We have all seen clothing that was being sold at such a low price – so cheap, really – that it was difficult to believe the seller could be making a profit. Or, more honestly, it was difficult to believe that no ethical, welfare or environmental corners were being cut in the production of such a cheap garment.
These doubts are most often triggered by ‘fast fashion’ racks, and it was this rightly placed distrust that gave rise to the ‘slow fashion’ movement. Slow fashion is an effort to push back against the churning of disposable trends, rampant consumerism and the fast-n-cheap manufacturing that pushes forward regardless of the human or environmental cost.
More poignantly, the April 2013 collapse of a garment factory in Rana Plaza, Bangladesh, which killed 1,129 workers, highlighted the importance of refusing to support ‘fast fashion’ manufacturers. This tragedy exposed an ugly truth: that the cheap clothes being enjoyed in the West came at the cost of human suffering in unsafe, poorly managed sweatshops in developing countries.
The term was coined by Kate Fletcher in 2007 as a play on the Slow Food movement, and it generally describes a more conscious and considered approach to fashion that is more environmentally and ethically sound.
According to Kate: ‘Fast fashion isn’t really about speed, but greed: selling more, making more money. Time is just one factor of production, along with labour, capital and natural resources that get juggled and squeezed in the pursuit of maximum profits. But fast is not free. Short lead times and cheap clothes are only made possible by exploitation of labour and natural resources.
Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. Slow fashion is about designing, producing, consuming and living better. Slow fashion is not time-based but quality-based. Slow is not the opposite of fast – there is no dualism – but a different approach in which designers, buyers, retailers and consumers are more aware of the impacts of products on workers, communities and ecosystems.’ [Fletcher: The Ecologist 2007]
Traditionally, fashion houses had two seasonal deliveries, Spring and Fall, taking approximately six months to deliver their catwalk styles to shop shelves. Fast fashion retailers like Zara, Mango, Asos and Primark disrupted this old paradigm by delivering catwalk knock-offs in a remarkably faster turnaround time – more like a couple of months – meaning the high fashion styles were already passe by the time they hit shelves four months later. In the fast fashion world, there are 30-50 deliveries or seasons per year.
“The more changes in styling, the more desire to consume,” says Mia Fratino director Tim Fitzpatrick. “However, satisfying this desire for quicker, faster, cheaper was nothing more than a race to the bottom and required someone in the supply-chain to bear the cost for the low cost of the garments.”
Slow fashion encourages the conscious purchase of high-quality, ethically made, long-lasting garments. It encourages repair rather than replacement, and the cultivation of timeless, classic styles as opposed to following high-street trends.
Fast fashion, on the other hand, thrives on continual consumption, and cheap, trend-based garments that barely last a season and require regular replacement. Often, in order to produce garments so quickly and cheaply, manufacturers exploit workers, or source from factories with no environmental, ethical or sustainable accountability, or use synthetic fibres and materials that require vast resources or create toxic by-products during manufacture.
Mia Fratino is an example of a slow fashion company, with the company and its products managed and designed with the 10 guiding principles of slow fashion in mind (as outlined below).
Slow fashion considerations within Mia Fratino include the ‘care clinic’ to repair cashmere sweaters, and deliberately smaller production runs to avoid wasteful overstocking. Additionally, the Mia Fratino Foundation was created to support village women in developing countries escape poverty.
Other slow fashion ethical and sustainable brands include Reformation, Byron Bay-based Salt Gypsy, KowTow and The Social Outfit.
In 2010, Cataldi, Dickson and Grover outlined 10 guiding principles for a truly slow fashion company, as follows:
Slow fashion producers recognise that they are all interconnected to the larger environmental and social system and make decisions with the environment and people in mind.
Reducing raw material usage by decreasing fashion production can allow the earth’s regenerative capabilities to take place.
Slow Fashion producers strive to maintain ecological, social and cultural diversity. Diverse and innovative business models are encouraged; independent designers, recycling and repairing garments wherever possible.
Slow fashion producers have codes of conduct to secure the fair treatment of workers. They also support local communities by offering skill development and helping them to trade.
Designers can meet human needs by co-creating garments and 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.
Collaboration and co-creation ensure trusting and lasting relationships that will create a stronger movement.
Slow fashion brands focus on using local materials and resources when possible and try to support the development of local businesses and skills.
Encouraging classic design over passing trends will contribute to the longevity of garments 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.
Slow fashion producers have personal passions, an awareness of the connection to others and the environment, and the willingness to act responsibly because they love what they do, and aspire to make a difference in the world in a creative and innovative way.