Making a choice between fast fashion vs the slow fashion movement may seem like an obvious choice, yet it is not an easy choice for many to make. One has moral implications while the other is more practical and economical. So what is it to be?
In this consumer- and trend-driven era of valueless clothes, you’re now able to change your outfit up to three times a day, should you so desire. The trend for cheaply-produced, throwaway fashion can be traced back to the early noughties when Philip Green bought the Arcadia group for a cool £850m. In 2005 his jewel in the crown, Topshop, accounted for £1bn of UK clothing sales by the first six months of that year. With the entire clothing market only worth £7bn, Green was onto a winning streak with his 14% stake in the market!
Green’s ability to deliver “Fast Fashion” – cheaply-made clothing based on designer fashion trends that are produced very quickly in small quantities – peaked the interest of his competitors. They were determined to emulate his success and so began a production cycle of speedily manufactured clothes that sated the appetites of the ever-demanding populace. The production of clothing would traditionally take weeks. However, under the new order, the quickest supply chains were used, with “time to market” (factory production of goods for delivery to stores) reduced exponentially. It wasn’t unusual for factories to be contacted at all hours by the design team in the UK with design changes and tweaks.
You may ask where this cycle began and where does it end? Consumers’ attitudes and purchasing habits are in tune with Fast Fashion production. And the impact of this on our wardrobes, means that vast amounts of clothing are purchased and never worn. Gone are the days when one purchased clothes based on a monthly budget or in harmony with the seasons. Garments were lovingly cared for, washed and repaired when necessary. Now with the proliferation of throwaway fashion people are literally doing just that. By purchasing more than you need, bags of unworn clothes are discarded faster than you can say Fast Fashion. Influencer marketing and blogging have driven the consumer to salivate over the latest weekly look, as worn by the likes of the latest kid on the blogger hemisphere. Coupled with marketing campaigns that advertise constantly-changing trends, the consumer, in their quest to look relevant, continues to consume with their voracious appetite and assumes a pivotal role in the current development of the Fast Fashion crises.
Fortunately, not everyone responds favourably to the Fast Fashion car crash.
The rise of the sustainable fashion movement, or “Slow Fashion,” has been a counterattack on a movement that, kept unchecked, was likely to inflict grave damage on the world’s ecosystem, not to mention the increasingly hazardous factory conditions the producers of Fast Fashion were exposed to.
But what does the term ‘Slow Fashion’ actually mean?
The Slow Fashion movement designs, produces and consumes in a way that acknowledges its impacts on society and the environment (Fletcher 2008). Slow Fashion is emerging as a more sustainable alternative to the Fast Fashion industry although it is not yet officially recognised and established. The Slow Food movement, started by Carlo Petrini in 1986, stands at the forefront of the Slow Movements. These also include Slow Retail, Slow Production and Slow Design. They all share the same vision of increasing one’s quality of life through decelerating the current rate of growth, production and consumption.
For Slow Fashion to emerge as a sustainable fashion model, a team of three researchers, Maureen Dickson, Carlotta Cataldi and Crystal Grover from the Master’s in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability programme in Sweden have recommended that “Slow Fashion Values” be used to guide the entire supply chain.
1.Seeing the big picture
Sustainable Fashion producers recognise that they are all interconnected to the larger environmental and social system and make decisions accordingly. The Slow Fashion movement encourages a systematic thinking approach because it recognises that the impacts of our collective choices can affect the environment and its people.
2. Slowing down consumption
Reducing raw materials by decreasing fashion production can allow the earth’s regenerative capabilities to take place. This will alleviate pressure on natural cycles so fashion production can be in a healthy rhythm with what the earth can provide.
Slow Fashion producers strive to maintain ecological, social and cultural diversity. Biodiversity is important because it offers solutions to climate change and environmental degradation. Diverse and innovative business models are encouraged; independent designers, larger fashion houses, second-hand, vintage, recycled, fashion leasing, your local knitting club and clothing swaps are all recognised in the movement. Keeping traditional methods of garment & textile making and dyeing techniques alive also gives vibrancy and meaning to what we wear and how it was made.
4. Respecting People
Participating in campaigns and codes of conduct can help to secure the fair treatment of workers. Some brands have joined the Asian Floor Wage Alliance, Ethical Trading Initiative, and the Fair Wear Foundation, among others. Labels are also supporting local communities by offering skill development and helping them to trade, such as Toms Shoes and Banuq.
5. Acknowledging human needs
Designers can meet human needs by co-creating garments and by offering fashion with emotional significance. By telling the story behind a garment or inviting the customer to be part of the design process, the needs of creativity, identity and participation can be satisfied.
6. Building relationships
Collaboration and co-creation ensure trusting and lasting relationships that will create a stronger movement. Building relationships between producers and co-producers is a key part of the movement.
Slow Fashion brands focus on using local materials and resources when possible and try to support the development of local businesses and skills.
8. Maintaining quality and beauty
Encouraging classic design over passing trends will contribute to the longevity of garments. A number of Slow Fashion designers are ensuring the longevity of their clothing by sourcing high-quality fabrics, offering traditional cuts and creating beautiful, timeless pieces.
Slow Fashion producers need to sustain profits and increase their visibility in the market to be competitive. Prices are often higher because they incorporate sustainable resources and fair wages.
10. Practicing Consciousness
This means making decisions based on personal passions, an awareness of the connection to others and the environment, and the willingness to act responsibly. Within the Slow Fashion movement, many people love what they do, and aspire to make a difference in the world in a creative and innovative way.
It’s interesting to compare and contrast the different views within both the Fast and Slow movements, in regards to provenance and who makes the garments. Within the Slow movement, the maker is heralded as the star and we are sometimes given their name along with the many hours of labour behind each handmade garment. On the other hand, the producer of the garments in the Fast Fashion industry is faceless, underpaid and works in sometimes unsafe environments.
One of my favourite designers and champion of the Slow Fashion movement is Faustine Steinmetz. She has managed to create a menage a trois through combining a commercially viable collection and a luxury aesthetic with an impressive sustainable core. With a focus on handwoven denim she shows during London Fashion Week. Her pieces are made with the help of a women’s craft collective in Burkina Faso. Produced on traditional West African looms her production time has now been reduced from one week to a matter of hours. Faustine, in her bid to expand her business in an ethical fashion, also works with a Spanish Mill that specialises in recycled denim.
In order for change to occur in the industry, bloggers and fashion influencers are key. This quote by Tolmeia Gregory of tollydolyposhfashion.com, an ethical blogger approaching her late teens sums it up perfectly, “Blogging and influencer marketing once began to make advertising more relatable but due to the fact that it has grown into such a huge and successful industry, these ideas have become over saturated. What we consume is now no longer organic or natural, or relatable in fact. Fashion bloggers are businesses and brands in themselves meaning a lot of them produce and work in compensation for huge sums of money. There is less money in the ethical industry due to the fact that the core value of most ethical brands is to focus profits back into the manufacturing and communities which provide for them. There isn’t a budget big enough to persuade big names to be a part of this huge influence. The new generation isn’t being exposed to these positive ideas as much as they are to the idea of fast fashion and consumerism.”
Do you have any insights into Fast Fashion and/or the Slow Fashion movement? We’d love to hear from you! Write in the comments below.