Since mid-March I’ve been designing and making hand cut & sewn leather bags. My goal is to launch a small line at a few crafts shows this fall. From there I will figure out what to do next. Make more inventory? Sell online? Manufacture on demand? Time will tell.
One thing I really enjoy about the process of designing and making bags is the slowness of it. It takes 4 hours to cut, prepare, and sew a full sized bag. In those 4 hours, I know exactly what I’m doing. My focus is on craftsmanship. My hands are busy. There is no room for electronics. Those hours are meditative and when I reach the end, I’ve made something beautiful and useful.
In design, there is a concept called “Slow Design” which rejects the hyperconsumption and waste that’s baked into a lot of mainstream design. The Slow Design movement took inspiration from the Slow Food movement which started in Italy in the 1980s. One could argue Italians have always had slow food values: they love their food; they appreciate knowing who grows it and how; and they make decisions about what they buy, cook, and eat based on these values.
Slow Design practitioners extend these values to physical products. They look at the entire life cycle of a product: where materials come from; how they are processed and by whom; how far the products travel for distribution; how much energy and water they use once in the hands of users; how long these products last; and what happens to them when they are no longer useful. Examining these steps in a product life cycle helps designers make decisions about what they make and why and how.
Slow Fashion is an extension of Slow Design. It’s a response to Fast Fashion, a much hyped about trend in which clothes are designed, made, distributed, sold, then thrown away as quickly as possible. Technology enables Fast Fashion. And the market, too. But Slow Fashion takes a different approach. Clothes and accessories are built to last. They are sourced ethically. They are made slowly. They cost more and they last longer.
As good as this sounds, Slow Design comes with complexities just as mainstream design does. While Slow Design is gentle on the environment, fair to labor, and offers customers an alternative to hyperconsumption, the obvious complication is that Slow Design costs more dollars to make and sell. This means that average folks can’t afford it. I don’t know the answer to that one. Perhaps integrating “Buy One Give One” pricing into Slow Design and food can help bridge that gap. Many organic farmers around here participate in the “Healthy Food for All” program which commits a fixed percentage of what they produce to be sold at a deep discount to individuals and families with economic challenges. Another way for a slow business to bridge the gap is to integrate fair wage jobs. I’d love to, one day, hire women who struggle with economic challenges to help me make the bags I’m making. As I said, it takes four hours to make a full sized bag. I cut, prepare, and sew the leather by hand. In future, I hope to mix and apply my own dyes. I’m gonna need some extra hands, for sure.
TAKE IT FURTHER
Slow Food Pioneer, Alice Waters, on How I Built This (NPR, April 2019)
Can Fast Fashion Be Green? (Vogue, 2018)
What the heck is Vegan Leather (again, it’s complicated)