Is Charlotte on the cusp of a slow fashion explosion?
Stephen Bernasconi thinks it could be, and he wants to help it happen.
Bernasconi, a trend researcher and forecaster, says his “antennae are up” and pointing to signs that both slow fashion makers and consumers here are ready for more.
His signs? The popularity of last month’s Vintage Charlotte Winter Market, where thousands waited in line to browse and buy both vintage items and handmade goods directly from their makers. Add to that the successes of microbreweries in Charlotte and shared work and retail spaces like Packard Place and 7th Street Market, and there’s a case for helping slow fashion expand, he says.
Bernasconi plans to convene a “designer/maker jam” this winter or early spring, when he will gather local designers and makers of slow clothing, accessories and jewelry to discuss ways they can work together. He envisions a shared workspace where designers and makers can pool equipment, as well as shared retail space where customers can meet the artisans while shopping.
Imagine if we made shirts like we make beer.
Trend forecaster Stephen Bernasconi
He’s already scouting potential sites for a shared space, and says he’ll go before city leaders to ask for help if desire is great enough from slow fashion makers.
“Imagine if we made shirts like we make beer,” Bernasconi says. “I want consumers to walk in there and see the things that they’re buying the same way we see craft beers being made while we’re drinking them,” he says.
“Most of us don’t know enough about clothing and quality and construction to know that it’s worth 20 percent more. What if you could see the designers show you how they stitch your clothes?” he says.
Bernasconi spent years traveling the world as a color forecaster for Benjamin Moore paints before earning a master’s degree in design for sustainability at the Savannah College of Art and Design, then a master of fine arts degree in design for social innovation from New York’s School of Visual Arts.
For his thesis project, he researched slow fashion makers in New York City and created a website for shoppers, www.wearslowclothes.com. He didn’t charge fashion makers to be part of the site, but envisions creating a certification process whereby makers who meet certain standards would pay to place a stamp on their items certifying that they’re part of the slow clothes movement.
The site has a map with locations and information about each of the designers – something he wishes he could replicate here but can’t fully, because so many slow fashion makers work out of home studios.
A Gaston County native, he says he decided to return to the Charlotte area when he saw that slow fashion was ripe for growth.
Mike Watson, fashion instructor at the Art Institute of Charlotte, is advising Bernasconi. Watson says he believes the appreciation and demand for slow clothing will only increase, largely thanks to the millennial generation, but that it will be important to have items be easily accessible to buyers.
“It all comes down to this idea of community connection, quality over quantity,” he says.
And uniting those who make slow fashion could spark huge growth in the movement, he says.
“The people who have the solutions,” Watson says, “are often sitting right next to each other.”