Chicago Humanities Festival Goes Slow

Chicago Humanities Festival Goes Slow

The Chicago Humanities Festival - an annual gathering of ideas, humanities, and exploration - is taking on the theme of Speed this fall. So naturally, they're also exploring the counterpoint of speed - slowing down. They're inviting us all to take a pause (if we can) between October 29 - November 12, to explore speeding up, slowing down, the push and pull on our pace of life... including Slow Food! 



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    Slow Chicagoans : Pear Tree Preserves + Hewn

    The Kirkwoods - Susie and Dieter.

    The Kirkwoods - Susie and Dieter.

    Ever witness the perfect marriage? Susie and Dieter Kirkwood are not only a married couple, but their passions also blend pretty well - slow food and slow fashion. Susie, of Pear Tree Preserves, crafts small batch preserves made with completely midwestern sourced  produce. Dieter, of Hewn, crafts minimalist bags and garments locally here in Chicago. The parallels between Slow Food and Slow Fashion are so intertwined and consumers are beginning to take notice. Luckily, if this crossover interests you - Susie and Dieter have got you covered! They will be joining forces for a pop-up at Boombox in Wicker Park later this month. (Keep an eye out for info about a opening celebration complete with sparkling jam mocktails.) From July 26th through August 1st, you can shop both of their "slow" wares. And if you're looking for more, there will also be a couple of workshops you can partake in - intro to canning and intro to leather craft, both available for purchase on the Pear Tree website (registration in advance is recommended). Until then, let's get down to it. Susie and Dieter share what makes their processes in both the food and the fashion worlds good, clean and fair.

    What would you be doing right now on a typical workday?

    Susie : By day I am a freelance graphic designer and I squeeze in Pear Tree wherever it happens to fit. So on any given day I could be sitting in a design meeting one hour then in the kitchen making jam or picking up bushels of fruit the next. I feel very lucky to be able to have that variety in my work.

    Dieter : A typical studio day is a mix of designing, making, and research. Currently, it's the afternoon so I'd be working on new designs and prototypes. Sometimes that means drafting patterns on paper, other times working 3 dimesionally with materials. Most of my handbags/carrygoods start with quick form studies made out of whatever rigid material I have on hand and masking tape.

    What's the best part about your job? The hardest part?

    Susie : The best part about making jam is definitely the actual production. It's fun to make and it's fun to test new flavors. The hardest part for me is when I have to process the fruit (peeling, pitting, cutting), it gets very tedious and really tiring. I think pears and peaches are the worst - they are usually too soft to put through the apple peeler, so it's very time consuming.

    Dieter : The best part of what I do is the working exchange between thinking and making. Design is about questioning, applying, and responding. For me, quality design requires understanding of the final use and knowledge of how that design can best be realized. There is no better feeling than sketching out an idea, engineering the best way to make it, then 5 hours later having a prototype in your hands. Executing each step in that process gives a great sense of accomplishment. Hardest part, which is also one of the most important, is in the editing. Since I currently produce all of the items for Hewn, there is a limited amount of resources and time to dedicate to a final design. So some tough decisions need to be made about which key details to focus on and which designs will be produced.

    What do you think is the biggest obstacle for Chicago's fashion systems (particularly in regards to "slow" + sustainable fashion) to overcome? How does this relate to any obstacles you are aware of in our food system?

    Dieter : Number one would be infrastructure. Chicago lost most of the ancillary business, artisans and craftspeople that are vital to the overall fashion industry through United States policies and trade deals. Also, as with our food system, education is important. Both fashion and the food industry can be a resource intensive endeavor, knowing the real costs of the foods and fashions we as a society purchase can allow consumers to make choices that are better for the environment, others, and most importantly, themselves.

    What do you think is the biggest obstacle for Chicago's food systems to overcome?

    Susie : I think the problems Chicago has are not unique to the city and I see lots of very passionate efforts to improve things. From the segregation in Chicago contributing to pockets of food deserts to the general disconnect between food and agriculture. We are lucky to have many great organizations addressing these issues with urban gardens for learning and job training and producing fresh food for these areas. I think there needs to be a shift in how people think of food costs. When you are a small producer, you see and experience what goes into producing good, honest products and realize that the cost is sometimes more than people are willing to pay.

    What wins - avocado toast vs. artichoke toast?

    Susie : I would be very happy if either of these items were placed in front of me.

    Dieter : As Susie can attest to, I have a strong and visceral negative reaction to avocado, something about its' texture. So I'm in the artichoke camp.

    What do you think should be up for 2016's trendiest food item - kale's successor?

    Susie : Good question! Beets? I'm saying beets... only time will tell.

    What is your favorite Chicago food related social media account to follow?

    Susie : I love Pastoral Cheese's instagram, Cellar Door Provisions has super dreamy food photography, also Spinning J & The Logan Square Farmers Market has been pretty great lately... I could go on and on!

    How does your work relate to the Slow Food objectives (good, clean, fair)?

    Susie : I relate to these objectives personally and in my business. Pear Tree Preserves uses only locally sourced produce, working seasonally and directly with the farms. It is made with love in small batches by hand and sold locally. I think of it as a collaboration with the midwestern growers. Personally, I have always loved to bake and cook and realize that those things are so much more fun, and rewarding using the best ingredients. We have a couple of chickens in our backyard for fresh eggs and some fruit trees, as well as veggies and herbs in the summer!

    Dieter : Being married to a slow food producer and advocate has certainly informed the way I think about fashion and consumption as a whole. My former work in the industry followed the calcified and typical fashion playbook. We designed 2 collections a year, showed during NYC Fashion Week, adhered to the calendar that puts winter coats in stores around August and summer garments in February, and all the while felt a disconnect to the work and wearer. I'm now much more conscious and conscientious of how and why I produce bags and garments, focusing on smaller runs.

    What local sources do you employ to create your pieces? Why is it important to you to source local (in fashion, in food, or both)? What sustainable practices do you employ to make your pieces?

    Dieter : It's important to think about where and how the products we bring into our lives are produced. More important to sourcing local is sourcing quality (and here I mean quality in the final material along with consideration for the labour practices and resources used). To source local for local sake doesn't make much sense to me, luckily in my experience local and quality often go hand in hand.

    The materials I use, which influence the design outcomes, are ones that I can see, touch, experiment, and engage with. So for instance, if I am going to work with leathers it makes sense to find local purveyors, such as Horween, since within 10 minutes I can be in their factory talking with the makers and seeing various options. By building a relationship with the artisans that produce materials, I get a better understanding of their properties, inherent beauty and qualities. This arrangement also has the added benefit of a smaller travel footprint of the materials that go into the final designs.

    One of the facets of sustainability I focus on is longevity. By keeping longevity and functionality in mind, my aim is to create season-neutral bags and garments that emphasize permanence, an idea that runs counter to current mainstream industry thinking. "Fast fashion" is ubiquitous in our society and as a result clothes have become increasingly disposable. It is cheaper to manufacture impermanence for a throw away culture than to create garments made to last. This, coupled with the increased pace with which fashion trends are born and die due to social media gives the industry market incentive to create clothing with a limited lifespan. In response, I employ design elements with an expression of simplicity allowing the garments to remain viable as trends come and go. 

    Why Chicago? If not Chicago, where?

    Susie : I love Chicago, that pretty much says it all. Moving to the midwest from Florida was an adventure that changed my life. I feel right at home here and I am thankful that my son can grow up in such a culturally diverse and beautiful city!

    Dieter : Both Susie and I are from Florida, and since moving to Chicago in 2001 have really taken to the cultural vibrancy and creative community of Chicago. There is an appreciation of quality food and design and so many opportunities to learn about and experience both. If not Chicago, then Japan. Japan has such a rich history and breathtaking landscapes.

    Hungry for more? 

    Keep in touch with Susie's preserve making here :

    Website / Facebook / Instagram

    And watch Dieter's fashion company, Hewn here :

    Website / Instagram

    Slow Chicagoans : Slow Fashion Edition

    Jamie Hayes and Gerry Quinton are two Chicago gals you're going to want to get to know. Not only are they Chicagoans - who more than approve of the avocado toast trend (more on that later) - but they also just happen to be changing how we think about fashion. And they sure got this Chicagoan doing some heavy thinking after having a chance to talk shop with them. Together, they own Department of Curiosities in Logan Square - a collaborative space housing Jamie's company Production Mode and Gerry's Morua. Ethical leather and corsets, oh my! I know. Are you as excited as I am? Okay. Good. Without further ado - let's get to the good stuff.

    What would you be doing right now on a typical workday?

    Wearing so many hats! We produce our lines ourselves, in-house, so a typical day would include cutting for production, sewing or working with our stitcher to have work sewn, inspecting work, not to mention researching, sketching and pattern making for lines in development, fitting work on clients and fit models, and marketing, selling, and shipping work. And of course super glamorous work like taking out the trash and trips to the hardware store round out our days.

    What's the best part about your job? The hardest part?

    The best part is autonomy - we can create whatever interests us. We can schedule our days in the ways that work best for us. We can surround ourselves with a community of creative people and clients that inspire us.

    The hardest part is staying organized and focused. When everything and anything is possible, it's so important to create and maintain parameters for working. It's hard to switch hats so many times during the day and for us, this year will be about how best to organize and use our limited time and resources, and figuring out when and how to delegate/collaborate with other people so as to continue to create and produce at a high and satisfying level.

    What do you think is the biggest obstacle for Chicago's fashion systems (particularly in regards to "slow" / sustainable fashion) to overcome? How does this relate to any obstacles you are aware of in our food system?

    NAFTA and subsequent trade agreements have meant that in the past 25 years we've gone from having over 50% of our clothing manufactured in the US to merely 2%. So our infrastructure, from weaving mills to fabric sales reps to patternmakers to contractors, has been decimated. Add to that the rise of fast fashion in our industry, and domestic designers really have trouble competing - especially since many customers now are really only familiar with fast fashion and may not understand the differences in quality - not to mention the deleterious effects of fast fashion on the health of workers, our economy, and the planet. The appreciation of quality fabrics, cut, and construction is also diminished by fast fashions emphasis on disposable clothing and ever-evolving trends. Plus it's rare for people to learn how to sew these days and thus our connection to how clothing is made has been diminished.

    Many similar same obstacles exist in the food industry, and many have been addressed by the slow food movement - so we're very inspired! For example, as consumers of food, over the past several generations, we've been increasingly disconnected from the sources of our food supply - because much of our food is coming from far away places, because it's often being grown by vast agribusiness, and because much of it is processed into something that barely resembles food.

    The effects of these issues are similar in both the food and garment industry - small farmers struggle to stay on their land, whether growing food or natural fibers for processing into cloth or livestock for wool or leather are grown on farms, and struggle to compete when using "slower" practices like organic and free-range farming. In the fashion industry, we also have the issue of vulnerable workers (often young girls sent from the rural villages where farmers are struggling to keep their land) migrating to mega-cities to work in the garment industry for 80+ hours/week for very little pay, often sending the majority of their pay back home to try to keep families on their land or to fund the education of children in the family. Because production happens somewhere so far away, because we no longer understand the vast amount of human labor that goes into making clothing, and because the price of clothing is so cheap now, it's easy to forget to value clothing at all - it's become a disposable commodity.

    In doing so, we lose so much. Not only do farmers and garment workers suffer from low pay, but also the planet suffers because so much of the industry is unregulated and dyes, pesticides, and chemicals resulting from garment manufacturing are being dumped into our soil and waterways. Not to mention the vast amounts of textiles that end up in landfills each year. But also notable is that we've lost our connection to our clothing. Clothing - like food - can be a source of joy, culture, and self-expression. We have to get dressed everyday so we might as well make what we wear reflect our values and personality and choose something meaningful and healthful, to workers, the planet, and to ourselves.

    A Production Mode black leather bag.

    A Production Mode black leather bag.

    What wins for fashionista brunch - avocado toast or artichoke toast?

    Avocado toast! Gerry was born and raised in Costa Rica with native avocados and then lived many years in England where the avocados are very sad and subpar. Jamie has always lived in the not-tropical Midwest and would consider a localvore diet if avocados and mangos were allowed exceptions!

    What is your favorite Chicago Fashion related social media account to follow? Are there any Chicago food related account you follow that stand out (aside from SFC, duh)?

    Chicago Fair Trade! The Fair Trade movement is another place where slow food, fashion and appreciation of craft and artisanal production meet.

    A stunning and romantic corset piece by Morua.

    A stunning and romantic corset piece by Morua.

    How does your work relate to the Slow Food objectives (good, clean, fair)?

    Jamie's line Production Mode uses vegetable tanned leather produced by local, unionized tannery Horween. The tannery provides living wage jobs, in Chicago, and so do we! Also, vegetable tanning is a slow, traditional process that uses only vegetable matter to tan the hides. This process is in contrast to the chrome tanning used in 90% of leather production in the fashion industry. Chrome tanning uses chromium - a heavy metal that can become carcinogenic if not properly disposed. Plus, vegetable tanning produces a beautifully variegated hide that develops a beautiful patina as it ages, and thus lasts much longer than chrome tanned hides.

    Gerry's line Morua is focused on creating perfectly fitted heirlooms. They are the antithesis of fast fashion. Corsets and gowns are hand-crafted from start to finish for each individual. Measurements are carefully taken and several fittings are needed for a bespoke piece. Each pattern is drafted to the client's measurements, hand-cut from specialty and luxury fabrics, and stitched one by one in our workshop. The metal bones for corsetry are hand cut to size and tipped on our very own workbench. Finally, the binding is hand stitched invisibly and embellishments are applied by hand. Many of our favorite embellishments are antique laces, buttons, rhinestones and trims. These are not only one of a kind but were made in a time when more care and artistry were put into these objects. The amount of work that goes into an elaborate piece is more than in a hundred fast fashion dresses. The result is a cherished, well-fitting piece that will stand the test of time.

    Jointly, under the Department of Curiosities brand, we are designing a line of 1930's and 40's - inspired silk lingerie. It will be handmade in our Chicago studio, beautiful, and built to last. We're currently in talks with mills in Italy and fair trade producers of hand-woven goods in India to find the prefect, high-quality, ethically-made fabric.

    Most important to both of us is the concept of transparency. This concept of provenance of materials and labor is unfortunately still very rare in the fashion industry, mostly because brands are cutting corners everywhere they can and don't want to be held responsible for tragedies like the Rana Plaza Factory collapse of 2013 in Bangladesh in which over 1,000 workers were killed in a totally preventable - and foreseen - building collapse.

    A close up detail of one of Production Mode's vegetable-tanned leather pieces.

    A close up detail of one of Production Mode's vegetable-tanned leather pieces.

    What local sources do you employ to create your pieces? Why is it important to you to source local (in fashion, in food, or both!)?

    We love to support local sources! It's a challenge to do so, however, because Chicago's fashion industry has dwindled so much in the past generation. Still, we're beginning to see things turn around in the US as more and more small brands and manufacturers enter the US market and more and more consumers begin to ask questions about where and how things are made.

    As mentioned above, Production Mode sources leather from Horween tannery, located just a mile or so from our shop at Armitage and Elston. The natural color leather used in the line has been embellished with a screen print executed by Chicago artist Nora Renick-Rhinehart

    Morua faces more challenges in sourcing locally. Corsetry relies on metal components from the medical industry of which the best come from Germany. Likewise, specialty heritage textiles specially made that have been in continuous production in Europe for over a century are not available in the US. Morua does source and re-purpose vintage and antique components for decorating and embellishment and supports as many small local distributors and manufacturers as possible.

    Both of us cut and sew in-house so we keep it very local in that regard!

    Likewise, our shop is located in Logan Square and we both live in the neighborhood and love our Sunday farmer's market.

    All that said, we still love our non-local avocados and silks from abroad.

    How do you see your corsets in particular (a fashion staple from the past) as a piece vital for the fashion movement of the present?

    Corsets are fascinating for many reasons, including their loaded history, and the myths and assumptions that surround them. I don't see them as items of fashion, but as wearable objet d'art : little luxuries with the power to transform. For a wedding they are lovely and create the ultimate romantic silhouette; as undergarments they are supportive and empowering and for some even healing; and for special occasions and performance they are delectable showpieces.

    A hand-crafted corset by Morua.

    A hand-crafted corset by Morua.

    Why Chicago? And if not Chicago, where?

    Chicago rents are so cheap that we can afford (barely!) our beautiful production space/showroom. We couldn't afford a similar space in say, New York. Also we are very inspired by our membership in the Leagues of Women Designers (LWD) - in fact we'll be hosting a show of member work at our space this December. As noted recently in Forbes magazine, Chicago has the highest percentage of female entrepreneurs in the world. We definitely feel that love and support here in Chicago!

    Gerry lived in London for many years before moving back to Chicago and still travels there to work regularly. As a source of inspiration the layers of history, multicultural collage and creative street fashion, London is phenomenal. A part of Morua is always in London.

    If not Chicago, Jamie could see herself potentially in Mexico City, where she worked for several months with a labor rights organization. Mexico City got a hold on her heart - the delicious food, community of artists and artisans, and its rich textile traditions.

    Want to learn more about these fascinating fashion ladies? Check out the links below.

    Department of Curiosities / Facebook

    Production Mode / Facebook / Instagram / Blog / Horween 

    Morua / Facebook / Instagram