The Slow Fashion Movement - A Shift In Style Consciousness From Chasing Everything In Vogue To Seeking Out More Artisanal Exclusivity
There is this concept called planned obsolescence and in the simplest terms what it means is: ‘when something is designed and built to eventually be replaced by a new product’. For example, when cars first came out, way back in the day — they were bullet-proof —they could be fixed, they could be repaired and they lasted forever. Essential things that we use today including clothing and jewelry were also built to last. Now we live in a disposable culture where everything is meant to be used up and thrown away and then bought again. This perpetual cycle is what is fueling and driving the contemporary consumer culture that we are living amidst today. We see fashion brands that release a different collection every three months and as the seasons shift it sometimes gets a bit hard to resist the temptation to treat oneself with a little this and that or just fully update one’s wardrobe.
It is not a secret that fast fashion creates a number of problems. However, there might be some benefits to it, which makes the topic extremely controversial. Sure, things that are made out of plastic, are cheaper, easier to produce and don’t last that long, but that allows for low or even medium-income jobs and makes fashion more accessible to the masses. But in reality, apart from allowing for more diverse self-expression and promoting community, fast fashion also does a great deal of harm to the world at large through which most of us are contributing to or have done so in the past. As the trends in fast fashion continually change at a rapid pace and allow for significant price decreases of clothing it becomes harder to find reasons to bring oneself to question the remaining parts of this consumerist cycle which seem to be only three-parted: buying, using and throwing away to make space for new stuff.
Obviously, it is not that simple. The production process of any goods whether it be food or clothing is incredibly complicated and nuanced. It involves hundreds or even thousands of people, affects numerous communities and deeply impacts their further development. The raw materials have to be grown and manufactured into the actual products that are later marketed and sold, but that is not without all the farmers who provide clean water, scientists who work for decades to maximize the work efficiency and the business people who negotiate the best prices for all of the aforementioned. All of this creates numerous challenges like handling the wage gap between countries of different development levels, inadequate pay, child labor and much more.
There have been many strategies at attempting to solve these problems; we see more and more brands promote various sustainable business models. Brands like Reformation and Patagonia employ various methods to continue their work without compromising the welfare of future generations by using renewable energy for the textile fiber production, investing in programs to compensate for the CO2 emissions and aiming to diminish all kinds of waste. That being said the slow fashion movement, seems to be one of the most promising new shifts in consumer consciousness that could really begin to affect some of the problems caused by the fast fashion industry. The name 'slow fashion' was coined by British designer Kate Fletcher and has come to refer to the deliberate choice to purchase higher quality garments less frequently. These purchases are environmentally and ethically conscious as opposed to being fueled by the new in vogue trends. Another component to the movement's DNA is its overt transparency and emphasis on artisanal craftsmanship - it's important that consumers know where their clothes are being made, who is making them and that the people making them are being humanely treated and fairly compensated. If any of the aforementioned components are lacking in a supply chain then it just ain't slow fashion. Aside from the limited production numbers and innovations with organic or synthetic fibers, there is a constant that will always remain untouched in the slow fashion model and that is the human element — the handmade nature. Unlike fast fashion, slow fashion is not a conveyor belt based manufacturing movement — every item is unique and offers owners a sense of exclusivity that gives them an assurance that they won't find a mannequin resembling their style in some shop front display. This makes it easier to develop a sense of attachment and treat it as a companion rather than something that is to be used up and disposed of. Slow fashion promotes clothing as a tool for highlighting one's uniqueness rather than being one for maintaining camouflage and fitting in.
Sustainable fashion initiatives like eco-age’s collaboration with Emma Watson to support her campaign ‘the press tour’ – An Instagram exhibition of her modeling a variety of ethical outfits for public appearances is a great example of steps being taken in the right direction to raising awareness around slow fashion. So far the collaboration has partnered with brands such as Dior, Givenchy and Phillip Lim making sure that the garments produced for the actress’s project meet the highest social, ethical and environmental standards. Recycling different strains of synthetic materials and using end-of-cycle fabrics are some of the approaches the brands have taken in order to make their production more sustainable and less environmentally-taxing.
There are many more similar collaborations among consumer brands happening right now. H&M, currently one of the biggest fast-fashion brands have developed a conscious line known as H&M Conscious, which produces clothing from organic cotton, while Timberland has taken up several collaborations with BIONIC, a textile engineering company that transforms recycled recovered plastics into high-performance fabrics. Ministry of Tomorrow is another brand to look out for that has a similar approach at making their practices more sustainable, environmentally-friendly and ethical. The brand’s main focus is vegan leather goods made from Japanese Animal Free Pony fabric, Italian vegan leather and a 100% certified organic cotton used for the canvases in their bags. Their factory in Nairobi is a perfect epitome of slow fashion done right - all MOT products are handmade by locally employed tailors from the nearby slum who are paid well above the minimum wage and provided various skills development and training opportunities.
When it comes to producing clothing more ethically, animals and the environment are not the only factors to be considered. Many fast-fashion brands choose to relocate some of their production plants to Third World countries which makes the production process much cheaper. Workers in those factories are subject to low wages, long working hours and often exposed to unsafe working conditions. This opens up many ethical discussions.
Rana Plaza, a huge factory in central Bangladesh was a massive textile provider to brands such as Benetton, Mango, and Walmart until April 24, 2014, when it collapsed due to structural failure, taking the lives of 1,129 people and wounding many more. Experts argue that it could have been foreseen and prevented as the building was constructed on a filled in pond and exceeded the number of floors of the original permit.
When we start thinking about how the clothing we wear finds its way to our closets we realize that the process is very long and involves much more people with many different skills than we might think. Every piece of clothing we obtain is an inevitable bond that connects us with the thousands of people who brought it to us and this places the onus on us to be a more conscious consumer and think about the environmental and social strain overconsumption puts on the planet.
As the pace in which we renew our wardrobe accelerates it is important to think about what happens when we decide to part with our belongings. Some of them might end up somewhere in a landfill among other stuff, while others might find their way into other peoples’ closets. Of course, reusing and recycling clothing is far more sustainable - It is far less taxing on the environment, it changes our relationship to fashion, but it also appeals to the base of our ideology and the relationship we have with the planet and the people living all around it. It is painfully obvious though that we as a society are very divided when it comes to this subject and there are always going to be people who will strive to make the most of what fashion has to offer. As for slow fashion, it is not only chosen by people who don’t want to be seen dressed similarly to mannequins or something out of a catalog — it is a model of business that has an immediate positive trickle-down effect in the areas of social welfare, politics, and culture.