The Future Of Style: Slow Fashion Plus … Merch Tees?
Trista Roland, founder of San Diego pattern company Sugardale, discusses fashion’s post-pandemic future
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Credit: Michael Armstrong
I was still in the same leggings I’d slept in the night before when I called Trista Roland, founder of Sugardale and part of San Diego’s hand-sewn clothing movement. I tried to remember six weeks ago, deciding what nice but pinchy thing to wear to work, but it felt like something that had happened to another person.
I asked Roland — who identifies more as a pattern designer than a dressmaker, though she makes and designs many of her own clothes — what she's been wearing during the pandemic. She said she's been keeping it super comfortable, but it's hard to believe because her Instagram feed brims with flawlessly made outfits and a general, enviable put-together-ness. "I have gotten dressed up for shooting photos for Instagram and I'll just stay in those clothes all day," she admitted.
Sugardale's patterns are stylish but practical pants or skirts, with the option of overalls-, coveralls- or dress-style tops, each one a balance of playful and tailored, and each amendable and customizable. (And always with pockets. "It's a security thing," she said.)
Unlike much of the world adjusting to carefully displaying (or hiding) our work-from-home attire over video conferencing, the sewing and fashion communities have been sharing their outfits digitally on Instagram for years, and not all that much has changed for them. Opportunities for dressing up still exist, if you know where to look. Roland described "frocktails," an IRL meet-up where the local sewing community could get together and wear their own handmades, just to show them off. She added that frocktails have pivoted to Zoom. "It has been fun to just play dress up for no other reason, just to do it," she said.
When it comes to the pandemic’s longer-term impact on style, particularly women’s fashion, Roland isn't really thinking about what people will wear to work; she looks at an even bigger picture.
The coronavirus pandemic has only just begun to spotlight systemic problems with working conditions and the global supply chain for all industries, Roland said, who studied in the fashion program at San Diego Mesa College about a decade ago and launched Sugardale several years later. We have a new societal understanding of the conditions and risks low wage earners go through to provide products and services, she said, and we're aware of the impact on the economy of the loss of these jobs. She thinks this will apply to fashion, too.
The "fast fashion" industry's impact on human rights and the environment is bleak. The standard set of seasons has morphed into some 52 "microseasons," for the fast fashion climate — getting trends into stores as quickly as possible. Consumers are encouraged to constantly buy new items, as quickly made and cheaply made as possible, and discard their old things — sending tons of synthetic fabrics and microplastics to the landfills. Global manufacturing waste and pollution present another problem.
For Roland, "slow fashion" embraces the opposite approach. "It's not even just the quality of the garment itself, but thinking all the way down the line: how it was made, where it was made. Was it ethical? Are the people working and making your clothes being treated ethically? Do they have good working hours? What is their working life like?" she said. "How does that garment get onto your body?"
In the slow fashion movement (and in the hand-made movement, which is an extension of slow fashion) care is taken in source, quality, process and longevity. There's a focus on capsule wardrobes, where slow fashionistas build multiple outfits out of a small collection of staples. It's not about constantly having the newest styles, but is about finding pieces that will work well for a long time.
Roland hopes that more people will turn towards making their own clothes, and thinks this may be a natural progression after so many individuals dusted off their sewing machines to try mask making. "You might have a bunch of people with a new hobby," she said.
As Sugardale grows, Roland is also hoping to help guide her customers to "hack" their own designs from her pieces. She's posting more tutorials online and will launch a Patreon-style subscription service in the coming months.
Roland pointed out that there’s one unique way people are still buying clothes right now, despite not having anywhere to wear them. With coffee shops, restaurants, bars, bands and more all shut down or doing limited work, many are offering merch for sale online to stay afloat. She said that with an increasingly grassroots approach to where their money goes, people are doing what they can to support their favorite businesses. Unlike slow fashion, merch shirts are not always about the quality of the product, but they mark a greater focus on the people and work the consumers want to support, Roland noted, which is still a form of using fashion to support workers.
"Maybe that's what'll happen," Roland said. "We'll all be in jeans and logo'd shirts at the end."
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