Savoring Slow Fashion: Hala Kaiksow

by Bahrain 11 months ago
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This story is part of a series exploring sustainable fashion in Bahrain.

A few weeks ago, I went to visit fashion designer Hala Kaiksow at her studio in Bahrain. She has a deep appreciation for slow fashion, a movement that is emerging in contrast to mainstream fast fashion, so I asked her if I could learn more about her work.

When I walked into her studio, my eyes instantly turned to the bookcase on the wall, as they always do. Hala had a range of art and design books and magazines. She showed me one of her favorites: a photography book by August Sander that included old classic photographs of townspeople in rural Europe a century ago. She pointed to their well-tailored, layered, simple yet elegant everyday clothing, from buttoned up shirts to structured dresses. She also pointed out something that I had never gave much thought to: the many patches on the trousers of one man standing at the entrance of his home. She commented that people used to mend their clothes, repeatedly, and rarely threw anything away.

I couldn’t remember if I had seen any patched-up clothing in my lifetime, except for brand new clothes with patches as a fashion statement. Hala then mentioned one professional mender with a place called Invisible Menders in London who was so good at his work that he could sew a hole in any piece of clothing with the same complex weaving pattern that the fabric had. It would look as good as new. We stood in awe and respect for that meticulous craft, a skill now held only in the hands of a few.

We went over to her work station across the studio. Against one wall leaned a range of natural fabric rolls, some sourced from Japan where natural fabrics were appreciated and valued, others handwoven by local weavers in Bahrain from yarn she had given them. Amidst her sewing tools was a little Buttons box. We looked inside as she explained the difference between handmade and machine-made buttons, and natural versus manmade button materials. As she talked about going to the local market in Bahrain to ask welders to make a few metal buttons for her, I had one of those moments where I realized that people in different professions think about very different things.

She showed me some finished clothing that she had made by hand as well as a piece that lay on her work table on which she would be stitching carefully measured geometric patterns. This was hard work in a world that had forgotten how to pay attention, but it had a weight to it, something that drew me in. The variation in textures and materials she was using, variations to the eye and to the hand’s touch, together made up clothing that was stimulating. Pieces that are made with soul, body and mind tend to speak for themselves.

Hala had a tiny loom at the corner of her workstation to test out stitching patterns, but I also got to see her big loom where she had made some full pieces by hand. It was a slow art, one of patience, presence and gentleness. I was glad that it was being kept alive. Hala mentioned that in the fashion industry, clothing described as haute couture, which translates as “high sewing”, were sown and finished by hand from high quality fabrics with great attention to detail. This gave me a renewed appreciation for some obscure high end pieces I had seen from time to time on TV for their role in preserving handmade clothing through appreciation for the craft. When Hala was living in Italy, there was an abundance of local markets and specialized craft shops, which meant that she had access to quality sustainable materials freely. Here, this wasn’t the case. The optimist in me thought, “Yes, but what you’re doing here is so impactful. Through your commitment to slow fashion, you create demand. You create a market. You create a movement.”

I learned from Hala that the root of the slow fashion movement has a lot in common with the values that fashion stood for before it became mechanized: the timeless craft of patiently creating something aesthetically beautiful and emotionally moving. These were the same principles behind movements like the slow food movement, promoting slow grown natural food and the art of cooking, or behind mindful living, which celebrates finding joy in simple pleasures and everyday experiences. These movements encourage us to slow down, savor, simplify, and refine our sense of quality and taste. The offer more than just “things”: they are invitations to add depth, presence and connection to all parts of our lives.

This article was written by Mashael Fakhro, an environmentalist by background with a love for sustainable and simple living.

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