Grace Longo sits up on their couch with a heap of yarn on their lap. Dark black goggle-like glasses covered their eyes as a bunny balaclava began to take shape from their fiddling needles.

Longo was crocheting, and had been for hours.

“I would pick it up, get it all tied into a knot, then throw it away, then pick it up another three months later,” Longo said.

Three days and one sleepless night later, Longo’s unique headwear was done and, just like that, all the long knots full of hours of frustration and desire were worth it.

“I wanted to be able to make things that I couldn’t buy,” Longo said. “Or ideas that I had, I wanted to bring them to fruition.”

Longo had created something unique for them, and it felt amazing, they said.

According to an article published by BBC, crocheting is a popular creative hobby these days, regaining popularity during the pandemic. With a push for more sustainable and conscious practices, the hobby falls into a bigger scheme, the “slow fashion” movement. At Cal Poly, the movement takes its shape in the form of communities working to lead their lives according to the movement’s core principles.

According to a 2013 study, slow fashion is a movement that borrows its name from the 1980s slow food movement. The two distinctly separate movements share a lot of the same philosophies. Just like the slow food movement calls for more forethought of food production and consumption, the slow fashion does the same thing, but with clothes.

FITS cyanotype workshop results. Komo Assi | Courtesy Credits: Komo Assi / Courtesy

Slow fashion works to visualize the entire fashion system in a more sustainable context. According to a 2013 study, the slow fashion movement has grown from preexisting concepts like sustainability and social responsibility. It focuses on bridging concepts as diverse as design planning, production sourcing, and consumer education to create a more sustainable process.

Cal Poly students passionate about the movement push for more ethical and sustainable ways to express themselves through fashion. They work to amplify conversations and action around the subject by hosting discussions as well as educational opportunities.

The Fashion, Innovation, Trendsetting and Styling club (FITS) and the Sustainable Fashion Club (SFC), are two larger Cal Poly groups leading slow fashion efforts. Students in these clubs have found outlets to create clothing and discuss ideas related to fashion, trends, consumerism, creativity and environmental concerns.

SFC hosts educational meetings on various topics within the sustainability and fashion sphere. Previous discussion topics have focused on production pitfalls textiles making, ethical and inclusive practices within the fashion industry, and environmental racism as it relates to sustainability.

FITS hosts events that give students the opportunity to develop their craftsmanship skills. Among these are hand and machine sewing classes, crochet workshops and cyanotype (a process that uses sunlight to create prints) workshops for students of experience levels. The skills learned at these events, work to give students personal toolsets to make, upkeep and personalize their clothing for years to come.

Both clubs host various markets and clothing swaps throughout the year.

“I’m really lucky to be in a community where that is so abundant,” Co-President of Cal Poly Club FITS Komo Assi said regarding the role of slow fashion in the San Luis Obispo community.

FITS aims to create a community for fashion enthusiasts and creatives at Cal Poly.

“We actually used to be called FAST, so we were called the fast fashion club…but that’s not who we were,” Assi said.

One of the club’s main goals is to promote slow fashion practices in San Luis Obispo. So they rebranded to FITS to clarify that they are anti-fast fashion.

“Our club is literally promoting slow fashion practices and teaching people the skills that they need in order to stretch the lifespan of all their pieces as well as just to personalize everything,” Assi said.

But they are not the only ones.

“Slow fashion is what it’s all about,” SFC president and environmental management and protection senior Lenaya Gonzales said.

The club’s mission is to advocate for ecological integrity and social justice through fashion. According to Gonzales, SFC works to do this by following the three pillars in their mission statement: education, artistry and community.

“Our club really talks about fast fashion and the impacts of that, but we aren’t focused on just that issue, it really is slow fashion and students how can practice that,” Gonzales said.

According to Gonzales, college is a time where many people begin to form their habits for the rest of their life. It’s a time where buying habits and the decisions on the kinds of things they purchase can be shifted.

“You really have a lot of power at this stage of your life to kind of make those choices and decide on your personal principles,” Gonzales said.

This is one of the reasons SFC hosts their educational events.

Hooked Apparel clothing rack at sale on Dexter Lawn. Madison Hirsch | Courtesy Credits: Madison Hirsch/Courtesy

“So learning how to buy clothes that are one, affordable for what I can have and that also make me feel comfortable and safe and able to express myself in that nonverbal way,” Gonzales said.

The workshops that FITS and SFC offer give students a toolset to navigate the fashion sphere. One can sew their own clothing to make a quality piece, upcycle old clothes into something new, fix broken items to give them a new life, or even crochet clothing items and accessories to create a unique long lasting piece.

This is what creative crocheters Longo and Madison Hirsch focus most of their time on. Longo is a plant sciences senior who crochets mostly hats and accessories for themselves and their friends. Hirsch is a business senior who crochets mostly hats as well, but also has created other clothing pieces like skirts, bikini tops, shrugs and more.

Hooked Apparel crocheted tote bag. Madison Hirsch | Courtesy

Hirsch has a small business called Hooked Apparel that she started around two years ago after learning how to crochet from a friend. She sells her items on Depop and at in person markets in San Luis Obispo. Hirsch finds that the hobby of hers provides her with a fun creative outlet as well as tying her into the bigger community of small businesses with a slow fashion focus.

“I feel like SLO has so many individuals that like creating and doing their own thing and it’s really cool,” Hirsch said.

Longo does not sell their items but has thought about it. They are more so value making items for themselves and their friends.

Both Longo and Hirsch said there was some frustration when learning the craft, but they have ultimately found a lot of joy in the practice of crocheting.

“It’s a commitment, it takes dedication, you just are so much more able to express yourself truly by taking time picking the clothes that you wear and especially making them,” Longo said.

One thing Longo, Hirsch, Assi and Gonzales all have in common is their love for fashion. Each of them has expressed their conscientious decision to participate in slow fashion communities one way or another. They do this through shopping second hand, supporting local businesses, upkeeping old clothing and even creating quality items.

“It’s the idea of ​​loving the items that you wear, taking care of them and understanding that they have value not only to you but to the planet,” Gonzales said.

On a college campus that Assi describes as having “sustainability as the majority mindset,” elements of the slow fashion movement and creativity have nested themselves within student communities.

“It adds a kind of swag to your style,” Longo said. “I mean, it’s undeniable.”