Hi, Erica here again! Welcome back to Mane Street Chronicles! Today we’re going to continue our exploration of Slow Fashion by looking closely at Unicorn Clothing and placing our practices in the context of Slow Fashion. To review, Slow Fashion is a way to approach the fashion industry that values sustainability and responsibility for the environment, workers, and local community. Slow Fashion has a lot of aspects that cover the entire life cycle of a garment, but for simplification we broke them down into a couple of main areas: company structure, product design, production, sales, use, re-use, and retirement.
Let’s look a little more closely at each of those areas, using Unicorn Clothing as an example.
Slow Fashion focused companies are typically smaller businesses, locally or nationally based, with a cultural connection in their company mission. Unicorn Clothing is headquartered in Santa Barbara, California and has been since it was founded in 1973 by the original and current owner- Teri Evans. If you’d like to learn a little bit about our origin story, check out Teri’s Letter here.
Unicorn Clothing is classified as a micro-business by today’s standards. We have a core team of two in management: myself, Erica, the apprentice, and Teri Evans, the founder, mentor, and business owner extraordinaire. We also work with several small teams of seamstresses. Lastly, our seasonally recruited shop helpers, many of whom have also worked with us for years and years. We love our herd and can’t wait to showcase some of them in future posts!
Our cultural connection is a community specific one rather than a traditionally cultural one, but I think it still counts. We find our community in the Renaissance festivals, historical reenactment groups, and most recently in the world of cosplay. This community connection allows us to make clothes that fit our niche and are protected from the buffeting winds of change that endlessly plague fast fashion in the modern day.
All of our pieces are designed in-house by myself or by Teri. We try to release one new item each year, to keep the interest of our long time customers, but the nature of historical fashion means things rarely go ‘out of style.’ Sure there are some trends. Pirates may be “in” one year, steampunk the next, but the versatility of our pieces allows for a lot of creative play and a lot of overlap of styles and eras.
We get really excited when we find new colors in our favorite high quality fabrics. We work with high quality cotton gauze, cotton twill, and cotton tapestries for most of our pieces. Just this year we finally found silver, darker storm grey, and a light lilac in our cotton gauzes after years of searching.
In the era of rampant production it may sound strange to be unable to find a specific…anything really. But part of our commitment to sustainable production means sourcing fabrics locally. Aside from our own occasional forays into the city ourselves, we have a loyal fabric buyer that does most of our shopping in the Los Angeles Fabric District. He knows what we like and what works for us and is always on the hunt for new colors of gauze and twill. Many of our tapestries are close-out bolts; fabric that won’t be made available for the bigger buyers any more, and often sits around at the back of warehouses until finally getting tossed in a dumpster on cleanup day. It means most of our bodices and belts are limited runs and once they’re gone they’re gone, but we like to think our customers enjoy seeing the new fabrics each year. We certainly love the excitement of delivery day at the workshop!
We also aim for zero waste with our fabrics. Even the tiniest pieces are saved in well organized boxes stashed in every corner of the workshop. The girl’s Two-Tiered skirts, for example, are made from the narrow band of fabric left on the rolls after making a woman’s overskirt. The belts are often cut from the “scraps” left over after cutting a run of bodices. Since we still cut everything individually and by hand, we are able to save these scraps in ways that just aren’t feasible for larger companies with industrial cutting machines. Some of that is pure luck, but we definitely design new patterns intentionally to use the fabric as efficiently as possible.
Did we mention everything was cut individually and by hand? That means we are able to operate on a very tight just-in-time inventory system. We make things in batches of a dozen pieces or less, often on a weekly basis, to fill the needs of our festival shoppes, unlike mega companies that make thousands of each item at the beginning of a season and hope for the best. Do we misscalculate sometimes and run out of key items? Sure, nobody’s perfect. But we like to think our customers are pretty understanding, and overall it is a very low waste way to operate. And in this modern age of online shopping, anything not readily available in one of our Renaissance festival shops that day can easily be ordered on our website at unicornclothing.com, slipped into the production queue and sent right to the customer’s home.
Everything is made by hand in small workshop like settings in Santa Barbara, California.
Obviously our items have a much longer “season” than fast fashion or modern fashion. We don’t chase trends, flood our sales floors with new items, and discount them before the weather even changes. You see this particularly frequently in modern shopping with bathing suits, winter coats, and spring sundresses. Many of our styles have been available for years. Though we introduce something new every year, we rarely retire anything, unless it gets a new and improved redesign like we saw when the Empress Vest was upgraded to become the Empress Half-Bodice.
We also think very carefully about our prices. We like to provide high quality historical fashion clothing at an affordable price. But we do provide clothing, not costuming. Our prices reflect the quality of the clothing and the responsibility we have to everyone on the Unicorn team.
Wait what’s the difference between clothing and costuming, you may be wondering. Costumes are imitations of the thing they’re trying to mimic. They are designed to replicate rather than be something real in and of itself. Clothing, on the other hand, is the real deal. When you buy a skirt from us, that skirt can be whatever you want it to be. It can be part of your favorite summer time outfit. It can be mixed with other pieces to make any kind of outfit or costume you want, but by itself it’s just a skirt designed and inspired by the Renaissance or Victorian eras. And it’s a high quality skirt at that!
What do we mean when we say high quality? It is made with valuable materials designed to age well and last a long time. The methods used to make it value durability and longevity over speed of production. We want our customers to get years of loving use out of our pieces.
We want them to shop based on their interests and personalities. For that reason our pieces have great diversity and versatility of style. And we love the way our shoppers’ eyes light up when they find just the thing they were looking for. If you ask them later, many people have loving stories about every piece in their collection, things from us and things they found from all the other vendors at the festival as well.
Sometimes things wear out. Especially things we love and use frequently. But our slow fashion shoppers are loyal to their favorite garments and aren’t afraid to mend and repair their well loved pieces.
Re-Use and Retirement:
When our slow fashion customers are done with their pieces, they often find new homes for them. Some get passed down to younger family members and friends. Or to friends young and old who are just beginning their journey in historical fashion. Sometimes they resell their pieces at flea markets or in growing online communities like “Renaissance Faire & Festival Classifieds” and “RennShop and Exchange.” At the very least they get donated to thrift stores. We like to think.
Wow. I guess we can wrap up there. Clearly I am very passionate about the lengths Unicorn Clothing goes to to be a sustainable fashion house. We wish more modern design houses would get on the slow fashion train. But maybe Unicorn Clothing just needs to make a bigger name for itself in the modern fashion world…
Tune in next time when we explore style versus fashion, trends, and capsule collections.
Thanks for Reading!
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