With the rise of sustainable fashion challenging the business model of high volume, low price production, it is refreshing to be able to able to shine a spotlight on a corner of the world where life has always been Slow.
Bali is already home to some of the world’s most exquisite jewelry, something long known to jewelry designers around the world with a keen eye for artisanal traditions and quality craftmanship. Now with large brands converting to sustainable business models, investing in carbon neutrality and a myriad of other promising initiatives, Bali has been practising its own sustainable model for years.
But what exactly constitutes ‘slow fashion’?
It was Kate Fletcher, who coined the term ‘slow fashion’ in 2008 and brought the underlying philosophy of timeless quality over worthless quantity to mainstream lexicon. It refers to the fashion industry as a whole and espouses the values of sustainability, durability and transparency that runs against the Fast Fashion mainstream.
Ironically, it is in Bali itself that the overwhelming need for a ‘slow’ movement is plain to see, for the island is not quite so shining and beautiful everywhere you look. Instead, the common sight of plastic and rubbish in the rivers and rice fields serves as a constant reminder of the damage perpetrated by the current model of ‘fast fashion’; namely the vicious and self-perpetuating cycle of overproduction and overconsumption sustained at every level of the value chain: the key fashion players keep producing at alarming and harmful rates, providing us with cheap prices and an unending flow of trend-driven pieces, while the buyers keep mindlessly consuming, addicted to the instant gratification of the ‘fast fashion fix’ (which, as Greenpeace has found, is short-lived, and quickly replaced by feelings of emptiness).
‘Slow fashion’, meanwhile, is the antithesis of such a narrative. It is Fletcher’s call to create a holistic framework for the future, tackling both the practical, the way we do fashion, and the psychological, the way we think about fashion. For the industry itself, it prescribes one which does not rely on excessive consumption for growth and profit, one that does not depend on the environment or society to pay the price of unsustainable production and, one that affords the rightful quality and value on products.
For the consumer, it is less about owning hundreds of meaningless ‘fashionable’ pieces, and more about a mindful approach to our buying habits. And the power of ‘slow’ is not to be underestimated: ‘sustainability’ broke into McKinsey’s list of the most important challenges for fashion this year, and 9 out of 10 millennials, the biggest market segment, believe companies have a responsibility to address environmental and social issues.
So what is it that makes Bali’s jewelry industry a jewel in a world of fast fashion?
1. Leveraging tradition to confront modernity
Bali’s artisanal history is rich and varied and dates back hundreds of years to the colonization of Bali by the Javanese. This brought with it a pool of silver and gold smiths and also laid the foundation for the spread of metal craftmanship. A rich culture that places much value in physical offerings as part of ceremonial and tribal customs helped to spur a vibrant industry. Jewelry’s function as a symbol of power and stature and its role in religious ceremonies means that the art of jewelry making, craftmanship and artisanal traditions were always in demand. The attention to detail that is so prevalent in everyday life, from the way buildings are adorned to interpersonal relationships, combined to make Bali a rich microcosm of jewelry making.
With the arrival of mass-tourism and the island's rapid economic development, rather than homogenise its traditions, the Balinese and far-sighted designers, have been able to catalyse these traditions and provide a new outlet for their creativity.
This has not meant to the adoption of the latest design technologies, software or other tools, instead jewelry continues to be sketched by hand with wax-moulds and a keen eye for detail. Over the years, modern designers have leveraged the motifs, designs and geometric patterns of traditional Balinese jewelry making and fused it with their modern view on fashion design. However, this symbiotic process has helped to sustain communities, culture and traditions while making it relevant to the modern age.
2. People first
With the starting point of the jewelry creation journey being the craftman him or herself, it challenges modern supply chain models which lack transparency and can lead to abuse of workers and the environment.
The hand-made nature of all the products means that the quality, output and design is literally in the hands of artisans. One can therefore also know that each item is a representation of a creative process infused with traditional skills and influences. Something that is exactly what makes the Balinese jewelry industry ‘slow’ in all respects.
The fact that every single piece, and every single detail on every piece, is so lovingly crafted redefines it as not merely an accessory, but a piece of art with a story. Each piece has a human element and story is is made to last forever, in contrast to the throwaway, mass-production of the ‘fast fashion’ industry. Owning a piece is therefore imbued with meaning that makes it irreplaceable.
3. Small is the new big
Production at the local level, provides a level of transparency that is usually unheard of in the fashion industry. The industry is probably more known for its lack of transparency than anything else with questions remaining where the natural resources come from, who made it and more importantly, how it was made.
However in the case of Bali, there is transparency all along the value-chain. Using hand-made goods, direct from artisans means that we can trace where the jewelry came from, where it was made and also how it was made. This is also more efficient and less wasteful model, although not one that in an economical sense can be scaled us massively. But that is probably not the purpose either.
Such a tight supply chain also sustains communities as it concentrates profits within tight local networks. Balinese jewellery producers tend to be small, family-owned cooperatives that set their own labour and wage standards, and therefore are much less likely to be subject to the exploitation of large multinationals.
4. Season-less durability
One of the key tenets of Slow Fashion is seasonless collections- these have pieces that are designed and made to last a lifetime, and not till the new fashion fix bubbles to the surface. This means that pieces need to be of high quality and physically durable which is exactly what Balinese jewelry is.
Without the pressure to inundate us with the latest styles and being under an unsustainable pressure to produce item after item, the production process can focus on the elegance and beauty of its pieces and design them in a way to make them timeless.
The use of genuine sterling silver, gold vermeil and real gems, and the inimitable intricacy of the detailed designs makes their quality above the rest and intrinsically durable. Simply put, these distinctive designs are designed to last!
Co-creation has been the name of the game since modern travellers ‘discovered’ Bali and its artisans. With international and up-and-coming jewellery designers forging relationships with Bali’s artisans, their ‘slow’ fashion approach is a model for the rest of the world to follow.
Such innovative partnerships between modernity and tradition, have allowed creative and innovative small brands to thrive and put ‘slow’ at the heart of their mission. It is therefore that Black Book Fashion believe in supporting this community and bringing to the world’s the islands most innovative and creative fashion brands.