Accidentally Slow: How We Support Slow Fashion

October 23, 2021

One of raw denim’s biggest draw cards is its unmatched ability to pull us out of the fast-moving fast-fashion current and into the lazy eddy of slow fashion. In this slow-moving water, rather than being pulled from one seasonal rapid to the next, we can float on our backs. We can even, if we wish, pull ourselves entirely out of the tide of fashion consumerism. While the river roils and rolls on, we can sit on the shore and dry ourselves in the sun.

Slow fashion principles are woven into each pair of raw denim. The jeans are made slowly and meant to be worn the same way. By participating fully in the process of fading raw denim  (i.e., by dedicating ourselves to a single pair), we learn to make do with less and to purchase slowly and carefully. We develop deeper relationships with our clothes, and we learn to fully appreciate and enjoy what has been carefully made for us.

Johan Ruttloff’s Workshop – Photo by Long John

Fast fashion pulls us in the opposite direction. The perpetual quest for newness sees us fill our wardrobes with dozens of au courant pieces each year. The clothes are only designed with a season or two of wear in mind, and they’re consumed like popcorn (handfuls at a time). They move quickly from the sales rack to our wardrobes, and just as quickly from there to the goodwill or the landfill. Our satisfaction with our clothes is fleeting. We might wear a new piece a dozen times (perhaps less) before we show it the door.

Those who step into the slow-moving world of raw denim often discover deeper pleasures in the unhurried process of wearing and fading pieces one at a time. Once they begin savouring and bonding with well-made pieces, their fast-fashion pieces begin to lose their lustre. Soon, their fast-fashion pieces are doing nothing more than taking up space at the back of the wardrobe.  

The nearly inevitable result of this is the cull. Having learned that quality is a better investment than quantity, the slow-fashion convert thins the herd. Only a handful of well-made pieces and a few others that have sentimental value survive. Everything else is shown to the exits.

What To Do With All Those Empty Hangers?

Though we may want to fully embrace a slower and more minimal approach to fashion, maintaining this is far from easy. After the cull, we suddenly find ourselves with space to spare in our wardrobes. Empty hangers and drawers cry out to be filled, and, if we are to make good on the slow-fashion principles we are beginning to espouse, we must turn a deaf ear to these cries. To be slow, we must resist the pull towards collecting.

The Pull Towards Collecting

My first pair of raw denim opened my eyes to an entirely new world of well-made menswear. Entirely new brands popped up on my radar almost every day, and I wanted almost everything I saw. As new well-made pieces began to replace mass-market ones, I found my clothing budget growing exponentially. It swallowed my discretionary spending whole. I was buying well-made, made-to-last pieces, and I was discarding everything else, but my behaviours as a consumer hadn’t really changed. If anything I was buying more than ever, and, what is more, I was spending dramatically more per piece.

This is a common experience in this scene. We fully break in a pair of raw denim and we are entirely converted by the process. We want to know more, so we do a bit of exploring, and we start to get an inkling of how deep the rabbit hole goes. Our heads are turned by beautiful pieces everywhere we look. We start stacking up well-made pieces. Before we know it, we have a collection, and it’s growing a little larger each month.

If hunting and gathering is hard-wired into your denim DNA, collecting might be a source of intense pleasure. Limited releases, one-off collaborations, and vintage treasures make collectors in this scene salivate—for good reason. Like any other collecting hobby, there’s pleasure in watching a collection grow.

Ruedi is Living Proof of the Deep Pleasures of Collecting

While it is my firm belief that raw denim’s deepest pleasures are the result of wearing, not collecting, I understand how difficult it is to resist the collecting impulse. I struggle with it every day. Most days, it’s a titanic effort to keep my plastic in my pocket. The deeper we travel into the world of well-made menswear, the more difficult it becomes to keep our collections within reasonable bounds. It becomes easier when we have help.

Slowly Dawning

In 2019, I had a growing collection of well-made pieces. I had faded a handful of them, but I wasn’t doing justice to the new ones. I had experienced the deep pleasures of the raw denim process. I had seen the light, and I wanted to fully embrace the slow-fashion principles at the heart of the raw denim movement, but I also wanted to own and wear everything I saw. I couldn’t do both. I needed a push.

The Indigo Invitational was that push. With a small band of passionate denim enthusiasts supporting me, I founded a competition that would encourage each of us to focus on a single pair for a full year. As wide as my collecting streak is, it’s dwarfed by my competitive streak, and I knew that, when other faders were nipping at my heels (or I was nipping at theirs), this would be all the encouragement I needed to stay disciplined.

It worked for me, and I could see it working for many of the other competitors. They talked about the small pleasure that greeted them each morning when they rose and reached for their faithful competition pair. The competition removed all the guesswork out of the fashion equation. There was no question what they would wear. The rest of their collections would just have to wait their turn.

The Rewards of Slow Fashion

For the most part, we were doing it for the fades. We wanted a beautifully faded pair, and we wanted to see how our fades stacked up next to our brothers and sisters in the international denim-loving community. We knew that we could only get them if we dedicated ourselves to a single pair.

But this wasn’t all we were doing. Regardless of our reasons for competing, the Indigo Invitational essentially forced us to live the slow fashion life for a year. Even those of us with deep rotations had to behave for a year as though we only had one pair. We were accidentally slow, and we were loving every minute of it. It helped us fully fade the pairs we had purchased, but it also helped us fully appreciate the artisanship in our pairs and justify the cost of premium selvedge.   

Many competitors also found that they were able to rein in their shopping habits. When we have no reason to limit ourselves, each new pair that pops up on our radar looks like an essential purchase. The competition has helped many of us break out of this impulsive spending cycle. While competing, we let pairs slip through our fingers—pairs we might otherwise purchase reflexively. We pump the brakes and slow down and allow some of the scenery to pass us by. We wait for that perfect pair to fall into our laps.

Wait for the Perfect Pair

Whether you’re a new or a veteran member of the scene, you might need that little push (as I did) to experience the pleasures of slow fashion. Whether you fully embrace these principles after the competition is entirely another matter, but, at least for as long as the competition lasts, you can use it to slow down your consumption.

Rather than stacking up new pairs until your shelves groan beneath the weight of all that well-made selvedge, choose one pair slowly and carefully. Make the commitment to wear that pair for 365 days in a row, and then stick to that commitment.

If you need encouragement (and many of us do), the Indigo Invitational will help. Rather than pushing you forward, the competition will hold you back. It will help you learn to appreciate the finer things—which should always be savoured slowly.