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Slow fashion is an aspect of sustainable fashion and a concept describing the opposite to fast fashion, part of the "slow movement" advocating for clothing and apparel manufacturing in respect to people, environment and animals. As such, contrary to the industrial practices of fast fashion conglomerates, slow fashion involves local artisans and the use of eco-friendly materials, with the goal of preserving crafts and the environment which, ultimately, provides value to all, slow fashion brands, consumers and retailers.
Slow fashion is a way to "identify sustainable fashion solutions, based on the repositioning of strategies of design, production, consumption, use, and reuse, which are emerging alongside the global fashion system, and are posing a potential challenge to it." In other words, slow fashion is about making conscious and sustainable choices when it comes to fashion, and challenging the fast fashion system that is often associated with negative impacts on people and the planet. It promotes the purchase of higher-quality clothes that will last longer, as well as equitable treatment of people, animals, and the environment.
It is an alternative to fast fashion because it promotes a more ethical and sustainable way of living and consuming. "It encompasses the whole range of 'sustainable,' 'eco,' 'green,' and 'ethical' fashion movement". This movement is another business model focusing on slowing down consumerism and respecting the environment and ethics.
The critical elements employed by slow fashion brands and designers include using eco-friendly materials, repurposing old or discarded textiles, using raw materials from small producers, and making clothes and accessories at home in small batches to prevent waste, while making the final product last longer. New ideas and product innovations are constantly redefining slow fashion, so using a static, single definition would ignore the evolving nature of the concept.
Fast and slow fashion
For a long time, slow fashion was defined in opposition to fast fashion.
Unlike fast fashion, slow fashion production ensures quality manufacturing to lengthen the life of the garment or material. Slow fashion garment normally has a longer product life cycle, places stress on quality, is commonly more expensive, and demands increasing awareness from manufacturers and consumers to decrease production and consumption speed. Developing a garment with a cultural and emotional connection is also pertinent to the purpose behind slow fashion: consumers will keep an article of clothing longer than one season if they feel emotionally or culturally connected to the article of clothing. A taxation is in early stages of development in order to deter fashion companies from purchasing or producing materials that are not made with recycled, organic, or re-purposed materials. Utilizing materials already made will reduce the industry's carbon footprint.
There is also an important movement toward companies being more transparent. Many sustainable fashion companies are transparent, from manufacturing to retailing clothes, with the aim of helping buyers to make more conscious purchasing decisions. In accordance with the slow movement there is a trend towards more conscious buying as well as companies attracting new consumers with their eco-friendly processes.
The idea of slow fashion became rampant after Elizabeth L. Cline published Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Clothing and rose awareness regarding the detriments of the fast fashion industry. The term was used on blogs and the internet. However, the term "slow clothes movement" was apparently coined by Angela Murrills, a fashion writer for Georgia Straight, a Vancouver-based online news magazine.
However, the expression "slow fashion" was coined in a 2007 article by Kate Fletcher published in The Ecologist, where she compared the eco/sustainable/ethical fashion industry to the slow food movement:
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 Food Movement advocates the following principles:
- Good: quality, flavorsome and healthy food
- Clean: production that does not harm the environment
- Fair: accessible prices for consumers and fair conditions and pay for producers
The slow fashion movement has been studied by Kate Fletcher, a researcher, author, consultant, and design activist, and the author of Sustainable Fashion and Textiles. Her writings integrated design thinking with fashion and textiles as a necessary way to move towards a more sustainable fashion industry.
Based on the three principles of slow design that were created in 2006 in Milan, Hazel Clark, in SLOW + FASHION—an Oxymoron—or a Promise for the Future…? decided to define the principles of the Slow Fashion Movement:
- taking a local approach
- having a transparent production system
- making sustainable and sensorial products
In 2019, Debapratim Purkayastha provided an example of how an operative in the slow fashion industry looks like with a case study of 7Weaves Social. The Assam-based social venture deals in sustainably sourced and manufactured Eri silk products by on one hand working with the forest-dependent indigenous people in the region, while on the other hand working with global slow fashion brands in the West. Eri silk is manufactured without killing the silk worm and only natural dyes were used by 7Weaves in coloring the fabric. Zero waste
The model provided sustainable livelihood to the artisan who had traditional knowledge in handloom and sericulture. 7Weaves provided guaranteed work for artisans at a fixed monthly emolument for the whole year, and redistributed 50 percent of its annual profits to the artisans and other players in the supply chain. 7Weaves's focus was also to preserve the biodiversity of the biologically rich but ecologically fragile Assam valley region. Slow fashion brands from countries including Germany, France, Belgium and Australia source garments and fabrics from 7Weaves. According, to the author, 7Weaves's focus on sustainably sourced fair trade fabrics that were long-lasting and locally produced, use of traditional values and know how, preservation of ecosystem, source diversity, and responsible business practices emphasize its slow fashion credentials.
In 2009, Vogue and The VOU Fashion Magazines traced the history of the context of the Slow Fashion Movement.
In March 1990, the New York Times and Vogue published articles about the environmental trend in the fashion world. In the summer of 1990, British fashion designer Katharine Hamnett, who has been often recognized as one of the first designers to combine environmental activism with fashion, gave a speech about the environmental impacts of fashion at the United Nations. In 1995, Giorgio Armani began to use hemp in his Emporio Armani collection. In 2001, Natalie Chanin launched Project Alabama, a collection of 200 locally produced hand-sewn T-shirts that was well received at New York Fashion Week. The same year, Stella McCartney launched her own line, applying animal-friendly (no leather, no fur) policies.
In recent years, many companies have kick-started revolutions against fast fashion, such as Fashion Revolution Day and Second Hand September campaigns. This has led to big fast fashion retailers such as Zara and H&M to either pledge or launch a clothing line dedicated to sustainable clothing.
Slow fashion has its own marketing strategies as it targets a certain type of consumers. Unlike fast fashion consumers, slow fashion consumers expect classic and timeless pieces of clothes, giving importance to versatility, low maintenance and a higher quality.
Marketing strategies concerning slow fashion often revolve around a more conscious consumption, focusing the advertising on environmentally and socially sustainable aspects on the clothes. Companies use several strategies in order to be less wasteful than other fast fashion brands
- changing their clothing lines less often
- producing and stocking less items
- paying attention to the material that they use
- ensuring ethical and non-exploitive methods of production
Slow fashion is also often associated with thrift shops, to the extent that shrift shops offer clothes that are not produced within a just-in-time flow.
Global economy has a market-driven aspect. This means that consumers are encourage to always buy more and producers are encourage to always produce more. Those two aspects mutually develop each other. The current economic model is said to be global because the production process is divided worldwide to maximize efficiency and profit. Slow fashion is more slow, local and quality-oriented. Therefore, it does not fit well in the global economy model. Several papers question the longevity of slow fashion in a market-driven society.
In slow fashion, each designer is encouraged to produce locally, using local workforce and resources. Quality is chosen over quantity, which means that slow fashion can reduce exploitation of resources or workers. The production chain is as transparent as possible. This redefines the hierarchy between designers, consumers and producers. Fashion is known to be ruled by trends that come and go quickly, encouraging consumption. The end products offered to clients are made to last longer and be timeless.
Slow fashion has a different cost of production and cannot produce as much in quantity. Slow fashion cannot compete with the mass produced products of fast fashion that use cheap labor and resources to maximize profits. Slow fashion is very local and used fair-trade materials and fabrics of high quality. Moreover, slow fashion cannot produced as much as fast fashion due to the different production process. Many academic papers have looked into the viability of this movement in an era of mass-production and mass-consumption.
By keeping the production in "productive communities", this process is more transparent. There is less intermediation and a greater cultural and material value to the consumer. This is one of the way Clarke presents to address the question of how slow fashion fit into the current economic model. Recently, a carbon footprint tax on fashion supply chains has been implemented to encourage the use of local supplies. The effect of that measures has been limited.
The pricing of slow fashion clothes varies a lot. Since the definition is so broad, a second-hand dress from a thrift shop worth five dollars and a designer dress costing 700 dollars can both be considered part of the slow fashion.
The current economic system focuses on economic growth and quantity sold. However, research has shown that more parameters should be included due to a raising social conscience. People have said to be willing to pay more for clothes when they know that they have been produced in "sweat-free" manufacture.
The slow fashion movement, part of the greater goal of sustainable fashion and thus, a cleaner world is gaining strength, driven by growing environmental concerns. In 2018, a third of fashion consumers bought clothing once a month, a decrease from 37% compared to 2016, whereas those buying clothes every two or three months or less rose from 64% to 67%, according to the market research firm Mintel.
After the release of the documentaries The True Cost and RiverBlue, there was attention drawn to companies that have fast fashion practices. Despite the spread movement, H&M had revenues amount to $25 billion in the fiscal year of 2016. However, as the movement has grown in popularity, H&M's stock and brand image has taken a hit as consumer awareness has spread of their environmentally unethical practices leading to a drop in sales.
The spread of the movement has resulted in two fast fashion giants, Zara and H&M, switching narratives to become advocates for ethical fashion practices. With collections aimed at sustainable fashions, the two companies have shifted towards more ethical practices. Due to the audience that the movement against unethical fashion practices has accumulated, organizations such as the United States Fashion Industry Association have devoted some of their attention to ‘social compliance and sustainability’.
Critics have called out against certain brands who have claimed to strive to follow slow fashion's principles. For example, Swedish brand H&M was accused of not being sustainable when reports found out that it burns its unsold clothes. While H&M is striving to create sustainability to the best of their abilities, they are still overproducing mass amounts of clothing while hawking it as sustainable. H&M has a stated "sustainability strategy," and brands some items with green "Conscious" tags to signal that they contain "more sustainable materials".
- Empathic design
- Sustainable clothing
- Product tracing systems: allow to see source factory of a product
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