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  • Luke Awtry
  • Sam Zollman at Slow Process studio and showroom

It all started with a button-down shirt. Sam Zollman, a recent graduate from Tufts University in Brandon, didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. He saw himself as some kind of artist, but he hadn’t chosen a medium. He always loved fashion as a means of expression, so he decided to learn to sew, starting with a piece of clothing he knew and loved.

“If you’re excited to make a button-down shirt and make a button-down shirt, for me that was transformative,” Zollman said. “I think he has that power for a lot of people.”

Five years later, Zollman, 28, is the designer and fashion designer behind Slow process, a Burlington-based clothing line with an ambitious motto: Fixing the Male Uniform. He produces high-quality basic shirts and jackets, as well as unique pieces of old textiles, and he critically reflects on redefining men’s fashion and our modern relationship with clothing.

“I channel classic menswear silhouettes, but try to convey a beauty and softness to them that I think has been missing from menswear for a long time,” Zollman said. “I think there is a larger desire among men to want something beautiful, but they don’t really know what that looks like to them.”

Zollman took sewing lessons in Vermont and Boston, where he lived for two years. There, in 2018, he designed and sewn his first clothing line. He moved to Burlington soon after and established a studio in the South End. Soda plant in 2019, filling it with used and vintage sewing machines and huge rolls of fabric. In May of this year, he expanded the studio space to include a showroom.

He has since hired a part-time sewing assistant. Now he’s releasing a fall line, his sixth, which features workwear-inspired jackets and smocked shirts.

In Slow Process’s first year, Zollman sewed and sold 15-20 pieces, he recalls. Now he can do the same in just a few months. But it is trying to grow at a sustainable rate, he said.

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Home Field Ball Jersey - COURTESY OF SLOW PROCESS

  • Courtesy of Slow Process
  • Home Field Ball Jersey

At the end of November, it will launch a limited line of Letterman jackets made from hand-woven blankets from the late 19th century. Zollman’s passion for antique textiles was already apparent in the clothes that dominated his spring / summer collection: baseball jerseys sewn from bright floral tablecloths. He likes to take the sporty silhouettes associated with traditional masculinity – “a literal uniform,” he said – and add softness through choices of drapes and fabrics.

“I wasn’t planning on doing a lot of sports-inspired things,” Zollman said. “But it’s such an important part of masculinity that it’s full of ways of riffing… which can be a bit ironic and can be beautiful and still useful to someone.”

Brandon Johnston, an actor living in Los Angeles, bought several items from Zollman, including some of these baseball jerseys. The marriage of athletic familiarity and unique textiles makes the clothing special, Johnston said over the phone.

“I don’t know anything about textile work, but I’ve always been interested in vintage textiles and vintage in general,” Johnston noted. He appreciates Zollman’s skill: “His artistic eye is so big.

Johnston also bought a simple white Parcel jacket from Zollman’s latest line. “I get compliments every time I walk out the door,” he said.

Zollman’s clothes aren’t just for men. He wants it to be portable and stylish for people of all genders.

Taylor McVay, a sewing teacher and friend of Zollman in Massachusetts, said it helps to think of men’s clothing as a set of aesthetic principles for clothing, not a category that dictates who can wear it.

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Indigo Package Jacket - COURTESY OF SLOW PROCESS

  • Courtesy of Slow Process
  • Indigo Parcel Jacket

“What I like [Zollman’s] project is that he creates men’s clothing, but it’s men’s clothing for everyone, ”McVay said.“ It’s not that you want to deny the idea that there is a genre in it. clothes. It’s just that you want to free the clothes from strict associations with a particular gender. Anyone can wear men’s clothing; anyone can wear women’s clothing. It could just be those categories that could be adopted or worn by everyone. ”

Zollman custom-tailors his most basic items for the wearer, adjusting their designs to fit their body. He loves the moment when he gets into the right form, he said.

A bespoke shirt or jacket made from old materials doesn’t come cheap. Zollman’s bespoke six-button blouse, sewn from organic cotton, costs between $ 245 and $ 285. Although the finished product is the same, buyers choose their price on the scale based on the salary Zollman will receive for its manufacture: $ 20 an hour for the low end, $ 30 an hour for the high. range.

“I’ve found this to be helpful – for people to contextualize and understand what goes into pricing,” Zollman said. “The price I charge is directly related to the number of hours I spend on it. If I spoke to a businessman, he would think I was crazy, but there really is no reason to add profits above… what you pay yourself, as long as you pay yourself a fair wage. ”

The more people invest in a garment, Zollman believes, the more likely they are to repair it when it is damaged rather than throwing it away. Its intentional design choices, such as roomy seam allowances – excess fabric inside the seams – make clothes easier to alter and repair. Repairing the male uniform is not just about the clothes themselves, he said, but encourages wearers to be responsible for maintaining and repairing their clothes.

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Spools of thread at the Slow Process studio.  - LUC AWTRY

  • Luke Awtry
  • Spools of thread at the Slow Process studio.

While he’s happy that the American company is developing a broader appreciation for vintage and second-hand items, Zollman isn’t shy about fast fashion. It fills a niche in many people’s wardrobes, he said, especially when they’re on a budget. “Do you need a solid black t-shirt? Well, I don’t make a solid black t-shirt, so you go to H&M.”

He sees the overseas workers who sew the clothes that end up in H&M or Target stores as talented designers in their own right. “The speed at which they produce what they produce, and [the fact] that it adapts well at a distance, is amazing, ”said Zollman. He hopes that, in a roundabout way, the appreciation of his work will inspire the appreciation of these other artisans and workers.

“Thanks to the small manufacturers, I think we are starting to value craftsmanship in a broader sense,” he said. “We now have a better understanding [that causes us] to pause and say to yourself, “Wait, why is this jacket at Target a quarter the price?” Someone along the way gets screwed, right, if you know the work that goes into it? It’s not that [small makers’] the price is exorbitant. It’s because the other is incredibly low. ”

What Zollman sees as the waste of the fashion industry has a marginal advantage: he and other designers can source the excess “dead” fabric that big brands have created but never used. These fabrics complement the old textiles that he collects with love.

“When I make a jacket with that [type of fabric], I present someone with a profession that is almost lost, ”he said.

Lately, mainstream brands have mimicked the look of old fabrics, for example by producing coats made from (or designed to look like they’re made from) vintage quilts. Rather than denounce the trend, Zollman sees it as an educational opportunity.

“You get an Urban Outfitters scamming,” he said. “And, if someone ripped off an old blanket, maybe people would understand what made the original so much more special, so much more durable. There is no reproduction of the beauty and the spirit of it. ‘an original.”