The fashion industry is in a state of emergency. This has been made clear not only by the mounting bankruptcies of big-name retailers, but also by the closure of beloved small businesses. These are brands that won’t bounce back.
There is a certain aesthetic associated with “slow fashion”: billowing silhouettes in natural colors and fibers, a wardrobe low in maintenance and high in comfort. Oversize linen sack dresses are de rigueur.
There is also a certain name often associated with the movement: Elizabeth Suzann, a Nashville made-to-order clothing company that announced in late April that it was closing after seven years as a leader in slow fashion.
The grief was immediate and potent, pouring forth mostly on Instagram, where, to many Elizabeth Suzann customers, the brand wasn’t just a brand. They had found their people through the clothes, building networks to sell or trade purchases, or road-tripping to the company’s Nashville factory for sample sales. (The online sample sales were consistently cleared out within minutes, if not seconds; full prices for tops, bottoms and dresses typically ranged between $100 and $300.)
“I was able to form really genuine friendships because of this clothing brand,” said Emi Ito, an educator in the Bay Area. “Now we’re supporting one another through this global pandemic. It goes so much deeper than clothes.”
Elizabeth Suzann was founded in 2013 by Liz Pape, a designer who was then selling her handmade basics on Etsy. By 2017, she employed more than 30 people and pulled in about $3.3 million in sales for the year. The company continued to grow with no outside investors.
But at the end of April, Ms. Pape wrote, in the statement announcing the closing, that the financial hit from the coronavirus was “too severe for us to recover from in a healthy and responsible way.”
It was a complicated situation, she wrote, “but most simply our current sales are not sufficient to sustain the overhead and payroll of a team of any size.” (She declined to be interviewed about the situation.) In the fall, she intends to return to being a one-woman production, eventually offering sewing patterns and kits “so that this business relies less on consumption and more on skill sharing and teaching.”
At the time of the announcement, Elizabeth Suzann had been rolling out a campaign called “Clothing is Political,” featuring people who spoke candidly about a range of social justice issues. Ms. Pape decided to continue the campaign even after suspending sales. Ms. Ito was one of the models; Aja Barber, a stylist and writer in London who focuses on sustainable fashion, was another.
Like others, Ms. Barber described herself as “absolutely heartbroken.” Not just because of the community built around Elizabeth Suzann, or the company’s commitment to ethical production and transparency, though that mattered deeply to her. It was also the clothes.
“She created clothing that’s easy for human bodies to wear,” Ms. Barber said. “I don’t think anyone can fill the hole that is left.”