Today’s society is fast–paced, which pushes us to keep up with the latest trends making it all seem like an ultramarathon without a clear finish line in sight.
Being fashionable has become a never-ending pursuit of newness. Luxury brands launch up to six collections per year and online retailers can stock up to 60000 different styles at any given time with constant inventory updates.
It may not be obvious at first, but this constant mass production and consumption are killing our planet. Surveys show that in 2015, the global textile industry produced more greenhouse gas emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping together.
Water consumption is enormous: to produce cotton fabric for one T-shirt takes up to 2,700 litres of water which is sufficient for one person to drink for almost three years!
At the same time, rivers across the planet are poisoned with around 8,000 synthetic chemicals used to process raw materials. All this happens only to produce 150 billion pieces of clothing every year that will be discarded in less than three years. Moreover, less than 1% of the material used in production is recycled into something new.
One solution lies in slow fashion – a way to be fashionable and stylish but not harmful to the environment.
Principles of slow fashion
In the last two decades, the global textile industry has doubled its production to be able to meet the demand and it doesn’t seem it’s about to let up any time soon.
In generations before, clothes were sourced and produced locally, people sew their own garments and took care of them so they would last. Clothes were a sign of style, time and place, and an expression of cultural identity and community.
According to the teachings of a recent bachelor’s degree in fashion design, at the core of good fashion design lies the successful marriage of the classics and the experimentation with extremes that takes into account the tiniest details from the world around, be it ethnic, urban, pop or haute couture. As the principles of slow fashion state, we need to go back to these values.
Essentially, slow fashion is an approach that takes into consideration both the processes and resources necessary to produce clothing with a particular focus on sustainability. This means respecting the planet that gives us the raw materials to make our clothes and the welfare of the people who make them.
For the consumer, this means taking it slower, buying new clothes only when necessary, and looking for higher-quality in their make. This may be challenging for a fast fashion addict, but for someone whose signature style is defined by historical ideals and personal identity rather than the fickleness of high fashion icons, it’s a walk in the park!
For centuries, the textile industry was a crucial part of many economies around the globe with entire communities built around the cloth, yarn, flax, and wool. Today, old factories are just relics of almost ancient times with their work undermined by low prices in developing countries.
Slow fashion favours domestic brands. Firstly, they’re often compact and family-run. Secondly, they are partial to sourcing and producing locally which allows them to reduce their environmental impact. Finally, local brands typically produce smaller collections of classic and recognizable styles that last. They might cost a bit more but in the long run, you’ll be a proud owner of a genuine, well-produced item that will certainly outlive a dozen other cheaply-made pieces.
Pick good materials
There’s an explanation to why fast fashion buys often fall to pieces – they’re usually made of bottom-line materials. This is partly due to the speed of production – short lead times mean that various tests and trials aren’t feasible when you have to rush to get the new collection out. Then, there’s the cost – it’s much cheaper to produce a blend of synthetic fibres than to invest in the real stuff.
Luckily, you can test the fabric in store – ball up a part of the fabric in your hand and if it stays wrinkled after a few seconds, give it up. Also, pay attention to details such as seams, zippers, buttonholes, and buttons: they should all be firmly and neatly sewn, zippers covered and jackets lined.
Also, there’s the battle between natural and synthetic fibres. Cotton makes up 40% of all garments produced and it’s a very water-consuming, pesticide-reliant crop. However, it’s very natural, strong, soft, biodegradable, and recyclable. Its closest rival is a coal and petroleum derivative – polyester, disastrous for the environment in every possible way. Its carbon footprint is double that of cotton and its decomposition in a landfill takes between 20 and 200 years! It leaks toxins into the soil and releases microfibers into the oceans. But, a polyester garment will stand the test of time. So, ultimately, the choice is yours.
Take care of your clothes
Research indicates that if you extend the life of your clothes by just nine months, it could help reduce carbon, waste, and water footprints by some 20 to 30%. Bear in mind that a bad wash can ruin a good garment so it pays off to be more careful when doing your laundry.
Firstly, put fewer items in your washer and decrease the temperature. Heat can cause the fibres to break down and shrink or age your clothes prematurely. For the same reason, avoid dry-ironing and store your clothes properly.
This is all just cheap talk unless we change the way we see fashion, from the excitement of the new piece to elegant companion through life. But, this is not entirely our fault. Cheaply produced togs that quickly degrade and fall out of style are very unlikely to inspire a lasting devotion. And this is where the principles of slow fashion come to the foreground.
It all comes down to this – handling the garment with care, seeing the effort put into its construction, the lands where its fibres were grown, the stories behind its makers and its journey to the store, and our own contribution in sewing back its buttons and taking out that stubborn stain – only then we’ll be able to appreciate it more. And that is what slow fashion is really about.