Burke Residency 11: Slow Process•
Posted on May 20 2021
EMMA: Hi Sam, I’m thrilled to have a chance to learn a little bit more about your work—thank you for taking the time to answer my questions!
To start, could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit of the story that brought you to creating Slow Process?
SAM: Thanks for taking the time to ask me some really thoughtful questions! My name’s Sam Zollman, I’m the designer/cutter/sewist/
Slow Process started after college when I was quite lonely and unhappy living abroad to teach English. I was spending a lot of time questioning who I was and what the hell I was doing now that the structure of academia was gone. I planned on pursuing a career in children’s media after my year teaching, but I also didn’t want a job to be my whole identity. I eventually had the epiphany that, above all else, I might be an artist who hadn’t found his medium. Since I’d always loved clothing, I decided to see how hard it would be to make a shirt. I YouTubed a timelapse tutorial, was like “Wow, look how fast she made that sick shirt!” and decided that I’d take some sewing lessons when I moved back to the States.
And that’s really exactly what I did. I spent six weeks going to my hometown fabric store where I worked my way up from making a pillowcase to sewing a shirt from a pattern. When I moved back to Boston to start a job in children’s media, I made sure to make time for sewing in the evenings. I feel like it was within the first few months that I realized that the job was fine, but sewing was actually fulfilling to me. I kept pouring my time into learning about fashion and garment construction. I lofted out my bed to make space for a cutting table, and I bought more sewing machines. I finally set a goal that, in one year’s time, I’d have my first collection of garments to show friends. I just aimed for something cohesive that expressed who I was, and my designs slowly coalesced around a softer, more tender vision of menswear. By my debut show in June 2018, I’d given Slow Process its name, put in my two weeks at my job, and decided I’d move back to Vermont where I could have a little more space to see what SP could become.
Oh, and four years later, I’m still trying to perfect a button down shirt.
E: I’m curious to hear how you came to name your label Slow Process and if you would elaborate on what it signifies for you.
S: What I like about the name Slow Process is how some people just take the name literally. Like, yes making clothing literally takes a long time. Even from a surface level, they get that there’s a deliberate, thoughtful element to what I’m doing. What I’m also after, though, is more of that internal “slow process” of coming to understand who you are on your own terms. I believe everything worthwhile in life takes time--relationships, building a business, self-growth. There aren’t shortcuts to the things that really matter. Meanwhile, we live in a capitalist culture that overvalues efficiency. If something is slow, it’s viewed as a problem to fix. Where is that taking us?
I’ve found a lot of meaning in decoupling my identity from my job, and beginning a practice of working with my hands. I love making clothes because it expresses who I am creatively, and I think that garments that resonate with the wearer can be especially transformative, too. We experience a lot of pressure every day to do things that don’t align with our values, and the best thing we can do is slow down and ask ourselves who we are and where we’d like to be.
E: If you’ll allow me to fan out for a moment, I’d like to express my delight with the physical label you sew into your garments. It’s such a charming nod to vintage labels and I love that you’ve incorporated (and made literal) the tag line “Fixing the male uniform.” Could you tell us a little more about your intervention into the male uniform and your approach to “modern masculinity”?
S: Thank you so much for noticing that! Building off the previous question, I think the biggest perpetrators of the “efficiency = good, slow = bad” ideology are mostly cis men (of which I am one). Capitalism and patriarchy are inseparable, and we already know capitalism is impossibly shortsighted, wasteful, and destructive. I guess I started to notice that the “male uniform” embodies this same way of thinking. From a young age, boys are encouraged to trash their clothes with the expectation their mother’s will clean or fix them. As adults, the male wardrobe is a narrow selection of garments designed to make getting dressed quick and easy. And if you spill coffee on your shirt, it’s easy to replace. There’s nothing exciting or precious about “men’s clothing.”
To me ‘fixing the male uniform’ starts with making clothing that’s special and beautiful. Easy clothing has its place, but I think everyone wants something beautiful. Masculinity, in particular, doesn’t give many examples of what beautiful looks like. To help build that connection, I like to start from a classic silhouette--like a baseball jersey--but use a fabric with a story, like vintage floral tablecloths. The finished garment is unique and full of character, but still resembles something familiar and nostalgic.
And I’ve noticed a real change take place when my customer tries on a Slow Process piece. There’s a new appreciation for what they’re wearing, and the way they carry themselves is a little different. They feel special in it. Clothing becomes something to treasure and take care of, and an extension of yourself. My bigger hope is that this reframing, this new appreciation for something slow and thoughtful, extends into other aspects of my customer’s life.
E: Along these lines, looking at your clothing, I immediately relate to the love of vintage and history that’s so clear in your designs; what’s more, I have the familiar sense of nostalgia for something that’s simultaneously compelling and alienating. (Your reference to “No crying in baseball” in the lookbook for your current season gets at exactly what I’m thinking about here.) I’m wondering if you could talk about how you mine this tension as a creative spring board and gateway for intervention?
S: I love vintage clothing, particularly workwear, because that’s where so much of the contemporary male wardrobe draws its inspiration. There’s so much imagery, story, and design to reference. What I’ve never vibed with though is how other brands rely on hyper-masculine imagery to sell their versions of this clothing--something like cowboys, motorcyclists, or old-timey factory workers. As you pointed out, my current collection interrogates a lot of these same themes in baseball, which is a game I love dearly. As a man, it’s all compelling lore, but every time I situate myself against these archetypes, I feel inadequate or like I don’t belong. I’ve never seen myself as a stoic or particularly tough Man, and I also don’t own a horse.
Slow Process to me is about reconciling the tension between who these garments were originally designed for--in all of its fiction--and who the actual wearer is today. When I design a denim jacket, of course I’m referencing the classic Levi’s Type III or a French chore coat. But I want my version to be something that welcomes who we are--not something stifling or costume-y.
E: Your garment work so clearly has stakes in social amelioration while it also pays homage to history and where we’ve come from. Could you share your approach to time and history and what it is about history and vintage textiles that make for your preferred medium to bring about this kind of social updating?
S: I think people are better able to see humanity in vintage goods. Our grandparents took great care of their belongings, and had a much deeper relationship with their possessions. Whether it’s vintage textiles or furniture, I think we pick up on that connection. I know when I find a beautiful, old piece of fabric, I feel a responsibility to make it into something especially well-made and special, almost out of respect to its origins.
When people buy a garment from me that’s made from vintage textiles, they’re connecting themselves to a narrative that’s greater than themselves. There’s the connection to me and my craft. There’s the story of the fabric itself and the story of the design. And all of that is connected to a set of values that is grounded in something other than capitalism.
E: I’d love to hear more about your approach to the intersecting relationships between garment, identity, & utility.
In the old days, a garment’s utility was more about its literal functionality, but today I think utility is more about how well it expresses yourself. I know personally I have days that I want to wear something incredibly practical, and other days I want to wear something soft and special. The way we each ascribe identity to these different genres varies person to person, but ultimately, if you like the way a garment suits your lifestyle, and expresses yourself and your values, that’s a good piece to own. I try to design from my own authentic identity, and be honest with myself and with others that my designs are rooted in “menswear.” What happens after that is really up to the wearer.
E: To conclude, what is bringing you joy and inspiring you these days?
My partner and I just started our garden, and the prospect of fresh veggies in our backyard feels amazing! And Burlington really comes alive in the summer, so I’m incredibly excited to enjoy some lakeside beers, evening swims, and some long overdue hugs from friends.
E: Again, Sam, thank you so much!
SHOP THE SLOW PROCESS RESIDENCY COLLECTION HERE.