Naamal De Silva
Slow can be beautiful. A snail, possibly a new species, from Massif de la Hotte, in Haiti. Part of this remarkable forest was recently protected thanks to years of collective work by Global Wildlife Conservation, Haiti National Trust, Rainforest Trust, Société Audubon Haiti, and others. Photo by Robin Moore, who was part of this effort.
No one has ever accused me of being fast. I walk slowly, hike slowly, read slowly, and cook slowly. As a kid, this slowness embarrassed me during gym class. These days, it makes me anxious about being late to pick up my daughter from school. And yet, most of the time, I see slowness as a good thing. If a passage is written beautifully and with care, I prefer to read it slowly to savor the words and images. I could hike faster and pause less, but if I did, I would be looking at my feet more and might miss a passing bird or a particularly well-framed view. If I give myself the time to cook slowly, I really enjoy slicing garlic and washing dishes. With enough time and mental space, I can focus on a single task and see its inherent beauty.
But often, it feels like there isn’t enough time, and I know that I am not alone in this struggle. During the past century, our collective focus on expanding economic growth has meant more things, produced more quickly and at lower cost. Many of us are now drowning in things, but without the time to enjoy them. Many others are producing these things at ever increasing speed and at a great cost to their wellbeing.
This pace of life is punishing, but I see more and more resistance. In the 1980s, Carlo Petrini and fellow activists in Italy launched the slow food movement, which now has 160 member nations. The movement envisions “a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet.” By safeguarding tasty food and the time to enjoy it, they simultaneously help sustain culture and biodiversity.
A recent article in the Hindu mentions these intersections: Tapoa honey from Burkina Faso was the 5,000th product added to the Slow Food Ark of Taste. The Gourmantché people use this honey for rituals, in traditional medicine, and to sweeten multigrain porridge. Honey and bees are woven into sayings - “having the heart of a bee means being willing to sacrifice one’s life for the community.” The savannah plants that the bees depend appear to be protected within several parks, but local human communities are threatened by fundamentalist terrorism. In many places, young people are drawn to terrorism because they lack jobs and hope. The jobs provided by investing in traditional foods can also help ensure the safety of people and other species.
Similarly, producing fabric using traditional dyes and weaving techniques can support living wages and healthier ecosystems. In the 1960s, in Sri Lanka, Barbara Sansoni “travelled the island, observing, sketching and taking notes.” Inspired by colors and patterns in nature, she began a business that employed women across Sri Lanka in dying and weaving cotton at home or in small workshops. There are no factories, there is little waste, and there is a lot of creative freedom. The results are beautiful and vibrant, and I am inspired every time I visit her Barefoot stores. I see this fabric every day, since we use their place mats at most meals.
The clothes at Barefoot are an example of slow fashion, a term coined by Kate Fletcher, who urges us to value what we have. Like slow food, slow fashion emphasizes quality - clothes, shoes, and accessories that are handmade, that emphasize style over fashion, and that are meant to last. Slow fashion also advocates fair wages, ethics, and sustainability in production and throughout the supply chain. This article from Conscious magazine demonstrates how individual designers, consumers, and activists focus on different aspects of slow fashion. For instance, the Tennessee-based company Live FashionABLE prioritizes fare wages for women, focusing on empowering employees and supporting other sustainable designers such as Van Hoang.
Slow food is a response to industrialized, chemical-laden, and soul-crushing fast food. Slow fashion is a response to the high waste and environmental and human wreckage caused by industrialized fast fashion. Both make visible what fast fashion and fast food seek to conceal – producers are humans, individuals, rather than numbers. Essentially, it comes down to respect. Respect for the land and water, respect for the rights and dignity of people, respect for animals, for the food we eat and the clothes we wear. Slow down. Reconnect. Savor what we have.
These approaches are seeping into mainstream consciousness. However, the startup world rarely values slow, thoughtful, and intentional work. With startups, there is relentless pressure to launch immediately, pivot often, secure investors, and then sell. The word “hustle” is everywhere, on instagram posts, t-shirts, mugs. The only reprieve is in a nod to self-care – get a massage and get back to the frenzied whirl of work. In 2017, when I came up with the idea for Mayla, I felt some of that pressure. The ideas behind Mayla gave me hope. I finally felt like I had some answers to questions I had been asking myself for nearly a decade. I wanted to dive in.
However, in 2017, I also needed to finish the doctoral dissertation that I had paused (done!) and to figure out next steps with work (in progress). I needed time to think and time to talk with lots and lots of people. Now, nearly two years after writing my first blog post about Mayla, I am ready to move forward. I see Mayla as in a pilot phase. Over the next year or two, we will test out ways of growing community and sharing ideas. Slow food and slow fashion provide the model for us to follow. Mayla is a startup. But, Mayla deserves a slow start so that we can focus on quality, beauty, inclusion, and relevance.
Growing Community Through Slow Food and Slow Fashion
The Slow Food Movement highlights ways to learn more and to act in 160 nations. You can sign pledges, donate money, and find a chapter where you live. I find that last piece particularly exciting, since that is the global-local approach Mayla will eventually use. I noticed two organizations in Sri Lanka. In Washington, DC, the local chapter of Slow Food will be hosting a free potluck tomorrow that highlights fish peppers! I love that model – bring a dish, learn something, make new friends. Earlier this month, Sun Cinema in DC screened a movie about local food in Burkina Faso – here’s the trailer – I wish I had time to go see it.
The DC Fashion Collective provides a range of general and DC-specific resources on their site, including lists of thrift and consignment stores in DC and information about local government initiatives such as Re-Thread. Personally, especially since becoming a mother, I’ve focused more on reuse – we buy many of Lakshmi’s clothes through collective consignment companies like TotSwap, and we donate or hand down or recycle all the clothes, toys, and books she no longer uses. The amount of things that we own still overwhelms me at times, but Marie Kondo’s approach has certainly helped.
Contact us and let us know what you are doing to support slow food or slow fashion! We’d love to share your stories.