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Going Slow

Going Slow

For the past two decades, the manufacturing trend in womenswear has been the proliferation of styles. Fast fashion has turned into a distraction that never stops distracting, while also offering no improvements in quality. So many of the clothes I buy today are inferior to clothes I bought when I was a teenager, even though my disposable income and desire to buy higher-quality pieces has increased. If I go to a store and see a blouse that interests me, there is a good chance it will be unavailable or pushed onto the sale racks in the next few weeks, replaced by a new stock of transient inventory. Instead of seasonal offerings that give you time to make decisions, we are now on monthly or weekly cycles. It seems that some time ago we decided (or someone decided for us) that we should prefer quantity over quality. And that’s what we got. In the years following that fateful decision, craftsmanship was replaced by speed and automation and good construction abandoned for the cheapest, acceptable alternative. The amount of clothing manufactured in the U.S. rapidly declined, while the volume of cheaply-made clothing that was produced abroad ballooned.

The promise of globalization in the fashion industry was that U.S. consumers would be able to buy the same clothes at lower prices while also creating manufacturing opportunities that would enable growth in less-developed economies. And that did happen. But it happened with additional results that are more troubling and complicated than the optimistic outcome predicted by economic theory.

There was a downward spiral that was not anticipated, combined with a host of externalities. The allure of cheap clothing has a feedback loop that goes something like this: it’s not enough to buy one pair of new shoes at a lower price, even if you only need one pair. Because now you can afford to buy two pairs. And that demand to have more for less drives suppliers to find ways to produce even more for even less. This further increases the volumes they sell for you to buy. The factories that already produce for less then compete with other factories to see who can produce for the least, pitting themselves against each other in what becomes a race to the bottom. At the end, there should be a bottom because there has to be a level at which quality is so low that we won’t buy anymore. But at this point, something has also changed in how we view the things we buy. At a low enough price, a purchase is not viewed as an investment with a long lifespan but rather as something disposable and easily replaceable. Disposable items don’t require much in the way of quality to satisfy us, and so we still buy them.

The scenario described above is one that doesn’t value sustainability, the environment, or fair working conditions, important factors for meaningful economic growth. And in recent years, several news headlines have garnered attention in exposing this more toxic side of the fashion industry, one that has been responsible for garment factory collapses, horrible working conditions, high levels of pollution and increasing wastefulness.

But a response has also emerged in the form of a nascent movement called Slow Fashion, which emphasizes increasing quality, longevity, sustainability and ethical standards in clothing production. It is more mindful production, pushing away profitability as the most important priority. This response is promising but still evolving, and its success largely depends on a complementary shift in our attitudes about how to consume clothing, why we buy it and what we expect from it. In other words, it requires more thoughtful consumption.

Whether it’s possible to return to a landscape of high-quality, well-made, yet affordable clothing is unclear, but it’s a challenge we've embraced at LILY KASTUR. We’ve worked to source our materials from suppliers who prioritize quality and have decades of expertise in their trade. Our blouses are manufactured at a family-run production house in New York City’s Garment District, an enduring hub for high-quality fashion. We are on a mission to create the perfect blouse. It’s an iterative process, one in which every iteration focuses on improving the quality and fit of our signature styles. But that’s okay, because good things take time and are worth the wait. Sometimes slow is good.

Shilpa Shah

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