The size of the fashion industry means it is no surprise that it has a significant carbon footprint. Changes have been taking place in the industry for a while now with both large and small brands seeking alternatives that don’t destroy the planet, endanger workers or cause animals to suffer.
Slow fashion is catching on at a pace that’s not slow at all and making an impact on the fashion scene.
The problem with the fashion industry
The clothing and textile industry is estimated to produce around 1.7 billion tonnes of CO2 every year. Huge volumes of water are required for growing raw materials and the use of pesticides, fabric dyes and other chemicals are damaging biodiversity, soil and water sources.
Mass-market retailers rapidly churn out inexpensive clothing in response to the latest trends and styles and consumers are used to simply discarding unwanted items. It’s estimated that nearly 80% of clothing eventually ends up in landfill sites and incinerators. It’s no secret that the fashion industry is one of the largest contributors to the world’s waste, second only to the oil and gas industry.
What is the slow fashion movement?
Kate Fletcher of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion was the first to speak about slow fashion, following the popularity of the slow food movement. She realized how imperative it was for the fashion world to slow down its pace.
Fast is the name of the game in fashion and people embrace trend after trend in order to keep up. Collections are changed weekly rather than seasonally. Slow fashion, on the other hand, focuses on quality in design, materials and manufacturing methods. It’s about creating classic and timeless pieces, made thoughtfully and with a level of artisanship.
Slow fashion values need to guide the whole supply chain and this means using ethically sourced raw materials, finding ways to improve the sustainability of production processes, and delivering through green distribution methods and retailing channels.
Eco-material production is a fundamental part of the supply chain. For example, organic cotton is grown without fertilizers or pesticides. Fair working conditions are another important aspect, especially when relying on suppliers from all over the world. Many brands are becoming more socially conscious and supporting fair trade practices.
For manufacturers, slow fashion means moving away from the destructive methods traditionally used to make garments towards cleaner, more ethical methods.
For fashion designers, slow fashion means changing the way they design clothes, taking into account environmental impact early on in the designs. The challenge is to make garments that are durable, functional, sustainable and stylish.
For consumers, it means passing up trendy items they’ll soon discard in favor of ethically and sustainably made, high quality, durable items they’ll wear for years.
Larger fashion houses, independent designers, vintage and second-hand suppliers, local crafters, etc. are all recognized in this movement.
Slow fashion is on the fast track
In 2018, ten different United Nations organizations created the UN Alliance on Sustainable Fashion. Its focus is to promote policies and projects to make sure the fashion industry works towards achieving sustainable development goals.
Consumers are becoming more aware of where their clothes are made and under what conditions. They are demanding higher sustainability and ethical standards and brands are listening.
The site Good On You shows which brands are doing their part. Consumers are starting to shift their purchases away from companies that aren’t doing anything for the environment and their workers towards those that are at least trying to make changes.
The Fashion Transparency Index helps consumers to identify retailers who are willing to disclose their practices and improve them. Consumers can also look out for badges or certificates that mean retailers have met certain ethical standards, such as GOTS, EU Ecolabel, FSC, GCC Brandmark and Greenpeace-Approved Detox to Zero.
The future of slow fashion
While there is growing support for slow fashion, it still has a long way to go. Fashion producers need to be profitable and their prices are often higher due to using sustainable production methods and paying fair wages. To be competitive, they need to give consumers good reasons for making more sustainable and ethical choices.
Resale fashion growth is accelerating across the world and according to Retail Dive, it has grown twenty-one times faster than retail fashion and is expected to reach a value of $64 billion over the next ten years.
The presence of resale markets encourages customers to resell, shop, recycle and swap old or unworn items and this will help to solve excessive consumption trends. Contributing to a circular economy offers opportunities within the fashion industry to respond to new consumer demands.
The sooner we all start adopting a slow fashion approach, the more we will limit the negative impact of the fashion industry and the better it will be for future generations.