Who are we without fashion? Today's clothing industry offers us not just access to attractive and practical clothing, but the ability to put together fun and fitting outfits for any occasion. Yet the process by which these clothes are produced is seriously broken. Too often apparel companies prioritize production speed, convenience and cheap prices over quality, minimal environmental impact and worker's rights.
Many of us are familiar with Slow Food, the culinary movement which promotes local food and traditional cooking (Slow Food, Wikipedia). You might not know there's a similar movement in fashion. The term “slow fashion” was coined by Kate Fletcher in a 2007 article published in The Ecologist. Fletcher suggests a “quality-based” approach to clothing production, rather than one focused on speed and low prices. She points out that the cheapness and convenience of fast fashion is artificially created; it takes no less time to produce the materials needed. “The fibre takes the same length of time to grow, regardless of a product’s speed to market” Fletcher writes, “[...]it takes just as long to be spun, knitted or woven, cleaned, bleached, dyed, printed, cut and sewn; and going shopping and laundering the garment takes the same amount of time no matter how speedily a design makes it from catwalk to high street retailer.” (Fletcher)
There are multiple ways to make clothing production more environmentally friendly. Using sustainably harvested, grown and produced materials can have a positive environmental impact, reducing waste and improving sustainability. In an article for BBC Earth, Lucy Jones describes a variety of clothing materials which can be produced sustainably. Pineapple “leather” requires less water to produce; its leftover leaf waste can be “recycled and used for fertilizer and biomass” (Jones). Production of materials using bio-mimicry, which “incorporate(s) or mimic(s) natural processes,” could also improve sustainability in textile production (Jones). Jones cites a protein found in squid ink, capable of being lab-engineered for broader application; this protein has self-healing properties and can be used as a coating to make fibers more durable. In addition, traditional materials such as wool can be produced more sustainably. Bare Ranch, a sheep and cattle ranch in California, uses techniques such as compost application and grazing management to sequester carbon. The efforts of ranch owner Lani Estill to make her operation “climate beneficial” are spotlighted in an article on USDA-run website Farmers.gov (Crowell), with a report by Dr. Jeffrey Creque of the Carbon Cycle Institute in conjunction with nonprofit organization Fibershed going into greater detail about the steps used to make Blue Ranch more climate-friendly (Creque).
Slow fashion has multiple benefits for workers. Slower production reduces the need for workers to put in excessive overtime, as well as the need for manufacturers to hire sub-contractors. As Ruth Styles writes in a 2015 Ecologist article, less convoluted supply chains enable greater accountability and transparency. Fashion Revolution, a campaign which advocates for workers' rights, the labor movement and greater transparency and accountability in the clothing industry (“About,” fashionrevolution.org), argues that “company directors need to be made legally responsible for the conditions in their supply chain” (Crumbie). Proponents of slow fashion argue for usage of traditional manufacturing techniques, which can help preserve cultural heritage; local production can simplify supply chains and support local industry.
This shift in manufacturing practicing benefits consumers as well. Clothing produced using better materials and production processes lasts longer, offsetting higher price tags and giving the buyer a quality item they can wear for years. Knowledge of the intricacies of clothing manufacturing enables buyers to make educated choices and gives them a sense of connection to the products they buy. To reach this level of connectedness, it is important that consumers have access to education about the steps involved in clothing production.
An ideal clothing industry connects consumers and workers and protects the environment. While the global fashion industry has a long way to go to reach this point, there are companies, organizations and individuals which have made steps towards it. As awareness of the importance of slow fashion grows, we can hope that more companies will implement its practices in order to create a more just, holistic and environmentally friendly fashion industry.
- “Slow Food.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 5 December 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slow_Food. Accessed 14 January 2023.
- Fletcher, Kate. “Slow Fashion.” The Ecologist, 1 June 2007, (first appeared in The Ecologist September 2007), https://theecologist.org/2007/jun/01/slow-fashion. Accessed 14 January 2023.
- Jones, Lucy. “Six fashion materials that could help save the planet.” BBC Earth, https://www.bbcearth.com/news/six-fashion-materials-that-could-help-save-the-planet. Accessed 14 January 2023
- Crumbie, Alex. “Workers’ rights in the clothing industry and what consumers can do.” Ethical Consumer.org, https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/fashion-clothing/workers-rights-clothing-industry-what-consumers-can-do. August 20 2021. Accessed 14 January 2023.
- Creque, Jeffrey. “Bare Ranch carbon farm plan.” Carbon Cycle Institute and Fibershed, Spring 2016.
- Crowell, Laura. “California Sheep Ranch Corners Conservation Market by Improving Soil Health.” Farmers.gov, US Department of Agriculture, 1 May 2018, https://www.farmers.gov/blog/california-sheep-ranch-corners-conservation-market-by-improving-soil-health. Accessed 14 January 2023
7. “About.” Fashionrevolution.org, Fashion Revolution. https://www.fashionrevolution.org/about/. Accessed 14 January 2023