Sunday, April 28, 2013


** This article was originally written for and published in Catalyst Magazine **

“Shoppers buy an unsustainable amount of sustainable products.”

 Quote by Environment Journalist, Greg Foyster


Over time, we have seen the term 'sustainable' used more and more in advertising, in general conversation, and in public seminars. It has become another piece of the ‘greenwashing’ puzzle - a notion commonly associated with companies incorporating words into their terminology, such as ‘green’, ‘organic’ and ‘sustainable’, in an effort to sell their products. The term sustainable is particularly problematic when linked to the fashion industry, as it can be used without having much substance or integrity behind it. It can also influence people to avoid dealing with the real issues - suggesting for example that one need only buy an organic product in order to be successfully sustainable. The Slow Fashion Movement acknowledges that there is more to sustainability than merely creating sustainable products in lieu of less-ethical alternatives.

The movement, which centres on the adage ‘quality over quantity’, was founded in 2007 by proclaimed researcher, author and consultant Kate Fletcher. ‘Slow fashion challenges consumerist fashion’s obsession with mass production and globalized style, and becomes a guardian of alternative ways of fashion provision and expression’, Fletcher says. She argues that when discussing sustainable fashion, people often fail to look at the bigger picture and evaluate the complete cycle. The movement highlights that our planet can no longer accommodate outrageous rates of consumption, and therefore encourages us to address the relationship we have with clothing. Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, encapsulated the essence of the movement when she said that it was, "...about reconnecting with our clothes, rather than viewing them as quick trends or throwaway items...It's about tapping into the pleasure of buying a well-made garment with a timeless design, being able to recognise quality, repairing and properly caring for your wardrobe."

The movement does not shun fashion or clothing; in fact various fashion designers have actually embraced it and are encouraging consumers to value clothing at a deeper level. Emerging Australian fashion designer, Yuge Yu of the label YUGE, comments ‘I find that making clothing with a very strong seasonality and trend driven direction has the potential to make the previous season redundant. Both designers and consumers can be more mindful of how the garment industry is progressing, by creating and purchasing pieces that are imbued with a sense of longevity.’

Much like the Slow Food Movement, the Slow Fashion Movement aims to slow rates of consumption down to a more sustainable pace. The movement addresses the whole consumption cycle and promotes the idea that fashion can, and should be long lasting. It plays on this notion that style is timeless and clothing ought to be trans-seasonal. In many ways, it is employing the values and mindsets seen throughout the early to mid 20th Century, when people were very conscious of preserving their garments and treating them with a certain level of respect. Nowadays, it seems people have somehow gotten so caught up in finding a bargain, that they have lost sight of what should be considered more important – i.e. the quality of a garment and the ethics of a supply chain. Bargain hungry consumers no longer have eyes for detail, nor do they value good craftsmanship or the longevity of a garment. They fall into a false economy and become slaves to fashion trends and disposable, short-lived items. This throwaway mentality is entrenched in our society’s psyche and is something that the Slow Movement is seeking to transform.

The ills of fast fashion are so grave that it casts a dark shadow over the beauty of a garment. The recent harrowing tragedy in Bangladesh - where over 1,000 clothing workers died in the collapse of a knowingly unsafe garment factory - should be reason enough for consumers to start thinking deeply about their consumption habits and where their purchases originate. It should not be acceptable for people to claim ignorance and to separate ethics from their wardrobes – after all, poor working conditions and negative environmental impacts are often well documented.

A simple way to begin incorporating the principles of the Slow Fashion Movement into your lifestyle is to start with your wardrobe. The idea of a curated wardrobe is to maximize the use of your clothing so as to avoid waste. For example, be mindful of having garments that can be worn together, in different ways, and that are both practical and aesthetically pleasing. Instead of buying an item of clothing on impulse, stop to consider its purpose, its significance to your wardrobe and whether or not you really need it. An intelligent and well-curated wardrobe is one that consists of classic staple pieces that compliment each other and that are essentially trans-seasonal. The strong desire to continually purchase more should become increasingly redundant, as greater emphasis is placed on owning fewer, better quality garments.

This movement, which is working towards what Kate Fletcher describes as a ‘sense of sanity within a system that has only become one speed’, will hopefully take hold as more people start appreciating the need for significant change. It is important that consumers start demanding more from their clothing, so that companies come to realise that cheap, low-quality fashion is no longer acceptable or in demand. Further, consumers need to know how to properly care for their garments so that their lifespans are increased and the population’s overall level of consumption is reduced. The time has come to slow things down.
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