In contrast to the fast fashion model that emerged nearly two decades ago, slow fashion supports a more methodical pace to clothing creation and distribution. Slow fashion brands are pushing pause on extreme commercialism and overcomplicated supply chains, and instead embracing sustainable processes and thoughtfully-sourced materials.
What is slow fashion?
At its core, the slow fashion advocates for ethical manufacturing with respect for our planet and the global population. Unlike industrial fashion retailers, slow fashion companies hire local artisans and rely on eco-friendly fabrics, as a way to preserve the craft of clothing construction and promote conscious consumerism. Slow fashion is rooted in redefining the strategies of clothing design, production, consumption, use, and reuse or recycling efforts.
The history of slow fashion
The term ‘slow fashion’ was coined in 2007 by Kate Fletcher, an author, consultant, research professor, and design activist. In her article published in The Ecologist, Fletcher notes how slow fashion borrows from the foundations of the Slow Food Movement. Founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986, Slow Food serves as an alternative to fast food by supporting small businesses and sustainable farming, and focusing on regional cuisine and traditional cooking techniques.
In the same way, slow fashion decreases excess and waste, in favor of increasing awareness and responsibility at every level. As outlined by Dr. Hazel Clark in her 2008 essay, “SLOW + FASHION--an Oxymoron--or a Promise for the Future…?,” slow fashion is based on three guiding principles: taking a local approach, having a transparent production system, and making sustainable and sensorial products.
While a handful of clothing brands began adopting slower standards in the mid-2000s, it wasn’t until Elizabeth Cline’s 2012 release, “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion,” that slow fashion really started to gain steam. The popularity of slow fashion has continued to rise, as companies and consumers alike are recognizing the destructive nature of the fast fashion industry and the importance of supporting brands with honorable practices.
Characteristics of a slow fashion brand
Sustainable fabrics are those derived from eco-friendly resources, like responsibly grown fibers or recycled materials. The most sustainable natural fibers include recycled cotton, organic, hemp, and organic linen. In addition, there are now a number of innovative and futuristic fabrics on the market, like Tencel, Piñatex, Econyl, and Qmonos, to name a few. Each of these textiles boasts a range of sustainable properties, from requiring less energy and water to produce, to making use of food by-products to create new materials.
According to a 2018 report from the United Nations, the long supply chains and energy-intensive production of fast fashion contribute to around 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions -- that’s quite the carbon footprint! Fortunately, more and more eco-conscious brands are popping up with a focus on quality over quantity. Producing smaller quantities just two or three times per year equates to less waste and less strain on the planet overall.
Fewer styles per collection
In conjunction with creating smaller quantities, slow fashion brands are also making a deliberate shift to producing fewer styles per collection. Fewer styles means consumers won’t be as overwhelmed with options, and in turn, will hopefully make more informed purchasing decisions. Brands are encouraging customers to invest in classic shapes and silhouettes that can be worn year after year, rather than trendy, cheap pieces that will fall apart after a few wears.
Sold in smaller shops
Unlike huge chain enterprises that are constantly slashing prices and swapping out styles every few weeks, slow fashion is carried in smaller batches at much smaller shops. Slow fashion collections are typically released bi-annually, and find homes in small businesses that support local economies and entrepreneurs. These businesses are likely to recognize the inherent value of slow fashion, especially its concern for the people are processes behind each piece.
How is this slower approach changing the fashion industry?
The first step towards lasting change is giving greater visibility to a cause or concern. Slow fashion becoming more mainstream is definitely a move in the right direction, as it’s shedding light on the many harmful consequences of factory-made fashion. It requires an enormous amount of water and energy to produce and distribute fast fashion, not to mention the unfair wages and unsafe working conditions for those making the garments. But by continually increasing awareness around these issues, change can happen on a much larger scale.
Decline of cheaper, fast fashion
While there are a number of reasons for the decline of major fast fashion retailers, they have definitely been impacted by the change in how consumers think about disposable clothing and their impact on our planet. Though fast fashion has dominated the industry for the last 20 years, people are now looking for practical ways to reduce the cycle of waste, which means purchasing used or vintage clothing more often, and supporting brands with sustainable sourcing and fair labor practices. Today’s shoppers are more environmentally-conscious, which is why they’re giving less of their money to companies who don’t take social responsibility seriously.
Reduced environmental impact
The extreme environmental effects of fast fashion have been heavily documented as of late. It’s now well-known the apparel industry is a major contributor to water pollution, plastic pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. What’s more, consumers throw out 13 million tons of textile waste every year, despite the fact that 95% could be reused or recycled. Fortunately, the slow fashion philosophy advocates for buying vintage items, redesigning old clothes, shopping from smaller producers, and even making clothes and accessories at home, all of which contributes to a reduced environmental impact over time.
A return to tradition
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, it was customary for clothing to be locally-sourced and produced, with many households making their own garments from whatever textiles were available. Clothing was durable enough to be worn for several years, and was often handed down within the family, as well. Slow fashion shares many similarities with these traditions, by encouraging consumers to buy less pieces at higher-quality, support companies with sustainable practices, and have a closer connection to the people making each product.
Slow fashion has seen exponentially more support within the last few years, with consumers continuing to demand higher ethical standards at every level of clothing manufacturing. But this isn’t just a fleeting trend or soon forgotten hashtag; slow fashion is a mindful, impassioned movement, and one that’s here to stay.