What's So Cool About Slow Fashion?
The pace of our lives just keeps getting faster; Microsoft recently reported that the human attention span had dropped to just 8 seconds – shrinking nearly 25% in a few years. The attention span of a fast fashion designer must be even shorter (*), with fast fashion brands producing about 52 “micro-seasons” a year—or one new “collection” a week. According to author Elizabeth Cline, this started when Zara shifted to bi-weekly deliveries of new merchandise back in the early 2000’s. They now produce around 12,000 different items every year.
(*) Whilst this is obviously a highly exaggerated way to help emphasize our point, designer burnout due to the pressure of the crazy volume of collections they are forced to cater to is another real issue in the fashion industry that is brought about by this crazy fast-paced system that helps no-one.
Why do we need slow fashion?
The fast fashion model is set up to replicate fashion and streetwear trends in almost real time, producing and shipping to stores super quickly with plenty of stock, so they can exhaust a trend and offer up a new one the following week. This very intentionally created need we now feel to have the next new thing, means fast fashion brands keep prices low and accessible, so we keep coming back and buying more, cheaper clothing.
Consumers in the US are buying on average 68 items a year (5 x more than in the 1980’s), which they wear on average just 7 times before chucking them out. To produce this cheaply means cutting corners and saving money; offshoring production and exploiting workers by paying below living wage (and much worse), and using cheap, poor quality toxic materials that damage the planet. The sheer volume and carbon footprint of fast fashion production are increasing Global heating and depleting natural resources and ecosystems.
In a world where fast is celebrated, slow doesn’t really sound that appealing, but if we’re racing towards the destruction of the planet and ultimately the end to the existence of the human race… s l o w seems like a much better route to the finish line. You’ve no doubt heard of fast fashion. Maybe you’ve also heard of slow fashion, but didn’t think it sounded that interesting... we’re here to say it, quite literally, the coolest side of the fashion industry.
So what is the slow fashion movement all about?
Slow fashion is a counter to the fast fashion system (counter culture…. that’s cool, right?) first coined by author, design activist, and professor Kate Fletcher of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, she defines slow fashion as quality-based rather than time-based. Slow fashion is all about creating and consuming fashion consciously, combining social and environmental integrity with a shift in focus from short to long-term, and eschewing trend-based thinking. Slow fashion, like a slower lifestyle, is about savouring and enjoying what you have, and not always seeking more.
For brands and fashion retailers, this leads to a completely different business models, not driven purely by making money but by a triple bottom line where business success is measured by people and planetary impact as well as profits. This is never going to work for a fast fashion brand, whose success is driven by lots of cheap production and consumption, however much they tell you they’re changing. That’s why buying a conscious or sustainable collection from a fast fashion brand doesn’t solve the underlying and urgent issues of the current clothing crisis, and choosing slow fashion does.
Instead, small independent brands are leading the way in designing awesome clothing in a way that’s better for people and our planet. Harnessing sustainability as a central part of their design process through craft, innovation and creativity. But many don’t describe themselves as ‘slow fashion brands’, because it’s a label that doesn’t have the cache it should.
How to spot a slow fashion brand
Even though many brands might not describe themselves as a 'slow fashion brand' you can easily spot them because they will follow these three principles:
They ensure good working conditions and pay a fair wage for their clothing production, with fewer suppliers in their supply chain they can monitor, and partner with; fairly sharing profits and giving reasonable lead times to produce garments (because they aren’t churning out a high volume).
2. Eco friendly
They choose sustainable fabrics and processes that minimise the impact on the planet; reducing toxins, pollution and emissions and managing the natural resources they use in production. They consider what happens during the whole life cycle of the garment, including disposal.
3. Made to last
They are not trend driven, produce fewer collections (often completely season-less) and produce high quality clothes that will last. Many even offer free repairs to help keep your clothes lasting longer.
How to practise slow fashion
So if slow fashion is sounding a bit more appealing, here are 5 things you can do to transition over to shopping in a slow kind of way:
1. Have a digital cleanse
Unfollow fashion retailers, brands and publishers who are pushing trends and overconsumption. Get that fashion industry propaganda out of your feed and free your brain.
2. Buy less, pay more
It’s been said so much it sounds kind of cliched, but buying fewer, higher quality items you love and wear more often is a big part of the solution. There is a simple financial equation - if you’re buying 4 x less stuff, you can afford to spend 4 x more on a piece of clothing, moving away from the fast fashion price trap which encourages us to buy too many, cheaper items of clothing.
3. Support small brands
Megaliths producing 3 billion garments a year (as last reported by H&M) are the opposite of slow, and they never will be (by the way, H&M gets a lot of shit, but you can also consider Uniqlo and GAP fast fashion). Look for small brands who are producing in limited quantities - just like our community of brands :)
4. Look beneath the surface
Check the care label to see which fabrics a piece of clothing is made with, and check the brand’s website to see how they produce. Email them if you don’t have the info you need. Commit to shopping from brands whose values and actions are in line with your personal ethos.
5. Care for and repair your clothes
Caring for your clothes starts with the clothing care label too; wash on the right settings, as infrequently as possible, and with gentle products designed for your garments, ideally eco-friendly cleaning products like the ones from Attire Care.
Bring back to art of repair, which has died out during the industrialisation and the rise of fast fashion teaching us to see our clothes as disposable items. There are simple techniques to repair or revitalise your clothes which you can find inspo on thanks to Fixing Fashion, and Studio Mend - whose at home visible mending kits are available to buy on PARO.