What is slow fashion?
If you've been paying attention to the recent conversations about sustainable fashion and ethical shopping, you've probably heard about the term slow fashion, but you might be asking yourself what it actually means. According to Kate Fletcher—a fashion and sustainability pioneer who first introduced the term, "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." Slow fashion and fast fashion stand for very different approaches when it comes to fashion and consumerism.
What is fast fashion?
Fast fashion is all about keeping up with the latest fashion trends, but doing it on a budget. The rise of fast fashion has resulted in overflowing closets around the globe, full of cheap clothing and even cheaper fabric. You buy it fast, you wear it fast, and it falls apart FAST. Then, it heads to the thrift store or landfill, sometimes within mere months. At first, the idea of fast fashion is enticing. It's easy to see why it has become so popular in the last 20 years with the rise of social media and influencer culture. Behind these mounds of affordable, cheap clothing though, is a very high cost.
As we mentioned in one of our previous articles, the cost of a t-shirt from a fast fashion brand might have us thinking, "Only $15 for a t-shirt? Yes, please!" But does it really only cost you $15? And what else is it costing the earth and the hands that make them? We have questions.
1. Is that t-shirt made of high quality fabric that can be washed over and over again and still look great after months of wear? Or will you have to buy a new one in a couple of months? If so, the t-shirt isn't really that cheap, and you're paying the price...over and over and over again (for the same t-shirt!).
2. During production, did the contracted factories run a clean and green process, ensuring that no harmful chemicals were being released into waterways and nature? If not, the earth and our drinking water are paying the price.
3. Along the supply chain, were all the workers involved in making the clothing being paid a fair and liveable wage? If not, the garment workers who made your clothing are paying the price.
4. Will you still wear and love that piece of clothing in a couple of years? Or will that garment be considered unstylish and out of fashion in a few months from now? If so, the landfill is paying the price.
These questions might seem a bit harsh at first, but these angles should all be considered when we're buying from any brand, whether they claim to be slow fashion or not. Your clothes should cost more than your coffee. When we're paying more for a Starbucks latte than a t-shirt or dress, something is just not right.
How to make better fashion decisions for people and planet
It's easy when you hear the definitions of fast fashion and slow fashion, to feel like the former is evil and the latter will be our saving grace. Some may say yes, but like Fletcher mentioned, there is no dualism here—and fast fashion might be the only option for some people. Inequity is part of a much bigger problem that we won't tackle in this article. We're not here to judge those who don't have the ability to budget and invest money in sustainable, slow fashion clothing. No one is doing sustainable fashion perfectly, and we all have room to grow. One thing we know for sure is that if we all keep consuming at the rate we have been, humanity as we know it will not be the same again. And this is an area where we can all play our part.
Slow fashion doesn't just mean buying sustainable—it means buying LESS
More than the use of sustainable fabrics, having an ethical supply chain, fair wages, eco-friendly processes, or high quality products—slow fashion is about mindful and slowed down consumption. Not purchasing when you want to or when you feel like it, but making sustainable shopping choices when you have a genuine gap in your closet. Slow fashion is thinking long and hard about whether you need something, before making a purchase at all.
Fast fashion is all about mindless consumption, and this is the biggest area that slow fashion advocates work to draw attention to. Cheap quality, fast production, abundance of options and cheap labour. It all adds up to MORE clothing in our closets, thrift stores and eventually our landfills.
Value the hands that make your clothes
Did you know that every piece of clothing in the world is handmade? Slow fashion and fast fashion value the hands that make those clothes very differently. Fast fashion typically means very low or illegal wages of garment workers. This ensures high profit and low costs.
Many fast fashion retailers hire the services of third party factories that offer very cheap labour in countries with horrible working conditions. In these factories, little to no regulations are in place to ensure a sustainable processes and a safe work environment. A relevant example of this is the Rana Plaza building collapse. The garment manufacturing building in Dhaka, Pakistan housed 5 factories that produced clothes for well-known large corporations. It collapsed on April 24th, 2013 — killing 1,134 people and leaving thousands of others severely injured.
In a slow fashion company's supply chain, the factories that make their garments are traceable. They have personal relationships with the people who make their clothes, and value their skills and craftsmanship. At Miik, the milling and sewing factories we work with are located in the GTA, all within 50km of our distribution centre. This means we can reduce our carbon footprint, and visit the factories to ensure that workers are treated with dignity and respect, and are being paid a fair wage as determined by law in Ontario, Canada.
Most times when we read articles like this one, it can leave us a little hopeless, or like making changes in our own lives won't fix a global crisis. However, the more we talk about it and the more we become aware of those issues, the more we can stand up and voice our needs and wants, so that companies will change their ways and work towards more sustainable and ethical production. A company's biggest goal is to please their customer base, and if enough people show dissatisfaction towards their approach, they will have no choice but to change their ways. Also, choosing to shop LESS and only shop with companies that share your values is a great and easy place to start.
If you would like to read more about why slow fashion costs more and what sustainable fashion really means, you can take a look at our following articles:
With much love,
Miik team 💚