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Understanding The Slow Fashion Movement

by Gayatri Varun on Sep 14, 2023

Understanding The Slow Fashion Movement

In recent years, the fashion industry has witnessed a growing divide between two contrasting approaches: fast fashion and slow fashion. This divide reflects the industry's evolving dynamics and consumer preferences.

Fast fashion retailers pay little attention to the concerns of workers and the environment since they must continually exceed increasing sales targets and investor expectations. In contrast, the slow fashion movement encourages customers to reconsider their connection with clothing and shopping by putting a stop to the industry's rampant overproduction and unethical business methods. Why should we do more to support the slow fashion movement, and how does it differ from the unsustainable fast fashion market?

You have certainly heard of a number of new terminologies and movements like circular fashion, eco-fashion, or sustainable fashion as the fashion industry moves towards sustainability. Many of these categories overlap and differ somewhat, but they all seek to lessen the environmental impact of the fashion business.

What Is Slow Fashion?

Slow fashion is a movement focused on responsible and mindful fashion consumption, contrasting with the fast-paced, disposable nature of the conventional fashion industry.

Its distinguishing feature is that it focuses on addressing the issue of excessive production and consumption. In a 2007 piece for The Ecologist, fashion and sustainability writer and researcher, Kate Fletcher, coined the phrase "slow fashion" that has since reshaped our understanding of the fashion industry.

According to her, fast fashion is about "selling more" and "earning more money" than it is about actual speed. Slow fashion "is about creating, manufacturing, consuming, and living better," as opposed to the latter. There is no duality, she said, and "slow" is just a new approach where designers, purchasers, merchants, and consumers are more conscious of the effects of goods on workers, communities, and ecosystems.

The issue only becomes worse when consumers embrace the unsustainable rapid fashion production paradigm. Conscious consumption is another aspect of slow fashion. A popular approach these days is the “capsule wardrobe”, which is a minimalist approach to fashion. It involves curating a small collection of versatile, high-quality clothing items that can be mixed and matched to create various outfits. This concept aligns with the slow fashion movement, which emphasises investing in durable, sustainable, and ethically produced garments made from quality fabrics.

Some of slow fashion’s key philosophies include:

  • A shift in production and consumption, prioritising quality over quantity, with a focus on sustainability rather than continuous expansion.
  • Production that respects the environment by avoiding hazardous chemicals and employing low-waste procedures.
  • Ensuring an adequate income and wholesome working conditions for employees.
  • To prevent unsold inventory, collections are made in limited quantities or according to pre-orders.
  • A simple supply chain with regional concentrations of labour  and raw commodities. It makes use of as many local resources and labourers as it can.
  • Upcycling, which involves using natural fibres, deadstock materials, or outdated textiles.

Fashion’s Sustainability Problem

The fashion business prefers to do tasks quickly and affordably to maximise profit. Cheap pricing for the newest styles tempt consumers to believe they are saving money, but these "savings" have significant environmental and social implications.One challenge people need to recognize in today's slow fashion movement is the importance of checking for certifications and understanding the production process before making a purchase. When it comes to the depletion of natural resources and the contamination of ecosystems, the industry is a major culprit, contributing to 20% of the world's clean water contamination and being responsible for 2–10% of global carbon emissions, according to various sources.

Retailers outsource manufacture to nations like China, Bangladesh, or Pakistan to reduce labour costs and get past rigorous laws in the US or Europe. You may be wearing a t-shirt made from cotton that was first farmed in the United States, then coloured, processed, and designed at a textile facility in India, before returning to the company's warehouse and being produced in-store. According to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the sector uses more energy than both the shipping and aviation sectors combined. 

How Fashion Picked Up Speed

This isn't how fashion used to be. Prior to the 19th century, individuals took the time to sew their own garments or, if they could afford it, had them made by a tailor. The procedure was interactive and personalised , including dialogue between the wearer and the maker. People valued their apparel more when they had to wait a week or so for a dress to be finished. Only the aristocracy could afford to spend lavishly on new fashions and fads; therefore common people without access to a royal budget made an investment in long-lasting materials. Despite the advent of the industrial revolution and the rise of ready-to-wear from the 1920s to the 1980s, many individuals continued to sew their own clothing or visit neighbourhood tailors.

All of that changed in the 1990s, when high street shops like Zara and H&M upended the market by speeding up trend cycles and discarding tens of thousands of new products from stores each week. If we had any doubts that this was truly innovative, along came fresh rivals like Shein or Pretty Little Thing, online-only retailers that dethroned the big names in fast fashion with an ultra-quick fashion model. These new businesses, which primarily rely on big data and a culture that values influencers, have effectively taken over social media feeds and consumer wallets. . 

We often take our garments for granted, rarely considering their origins or the manufacturing process, simply because they are affordable and easily accessible. There's a vast gap between makers and wearers.

 Companies have the last say when it comes to selecting designs and materials. It was  only after tragedies like the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory or the 2011 silicosis "killer jeans" exposé that the public began to pay attention to the quiet employees who were being killed by the lethal practices of an industry that produces what appeared to be harmless goods.

The Beginnings Of Slow Fashion

The fashion business has experienced a tsunami of upheaval during the last decade  or so. A growing number of companies are choosing to produce garments in a more sustainable way instead of adhering to the principles of rapid fashion. The term  "slow fashion" developed naturally. After the success of the slow food movement, Kate Fletcher of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion came up with the term. Fletcher identified a need for a slower pace in the fashion sector, similar to the slower food trend.

Slow Fashion Becomes A Movement

Before the Industrial Revolution, clothing was sourced and created locally. People would either purchase long-lasting apparel or build their own using the materials and resources at their disposal. Their attire reflected their geographic location and cultural background.

Several of these outdated practices  have come back into style thanks to modern, slow fashion. It first encourages us to sit back and consider if we truly need anything new or whether we may look in our wardrobe for a discarded item that might only require a minor repair. Because customers have started demanding better environmental and ethical standards, slow fashion has gained more and more popularity. The fact that 19% of the top fast fashion searches now include terms like "environment," "ethics," and "sustainability" is a promising development. The rising adoption of Slow Fashion promises a better, sustainable future for both the Earth and its inhabitants.

In conclusion, the Slow Fashion movement has not only transformed the way we consume clothing but has also fostered a deeper appreciation for sustainable, timeless pieces. As we continue to prioritise quality over quantity, we are creating a more conscious and eco-friendly future for fashion, where style meets sustainability harmoniously.


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