Fast Fashion

What could possibly go wrong? How do we make it right?

An interview with fashion designer, Resa McConaghy

Resa McConaghy © Resa McConaghy

Three plus decades ago, my Aunt Marylou gave me two black dresses, both sheaths, both high-quality knit — if I had to guess, a blend of linen and cotton — one long sleeve and one sleeveless, the perfect little black dresses every woman needs in her closet.  While not part of my daily wardrobe, I’ve worn them dozens of times over the years when I have a fancy party or a somber occasion.  I’ve purchased many little black dresses in the interim and you know what?  I don’t have a single one of them, but I still have, and wear, Aunt Marylou’s dresses. 

Aunt Marylou was herself an amazing seamstress, but she worked as a sewing machinist in a factory making batch items for larger pieces — way before Zara, arguably the creator of fast fashion, pushed the business to multi-billion dollar levels — and because Aunt Marylou knew quality clothing and was also a style icon, she only bought the best.  The two little black dresses she gifted me are handmade, easily over 60 years old, and still look marvelous. 

There’s a rumor going around that, after the fossil fuel industry that feeds our energy needs and results in 25% of all greenhouse gases emissions, the fashion industry was the second largest polluter in the world. This is a fact repeated in several documentaries about the fashion industry, and while, at least according to an EPA pie chart, it does not appear to be true, I believe I know what environmental category fast fashion hits the hardest:  water.

pie chart courtesy EPA website

In fact, according to the Florida State University Sustainable Campus, “[t]he fashion industry is the second most water-intensive industry in the world, consuming around 79 billion cubic metres of water per year.”  These numbers can seem unreal when there’s no metric against which to compare them so how about this one:  to make one cotton t-shirt requires about 2,700 liters of water.  And that’s just the water.  There’s also the carbon footprint on the transportation costs, the pesticides used to grow the cotton (which ultimately runoff into streams and rivers), the dyes, the laundry detergent and disposal wastes, and the dangerous working conditions, to name a few others.

So what’s a fashion-forward consumer who also cares about the environment to do?  A few things for starters, the three R’s — reduce, reuse and recycle.  Buy good quality, sustainable brands that will last, and when you can’t wear that pink sweater one more time, donate it to charity.  Buy second-hand when you can.  Because of technology, there’s been a surge in purchasing reusable upscale clothing from the comfort of your couch.  And don’t support fast fashion brands whose true tagline should be, here today, out of fashion tomorrow.

Luckily, not every fashion designer is of the fast sort.  Today I’m talking with Resa McConaghy, quite possibly a poster child for slow fashion, a name that’s been given to the opposite of fast fashion, but is really a misnomer.  A better name for Resa’s designs would be timeless fashion, just like my Aunt Marylou’s little black dresses.  

Resa, a fashion designer extraordinaire, possesses a flair for the dramatic as evidenced by the many costumes she’s created for movies and television, and to reiterate, she does not create fast fashion. Quite the opposite actually, Resa has an almost visceral need to reuse, repurpose, and upcycle, not only fabrics, but amazing items that, at first blush, would not be considered in the something to wear category.  Resa’s environmentally-friendly approach is both fantastic for the environment and experimental, allowing her to create highly sought after one-of-a-kind designs which are near impossible to duplicate (take that, Zara!).  Who says saving the planet can’t be a win-win?  

I’ve been following Resa’s blog for some years now and am always amazed by her stunning work product, each design more extravagant and intriguing than the last.  It’s not just her fabulous designs that set her apart from her peers, it’s her environmental ethic as well, something rarely spotted in the fashion world.  

Like Carlo Petrini started the slow food movement to combat the fast food take over of the world, I hope Resa’s work starts a slow fashion movement to clothe the world in beautiful sustainable cloth and other reusable sundries.

So have a seat, read on, and tell me when you get to the end that you don’t want a one-of-a-kind Art Gown, by Resa McConaghy.

the artist at work © Resa McConaghy

Your work goes back to 1988 and I counted 50 movies/TV series that have benefitted from your beautiful art gowns and that is not including those series with multiple episodes. That’s quite a resume and it seems to still be picking up steam. How did you get started in the business and what did you do to get to where you are today? 

Thank you! Not all my film projects have gowns in them. There are all types of characters wearing all modes of clothing. I went to college and got an honours degree in Fashion Design and Technology. I then opened my own boutique, where I designed all the clothes. I had a small manufacturing set up in my basement. I had two employees. I made the patterns, and they helped me cut and sew the garments. I also did knitwear, as I had gotten another degree in Knit Design and Technology. I also worked in my boutique, doing sales. One day a producer for commercials came into my shop and looked around. She said they were having trouble getting men’s Arrow Shirts to fit Roman Style torso statues of men. Could I make the shirts fit these busts? I did great, and made more money in two days than I ever believed I could make. One job led to another. My boutique was a hand to mouth business. It was easy to give up my business, for the money I made styling for this area of the film industry. In my early years, I worked doing wardrobe for commercials, rock videos, shorts and anything I could get my hands on; whether I got paid or not. My career was a dream come true, even if I hadn’t dreamt it. 

Prior to the pandemic, I had become fussy about the projects I would take on. Designing for film is wonderful, but I was always making someone else’s vision come true. As a creative person, I wanted to express a vision of my own. So, I started Art Gowns. I’d like to add that the film industry is a massive polluter! I was planning to do a show, with my Art Gowns on models, and with my art covering the walls, for sale. Then the virus walked into town. I began giving my all to my blog, drawing and making Art Gowns. My art skills have improved tremendously. I didn’t see the sense of risking getting Covid working on a film set. Also, Covid changed the industry, and the industry had already changed dramatically due to technology and corporate take overs. I still hope to do my show, one day. Will I do another film project? Yes, but it has to be a really great one. 

How long does it take you to make a gown from concept to a finished piece? Do you make a pattern or freestyle it? Do you do the sewing yourself? 

To make an Art Gown takes three to six months on average. Although I do some pattern drafting, the gowns are predominately done by draping on a Judy. Yes, I do the sewing myself. All of the Art Gowns are sewn by hand, my hands. No machines are involved, save the iron. 

Cleopatra Capriccio © Resa McConaghy

About the gown: CLEOPATRA CAPRICCIO is made from a piece of sequin material given to me by a friend. It was left over from a project he worked on. It sat for years in a box, waiting. I also used some silver curtain lining — 75 cents a yard at a liquidation sale — a piece of musty blue silk that had been in storage for 25 years and a 45-year old table runner that was on it’s last legs. You can read more about it here.

Cleopatra Capriccio © Resa McConaghy

I note that you do a lot of period work and imagine it gets quite busy when you have a contract for several costumes at once? Do you have a full time staff helping you? Do you contract work out? Is it some combination of the two? 

When I costume design a film, I design all of the characters, the look of the Extras… EVERYTHING! Yes, I have staff. Let’s use Our Fathers as an example. It starred: Christopher Plummer, Ted Danson, Daniel Baldwin, Brian Dennehy and Ellen Burstyn. I had two Assistant Designers (one for principals, one for Extras), a Floor Supervisor, a Truck person, a full sewing room with a cutter and about four stitchers, an Extras wrangler, and daily help as required for whatever department needed it. We farmed out some of the Priest’s and Bishop’s raiment. Christopher had a Personal Dresser. We had three semi trucks full of clothes. On the busiest of shooting days I would have a staff of 16 under me. 

Sounds logistically overwhelming.  No wonder it has to be a great project for you to consider jumping back into that beehive!  Let’s talk about your period gowns, which I adore, especially the floor length models that are not something women in the 21st century generally wear. Do you prefer one period in history over another and if so, what’s your favorite? 

I have no fave period. They are all interesting! Right now, I’m drawing 1920’s Art Gowns. 

Have you ever made the same gown twice or is it once and done for each piece? 

Once! The Art Gowns are all one-of-a-kind. 

Do you sign your gowns into a hidden seam or some other secret compart-ment? 

No, I don’t. Although I know Vionnet did. 

When we first spoke about doing an interview, you mentioned you hadn’t yet done a water gown — something I cannot wait to see, by the way. Where’s the inspiration come from for these gowns? Do you wait until someone hires you for a specific piece of work and then start thinking about it or is there something that inspires you? And when are you going to do that water gown? 

So, the inspiration comes from all over the place. Most of the bloggers I follow are artists, writers, poets, photographers, nature lovers, etc. I get some ideas there. I find old decorator pillow cases, save wine corks, plastic mesh bags that produce comes in, collect old clothes made out of exciting fabrics – then take them apart, find old fabrics at jobbers that have been on the shelf for 20 years —I won’t spend more than $2 -$4 a yard. Last year an old friend found my blog. She sent me 40 pounds of old fabrics that had been gathering must from being stored in a garden shed for 20 years. No one hires me to make the Art Gowns. They are 100% mine. No one gets any say. I do however, dedicate them to people. Most are bloggers, but not all. Okay, the Water Gown. I actually thought of it when you commented on the last Art Gown I made. I’ve been to your blog and know you are all about clean water and green earth. I thought, I have a lot of old acetate lining in aqua greens and blues. That was a start to think on. Then I saw a pic of a small bubbling water fall, that a blogger had posted. I thought – those bubbles look like bubble wrap. What if I overlaid bubble wrap over the acetates? Of course I will not go out and buy new bubble wrap. We have lots in the basement from old shipments. I’ll try it out. If it works, I’ll ask friends not to throw away any bubble wrap they can’t use. Save it for me! 

I have a similar creative process for writing.  Everything is a source of inspiration. Was costume designing a childhood dream or did it evolve from something else? What other things are you passionate about? 

No, I did not dream about being a costume designer, when I was young. I did however, make my own clothes. I am passionate about all the arts. Music means so much to me, I married a musician/composer/producer. I adore going for long walks and taking pics of street art. 

What do you think about fast fashion, the sustainability of the fashion industry, and recreating synthetic fabrics in the lab? 

Fast fashion sucks! It sucks at the earth and all of us. Used to be there was a mid-price range of clothing. It was decent quality and you didn’t throw it away after a month. Of course people had to do proper laundry (sweaters and certain things by hand wash), ironing and not give 2 hoots about a new trend every week. Fast fashion has robbed us of our own personal style. Now, there is just cheap garbage clothes, or clothing that is so expensive it’s heartbreaking. If I had $10,000.00 to spend on a dress, I wouldn’t. There’s a lot of need out there. Just think what a local food bank could do with ten grand! Marie Antionette may be dead, but the Marie Antionette spirit lives on. I did a bunch of research on synthetics. The pollution they create, on many levels, is sickening. They are virtually impossible to recycle. So far, whatever ideas have come up in this regard are of mostly of no value. They create more pollution than it’s worth. I had to stop doing the research. I was getting depressed. I believe I kept the re-search. That was just before the pandemic hit. 

I agree.  It’s mostly disheartening with very little cause for hope.  Although there are a few designers, like yourself, who are touting sustainability.  For example, Stella McCartney prides herself on not using leather, feathers or any other animal products. This year she launched Mylo, “the world!s first-ever garments made from vegan, lab-grown Mylo mushroom leather.” Basically, mycelium turned into clothing. First off, what do you think of the idea of using mushrooms to create clothing, and second, do you have any thoughts about how to address sustainability in the fashion business? 

Sounds interesting! Good for Stella. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was a teenager. Mushrooms/fungus etc. maybe tasty in food, but they have almost no nutritional value. So, okay! A while back, certain health food stores were all puffed up that they were using bags made from corn. I said, there’s not enough corn. People and animals eat corn. It’s a staple. People are starving in many parts of the planet. Give them the corn. We can carry reusable totes.  It’s all about balance.  Sustainability in the fashion industry is a tough nut to crack at this point. The corporate profits are sky high. It’s up to people, each one of us individually and as a whole, to make it not profitable. They won’t change until they see a way to make bigger profits. This topic needs a blog of its own, with many weighing in, discussing, exposing the industry, gathering famous people to join the cause, exchanging our old clothes ….. and whatever else we can think of. 

I agree.  It’s going to be a process of reorientation toward sustainability.  Speaking of, do you do any upcycling, recycling, or reusing of materials when you work? 

All of the above! 

If you in charge, how would you change the fashion industry? What is the most important thing, do you think? To regulate? To inspire? To lead? To shine a light? 

Again, all of the above! 

Do you think the fashion industry can do anything to combat climate change and if so, what? 

Of course it can, but it needs to find the will. Human beings need to find the will, and that will drive industry. It blows me away that I see new plastic bottled water products introduced into the market place. (Oh, this one is flavoured!) It’s unconscionable but profitable. I saw cheap t-shirts made out of old plastic. That must feel disgusting on the body, possibly unhealthy since we also breathe through our skin, and at what cost to the environment did that plastic get turned into t-shirts. Beware of things that seem too good to be true! 

Okay, after all that depressing talk, how about leave us with something inspiring, a bit of hope, perhaps?

Spring Rhapsody © Resa McConaghy

Here she is — SPRING RHAPSODY!

She is inspired from a large decorator pillow sham . . . probably 1980’s. I made the bodice out of it, and part of the tail. The skirt is out of a very odd fabric. It is almost like a shiny scuba material . . . possibly an upholstery fabric. The flowers are made from bits of colourful acetate lining scraps – overlaid with scraps of embroidered net left over from a wedding gown. The buttons have been sitting in their box for at least 10 years. The ties and sashes are from decent size leftovers, from projects from at least 20 years ago. You can read more about it here.

Spring Rhapsody © Resa McConaghy

Resa, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you.  Any last bits of advice to share?

I think we need to figure a way to move people back to natural fabrics. The challenge is washing and drying. Most people don’t know how to iron, and can’t afford to take them to the cleaners for pressing. Most cleaners do not offer JUST a pressing service anymore. Dry cleaning is a sin. My friends who did my dry cleaning on films for years shut it down and opened a wet cleaning service — no chemicals. It uses steam and natural cleansers. Unfortunately, it tripled the cost, but they have no competition. They went into great debt to buy the machines. 

Also, most people don’t know anything about clothes with stretch. You get an instant fit. Manufacturers love this. No darts, less sewing, more profits, but synthetic (so at least partially made from fossil fuels).  A designer needs to develop a line of clothes in natural fabrics that work conveniently for people.  Otherwise, fast fashion will make a fast death for us all.

Resa, I wish you great success and hope your work influences the slow fashion movement for years to come.

pam lazos 3.6.22

About Pam Lazos

writer, blogger, environmentally hopeful
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

127 Responses to Fast Fashion

  1. I like fashion. Nicely written! Keep up the work!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Jessi Brandt says:

    Such an interesting read!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Love this interview, and this point really strikes home. My daughter thankfully isn’t into following trends, but I see so many families trying to keep up with whatever is “hot” in the moment, and I can’t fathom how much that must cost them. The social media/influencer culture does NOT help matters, either, as these kids don’t just feel the pressure to be “in” wherever their school is, but “in” whatever’s hot EVERYWHERE.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Pingback: Fight Climate Anxiety with Eco-Friendly Initiatives | Green Life Blue Water

  5. That’s amazing craftsmanship, and such a wonderful view of the world, As a trained designer who left the fashion business behind, this post gave me so much hope. Thank you for featuring Resa, Pam.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. What a great post and interview, Pam and Resa. I knew that Resa used recycled materials in her gowns, and I knew that clothing contributes to pollution and massive amounts of trash, but I loved this discussion as well as all the ideas for creating or wearing slow fashion. As a teenage seamstress who sewed all my own clothes, I loved this post. It was fascinating to learn more about Resa’s fashion career and how she approaches her creative designs. Her gowns bring out the “princess” in me. Lol. Thanks for the fascinating and fashion-changing post. Hugs.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. da-AL says:

    loooove this! what dreamy drool-worthy dresses! am totally envious of all who wera them! thanks, Pam, for introducing us to such a lovely-minded designer!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Rebecca Budd says:

    A wonderful interview, Pam. Enjoy it so much that I have come back several times. You and Res are a brilliant duo!!

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Oh, Pam what a great interview and great interaction with the multi-talented, goldhearted, one of a kind, beautiful & wonderful Resa. My admiration for her is boundless and this interview was a joy reading from first word to last. Thank you both!
    Oh… and here’s to Slow Fashion!
    ps Cleopatra Capriccio & Spring Rhapsody blew me away!

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Dale says:

    What a fabulous interview with our beloved Sorceress of the Cloth (my nickname for the beautiful and talented Resa). So many things we take for granted – I’ve never been into fashion and stick with classic and never outdated stuff. Lasts forever until I can’t stand to look at them anymore… or more recently, when my tush decided they don’t fit…

    Liked by 4 people

  11. lampmagician says:

    Hey ladies, great interview! If just there were more like you both in the world, it would look much more beautiful than it is now. And thank you, Pam. I know Resa much better now than before. She is a fabulous artist. 🤗🤗💖🙏😘😘💖🤗

    Liked by 5 people

  12. these gowns are simply, amazing, and can’t believe they’re all made with, recycled or recyclable material, environmental-friendly AND, beautiful, this project your aunt’s started.

    Liked by 5 people

  13. Resa you are so welcome. I mean every word. It was wonderful reading about how you started with your shop and then fate took you into another world.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. “My career was a dream come true, even if I hadn’t dreamt it.” That’s an amazing self-observation. Great interview, Pam and Resa.

    Liked by 4 people

  15. I remember the day I first found Resa’s blog and looked at her art gowns – absolutely incredible stunning, and deeply touching, was how I felt about her inspiration and creativity. I absolutely love and admire her work and her process, it is real heart work that nourishes my soul and the planet’s too.

    Liked by 5 people

  16. merrildsmith says:

    So wonderful to learn about Resa, as well as fashion, the environment, etc. I love Spring Rhapsody!

    Liked by 5 people

  17. Jaya Avendel says:

    This kind of the intentional, creative and all-out gorgeously lasting type of the dress and stitching is the type of fashion I aspire to wear!

    Liked by 4 people

  18. This was a fascinating interview! I leanred a great deal. Spring Rhapsody is indeed a song of a gown.

    Liked by 4 people

  19. Timothy Price says:

    What a wonderful interview and great insights into the fashion industry. I’m always learning new things about you. You have so many talents that run deep.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Resa says:

      Thank you dear Tim!
      Yes, and tech life is not one of them. I spent all of my time since I mailed you, re-learning how to add a widget to my side bar, (Belle Grace) because they changed it to blockheads.
      I’m calming down now, but still shaking.
      Anyway, I was thrilled with this interview. Pam did great, and I hope we will be doing more together.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Pam Lazos says:

        Oh, you know it, Resa!🙏♥️

        Liked by 1 person

      • Timothy Price says:

        You’ve been block-headed? I was forced into being a block head many months ago. I hate it, but I get tired of fighting with the WP techs. They give me all these reasons why they have to do certain things, and I tell they they are full of crap. I program in PHP and all of what they tell me is optional and they can easily keep custom editors maintained. It’s curious that if I were to upgrade to the $300/year package that I would have to buy 2 years at a time (maybe more that $300/year now), I could have a classic editor plugin. Right! We have to pay not to suffer.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Resa says:

        Crazy! PHP???
        Remember when we got snow for 1 month at Christmas? Now, it’s a plugin.
        I wanted to put likes under my comments boxes. You got it, a plugin. OH, the plugin is free, but I have to upgrade to a business account.
        Ah, Tim, what what is the WP world coming to? I’ll be by to look for sunflowers. xo

        Liked by 3 people

      • Timothy Price says:

        PHP originally stood for Personal Home Page. Now it is “PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor” It’s a scripting language used with HTML mostly for integrating databases in web pages and web applications. It became fairly standard on the WWW in what is called the LAMP platform. LAMP is Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP. WordPress uses PHP. I started scripting in PHP in 1999 and have used the LAMP platform at the office since 2001.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Resa says:

        Woah! I do know some of these words, now I know more. Still, it’s a lot to take in. Inasmuch as I enjoy having a computer for the few things I do, mail, blogging, photos… I am a pedestrian user. You are way smart.
        Think I’ll stick with sewing and drawing!
        Thank you for taking the time to explain that! xx

        Liked by 2 people

      • Timothy Price says:

        You got some new words and perspectives out of it. Sewing and drawing are much less stressful. I saw an abstract about how kids are developing weird ticks from devices and social media. I did not have a subscription to the source article to read more. But kids need to participate in legacy play with cardboard boxes and their imaginations, running and jumping around, and learn how to draw, sew, dance, play music and build things.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Pam Lazos says:

        So true, Tim. Kids need to get back out there and dig in the dirt!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Timothy Price says:


        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes they’re fun aren’t they…..

        Liked by 2 people

  20. Resa says:

    Reblogged this on Art Gowns and commented:
    Pam has done a fab job with this interview. I am so honoured to be recognized as a pioneer in the area of SLOW FASHION. Yes, the Art gowns take 3 – 6 months to make, are all sewn by hand and made from anything that is not new product. Thank you, Pam!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Resa says:

    Pam, Thank you for this opportunity! You did a fabulous job with this!
    LOL, I really need to update my About Art Gowns page.
    Well, I can’t thank you enough! I’m going to visit the other site you posted on, then go work on my new Art Gown (2 pillow shams, yards of fabric from the 40 lbs. of old fabric a friend sent and yards of ribbon harvested from an old Art Gown)
    My Art Gowns are for loan to events that will bring focus to slow fashion.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. cindy knoke says:

    Resa is such an incredible creative artist.

    Liked by 3 people

  23. This is absolutely epic. A behind the scenes with a towering talent. There wasn’t an answer I didn’t read at least 3 times. And it was great to read about how Resa started out. (BTO most of my clothes are second hand cast offs.)

    Liked by 3 people

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