to ask the questions, “Does this designer make garments that will live in my great-granddaughters closet and will she want to pass it on to her granddaughter?” “Are the people (usually women) making the garments happy, safe, and being paid a living wage?”, “What materials are being used, how are they come by and are all the processes transparent?” Finally, “What kind of impact is the fashion show itself having on the environment”? Questions for me to consider also include; how to travel sustainably when I do, which events add true value and inspiration as an experience and which are just another wasteful opportunity to posture and pose?
It’s a gigantic leap from intention to action. During this time, when posting on Instagram is thought to be activism, I’m still a fan of actions speaks louder than words. That’s why I admire someone like Gabriela Hearst. Her actions have measurable outcomes. I think about how to measure mine. I’ve been declining the many offers of gifts I receive as an “influencer” because it’s not just that I don’t need to add one more thing to my closet, many of the items not always sustainable or well made, it’s about the cost, both monetarily and to the earth of the packaging, the delivery and the massive amount of waste and carbon footprint involved. In my note back I try to be gracious, thank them for thinking of me, but decline based on environmental reasons, hoping to give some food for thought, a woven basket of sorts. I continue my support of emerging designers if they subscribe to the ethic of care I write about here and some of the heritage brands that do the produce less but are better made with longevity in mind, It’s been a long time since I’ve purchased anything new, except for Birkenstocks as they exist in complete harmony with my bunions. Especially during fashion week, I find myself deeply engaged again with the question we’ve been posing here since the pandemic: how does one indulge their love of fashion while remaining true to an ethic of care? As a reminder of our conversation, revisit the blog post and the comments, Ambivalent Relations: Clothes in the Time of Coronavirus. I want to remind myself, and us, of the commitments we made then, in the beginning, when it was raw and fresh and we were scared. I watch those around me in this world they call influencing, return to business as usual; climbing into jets hopping from New York, to London, to Milan and Paris, propelling the system, driving in big black cars from one show and event to the next. I would be dishonest if I said I would never again consider an invitation to Paris, but consider is the operative word. I have metrics to apply. I want us not to go back to business as usual. I want us to remind each other of what we said then. I believe we can find a balance between our collective love of clothes and an ethic of care.
How are you managing your love of fashion and an ethic of care?
I love your comment:
“our collective love of clothes and an ethic of care.”
Thank you for speaking out about this topic, so important now, at least in my opinion.
Yes, important we figure out how to reconcile.
I come for a European background where I was taught quality, natural materials and longevity. Less but better. I buy only when I replace a piece that is no longer wearable. Cashmere sweaters woolen jackets, etc. if I can donate, I do. If I can’t, I remove beautiful buttons, ribbons and recycle them. These little things are practical and simple to do. Yes, I buy Chanel. Yes, a few belonged to my grandmother. They will one day belong to my daughter who is very aware, and hopefully her daughter as well.
It is indeed. Fashion is one of the worst offenders on multiple levels.
This show sounds so wonderful…and I am inspired to look thru my wardrobe once again…!
I’m looking through my closet with those same questions in mind.
Really enjoyed your thought provoking article
well said but for t he average person, cost is a major factor.
I agree and I am going to start writing some articles that show one of those expensive pieces and then challenge us all to figure out how we might be inspired by it to either craft something of our own or use vintage and thrift to create the same feel.
II look forward to those articles!
As always it’s a delight to read you. It struck me when you say we have to remind ourselves of the commitments we made when we were scared… fear is such a powerful force, it can drive us to important turning points but it’s unbelievable how quick we can forget as soon as we feel “safe” again. Thank you for reminding us about this. In these times of vane and empty so called “influencers”, reading how you remain consistent is inspiring, so I think you can really address yourself as a true and worthy one. Greetings from Colombia.
Thank you so much. I think my job as an influencer is to influence a socially just change, and not get people to buy more, I hope we will all use this space to keep reminding us of how we want to be living an ethical and thoughtful and slow life.
Amazing ! How can an everyday lay person find out more? Trying my best not to buy unnecessarily so far but need to know where my fashion is really coming from and where I should go.
I’ll do a post and share some resources and ask others to contribute and we’ll start a list. I can also highlight in my news letter
Gosh, I’ve just read this and looked through my own closets & cupboards and realise how many items are mass produced. I know it’s ‘need must’ for a lot of people but our landfills are so full of clothing and other stuff which we dump because we are bored of them, replaced them with the next shiny thing or just realised we have too much of the same stuff and don’t think twice about moving them on. Even charity or thrift shops are getting weighed down with peoples waste.
You are raising an important point about what happens t donated clothes. As you suggest the real solution is to buy less.
What a wonderful post. Yes, we belong to nature but nature does not belong to us.
I I love that you bring intelligence and ethics to fashion!!!
I love how you characterized what I try to do.
What a wonderful post- food for thought – and beautiful venue. To answer your question: buy used, repurpose, and knit and sew some things. .
Thank you for that.
WoW. You are an inspiration.
“Is this an item I will pass along to my daughter and granddaughter?” establishes a perfect criteria lens through which to ponder whether we will purchase an item or not. I remember a thoughtful environmentalist back in the ‘60’s urging us to consider plastic similarly. All forms of plastic is a substance we should only be purchasing as an heirloom! We will be passing this substance down in our families for generations. For decades I’ve resisted purchasing and throwing away plastic. It’s not that I’ve been wholly successful by a long country mile, but this statement helped me curb the purchasing of it. For example, I’ve been carrying my own shopping bags since I can remember! In terms of fast fashion, I’ve been buying used clothes and making my own for decades as well. I was a member of “Pollution Probe” (predating Greenpeace) back in the early ‘70’s so environmental consideration is not a new positioning for me. It is however, a source of great sadness. Having witnessed no sign of any significant shift in behaviour with regard to placing environmental consideration at the helm of the collective purchasing criteria. Indeed the environmental crisis predicted that we now must embrace was something that could have been averted quite easily with such a small shift in practice on everyone’s part 50 years ago.
Yes I agree. I hope the younger generation will work with us to address the dire situation we are in.
I have also been thinking that there are some of us who were activists our whole lives as you suggest on issues of the environment, inclusion, human rights. There does not seem to be a space for us and we need to find a way to work with the young activists who are taking this on today.
I find myself more thoughtful about my purchases and how I will live in and with them. “Work” clothes have been replaced with “Life” clothes–can I work and play in it? Will it last? I’m of an age where I know what I will love forever and what is a passing fancy. Books and flowers take the place of short-lived trends–feeding my soul and mind drives most of my purchases these days. Your post was inspiring.
Your comment is inspiring! I love that “life wear”. These days, like you I am more inspired by experiences and books rather than “things”
Thank You for the Beautiful words, ‘Ethic of Care’, defining your time with your Mother!
Thank You for your ‘Ethic of Care’ for all reminders of who we are, guests of Mother Nature in this Beautiful World!
We are both guests of mother nature and indigenous peoples. I love the idea of being a guest and a keeper of the land. I looked up what tribe the property we purchased originally held this land and am planting the same vegetables that they used to.
I am trying to buy fabric which is deadstock or locally sourced and produced. Also re fashioning clothes that I already have.
You have always been a star at this!
Thanks for modelling your sustainable and regenerative approach to fashion and for highlighting Gabriela
It was a pleasure.
Well thought and spoken! I hope this post will inspire others to follow their heart and mindful purchases. This is also something I believe and practice. And I think as elders, oldsters, whatever you call us, we should lead by this example.
Thank you for your blog, it’s always a light that shines into my day.
Thank you so much. I would like to get some “youngsters” to stop here because there are so many inspiring women who have such wonderful attitudes about age. I think it would help younger women feel less afraid about aging.
As I was cleaning out the house of a dear friend yesterday, I came across a Pendleton jacket — a 49er.
I spent some time last night describing to my daughter the lightness of the wool weight, the beautiful buttons, the perfect stitching, even the lovely label in the garment and mourning the fact that wool doesn’t work where I live. But it does belong in Montana, where she lives. I will impress on her that this garment is not to be thrown away but to be entrusted to someone of a new generation. She will wear it as a swing coat with the ubiquitous black leggings of today, and she will look fabulous. She’s already adept at finding preowned garments.
What a lovely story, thank you for sharing it.
I am truly working on this, However, one of my Pandemic goals was to lose weight and I am 1/2 to my goal. As a result I need some new pants and to have dresses altered. I am trilled, but I am purchasing only things made for the years to come. and exercise clothes, Then I want to learn how to live at the weight I want to be, A challenge.
Yes indeed as our bodies are in a time of life where they are really in flux.
I commend your focus on how the clothes are produced. Her carbon offset donation shows some of the challenges– it is not actually reducing carbon although it is influencing the policy environment.
Yes, that is the key, so many challenges to make a change at that level at least here where policies are put in by one admoinistration, the next one cancels them out.
I recognize myself in this blog, especially when it comes to “Sustainable clothes” and I certainly share your opinion when it comes to working conditions, quality and “No waist” during the pandemic I also learned other values and when I look I realize that there are many pieces that are permanent and from designers who are committed to the environment!!! A very interesting post Lynn, I suppose you enjoyed the show
Yes I did It is unlike most of the other ones.
Contemplating a style ethic for my age and “shape shofting” body and new shorter height.
Exactly my situation! I’m also considering how to best separate from items I thought were lifetime purchases. My daughter enjoys height and is not similarly shaped even though we share a similar ascetic. Items I’d worn for decades, like the double walled wool barn coat I made in college, are languishing without a home because I struggle to part with them.
Some things are meant to be kept and that is indeed the challenge figuring out what those things really are.
I am on board with you in my desire not to rush back to business as normal. This era of Corona forced the change I so long desired. Now I work from home, infrequently shop for clothes and enjoy the slower pace of life. I am looking forward to the day when Corona is behind us, but where my life will continue in its trajectory of never forgetting and maintaining and nurturing my new way of life. Thank you for your blog!
Thank you and I hope this is the space where we can keep reminding each other and not be pulled back into the undertow fueled by social media to return to how it was before.
Lyn, you had me at the title – it went straight to my heart. I loved this post for so many reasons. Thank you.
Thank you so happy you enjoyed it.
Well said and thank you for the photos
Thank you, I’ve been practicing writing and photography.
It is getting more difficult to find quality clothing. Even brand names that used to designate quality are being made with cheap materials. I’d rather spend a little more and have less pieces that last more than a day!
In complete agreement!
I would like to know what companies offer sustainable clothing. I try to buy natural fabrics, but I am not always sure what companies are good stewards of our earth and natural resources.
I can write about some I am familiar with here. The challenge of course is that those that REALLY do it and not just “greenwash” as it is called, are very, very expensive.
I have been crafting my own clothes and plumping up my wardrobe with second pieces all my life. I especially love knitting garments for myself (and sometimes make up my own designs and patterns). I also love embellishing gently used clothing with thread painting (embroidery.) I do sometimes buy new stuff too, but those purchases are way more seldom these days. I try to buy new clothing from companies who work with ethical/sustainable practices whenever I can.
On my budget, the occasional new purchases can never be from elite designers, no matter how sustainable their practices are. Sometimes this makes me sad and/or frustrated. But then I realize how it takes a far greater amount of wealth and or privilege to purchase those clothes than I will ever have, especially now that I am retired. The number of women in this situation far exceed those with the wealth and/or connections to have high end clothing. Ultimately I am proud of how I have developed my individual style, with great creativity.
This is such a powerful example of using what we have to be creative. While there are some of us, and at this point, I too am in a situation where I can’t but more importantly don’t want to spend what will soon be a fixed income on things that even when well made are so expensive. But what we can do is allow them to inspire us in our craft as you show us so beautifully and that it is not the price of an item of clothing that is relevant but rather the way the wearer brings them to life in a creative and unique way.
Anything but frumpy, “Old Faithful,” named so from years of wear, is my hip, teal fleece used for comfort and style.
Tried and true.
This hit me in places I didn’t expect: “I want us not to go back to business as usual. I want us to remind each other of what we said then. “
Yes hopefully this can be a space where we keep reminding each other of those revelations.
Found your last two posts so inspiring and re-reading them, more so than previous ones as felt there was a big shift in your thinking.
I have a pair of really wide leg white linen trousers bought about 15 years ago. As I was a size 8 then and later a 10 but only the waist changed the hips stayed the same! Unpicked the side seam at the waist and added a piece of stretch white fabric – perfect fit and always look great.
A Sheepskin Aviator Jacket I bought in the South Island of New Zealand in 1982 was accepted with delight by my 18 year old granddaughter as she takes of to study in the South Island – wonderful!
Always a lover of re-inventing and recycling to me fits in with our lives as we change and evolve. Thank you Lyn for sharing
Thank you and I love the story of your granddaughter and the jacket. Yes, I am “in process” as they say transitioning to somewhere new.