Slow Fashion Ethics And Low Waste Production In The Studio

Slow fashion in progress- bespoke corsetry
Work in progress- moulded silk before it greets steel.

‘Tis the season of shopping, excessive packaging and glitter everywhere! If that sounds a bit “Bah Humbug” let me reassure you- I blimming love Christmas. But seeing piles of sparkly wrapping paper in the trash always makes me conscious of the ecological cost of holiday traditions, so I felt inspired to share the positive story of how we’re trying to fight the wastage of the fashion industry at Orchid.

Corsets- The Definition Of Slow Fashion

Bespoke corset and lingerie set in white silk.
A bespoke order with asymmetric silk detailing and matching lingerie.

I think slow fashion is a buzz word that we may not all fully understand. Put simply, slow fashion is about a move away from disposable clothing and garments with built in obsolescence. A move towards long term investment in your wardrobe that doesn’t tread on the workers behind the label. Developing countries are not always able to supply safe working conditions and fair pay whilst meeting the price demands of big high street names. However there are some great brands like Dorsu in Cambodia setting the standard for high quality clothing that supports great working conditions and proper pay. Read to the end for more awesome slow fashion designers you may love!

To me, corsets from independent makers are the perfect example of slow fashion at work. At Orchid, there is just me working on your order, through communication, pattern cutting, construction and even the post office run. I have other people who work on my website etc, but the actual labour takes place in my home studio looking out over the Welsh hills. This means no uncomfortable feelings about “who made my clothes?” and knowing that you are supporting the 21st century version of British manufacturing. The cottage industries and small enterprises who exercise their craft with pride. That also means taxes paid in this country, not profits hoarded overseas!

A corset is also, by it’s nature, an heirloom item. It has been crafted to your specifications, we have worked on it together through emails, in person fittings, and swatches through the post. You have deliberated between two perfect shades of blue, and we’ve planned each component to work for your body and requirements. This year I’ve had the pleasure of many past clients returning for new corsets, one of whom had been using their last corset for 7 years! I call that good value for money, and good care of the resources that go into creating a luxury garment.

Low Waste Production

Isolde neck corset close up

The thing that always held me back from outsourcing elements of my work are questions about waste. When I cut a corset, I am careful to lay all my pattern pieces in such a way that the materials go as far as possible. This makes financial sense- silk satin is ¬£50 a metre, and some of the lace I use is well over ¬£100 a metre. But also, from manufacturing of fabrics to ordering them in from overseas, there’s a large carbon footprint in what ends up on the cutting room floor. It’s unavoidable that there will be some waste when you cut a garment but here’s what I do to minimise that impact.

Any pieces that may be used for cups or short waspie panels on a future order are obviously saved. In the fitting room I have a waterfall of vividly coloured fabrics to choose from, many of which are saved from previous orders. If we have it in stock- you aren’t charged for it. This encourages clients on a budget to choose from the beautiful things that we already have rather than shipping new exotic items across the ocean. Little scraps are saved back for colour swatches for clients or the many patchwork projects I keep meaning to do! I also send packs over to my sister for craft at my nephews’ playgroup, and save up my empty cotton reels for making toy car wheels on rainy days! It might sound silly but little changes can have a big impact when we all take part.

Lately I have started to design new products that use up the awkward off-cuts of luxury fabrics that I can’t bear to throw out but were too small to be useful in a meaningful way. This is how the Isolde neck corset was born! The silk bobbinet (mesh) I use for hot climate corsetry and lightweight shapewear comes in quite narrow widths, and I’m often left with a few inches on the end of a piece that will never be used in a regular corset. These sections are perfect for the delicate panels of a neck corset, and now, when I’m cutting out a waspie and see a space inbetween pattern pieces, I’m cutting out spare panels for the next Isolde order! The silk satin channels that hold the boning also allow me to use short bias lengths of this luxury fabric without cutting it from a new piece. So we have a sensuous new product where I don’t need to charge the client for material costs, and a little less waste makes it’s way to landfill. Everyone wins.

Lastly- I do try to keep packaging at a minimum. I want you to feel the thrill of opening our beautiful branded boxes, but I also hope that you keep them after the unboxing ceremony! They make great wardrobe organisers, and stop your corset laces getting tangled with the rest of your collection! Incidentally, all our boxes are made locally in the West Midlands, supporting a company that has been running since 1926, and that gives me a really good feeling! You will often find a thankyou card in with your order and a business card or two, but I don’t send you reams of postcards, catalogs or stickers as experience says, these tend to end up in the bin! If you’ve spotted a way you think we could improve things further it would be great to hear from you- let me know your thoughts about UK manufacture and what matters to you in the brands you support.

Slow Fashion Brands You Will Love

slow fashion gown
A Katherine Davidson gown, shot by Sally Sparrow on Abigail.

Katherine Davidson

Katherine Davidson is an elegant designer maker based in Merseyside who has a very clever line focused on the capsule wardrobe. She offers a foundation dress that’s made to your measurements at a very reasonable price, which can be reinvented again and again with the accessories and layers she is constantly adding! I am proud to own a KD piece, and can vouch for the craftsmanship, value, and love that she puts into her work.

Chyvonne Le Monnier

More ethical than slow really! An original and fun alternative lifestyle brand with great designs and real principles. Chyvonne only brings in limited runs of each product and works with ethical producers to make them. She is conscious of sustainable fabrics and biodegradable packaging, but the garments are anything but worthy! I own a ClM hoody and it is my FAVOURITE because I’m a tall woman, but her pieces are tailored¬† and ultra long so I don’t end up with an annoying midriff gap or look like I borrowed my brothers clothes!

Sisters Of The Black Moon

I really wanted to mention these guys because a) they feature truly wonderful independent designers and artists and b) As a graduated goth I really love their grown up, high fashion witchy look. Using luxurious materials with most pieces being handmade to order in America. They have recently run a project making gorgeous jackets from recycled leather which really excited me. I plan to become a customer very soon!

Maude Nibelungen

If you don’t know of Maude yet, you will LOVE her. She hand knits perfectly imperfect garments including gorgeous open weave stockings, lingerie and sensuous intriguing cover ups. She is utterly unique and a fascinating designer running her brand in Canada. One of her pieces is currently winging it’s way to me across the sea!

Who are your favourite ethical brands?