When Karen launched Slow Fashion October last year, I really wanted to participate. I wasn’t able to take part in any very active way, though, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, I was knee-deep in the first semester of my master’s program, trying to keep up with readings and homeworks tromand paper-writing after several years away from any type of schoolwork. For another, I had only moved to Tromsø two months before, so I was only just beginning to adjust to my new climate, which has had (and continues to have) a great effect on my wardrobe. This year, I’m in a much better place to join in on Slow Fashion October with some active reflection. I’ve spent over a year in my new climate and I have a much better idea of how it’s transformed my relationship with clothing. It’s also been a year and a half since I decided to step away from running Paper Tiger as my full-time day job and start the transition back to this being a part-time gig. It feels like a good moment for reflection.
For those unfamiliar, Slow Fashion October was started by Karen Templer of Fringe Association last year as an opportunity for conversation – about what “slow fashion” is and means to us, about the ways in which we approach it, and reasons why a slow fashion wardrobe is a choice many of want to make. In Karen’s words, “the conversation is not just about handmade — it’s about all the ways (and reasons!) we can approach a slow-fashion wardrobe.” This includes finding ways to make do and mend, buying second hand, and thinking about how to keep clothing out of the landfill. I have many, many thoughts on fast fashion and the state of the fashion industry, but for today I’ll focus on how my own context affects my approach to clothing.
I’ve spent much of the last year thinking critically about my wardrobe and how my move to Norway is affecting my choices, as well as ways to make do with what I have. Even though I donated about half of my yarn stash before the move, my stash is still…. sizeable, to say the least. It no longer overwhelms me, but I would like to knit from it before buying new yarn, and it always feels good to find the holy grail: the right project that fits into my long-term wardrobe plans using yarn I already have. So I’ve slowly (very slowly) started to catalog my stash using Ravelry’s stash feature. While it’s an ongoing process, I’ve already seen the benefits – starting to catalog worsted weight yarns on Ravelry led directly to my Fringe & Friends KAL sweater (pictured at top, and nearly finished!), knit entirely from yarns in my stash. I don’t think that stripe sequence would have popped into my head if I hadn’t been handling the yarns and noting the quantities for my Ravelry stash page.
So, how has my new climate affected my wardrobe? Those of you who follow this blog know that I live in Norway, but many of you probably don’t realize exactly how far north Tromsø is. This felt like a good opportunity to provide some conext:
Tromsø sits at 69ºN, well above the Arctic Circle (and the entirety of Iceland, which only just barely crosses the circle), and nearly due north of Stockholm (since Norway wraps around the northern coast of the Scandinavian peninsula, it shares a border not just with Sweden, but also with Finland and Russia). I’m up there. Tromsø is about as far away from Norway’s capital, Oslo, as upstate New York is from Savannah, Georgia. Thanks to the Gulf Stream winters are actually quite mild for this latitude, but there’s still about four months of the year when we’ve continuously got snow on the ground. Summers are also mild – 20ºC/70ºF is a hot day – and they can be on the wet side. It’s often pretty windy here. My wardrobe has been moving in a more androdgynous direction for a few years, and living in Tromsø has definitely continued that trend, along with a healthy dose of practicality. When I think about things I want to make for myself now, I’m always taking the weather into account. This is obviously a wool-friendly climate, and truth be told, the biggest gap in my handmade wardrobe now is socks. I wear my few pairs of handknit socks with boots on a very regular basis for most of the year.
Breaking my shoulder in March had an effect on my sartorial choices as well. Spending two months in a sling with instructions not to move my arm in certain directions meant getting in and out of clothing became a special challenge. Button-down shirts and loose boxy tops that were easy to pull on and off with one arm became my go-tos, and to be honest, things didn’t really change that much after my shoulder started improving and I could move my arm again. Clothing that layers well and fits under a coat or jacket is also important. That means most of the time I find myself at a happy medium between fitted clothing and super oversized pieces.
Continuing this line of thought, I started off Slow Fashion October by frogging a sweater. In the midst of reassessing my wardrobe, I’ve realized there things I just don’t wear anymore. With the exception of the short summer, I rarely wear skirts or dresses here, so my pre-move plan to knit more things I could wear with high-waisted skirts now seems pretty low on the priority list. When I do reach for a sweater to wear with skirts or dresses, it’s my Chuck. Those of you who have been reading this blog for awhile may remember the sweater pictured in that previous blog link – my Splitta Genser, with the lovely foldover back and dark grey garter stitch. It’s a nice sweater. I genuinely thought it would help fill a hole in my handknit wardrobe. But – here’s the crucial bit – I never, ever wear it. Truth be told, it came out too small (it’s been rather aggressively blocked in those FO photos). Also, dolman sleeves? Not for me, it turns out – they don’t work so well when you try and tuck them into a jacket. So over the weekend, I sat down and carefully unpicked the grafted seams and then frogged the whole thing. I love wearing grey and I have more of this yarn; I can easily turn it into something I’ll actually wear on a regular basis. I’d rather have it as yarn waiting in my stash than as a sweater that I never wear (clothing storage space is at a premium for us in our closet-less Norwegian apartment).
When it comes to buying ready-to-wear clothing, I’m a little at a loss these days. I find it very hard to avoid fast fashion in Norway and I’ve ended up buying clothing online from the US instead because I know I can buy from companies who are doing their best to make ethical business decisions and promote transparency in the fashion industry. If any Europeans (especially in Scandinavia) have suggestions for clothing companies that are sourcing their fabrics ethically and manufacturing domestically, I’d love to hear about it. Basically, I’m looking for a Norwegian version of my favorite shop in Seattle, Velouria. It feels like it must exist, but if it does, I don’t know about it yet. I guess the silver lining is that I don’t really need anything new – I do have plenty of clothes already.
There’s so much more I could say about my thoughts on slow fashion, but I’ll save some for future posts. I’ve already been doing a lot of thinking and reading in these first few days of October. Karen linked to a really important piece of writing called No One Wants Your Old Clothes – it’s an eye-opening piece that feels like an excellent prerequisite to this year’s conversation. I also just last week started reading Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert, which is already an excellent book just two chapters in and I’ll have a lot more to say about that in a later post as well. Will you all be taking part in this year’s Slow Fashion October?