Why we need to slow down fashion

by Sydney BadgerMar 12, 2020
Why we need to slow down fashion

What comes to mind when you think of slow fashion?  

When I came across the term a few years ago, before I became deeply entrenched in the issues rampant in the fashion industry, my overall reaction to the term was negative. Words that came to mind were: slow, inefficient, expensive, customized, niche, snobby, patronizing. See, pretty negative.

Fast forward to 2018 when Zakhar and I – Public Habit co-founders - started working on a seedling of an idea. We didn’t deliberately set out to start a slow fashion brand. I don’t think Zakhar and I meet the stereotypical definition of what I thought slow fashion brand owners looks like. We aren’t dressed in head-to-toe hemp; I don’t wear ten rings on my fingers all hammered from copper by artisans in Zimbabwe; we didn’t grow up in a quant village in Pisa where our grandfather cobbled shoes; and we don’t do anything slowly. Ever. Neither of us can sit still – something we’re actively working on, but that’s for another story.   

We aren’t dressed in head-to-toe hemp; I don’t wear ten rings on my fingers all hammered from copper by artisans in Zimbabwe; we didn’t grow up in a quant village in Pisa where our grandfather cobbled shoes; and we don’t do anything slowly. Ever.

But we couldn’t deny that one of the biggest issues facing the industry is the rampant overproduction and compounding waste – much of which is toxic - building up in landfills. When we started our factory tours to vet various suppliers, we would inevitably find rolls and rolls of fabric piled up in huge warehouses dedicated to surplus materials. These typically came from canceled orders from customers (brands), or overorders to match future demand that didn’t materialize. Add that to the glowing statistic that almost 1 in 3 items made is never even sold and we knew there was a fundamental problem in the industry, starting with how brands and manufacturers plan for future demand.

"It has hit the fashion industry like a thunderstorm, the understanding of just how much they are wasting. It needs 100 percent transparency and 100 percent slowing down of the industry, which means producing less, producing carefully, and having the understanding of everything you’re producing and a solution in order to maximize its life.” - Orsola de Castro, Fashion Revolution.

This got us thinking hard about alternatives to the inflexible supply chain where production planning occurs many months ahead of future demand. And it took us two years to conclude that the best path forward would be to slow the process down to do things right. That meant being intentional, thoughtful and deliberate about what we make, where, how and when we make it. And to ensure that there is always a customer for whatever we make.

I’ve come around to the idea of slow fashion because it speaks to the mindfulness required at all stages of the product lifecycle, including more mindful consumption. In my research on the topic, my favorite definition of slow fashion came from Kate Fletcher, who arguably coined the term in 2007:  

“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 but a different approach in which designers, buyers, retailers and consumers are more aware of the impacts of products on workers, communities and ecosystems.” — Kate Fletcher

Milaner
Elizabeth Suzann

There is clear intention behind each step of the product lifecycle from design, materials’ sourcing, to production planning. Within the Slow Fashion supply chain, every person involved is aware of the role he/she plays in determining the greater impact of a product. Every step is deliberate and every product made is wanted.

From a cultural standpoint, slow fashion has risen as a concept in opposition to fast fashion (which we wrote about here last week). But it is also getting lumped in with a maelstrom of sustainable, ethical, and circular fashion. How is a consumer to know what’s what? There’s an understanding that all are good, but no clear definition to help consumers align their values with brands.

“We know that many so-called ‘fast fashion’ brands are investing in social prosperity and in transparency, but does all that effort offset the fact that they are producing billions worth of garments a year?” – Orsola de Castro

Slow fashion is the intentional practice of consciously creating and consuming fashion. Slow fashion is about quality over quantity. It requires every stakeholder to be aware and deliberate in our actions at every step in the lifecycle of the greater impact so that we design, produce, and consume more thoughtfully.

A few exciting slow fashion brands – aside from Public Habit, of course – that we are following are: 

 “You could compare it (slow fashion) to meditating. There, the constant pressure of desires and fast living is replaced with peace and clarity, and the acknowledging of one's long-term values and needs. Both in the sense of producing and consuming.” - Liisa Soolepp, knitwear designer.

As always, if you have questions or think we missed something, please comment below or email us at hello@publichabit.com.

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