What is slow fashion?

Clothes. Where do they come from? Who made them? What kind of material are they made from? Is it organic? Handwoven? These are rarely questions that come up in conversation.

Instead, we often hear snippets from well-meaning ladies unashamedly admitting to their splurge on cheap clothing for their children since, ‘Well, they get dirty so quickly’ and ‘They outgrow so quickly’. Or even those ladies who wouldn’t dare be seen twice wearing the same garment in public. All in the name of fashion. Fast fashion actually. Fast fashion is not about affordability. It is about attitude. It is about education and awareness. Or the lack of it.

The phrase ‘slow fashion’, coined in 2008 by Researcher, Author, Consultant and Design Activist, Kate Fletcher, is an approach to clothing that represents eco, ethical and green, all under one umbrella. Unlike purely green fashion (or other such movements), whereby the focus is solely on the item’s consumption, slow fashion addresses the whole cycle. “It’s about the consumer becoming aware of the whole process – from design through production through use and through the potential to reuse”, as stated here by Hazel Clark, research chair of fashion at Parsons.

Fletcher defines slow fashion as: “It represents a changed point of departure for fashion with different values, goals and objectives. It’s an opportunity for us to have our cake and eat it; to be nourished by fashion and nature.”

As explained in this article in the Los Angeles Times, the idea of slow fashion followed on from the slow-food movement, which began in 1986 when Carlo Petrini rallied support against a planned McDonald’s in Rome by advocating for traditional dishes, such as Penne, and not fast-food burgers. Since then, the slow-clothes movement has been on the rise. Slow fashion emphasises transparent production and supply chains; living wages for the artisans and labourers; quality over quantity; promoting small businesses and making sure to have as little environmental damage as possible.


Then how is this different to haute couture, you might ask?

In theory, it bears many of the couture principles, such as quality over quantity and the use of specialised handcraftsmanship. However, slow fashion is more egalitarian, priced to be more accessible to the average person and it is eco-conscious.

Rahul Mishra, the first Indian designer to win the International Woolmark Prize in 2014, explains: “Not all haute couture is slow fashion. Slow fashion needs to be done in eco-friendly ways. The perception of couture being similar to slow fashion makes ‘slow fashion’ perceived as the expensive option”, which is not always the case.

Referring to an excerpt from this interview, Mishra further explains: “It is not just about conscious consumption versus consumed, or quality versus quantity, or education versus ignorance; it is also about slowing the process of making the garment and the numerous artisan hands involved in making those, and it is about natural imperfection versus mechanical perfection.”

“In a real sense these clothes have got life, where as in mass production, fast-fashion clothes are produced with perfectly fast fibres, like petroleum-based synthetics, which are so perfectly made and tailored that they lack life, that liveliness,” Mishra says. “I like the fact that my clothes show a degree of imperfection and have a life.”

Red Handwoven Jacket

Image: Red Handwoven Jacket by Debashri Samanta


We need more awareness to bring about a change

Slow fashion and sustainability go hand-in-hand. According to Fletcher, the biggest myth or misconception about sustainable fashion is that “It is all about materials and technology. For it is also about behaviour, relationships and ways of thinking.”

On the 24th of April 2013, 1134 people were killed and over 2500 were injured when the Rana Plaza complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. This brought to light the unsafe working conditions and poor wages for the workers. As Livia Firth writes, ‘Several of the biggest brands in the world committed to improving working conditions by signing the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. However, 3 years on, and despite growing profits and market share, some of these brands have still not established their supply factories as safe. In Cambodia, Myanmar and Ethiopia, the same factory model as before is being replicated without systemic change.'

We need more awareness to bring about more change. Let’s start right here, right now.

Upcycling. Recycling. Reuse. All these are part of slow fashion. We need to get in the habit of buying clothes that we can wear over-and-over again. For this to happen, we need to invest in quality. Let us appreciate the artisans and let us celebrate the imperfections, for these imperfections are the evidence of life.

As our motto at S9 Muses goes, “Fashion should be about choosing a piece that can be worn countless times, styled differently and still looking good in years ahead.”