You’ve probably heard of ‘fast fashion’, but have you heard of ‘slow fashion’?
Slow fashion is a trend which has come about as a response to the growing awareness of the damage fast fashion is doing to the planet. It combines principles of minimalism and environmentalism, resulting in passionate, environmentally concerned consumers.
Fast fashion’s relentless speed is a growing concern for many. Breaches of the rights of garment workers are commonplace, a recent example is the murder of a worker in a factory which supplies H&M, after she tried to report her harassment (1). The effect on the planet is stark and serious - According to the Ellen McArthur Foundation, In 2015, CO2 emissions from textiles production were more than those from all international flights and maritime shipping combined (2).
Fashion is a billion-dollar industry, set only to increase over time. ASOS saw an increase of 19% to its sales over the past year (3) despite the pandemic. In a recent interview for Business of Fashion, Helena Helmersson, CEO of the H&M group, laid out the plans for aggressive growth post-COVID (4), despite the company's best marketing efforts to convince customers of their green credentials.
This unsustainable way of consuming has given rise to a new type of consumer, one who rejects overconsumption and values personal style over trends, celebrating a uniqueness and a positive attitude towards clothes. Learning to love and make the most of what you already own is a key pillar of the slow fashion community, as well as sourcing unique pieces from charity shops or thrift stores.
While a traditional capitalist economy would promote switching to consuming ‘eco’ versions of the same products without changing shopping habits or spending patterns, slow fashion advocates would rather encourage an overall lower level of consumption. Looking to the ‘5 Rs’; refusing, reducing, reusing, repurposing and recycling (5) - before buying anything new.
Many slow fashion advocates share their upcycling projects or ‘thrift flips’, exercising their creativity and ingenuity. You’ll often come across styling tips and hacks which encourage alternative uses for items. Lockdown has also provided the time for many to nurture fledgling small businesses and crafts, and have found a niche in the slow fashion community where they are celebrated and can flourish.
New ways of sourcing secondhand garments are also flourishing outside of resale platforms such as Depop and eBay. Fashion rental businesses allow individuals to rent items for a period of time or specific event, without the financial commitment or environmental impact of making a purchase, and online swap groups enable users to swap clothing items cheaply, or even for free.
Slow fashion has become a form of online activism - rejecting traditional consumption patterns in favour of a slower, more conscious way of consuming. While COVID has prevented mass gatherings, activists have taken their causes online. Influencers typically act as a marketing tool for fast fashion brands, but slow fashion turns the Instagram platform’s sales-focused function on its head, seeking instead to encourage consumers to change their habits to the tune of #outfitrepeater and #secondhandstyle.
These advocates are an example of the fact that we can exist without fast fashion and the rampant consumption it encourages. Historically, there has been a stigma attached to shopping secondhand, but the tide is turning. In a report commissioned by the luxury resale platform Vestiare Collective, data found that 69% of consumers are willing to purchase more secondhand pieces in the future (6), while the secondhand market continues to outpace growth of the fast fashion sector (7).
Leah Thomas, an environmental activist behind the Instagram page @greengirlleah, in an interview for Atmos in 2020 said: “We are each participants in an online ecosystem, and we have the potential to make a greener, safer, and more equitable future for everyone through our social media clicks”(8).
By Katie Brown