The sustainable clothing movement is a minefield of newly-coined terms.
We are concerned about the environmental impact of what we buy and wear. We are advised to check the carbon footprint of items in our wardrobe and to let ethical choices guide our purchases. We recycle and upcycle, check linings for the Fair Trade Mark and champion organic materials and conscious consumerism whilst worrying about landfill and air miles.
And now the term, slow fashion, has begun to appear more frequently in the press and fashion blogs.
What is Meant by the Term ‘Slow Fashion’
At its most basic, slow fashion is, unsurprisingly, the opposite of fast fashion.
This might seem like a glib answer, but most of us are probably more aware of what fast fashion means and so it helps to take a look at this term and then turn it on its head.
What is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion is literally all about speed.
It is about capturing the latest trends (or even better, creating them) as quickly and cheaply as possible. Products are mass produced at lightning speed from the most cost effective materials available – which generally means synthetic and not ethically sourced.
This focus on getting items in the shop ultra quickly leads naturally to disposable fashion. Clothes and accessories are on the racks for a brief time before being replaced by the next ‘must-have’ trend – often begun by the same company.
This means that products are heavily discounted from the start – to encourage consumers to buy them.
And they are discarded to landfill as soon as the next hot item hits the shelves.
Another worrying side effect of fast fashion is that for many, the excitement of buying the next shiny new thing becomes addictive. The latest trend arrives and there’s an adrenalin-fuelled rush (literally) to acquire it. Decisions about the quality of the product, what it’s made from and where it comes from go out the window – never mind whether or not you really need it!
See here for more on how pandemic lockdowns fuelled fast fashion buying habits in the UK.
At its worst, this is also the terrain of the sweat shop, where teams of workers churn out piece work for low pay in awful working conditions. There have been reports over the years of multinational clothing companies selling running shoes made by children who are missing out on education to labour in such places. The result is a cycle of poverty where the rich get richer and the poor stay exploited.
What is Slow Fashion?
Slow fashion is everything that fast fashion isn’t.
Rather than focusing solely on the end product without any thought for the processes that have got it into the store, slow fashion considers the ethical, environmental and humanitarian impact of every stage of clothing manufacturing.
Some Characteristics of Slow Fashion
Slow fashion is all about the ‘big picture’ rather than creating demand for disposable fashion and then feeding it as swiftly as possible. But what does this mean in reality?
- Made from sustainable, organic materials – Organic cotton, linen, bamboo and hemp are all common. Mass produced, synthetic fabrics with their high carbon foot prints have no place in the slow fashion movement. Read this for some insights into why organic cotton is best.
- Made from high quality materials – You pay for what you get and with slow fashion that is well-made, high quality fabrics which are ethically sourced.
- Locally sourced and made – Buying something in an independent local shop that has been made in the area fits the low air miles, supporting local manufacturers ethos of the movement. Slow fashion is like farmers’ markets for ethical foodies!
- Small and independent maker and sellers – Developing the point above, slow fashion champions the one-off and small run producer than rather the huge international chains. See here if you’d like to know more about how fast fashion is driven by big brands to the detriment of our planet.
- Well-made clothing that lasts – This has a number of positive knock-on effects:
- The companies making the pieces spend more time on the design and production processes that their fast fashion counterparts.
- Clothing stops being disposal as buyers have to make more considered choices when they buy such items, as they are generally more expensive.
- Slow fashion clothing and shoes tend to be classic, rather than trendy – They are designed to hang in your wardrobe for years and be worn over an extended period of time, not to be thrown out and replaced by the latest fad after a few weeks.
- Investment shopping – As garments are meant to have longevity and not be discarded it pays to invest in timeless, quality pieces that will never go out of fashion.
- Less pieces in each collection – Rather than flooding the market with cheap tops that will be hot for a month and then chucked in a charity bin, slow fashion producers make far fewer items and often completely ignore the demands of new collections for each season. Things are made to be kept and not discarded, and creating too much of something just because you can is unacceptable.
- Made-to-measure – The ultimate way to ensure that a jacket definitely has a buyer before you make it is to make it on demand. Rather that producing outfits in the hope that someone will like it, many advocates of slow fashion principles only create made-to-measure pieces.
- Capsule wardrobes – Too many of us (I include myself in this) have cupboards full of clothes that we never – or at least rarely – wear. Having a capsule wardrobe is the opposite. With this system, you make carefully considered choices about everything you buy and give particular focus to having a small selection base pieces that you can interchange and accessorise for maximum wear, day and night. Nothing should be on your hangers that you don’t wear.
Is Slow Fashion the way forward?
Since design activist Kate Fletcher first used the term, slow fashion has been gaining traction. Along with its sister movements, ethical fashion and sustainable fashion, slow fashion is moving into the main stream via design markets, online shopping and word of mouth.
Clearly, it isn’t for everyone – yet. One of the reasons why fast fashion is such an all-consuming force is that it is cheap and convenient. Not everyone can afford to source individually crafted dresses made from hand-dyed Fair Trade cotton.
And even fewer people can afford it.
But the rise of interest in ethical consumerism is bringing change and even some of the worst fast fashion offenders on the High Street are showing signs that they are aware of the move against the ‘wear it then chuck it’ consumer culture that they have helped to create.
Even better, governments are starting to listen to environmental pressure groups. The EU is currently looking a measures which would start a fast fashion crackdown. You can read more about this here.
Slow fashion might be comparatively new, but hopefully it is here to stay.