By: Bella McDonald By: Bella McDonald | July 20, 2022 | Culture People Style & Beauty Feature Community Fashion Features
Photo by Gloria Araya
In a society where many things are fast — food, fashion, etc. — Jamie Hayes, a female business owner, designer, and fair trade advocate, is taking it slow. Working to integrate the creative process of clothing design with sustainable techniques, often called slow fashion, the founder of Chicago-based clothing brand Production Mode brings a unique flair to the ethical fashion scene in Chicago.
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Years before the idea of slow fashion was discussed on a large scale, Chicago-based fashion designer and patternmaker Jamie Hayes witnessed the damage that unethical working conditions and crafting techniques have on the lives of real people and the environment.
“In the early 2000s, people weren't really talking about sweatshops. People weren't talking about the environment like they are now,” says Hayes, reflecting on her journey of discovery while working in the fashion industry. “But I became friends with all the stitchers that I worked with, and they all had similar stories of exploitation. I learned that it’s not an isolated incident. It's not rare, it's not particular to this country or that country. It's just pervasive within the industry.”
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Fast fashion, the process of creating and introducing new clothing styles into the market at rapidly increasing rates, contributes to waste and pollution while encouraging the general public to purchase new clothing on an accelerated basis. Oftentimes, pieces are only made to withstand one wear and are discarded after the fact. Consequently, the fashion industry is one of the major contributors to pollution, with 85% of textiles heading to landfills each year and 500,000 microfibers making their way into the ocean each year, according to Earth.org.
The designer connected with fashion long before her entrance into the business. As a young girl, she learned to sew from her mother and grandmother, who was a dressmaker. While in college, Hayes began to sew more seriously, taking classes in the basement of a fabric store. The instructor “was a real genius… being able to learn at her feet was really inspiring,” says Hayes.
“One thing that's so lovely about design and sewing is that at the end of the day, you have this manifestation of your work that you can show people, and with fashion especially, you can wear it,” says Hayes.
While the Chicago-based designer doesn’t specialize in vintage reproduction, she does take nods from iconic designers of the past, such as Madeleine Vionnet, a French cutter who popularized the bias cut. She saw that “there was a real ingenuity in what they were doing and a respect for the cloth,” says Hayes.
Production Mode Fluid Jumpsuit in silk crepe and wool Maxi coat. Photo by Carlos Moore. Model is Rebecca Uy. Hair and makeup by Lia Rivette.
Years later, she now owns a clothing label, designing ethically-made garments for men and women. Production Mode’s model is one of slow manufacturing, employing stitchers and cutters directly in order to avoid the use of contractors or subcontractors. Hayes’s dedication to the slow fashion model ensures that workers are paid a living wage while the garments are durable and made-to-order, including options for both standard sizing and customized measurements.
But the positive qualities don’t end there. In addition to designing, creating, and selling clothing that is made to last, Hayes has integrated other artistic elements into her business. Each of Production Mode’s collections is a collaboration with artists, including textile designers, artisans, musicians, dancers, and performers who work together to further the story of fashion as an art in itself.
One of the most recent collections, entitled Move / Repeat, was launched at Hyde Park Art Center. Featuring dancers dressed in pieces from the collection, the fashion show included dancing, originally-composed live music, and beautiful set pieces that coordinated with the designs.
The artistic elements were a deciding factor in Hayes’s choice to found her business in Chicago. While New York and Los Angeles may be more well-known hubs for fashion, Chicago “is collaborative… It’s a very artistic community,” says Hayes.
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A post shared by Production Mode // Jamie Hayes (@productionmode)
Fashion is often viewed as a cutthroat business (think The Devil Wears Prada), but the Production Mode founder has had an entirely different experience from those working in even bigger cities, such as New York.
“My colleagues here in Chicago are so wonderful. It’s always, ‘how can I help you? How can we work together?’ Most people think it’s going to be, ‘my clothes are so much better than theirs’, and things like that. It's not like that at all. It’s been really wonderful, to be honest.”
Although Chicago is not considered a fashion capital, the city is a leader in fair trade and ethical fashion, making it the perfect place for a collaborative slow-manufacture label like Production Mode.
Because the apparel manufacturing industry has proliferated, many parts of the supply chain are now disconnected, making it more difficult for customers to understand where and how their clothes are being produced.
Production Mode Denim Cape Coat. Photo by Meagan Shuptar. Model is Tracy Liu. Hair and makeup by Tanya Renelt.
However, in Chicago, “the designers are so small that [the customers] get to know us, asking us questions about how the process actually functions. It’s a bit like going to a farmer’s market. Yes, it might be more expensive, and you can’t shop there all the time, but it’s a fun, educational experience. You feel more connected to the process, and you end up trusting them that they’re doing good work, even if you don’t understand the specific mechanics of it,” says Hayes.
As Hayes looks to the future of slow fashion in both Chicago and the rest of the world, she encourages everyone to educate themselves, or even take a sewing course if they are passionate about sustainability.
“Take a sewing course, not so much because you’re going to create your whole wardrobe — that is unrealistic for most people, but it gives you a better sense of quality and an appreciation for what’s behind all the work,” says Hayes.
For more information about Production Mode, visit www.productionmodechicago.com. Additional information about Jamie Hayes can be found here. View her recent collections here.
Photography by: Headshot - Gloria Araya; Jumpsuit Image - Carlos Moore; Cape Coat Image - Meagan Shuptar.