I remember writing a snippet of fashion copy at the young women’s magazine where I worked about 15 years ago that extolled the joys of summer, when saving up for expensive fall heels was replaced with trying to find the cutest flip-flops in Chinatown. A new, mesh-toed, glitter flower–embellished version of the classic gift shop embroidered slipper had started an inexpensive street-style fad.
In light of the Bangladesh building collapse in which an estimated 1,127 garment workers died and the lid was, once and for all, blown off the problems caused by underpaid, outsourced labour, the innocence of this old me seems almost painful. How have things changed so radically, in barely more than a decade, such that any redolence of carefree, exotic pleasure associated with “made in China” has given way to guilt and despair? Of course, in 1998, clothing manufacturing was being outsourced, but you would have sounded like a paranoid extremist (or an insider economist) if you’d suggested that in the future it would be nigh impossible to buy anything made in Canada, and that even Canada-emblazoned T-shirts at the airport would have Orwellian “designed in Canada” tags hiding the smaller “made in ‘name Third World country here.’”
People like to say the issues are complex; in my mind there’s nothing complex about them, though I think we all agree that arriving at a solution will be, whatever your politics. Meanwhile, for someone like me, who gets an almost athlete-in-the-zone high from shopping and practically considers it a civic duty to stay at least somewhat stylish, these are confusing times. Sacrificing the thrill of the hunt to take up the morally superior simplicity movement seems too bleak to contemplate, and, although I love vintage, I can’t live by vintage alone.
This issue of FLARE coincides with Canada Day, and throughout these pages we’re celebrating the fascinating contours of our country. I never knew there were giant sand dunes in Saskatchewan, which our fashion team sleuthed out for our escape-wear package, nor had I ever heard of the First Nations filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin, whom Sheila Heti interviews about her muckraking documentaries, or the Toronto-born NYC-Paris partymaker Ladyfag—who makes a different kind of ruckus that writer Cintra Wilson revels in.
Knowledge can be a burden, but it pushes you to new places. I practise slow-ish fashion. I still buy things I really love from fast-fashion labels, but I make a point of supporting their sustainable or ethical initiatives. I keep in mind that it costs more to manufacture things small scale or in the old-school garment districts in Toronto, NYC and Montreal, and I’m willing to pay more for that even if it means buying less. No, shopping isn’t the pure escape it once was, but when I find something that meets my new constraints, it’s an extra-satisfying high. I might never have found my latest love, NYC-made FWK by Engineered Garments, if I hadn’t been editing the racks at one of my favorite neighbourhood stores, Jonathan and Olivia, based on where clothes were made. Their muted pieces hew to their own easy-to-miss but brilliantly wearable logic. My delight in their anchor pants kicked off a personal summer microtrend not seen on any recent runway (though a peony-good perennial). Now I’m seeing great nautical motifs everywhere, the way a new word will suddenly pop up all around you once you’ve learned its definition.
My carefree wardrobe additions:
From left: Zade Jones made in Canada top, $50, zadejonesstudio.com. Vintage sterling silver anchor pendant, $50, I Miss You Vintage, Toronto. FWK by Engineered Garments made in USA pants, $300, jonathanandolivia.com.