Super small, super slow.

The fast fashion industry is ever growing here in the Philippines, and there’s really no need to look very far. Just look at the competitive prices and excited buyers looming all over the boutiques in Divisoria and the stalls of Taytay and Baclaran! For most people, it seems that cheap or affordable prices are a top priority when it comes to buying clothes — or any other item, for that matter. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that one should compromise quality in exchange of saving a few bucks.

This is exactly what the growing slow fashion movement is all about. With principles that aim to be of benefit for the environment, the consumer, and the seller, slow fashion is all about attaining the best quality of clothing materials without hurting our planet.

The term “slow fashion” was first used in a The Ecologist article in 2007, where an analogy on fast food was used to highlight a then growing movement on promoting a more sustainable purchasing approach within the fashion industry. Since then, this movement has made its way to Filipino fashion culture as well, with a new generation of fashion enthusiasts associating this advocacy with our local ukay — or thrifting — culture.

I was lucky enough to chat with Faye Almo, owner of the newly launched Sōl Studios, a curated online thrift shop that centers on slow fashion. Having only started her business earlier this year, it’s evident that Faye — along with her fellow online thrift shop owners — draws inspiration from the Filipino ukay trend that has been around for many years.

“Sa ngayon, halos lahat ng mga damit ko sa aparador galing ukay. Kung hindi man, nabili ko sa mga online thrift shop — mga secondhand din,” (So far, almost all the clothes I own are either from thrift stores or online thrift shops — almost everything is second hand.) says Faye.

Apart from the clothes that she shops for across the busy streets of Metro Manila and carefully curates inside her home-turned-makeshift-studio, Faye also makes it a point to sell her own pre-loved clothes online. “Pag madami na akong damit na hindi na kasya sakin, o mga hindi ko naman nagagamit na, o [parang] hindi naman talaga bagay sakin, binebenta ko as pre-loved,” (Once I find clothes that I rarely use, don’t like, or won’t fit anymore, I start selling them as pre-loved items.) she shares.

One of the inspirations behind the creation of Sōl Studios is to maintain the circulation of these quality clothes from one consumer to another, thus avoiding early waste disposal of materials that are still good for use.

As of date, Faye is working on fully committing herself to the business. She looks at it as an opportunity to pursue her dream of being a fashion designer when she was little. “Hindi ko [kasi] siya napursue noong college. [Pero] bata pa lang ako ito na ang gusto kong gawin — clothing business talaga,” (I wasn’t able to pursue it back in college but owning a clothing business is really what I wanted to do ever since.) she says.

But it was only recently when she found another true love: thrifting.

“Noong college, doon lang nagsimula yung pagkahilig ko sa ukay. Niyaya ko ‘yung best friend ko mag-ukay sa Carriedo — pareho naming first time [noon]. Hahalukayin mo [talaga] ‘yung mga damit, hindi siya naka-hanger.” (It was also back in college when I became fond of thrifting. I went to a thrift shop in Carriedo with my best friend — we were both first timers. The clothes weren’t even hung when we went there. You really have to dig up a pile of clothes.) she shares.

“Ang saya kasi ang dami kong nakuhang maganda tapos maayos pa. Ang maganda rin sa ukay, ang dami mong makikitang damit na walang kapareha.” (But I had fun because I found a lot of clothes that are of good quality. What I also like about thrifting is that you get to see a lot of pieces that are one of a kind.)

“Dito kasi sa Pilipinas kung kailan [lang] uso ‘yung damit, doon lang siya isusuot ng tao,” (Here in the Philippines, people only go for what is in style at the moment.) she says, expressing the seeming lack of quality and durability appreciation for local clothing materials.

“Sa fashion kasi talaga, dapat quality ‘yung titignan — kung ano yung magagamit mo ng pangmatagalan. Depende kasi talaga siya kung paano mo i-style yung damit, at kung paano mo dadalhin. ‘Yun ‘yung nasa isip ko palagi kapag torn ako [sa mga] nakikita kong damit na magaganda sa mall or [sa mga online shop]. Tina-try kong tignan yung bigger picture,” (The thing about fashion is, quality should always be the one you look for first — what you think will last you long enough and what you think you’ll be able to wear regularly. How it looks like will always depend on how you style it yourself. This is why I always try to look at the bigger picture before considering buying clothes.) she adds.

When asked how she finds and curates the clothes she sells online, she shares that the busy (if not chaotic) streets of Santa Rosa, Balibago, JP Rizal, Buendia, and Pedro Gil — among others — hide precious gems in the form of ukay stores. You just have to invest a little extra time to find unique and pretty pieces that you can buy for less.

“Ako kasi kapag nag-uukay ako mas gusto ko mag-isa kasi iniisa isa ko yung mga rack. Dapat nag-aabang ka rin ng sale. Kasi kahit may sale makakakita ka pa rin sa mga sulok sulok na maganda talaga.” (When I go thrifting, I prefer going alone because I really check out the clothes one by one. You should also be on the lookout for sale season because then you can still find even cheaper items that are of good quality if you look hard enough.) says Faye.

As a newcomer in the business, Faye aims to grow Sōl Studios and take it even further in the years to come. When asked about her upcoming plans, she also talked about her goal of owning a sustainable clothing line that will feature tropical staples. Personally, I can’t wait to see this brand grow even more!

Indeed, like all other things in life, thrifting can really be a rewarding experience if you know what you want, and you work hard to find it. Who knew I could find quality clothing pieces within the streets I live in for cheap?

But sustainability really is a journey. This is what Athena Cartagena — communications professional, freelance writer, and slow fashion advocate — told me when I asked her about her thoughts as a consumer.

Slow fashion isn’t just about thrifting alone, Athena says, but ensuring that one’s purchases — thrifted or not — are handpicked according to their principles of being environment-friendly.

“For me the best way to be sustainable is to shop local and really think about the item before buying it,” she shares. “[Sa ukay] mao-overwhelm ka sa simula kasi mura lang ‘yung mga damit. So eventually ‘yung closet mo mapupuno din ng ukay and mapapaisip ka, did I really need this?” (With thrifting, it’s easy to get overwhelmed because of the cheap prices. But eventually you may find yourself with a closet full of items that you didn’t really need.)

In picking the items we wear, we can try to be better, Athena adds. In fact, thrifting may not really be necessary for slow fashion advocates, so long as the brands you go for are local, accessible, and has items that one can make the most out of.

Let’s say na second hand siya, pero overseas pa rin siya nanggagaling at na-transport dito via cargo ships na gumagamit ng fossil fuels,” (Even if your clothes are secondhand, they may have been transported from overseas via cargo ships that use fossil fuels.) she adds. “Kasi feeling ko naman ‘yung main problem is how we think about the clothes — na nagiging disposable siya when in fact dapat binibili sya as needed and as necessary.” (The main problem here stems from the mindset that clothes are disposable, when in fact it should be purchased only as necessary.)

In her personal blog Minor Edit, Athena shares her own experiences toward achieving more sustainable and ethical purchasing habits.

“Ang ginagawa ko recently ay magsulat sa wish list if may tempting na bilhin. Isusulat ko muna sya doon at nalilimutan ko rin eventually, so maybe I didn’t need it as much as I thought I did,” (What I’ve been doing recently is making a wish list for all the items I want to buy. If I forget about it eventually, then maybe I didn’t need it as much as I thought I did.) she shares.

Apart from careful thrifting and shopping local, Athena also makes it a point to narrow down her purchases according to her personal style.

For example, I’ve decided that my style is casual, classic, and French inspired. So yung mga elements na pasok doon, yun lang yung bibilhin ko. This makes shopping easier kasi I know the items that won’t fit the description. So hindi na ako bibili ng mga slogan tees, wild prints, or colors that aren’t neutral.(For example, I’ve decided that my style is casual, classic, and French inspired. So I’ll only buy items that would be appropriate for this look. This makes shopping easier because I already know the items that won’t fit the description, so I know now to avoid items like slogan tees or clothes with wild prints or non-neutral colors.)

Though slow-paced, the slow fashion movement here in the Philippines is lucky enough to have strong personalities like Faye and Athena who’s willing to share their insights to aspiring ethical consumers like me who don’t know where to start. The good thing is, there are no strict rules when it comes to being a responsible consumer except for ensuring that all your purchases are ethical. Whether you’re keen on thrifting or not, there are always other options you can stick to depending on your budget, location, and the like. It’s not easy to commit to a sustainable lifestyle, but I believe it’s attainable when you stick to your principles.

Global fashion movement Fashion Revolution has also made its way to the Philippines and you can start your own journey by donating to them. Through your help, they’ll be able to initiate the discussion on sustainability to the wider Filipino public, ensuring that we maintain consciousness on our own impacts in the environment not just through the clothes we buy, but across all the other things we purchase as well.

To make a donation, visit their website at https://www.fashionrevolution.org/donate/.

Somber whimsies