Slow and sustainable: Austin fashion show displays ‘antithesis of fast fashion’

Photo courtesy of Clara Snyder

By Clara Snyder | Reporter

The Spring Slow Fashion Festival took place Saturday in Austin, showcasing looks from designers who use sustainable methods to produce clothing. Beginning in 2022, the festival has had a focus on finding unique ways to cultivate community around the slow fashion movement — a movement contrasting the fast fashion industry.

“Fast fashion” refers to mass-producing clothing in a quick and inexpensive way, incentivizing consumers to buy trending styles at a low price point. The industry accounts for 10% of annual global carbon dioxide emissions and has been linked to utilizing exploitative and unethical labor practices in order to make supply meet demand.

Leah Bury, one of the four festival founders, described slow fashion as the antithesis of fast fashion.

“Fast fashion encourages heavy consumption, rapid trend cycling, lots of waste, … [and] it creates the expectation that clothes aren’t meant to last long because you can just go and purchase more,” Bury said. “Slow fashion is the complete opposite of that.”

Bury said slow fashion places intentionality and care in the production of clothing by embracing alternative ways to create new fashion. Examples of slow fashion include shopping secondhand, swapping or rehoming unwanted clothing and recycling discarded clothing by using it to create a new item in a process called upcycling.

“Fast fashion has created an expectation that clothing is supposed to be dirt cheap when it’s not, and if it is cheap, the costs are being passed onto something else, whether that’s the planet or the people making it,” Bury said. “So a lot of what we want to do is educate people around all of the costs involved in fashion.”

The show began with a panel about circular living and having a sustainable lifestyle. One of the event panelists and Heartening founder Kelley Rytlewski said circular living stands in contrast to a linear economy that doesn’t consider a product once it has extended its useful life.

“[Circularity] begins with the end in mind — there is no waste,” Rytlewski said. “You start with what exists and what is already here. It’s a practice of intention and of ingenuity in every single aspect.”

Between two acts, the event showcased looks from nine clothing designers and included accessories from designers Junkyard Dog and Kizmet. Act one displayed stylings from UglyFlex, Defizm, reclaim. and YvieStyleIt, and it was followed by Faire Sauvage, Dear Ivy, Prior Waste, Futurekind studio and K.S. Garner in act two.

Kamdin Montagne, the 21-year-old founder and designer of Prior Waste, said she was very excited to be participating in the fashion show for the first time. Montagne is self-taught and began repurposing thrifted clothing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When quarantine happened and I had absolutely nothing to do, I started painting on jeans that I thrifted,” Montagne said. “Then, I had made so many things, so I was like, ‘Hey, does anybody want to buy this?’ And people actually did.”

After selling her designs at local markets and on Depop, Montange said she made the move to turn her work into a clothing brand in March 2023. Today, her designs include repurposing ties, jean waistbands and jean pockets into skirts and tops.

Since she isn’t a “cut-and-sew” designer who makes things from scratch, Montange said she is excited to be included in a fashion show that embraces her method of production.

“It really means a lot to me to be a part of this, because I didn’t think there was a space for designers like me doing what I’m doing,” Montange said. “I never really thought fashion shows were going to be something I would do. Since I rework stuff, sometimes people I’ll talk to don’t consider me as a designer.”

Montange said she believes in sustainability in fashion because there are already many amazing clothing pieces out there, and she loves breathing new life into those pieces. The other aspect of sustainable practices in fashion that she values is affordability.

“When I started, I just was a poor college kid who wanted to make stuff, but then I realized everyone who wants to buy this is probably also a broke college kid like me,” Montange said. “Making things out of old clothing that costs me little money to buy lets me keep prices super affordable and keep everything sustainable.”

Bury said one of the reasons they included “festival” in the name of the event is because it has a tone of celebration to it, and celebration guides a lot of what they want to do.

“Of course we want to educate people and bring people together, but we want to do it in a way that feels really inviting and celebratory of the amazing work that is already being done,” Bury said.

Although the event focuses on fashion and style, Bury said a lot of the lessons they are trying to teach are much more than just fashion.

“We think that slow fashion can be sort of a model [because] these principles apply to so many areas of life,” Bury said. “A lot of it comes down to caring about the impact that you have and working to have a better impact.”

For updates on future slow fashion festival events and shows, see its Instagram @slowfashionfestatx.