By: Akanksha Maker
Posted on: January 31, 2019
Essentially a means of self-expression, fashion is an empowering medium that encourages an individual to embrace his or her creativity. Today, the fashion industry is valued at a staggering $2.4 trillion, as per the Global Fashion Index released by McKinsey in 2017.
About 20 years ago, a commercial phenomenon called Fast Fashion led to a meteoric rise in the value of this industry. Manufacturers like Zara, H&M and Primark began outsourcing production to third-world economies such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, to reduce the cost of production because of the cheap labour available there. This dramatically increased the supply of garments. In the original realm of fashion, there used to be only two collections launched each year — Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter. This new wave of increased production led to collections being launched almost every two weeks in stores, encouraging buyers into shopping sprees, brought about by a sea of choices.
It’s safe to say that Fast Fashion devolved clothing and accessories into low shelf-life products that are disposed off easily. Reduced prices further enamoured customers into rotating their wardrobes with the latest trends quite frequently.
Watching the Netflix documentary called ‘The True Cost by Andrew Morgan’, I was exposed to the dark side of fashion. It brought to light the unfortunate 2013 Rana Plaza collapse of a Fast Fashion factory in Bangladesh that killed 1,134 labourers because of poor working conditions. It was gut-wrenching to say the least and opened my eyes to the accountability held by not just the manufacturers but also consumers of fashion.
While mass-producing brands continue to follow the Fast Fashion route, there are niche labels who have acknowledged the damage this industry is capable of — and also the responsibility it carries. By streamlining their processes, they have delved into alternate ways of production that are not just more ethical in nature, but sustainable to the environment too.
Amiable to humanity and the planet, these brands uphold and carry the torch of a relatively new philosophy called Slow Fashion that has stirred the industry. Coined in 2007 by researcher, author, consultant and design activist Kate Fletcher, Slow Fashion is the antithesis of everything that Fast Fashion stands for. In simple words, it is about designing, producing, consuming and living better and more consciously. Not time-based but quality-oriented, Slow Fashion is a different approach to doing business in which producers are more cognizant of the impact their products have on communities, eco-systems and labour.
Slow Fashion is inspired by the Slow Food Movement that was founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986, that associated pleasure and food with responsibility and awareness. In the words of Carl Honoré, the author of “In Praise of Slowness” — “‘slow approach’ intervenes as a revolutionary process in the contemporary world because it encourages taking time to ensure quality production, to give value to the product, and contemplate the connection with the environment."
A new outlook to fashion in the age of sustainability, Slow Fashion intermingles pleasure and fashion with awareness and responsibility. Quoting Ms. Fletcher in her article that first appeared in The Ecologist back in September 2007, “Slow Fashion is about choice, information, cultural diversity and identity. Yet, critically, it is also about balance. It requires a combination of rapid imaginative change and symbolic (fashion) expression as well as durability and long-term engaging, quality products. Slow Fashion supports our psychological needs (to form identity, communicate and be creative through our clothes) as well as our physical needs (to cover and protect us from extremes of climate).”
As fashion shifts from quantity to quality, the production is not time based any more. This allows suppliers more freedom of planning orders, predicting the number of workers needed, thereby investing sincerely in the long-term. Slow Fashion labels build relationships that are not just profitable but mutually beneficial to all the stakeholders of the product. They do not set unrealistic deadlines for workers like Fast Fashion companies do. Instead, the employees are more secure with regular hours, good quality working conditions and opportunities for appraisals and promotions.
Slow Fashion encourages a qualitative dialogue between the designer and the artist, the artist and the product, and eventually the product and the consumer. In consequence, it creates long lasting relationships that transcends the nature of this fierce business into something more meaningful and with greater humane value.
Indeed, consumers are increasingly demanding for more punctilious brands. Market research provider, Euromonitor International, recently released a report on ‘Top 10 Global Consumer Trends 2019’ where the second and third most important trends were ‘Back to Basics for Status’ (shoppers searching for authentic products and experiences, moving away from overt materialism to simplicity as well as from generic to higher quality products) and ‘Conscious Consumer’ (what used to be the domain of ethically-positioned, niche producers is now being embraced by conventional companies through higher welfare products) respectively.
It isn't uncommon for Slow Fashion to be mistaken with sustainable or ethical fashion philosophies. However, it is the amalgamation of three key concepts — ethical, lasting and eco-friendly fashion. It goes against the ideal of instant gratification that Fast Fashion stands for. Slow Fashion is responsible, fair and holistic that realises a different and more sustainable way of doing business.
Of course, good quality is more expensive. Slow Fashion products are higher in value but fewer in number — epitomising what luxury originally stood for. Although not all Slow Fashion brands are luxurious in nature, here are a few picks that could catch your fancy. These conscientious companies invest into manufacturing more responsibly and uphold the integrity of the business.
“Let’s Slow Fashion down” — reads the website of Slow Fashion shoe brand Dear Frances. Adorned by the likes of Selena Gomez, Bella Hadid and Katy Perry, Dear Frances’s shoes are handcrafted at a multi-generational artisan factory in northern Italy. The makers work closely with the artisans to bring the highest level of design and craftsmanship, without the wholesale markups. Dear Frances has effectively slowed the fashion cycle and led the way for socially conscious businesses.
A namesake label born out of an apartment in Nashville, Tennessee, Elizabeth Suzann believes in mindful and careful consumption. They create long-lasting garments that are handmade keeping in mind the people they work with, relationships, the community, the environment and humanity. It was reported by WWD that the company reached $1 million in sales after a little more than a year in business.
Based in New York, Eileen Fisher is an industry leader in ethical and sustainable fashion. Known for their strong social and environmental beliefs, Eileen Fisher maintains fair working wages by carefully overseeing their supply chain processes. The company’s vision is to have 100% organic cotton, linen fibres, no-waste operations and responsible dyes by 2020. The company has over 1200 employees with over 56 retail stores in fifteen states.
Naadam’s mission is to “democratise cashmere by translating transparency into real sustainability, better prices and better quality for their customers”. The brand operates direct-to-customer to produce ultra-soft cashmere that is hand brushed from the goats (this is better for the animals). They are Cradle to Cradle certified and are responsible towards towards the people and resources involved in the production processes. Their humanitarian and eco-friendly efforts are realised by the support they offer to nomadic herding families in Mongolia and the veterinary care they provide to the goats there.