My rationale for filling my closet with pieces from small, mostly female-owned businesses is pretty straight forward: I care about people. I care about the women in my immediate community, and throughout the country. I care about the women and dudes who sew the things I put on my body. I care about their quality of life, their children’s quality of life, and their safety. It really boils down to the simple acknowledgement that we as humans all deserve the same amount of respect and dignity. No piece of clothing is more important than a person’s life.
Luckily, I’m not the only one who feels this way. To say that I admire Jesse Kamm would be a bit of an understatement. Not only does she own and design her own exquisite made-in-California line, but she is fierce in her convictions (especially on the sustainability front), sharp as all hell, and somehow seems to exude both grace and strength in everything she does. If you’re not familiar, just spend a few minutes acquainting yourself with her style, or read a few interviews and you’ll see what I mean. I adore the way she plays around with handsome yet femme looks, while striking a perfectly laid-back California vibe. Also, she and her husband built (with their own two hands) an off the grid home in Panama where they spend summers surfing with their son. It’s all too much.
When I first laid eyes on Jesse Kamm’s infamous sailor pants, I knew I had to have them. They are to many people (myself included), a paragon of the slow fashion, minimalist scene. But beyond the gorgeous colors and highly flattering effect they have on one's derriere, I am deeply attracted to the story they embody. Kamm started her company 12 years ago, and was its sole employee for the first decade of its existence. She sewed her pieces herself in her California studio, and still hand delivers orders to local stockists. She touts minimalism in a way that doesn’t make it feel cold or unobtainable – she merely gets what she needs, is resourceful with how she maintains what she owns, and looks for opportunities to slow things down and savor. Strength and grace, right?
Now, for the investment. Perhaps this will come as a surprise to you, but my Kamm pants (which retail for $395) are not brand new. While I am still saving up for a pair in midnight blue, I’m also operating on a nonprofit salary, meaning the saving is steady, but slow. In the meantime, I happened across a pair of slightly worn Salt White pants for sale on Instagram of all places, and jumped at the chance to snatch a pair up for myself at a deep discount. While they did have some stains on the knees, and a yellowed (maybe bleach?) mark on the side of leg, I worked at them for several days with baking soda and hydrogen peroxide and I’m proud to say the pants now look brand new. There’s not a stain in sight. It somehow feels aligned with Kamm’s whole mission – the pants needed some work so I got resourceful, put in some serious hours, and now get to reap the benefits with enormous appreciation and satisfaction.
I posted on Instagram a while ago to publicly celebrate the amazing slow fashion mavens out there who are getting vocal during this tumultuous time in our country’s history. I’m proud to support people who use their gifts, or their platform to contribute to the greater good. Kamm is no exception. Her journal posts are not to be missed. I know they are pants, but buying into what Kamm is creating (even if through a local SF seller for this first pair) feels bigger than what any one closet can contain.
I'd like to take a moment to touch on another Kamm note. One of the biggest ethical issues I grapple with these days is how to consistently support local businesses in the age of fast fashion and Amazon. Add San Francisco’s gentrification issues into the mix and the whole thing becomes even murkier. Here’s what Kamm says on the matter:
“My home town is still quaint, but the charm is far less tender. It was the Walmart that did it in, and the fast-food chains. By buying into the slightly lower cost of the goods at these corporate chains, we forgot about the greater cost to our community. The cost to the pride of the people who owned those shops, and the people who worked there. It was convenient to go to the Walmart and the Hardee's, but we forgot about the great inconvenience it would later create once our community had lost the very soul that made it so special.”
I don’t know what San Francisco’s soul looks like these days. I know many feel that it has been irreparably damaged, if not lost completely—its vibrancy and grungy charm all but extinguished as the cost of living continues to climb. We’re not waging a war against big box stores the same way small towns have and do, but we are losing longstanding institutions all the same. Even having spent just six years in our little neighborhood, the transformation has been astounding. Where once stood dollar stores and cheap eats now live trendy boutiques and wine bars. I will not feign naïveté while bemoaning their existence; I know they were built for me.
My task then becomes to invest in the longstanding small businesses that are still around, while supporting the new up-and-comers that are doing their part to try and thwart the spread of the big box/Amazon/fast fashion ethos. This is what I consider when bringing things into our home. I want my to consumer choices to fuel something larger, something bigger, something better. If I get the greatest pair of pants I’ve ever worn out of the deal, then that’s just icing on the cake.