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. We can design a different system for ourselves that makes money while respecting the rights of workers and the environment, and produces beautiful and conscientious garments.
Slow fashion is about designing, producing, consuming and living better. Slow fashion is not time-based but quality-based (which has some time components). 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.
The concept of slow fashion borrows heavily from the Slow Food Movement. Founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986, Slow Food links pleasure and food with awareness and responsibility. It defends biodiversity in our food supply by opposing the standardisation of taste, defends the need for consumer information and protects cultural identities tied to food. It has spawned a wealth of other slow movements. Slow Cities, for example, design with slow values but within the context of a town or city and a commitment to improve its citizens’ quality of life.
Slow fashion, with the shift from quantity to quality, takes the pressure off time. It allows suppliers to plan orders, predict the numbers of workers needed and invest in the longer term. It gives companies time to build mutually beneficial relationships. No longer will suppliers have to employ temporary or subcontracted workers, or force workers to do excessive overtime to meet unpredictable orders with impossible deadlines. Instead, workers will have secure employment with regular hours and the opportunity for promotion.
Of course, quality costs more. We will buy fewer products, but higher in value. A fairer distribution of the ticket price through the supply chain is an intrinsic part of the agenda. Jobs are preserved as workers spend longer on each piece. Slow design enables a richer interaction between designer and maker; maker and garment; garment and user. A strong bond of relationships is formed, which permeates far beyond the garment manufacturing chain.
Tips to slow down your wardrobe:
• Repair your clothes with a smile (it’s easier than going shopping)
• Or ask stores about repair services… that may get them thinking
• Ask your friends for new ideas about how to wear the garments you already have… it’s always good to wear things in a new way.
Kate Fletcher is an eco textiles consultant and author.