How Slow Fashion gave way to a growing Artisanal Fashion Niche
Slow Fashion has been steadily gaining momentum ever since fashion was first compared to the Slow Food Movement. Whether by genuine choice or not, the wider industry has embraced ethical, green, and eco practices that protect workers in the supply chain and our planet alike. The macro trend has given birth to an expanding artisanal fashion niche that endorses Slow Fashion principles, at luxury price points. With the advent of increased market saturation and inflated prices, what is the future for artisanal fashion brands?
The Slow Fashion movement draws several parallels from Slow Food which advocated respect for local ecosystems and sustainable food, aimed at supporting local businesses as a counteraction to the mass-produced nature of fast food. Slow Fashion represents a sustainable alternative to the current mainstream fashion industry which depends heavily on mass production at a globalised scale at a rapid pace—it’s no surprise that this takes a destructive toll on the people involved as well as the environment. The movement stands up against destructive practices within industry which have become the norm nowadays, championing quality, value, and the environment over disposable trends and overconsumption.
Over three decades since its inception, Slow Fashion has been opening consumers’ eyes to the toxicity of mass-produced fashion impacting industry from mainstream to luxury. Even Fast Fashion chains such as H&M have jumped on the sustainability wagon, taking responsibility for efforts in leading change to create a more sustainable industry. Their efforts are invested in reducing emissions, and using more sustainably sourced cotton, as well as reuse and recycle initiatives. More and more brands have adopted the principles of Slow Fashion, facilitating the rise of an artisanal fashion niche that heralds slow production and gratifies the desires of a conscientious audience. Whether it’s a passion for timeless pieces that treasure longevity or a passion for sustainability, these brands are united by the following motivations.
Slowing down the pace of fashion production, to minimise the pressure put on natural resources. Artisanal producers utilise locally sourced materials and makers that support local businesses.
An awareness of how fashion production impacts the environment and social systems.
Celebrating classic design
Artisanal producers honour classic designs and traditional techniques that promote longevity, as opposed to passing trends. Beauty and timelessness are brought to life through careful production, from mindfully sourced materials to classic making techniques. That’s not to say that new techniques and innovations are abstained from.
Fashion with emotional significance, inviting audiences to be part of a story or a process of design and creation.
Whilst artisanal fashion was once niche, the sector has become more saturated than ever before as audience’s appetite for immersive stories and meaningful fashion prevail. As an alternative to the Lo-fi “band-tee culture” that elevate brands such as Balenciaga to a cult-like status, brands such as Paul Harnden offer a contrasting philosophy and aesthetic. Nevertheless artisanal fashion itself has produced its own growing cult following, witnessed by the launch of dedicated retailers in recent years such as Darklands in Berlin and Samsa G in Munich. New artisanal brands are emerging, and yet artisanal pieces whether it be MA+ footwear or Uma Wang trousers aren’t as exclusive as they once were in part due to online availability and reselling sites such as Grailed. Whilst artisanal fashion has been some what of an alternative niche on the rise, saturation of the market and a loss of exclusivity points to the possibility that brands either lose their value, or venture from the niche itself.
With its reliance on sustainable resources, time consuming process, and fair treatment of employees, artisanal fashion incurs a hefty price tag. Artisanal brands have always appealed to certain luxury customers, from middle-aged professionals to those that come into a substantial inheritance. However, political and socioeconomic factors have disrupted the spending power of the wealthy second generation whose tastes change frequently, and professionals who were middle-aged 10 years ago are embracing a different style of taste, and different pace of life. The nature of artisanal fashion creates timeless pieces, that when possessed leaves even the most loyal of customers little motivation to purchase frequently, ironically because pieces are made to last often for a lifetime. Coupled with substantial retail costs, artisanal fashion becomes a big commitment for its traditional luxury audience, who could easily opt for a “conventional” luxury brand at a lesser price point. Artisanal brands need to re-consider who their audience is, and generate visibility outside the Slow Fashion sector in order to be competitive and financially stable.
Although Slow Fashion continues to make its mark as a macro trend in the wider fashion industry, it isn’t the be all and end all to a youth culture of streetwear influenced luxury fashion shoppers. A sense of belonging and a brand that stands for a good cause often precedes product in importance to the Gen Y & Z audience, who are the trendsetting shoppers that are likely to spend most on luxury fashion. Balenciaga Speed Trainers for example are a comparatively light financial investment that affords them a sense of belonging to a fashionable tribe that’s indicative of the changing relationship between streetwear and luxury fashion, than investing in artisanal pieces. Whilst artisanal fashion was never intended for the trend focused youth, there’s no avoiding the fact that they are the largest consumer and often act as a muse for luxury fashion playmakers.
The future of artisanal fashion lies in brands’ ability to diversify whilst staying true to the Slow Fashion principles that give passionate designers and makers a platform for meaningful creation. Artisanal brands should branch out of their increasingly saturated niche in order to stay relevant, and re-consider who their audience is. Whilst artisanal brands’ appeal is their role as a sanctuary from mass produced trend focused brands, its saturated market and inflated prices means that its price tag is becoming too large for its traditional audience. Artisanal brands need to re-evaluate their value and place in an ever evolving industry.