In a booth at the Durham Art Walk Holiday Market one Saturday morning, Nicole Kligerman tells two very different stories with the clothing she wears—one of fast fashion and one of slow fashion.
Over a simple black top from American Eagle and jeans from Urban Outfitters, she wears a vibrant, indigo-dyed silk kimono with a digitally printed moon hand-sewn across the back. Kligerman is the head of product development for Sprout Patterns, a division of Spoonflower, but today she is just helping out her friend River Takada-Capel by selling the designer's handmade apparel, including the kimonos.
After graduating from college, Kligerman worked as an intern for fashion corporations until she realized she didn't want to be complicit with an industry that is the second-largest producer of waste in the world.
"I'm not going to lie to you, these are Urban Outfitters, this is American Eagle, and I'm going to wear them until they die because I chose not to work in those corporations, and so I chose to take a pay cut," she says, pointing to her outfit. "Buying local clothing is something that's important to me, but I can't afford a whole wardrobe of handmade, locally made clothing."
Takada-Capel has been living and working in Durham for the past four years, and in Carrboro before that, hand-dyeing reclaimed material and upcycled vintage with indigo in her backyard. She is part of a diverse and growing community of apparel makers in the Triangle who define the aesthetic of area fashion.
"This is not a cheap piece of clothing," Kligerman says of the kimono. "I had to think about purchasing this, whereas if I went to Target, I might buy multiple items and not even think about it. Buying from local makers is more meaningful because you really think about how it fits into your wardrobe. It's a thoughtfulness in consumption that many people are already thinking about with food, but hasn't quite clicked yet with apparel."
In addition to the Makery in Durham and area pop-up shops, the work of many of these makers can be found at www.themakersmercantile.com, an online shop that features hand-picked pieces from local and independent artists in the Triangle, including a chambray dot infinity scarf by Shibui South, Anna Nickles's textile line, and a series of relaxed, flowing tops and dresses by Rise & Ramble, Andy Schmidt's line of hand-dyed clothing made from natural fibers.
Maria Carroll-Holton and Maggie Meyer of Durham launched The Makers Mercantile in June after identifying a need for an online space that connects local makers with a community that appreciates their craftsmanship.
"The idea started with us meeting some local artists and realizing that, while there were a lot of pop-ups and markets on weekends, there wasn't an ability to shop local artists online," Meyer says. "By having the goods available 24-7 and broadening the market for the artists, we've had people from California, Georgia, and all over the United States purchasing local art from North Carolina."
"Telling the story behind the goods is also a mission of ours, and something that has been a huge success—you feel connected to the pieces," adds Carroll-Holton.
The common thread of locally sourced fashion, especially the clothing coming out of Durham, is functional, casual apparel with soul—pieces that manage to express both the maker and the environment in which the piece was made. That theme likely stems from the fact that many makers began as traditional visual artists.
"There are many artists who went to art school and realized they couldn't sell their art, so they're going into design," says Lee Moore Crawford, a visual artist and printmaker with the Makery. "Gabe [Eng-Goetz] from Runaway does beautiful drawings and paintings, but many people want to buy items that they wear or can use, so we, as artists, diversify and find a way to do what we love."
Crawford has diversified by collaborating with Takada-Capel to create skinny silk scarves digitally printed at Spoonflower with Crawford's designs, giving people access to local art in a form that's functional and comparatively affordable, at forty dollars a scarf.
Runaway has an even lower bar to entry, starting at twenty-six dollars for hats and T-shirts, with an aesthetic of embracing progress while honoring the past; the proceeds from its Bulletproof Collection benefit North Carolinians Against Gun Violence.
Raleigh is also seeing growth in fashion as activism, with nonprofits such as Redress Raleigh, which promotes eco-fashion and is currently raising money to open an incubator space where it can continue to develop local designers who want to combat fast fashion. It's part of a growing movement in the Triangle to help people "take their small, handcrafted business to the next level," says Kligerman, who is also operations director at Redress Raleigh.
In all, it's a fast time for slow fashion.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Slow Clothes"