Just last week, as I was unpacking bags, folding and jamming clothes into my recently acquired bargain secondhand closet, two things became immediately apparent: As a New York City newcomer and recent college grad, I’ll never have as much space as I’d like for all of the stuff I own (for me, that means clothes), and buying even more things to keep up with the trends will be really expensive. So when I found myself at the first eco-fashion show I’ve ever attended during Fashion Week, only my second week in the city, I was worried I was going to start getting insanely jealous of all the new styles I couldn’t possibly afford let alone have space for in my room.
Little did I know that I was witnessing the launch of up-and-coming designer Eliza Starbuck’s debut clothing line, Bright Young Things. I had never heard of Starbuck, her revolutionary Little Black Dress that was worn every day for a year for the celebrated Uniform Project or her sustainable fashion mission -- to take the Slow Fashion Movement mainstream. What some fashion purists might find blasphemous, I thought was very entertaining and even inspiring. Though I’ve only been to a handful of fashion shows and am by no means an expert, it didn’t take long to see it wasn’t a run-of-the-mill runway jaunt.
The models weren’t sporting soda cans or slabs of meat, as might be featured in a Lady Gaga earth-conscious line. Instead, Starbuck takes quite the opposite approach and presented 30 different outfits made up of only eight staple pieces -- EIGHT! Shorts turn into skirts, dresses into jackets, skirts into dresses. Not to mention each item can be worn a variety of ways: forwards or backwards, inside out or folded, buttoned or unbuttoned. You’ve never seen such variety and versatility with so little cloth. I certainly hadn’t. I had also never seen a middle-aged woman on the runway, much less an older woman, likely in her 60s. Starbuck had both. She also had models of all shapes and sizes showing off her new line with shorter women, curvier women as well as girls probably in their teens. I couldn’t stop smiling.
Sure, it was bizarre at first and immediately evident that these women weren’t as experienced at the catwalk, but their natural elegance and spirit was intoxicating. They were so much more lively and entertaining than the stock standard runway model. They smiled broadly and cheekily, their walk natural and imperfect; their poses had personality and individuality.
The models were real people that I could relate to wearing stylish but practical everyday outfits. Better yet, these outfits were all made from a few staple pieces that fit and looked good on a whole host of different body types. I could see myself in her black wrap skirt/dress. I would have bought it right there and then if possible, which is saying something considering my very-tight-recent-college-grad-entry-level-salary budget. It wasn’t just that I could buy one item that looks great as a skirt, halter dress and vest-dress, I also felt like I could rely on the quality and care that went into making the item really last. It wouldn’t be a frivolous purchase as I’d certainly be getting more bang for my buck using the piece over and over.
I started to understand Starbuck’s philosophy. Slow Fashion isn’t just about using greener fibers, installing more advanced machinery to reduce waste and pollution or taking into account how far an item has to be transported (though those are important factors) it’s about being a conscientious consumer. Not only considering every purchase carefully but also where products come from and how they are made. Starbuck argues that people should be “investors in fashion and really everything in life”. Starbuck strives for quality over quantity, durability and versatility instead of single-use, and local made-to-order production versus massed-produced overseas factories.
Slow fashion relieves us, the consumer, of the dilemma of having “nothing to wear” and the need to rush out and waste more time and money searching for the next look. Not to mention it helps cut down on all that extra stuff filling up the precious little NYC space we’re all paying so much for. Starbuck explains the ultimate purpose for creating her new collection in her blog, “If by buying my one dress, women would forego buying five cheap and trendy dresses this year, that would be a big feat. Keeping that much junk out of the landfills alone would make production worthwhile to me.”
Starbuck also proves that choosing to purchase fewer clothes doesn’t have to be at the cost of looking fashionable and interesting. Reusing, reworking and recycling clothes is all about inventiveness, imagination and creating some funky look with what you have. Starbuck’s collection of adaptable well-made wardrobe staples is a testament to the fact that it’s not a question of style; it’s a question of smarts. She urges people to invest in quality products for the long term and save money, time, space and the environment in the process. I was sold at “save money” while still looking great, but heck, I can always use some innovative ideas for saving space too.