BURLINGTON, Vt. — Tucked away in his half studio-half showroom space, Sam Zollman shows off a collection of fabrics, fasteners and vintage sewing machines that could easily be mistaken for a museum collection
Instead, these materials and tools are the pallet and brush that create the pieces of his aptly named clothing company: Slow Process.
"I say that I'm fixing the mail uniform. I'm taking classic, men's wear silhouettes, but I'm trying to impart on them a beauty and softness that I think has been missing from men's wear for a long time," said Zollman, Slow Process' owner and designer.
It’s not just the male uniform he is bent on fixing with Slow Process, but also to prove that a clothing company can be successful when it sticks to sustainability.
Both in the small scale production and fair labor going into the pieces he creates, as well as in the sourcing of fabrics by repurposing what was already in existence.
"We could stop clothing production for like a hundred years and still have tons of fabrics to choose from. There are people like me that are kind of like the scavengers of the industry where there is deadstock fabric, untouched rolls of fabric from the sixties, the seventies, sometimes even earlier, that's beautiful and probably better quality than what you could find now," he said.
Marina McCoy, known as sustainability boss lady on social media, is a zero-waste expert. She says our country has a problem when it comes to the over-consumption of clothing.
"It is a really big issue that people don't tend to think about," said McCoy.
Most “fast fashion” items from big brands are only wore an average of five times before its thrown away. She says clothes may look neat and manicured on shelves, but the means it takes to get them there creates unnecessary waste, even in secondhand stores.
"In the United States, when we donate articles of clothing, only 10% of that actually gets resold. So, when we think about that, 'Oh, I could just donate it. It's fine,' in all reality, it's not getting sold," she said.
The convenience of buying clothes online and making returns is another culprit to the creation of clothing waste. Most items we return go into the landfill.
"Five billion pounds of waste is created just from returns alone and that equals 3.5 billion products and only 23% is actually defective," said McCoy. "When things are just as easy as clicking a button and then you're done checking out, that has the biggest impact on waste because especially like it's probably traveling from China or definitely out of the United States coming to your house, you're getting it individually delivered instead of a mass import to your local store."
Fixing the clothing consumption system is not a quick fix, but what McCoy says what we can all do is begin to educate ourselves about the issue and also research into the places we choose to make a purchase from – bringing mindfulness into the act of buying.
"Just know that we are all in this together, as cheesy as it sounds, but this stuff came up without us realizing it and became a big problem, but because of that, we can help solve it and substantially reduce it," she said.
While Zollman continues to create at his own pace, he hopes to inspire other makers and clothing consumers to look at production and purchasing in a much slower, sustainable way than the previously accepted status quo.
"It's made with my two hands, maybe in time, one or two other people, but it's the intention is to keep it small. And I think that is what growth really means," he said.