The beauty of slowWritten by -
Slow is beautiful.
Slow fashion is also beautiful.
Beyond an aesthetic appeal, fashion created mindfully at a slower pace can avoid the pitfalls of an often-accelerated industry. Namely, it can help address the waste, resource and labour issues that are exacerbated by the fast fashion phenomenon.
What is fast fashion?
Fast fashion is the popular business model marked by low-prices, quick-production, and rapid-turnaround. Often led by micro-trends – those that go out of style as quickly as they came into it. The popularity of this business model has seen the amount of apparel created has dramatically increased, and global consumption of apparel has reached an estimated 62 million tonnes of apparel each year, expected to reach 102 million tonnes by 2030. Fashion brands are now producing an average of twice the number of collections as they were pre-2000. The increased speed of clothing production has wreaked havoc on resources, producers, workers and waste-streams associated with the fashion industry. In this blog post I will specifically address the issue of fashion waste, and in coming posts I will more directly address the impacts on garment workers across the globe.
The World Economic Forum estimates that 85% of all textiles go to the landfill every year – this is a mixture of pre- and post-consumer waste. Pre-consumer manufacturing waste is estimated between 10-15% of each garment created (think of the excess fabric that gets trimmed off when cutting a pattern out of fabric). Quick production methods often result in more mistakes, adding to pre-consumer waste. After consumers take the clothing home, most of it ends up in the landfill. Australians are the second highest consumers of fashion (after the United States), purchasing an average of 27kg new clothing per person annually, and discarding 23kg into the landfill. Fast fashion is typically made of subpar materials, meaning that the quality will not withstand more than 10 wears, making it destined for the bin. But it’s the fast fashion mindset that is the biggest waste culprit – the expectation that we only wear garments a handful of times before they are no longer stylish, or because we don’t want to be seen wearing the same thing twice, thus sending our clothes to an early fashion grave.
What doesn’t end up the landfill often ends up in charity bins, and eventually may end up in an overseas secondhand clothing market or landfill. Perhaps you caught the Foreign Correspondent episode called Dead White Man’s Clothes earlier this year, which detailed the long journey many of our clothing items take from donation bin to developing nation. The reality is that most of the clothes we donate in Australia don’t stay in Australia, and the excess of clothing gets sold into markets where secondhand ‘western’ clothing can negatively impact local fashion industries and pollute environments.
I was first introduced to this phenomenon in 2012 in Arusha, Tanzania. This mitumba market – which translates into ‘bundles’ in Swahili – was a huge outdoor market selling secondhand clothing, taken from large plastic bundles of clothes exported by Australia, America, Europe and the UK. You could buy a pair of good quality pre-loved Converse for $2, and an entire bag of t-shirts for less than $5. Walking through the town and engaging with locals, I was surprised to see so many people wearing skinny jeans, sneakers and t-shirts. No doubt I was naïve, and guilty of fetishising Tanzanian culture based on my ignorance of the country, but I was also saddened to see our cast offs in such vast quantities, piled high in the noisy, dusty market.
Despite the troublesome nature of fast fashion, the good news is that we can all make a direct improvement to the problem of fashion waste, starting today.
First, we can learn to embrace our own unique style, and turn away from trend-driven fashion.
Next, we can clothe ourselves with brands that emphasise quality, beauty and ethics in their design and production. Slow fashion labels, like Pure Pod, enable us to look great thanks to high quality production methods and conscious design, but also feel good about ourselves, in the knowledge that we don’t need to change our wardrobe every month, or season. Slow fashion labels support us in making empowered fashion consumption choices that have a positive impact on people and planet.
Slow fashion brands often have the following practices:
- Reduced quantities of garments produced, including some pieces that are made-to-order only (like these Pure Pod pieces)
- Individual handcut garments reduces mistakes in production, reducing waste.
- Do not adhere to cyclical fashion seasons, slowing the pace of production and consumption.
- Engage directly with their consumers to understand fashion needs and desires.
- Use surplus fabric stock, which is often the result of a fast fashion brand over-ordering materials, like the denim used in the Truth Be Told pants.
- Design and produce quality, long-lasting garments that outlive trends.
- Send excess fabrics for reuse or recycling. Pure Pod regularly sends it excess fabrics to be used at schools, and works with Upparel for recycling fabric offcuts.
- Work with other small businesses for pattern making, tailoring, and production.
So let’s celebrate the beauty of slow.
The waste produced in the global apparel industry is overwhelming, but we have the power to reduce our impact by slowing down our fashion buying behaviour. At the same time, we send a message to the fashion industry that we reject fast fashion methods. We are not okay with the excess, waste, subpar labour conditions or resource use. Through our choices we can celebrate the beauty of slow, and let the fashion world know we’re not interested in speeding up again.
The Environmental Price of Fast Fashion, Niinimäki, K., Peters, G., Dahlbo, H. et al. (2020).
Anguelov, N. The Dirty Side of the Garment Industry: Fast Fashion and its Negative Impact on Environment and Society (CRC, Taylor & Francis, 2015). [book]
Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF). A new textiles economy: Redesigning
Dr Lisa Heinze
Dr Lisa Heinze is an author, researcher and academic with expertise in incorporating sustainability into today's lifestyles. She is also one of Australia's leading authorities on sustainability in fashion and completed research with the University of Sydney, where she was a key researcher with the Sydney Environment Institute (SEI), on the state of sustainable fashion and pathways toward a sustainable fashion industry. Lisa's book, Sustainability with Style, was first published in 2012, positioning her at the forefront of the sustainable fashion movement in Australia. Some of her pro-bono work includes being a co-founder of Clean Cut, Australia's sustainable fashion council, and a committee member of Fashion Revolution in Australia. She has taught and spoken extensively on topics of fashion and sustainability in academic settings, industry forums and community workshops.