In honor of fashion revolution week (23-29th April 2018), I’m re-reading “Slow Fashion: Aesthetics Meets Ethics,” by Safia Minney, the founder of the Fair Trade UK fashion label People Tree. This beautiful, educational and inspiring book is a must-read for anyone who wants to learn about the challenges and possibilities of a sustainable supply chain in the fashion industry.
An Educational Resource for Anyone Who Buys Clothes, i.e. All of Us
Thinking about the clothing supply chain is probably not something you do on a daily basis. In the U.S., it’s rare to meet a fellow American who sews clothes in a factory for a living.
The reason it's so rare is because the majority of the clothing that Americans buy and wear is made outside of the U.S., in locales such as China, Vietnam, India, and Bangladesh. According to this Quartz article, the US imports nearly all of its clothes—97.5%.
It hasn’t always been that way.
Technology and social media has only made fast fashion (defined below) more of a problem as people strive to meet societal standards they see online. As ads grow more targeted, corporate retailer tactics do get our attention causing us to want to consume more fashion products. Fast fashion has taken over our inboxes, our feeds and some people’s lives.
In Slow Fashion, Safia Minney details information about the clothing supply chain, and how we can make it more sustainable through fair wages, transparency, and the use of organic cotton. She tells stories of people around the globe who are leaning into ethical fashion and each story is inspirational. She also details eco-concept stores and their rise, a movement we should all continue to watch for in our local communities.
What is “Slow Fashion?”
What is “slow fashion” anyway? In order to define slow fashion, we must first explain “fast fashion,” a term used to describe inexpensive trend-driven clothing produced by large corporate retailers with unfair labor practices and sold at a discounted rate.
Fast fashion retailers are producing (and some are subsequently destroying) literally tons of product each year. Examples of fast fashion retailers include H&M, Forever 21, The Gap, and more. And unethical retailers aren't just the places where you can get a t-shirt for $5. Many large retailers with higher cost items sell garments produced in dangerous conditions by workers who are paid extremely low wages - by that I mean less than $3 per day in some places, including Zara. Contrast that with the net worth of Inditex (Zara’s parent company) owner Amancio Ortega ($69.4 billion) and how grimy do you suddenly feel?
Slow fashion, by contrast, refers to the many alternatives to fast fashion.
New apparel: For new clothing, this means purchasing from ethical retailers who freely share information about their clothing supply chain, the workers who make their clothing, the conditions of their safe factories, the quality of their garments, and the fair wages that they pay.
Timeless style: Slow fashion can also refer to the concept of dressing with timeless style, or not succumbing to trends that come and go. In this way you can build a wardrobe to last years and years and not contribute to fashion waste.
Personal style: Slow fashion can also describe the benefits of developing your own personal style. When you’re confident in your own style you won’t feel as compelled to buy that H&M knock-off of whatever outfit the most popular reality star had on Instagram last week.
Used and vintage: For some people, slow fashion means wearing used clothing or vintage. Apps like Poshmark, Thred-Up, Mercari and even eBay and Etsy make that easier and achievable for many of us.
Environmental considerations: For others, slow fashion is about caring for our environment. Besides the extreme amount of clothing waste that ends up in landfills (estimated at roughly 8 trash bags/year per average American), there are major environmental disaster issues with clothing manufacturing. Read about current conditions in Bangladesh to learn more.
For Safia Minney, slow fashion means even more than all that. We asked Safia why she wrote Slow Fashion, and here’s what she had to say:
I wrote Slow Fashion because over the last 20 years I have seen cotton grown organically and the care the farmers put in to manage the pests and improve soil fertility and the huge benefits this has to the environment, their incomes and promoting organic foods and health locally and their incomes. In making fabrics and clothes by hand like hand weaving fabric, hand embroidery and hand knitting we create beautiful clothing, in a carbon neutral way, (no energy except for people power used) and maximize the livelihoods created through this in rural areas. I believe that fashion can be a powerful tool for rural development and help women. We need fashion made like this to become the “fair trade gold label.”
- Safia Minney
Founder, People Tree
Safia explains to us that slow fashion is about something much larger than ourselves and our fashion preferences. It’s about community, it’s about environment, it’s about helping rural development, it’s about feminism, and it’s about creating change.
This macro look at slow fashion makes it bigger than personal style and even bigger than checking corporate greed, Safia shows us that it’s about creating positive change for our world.
What One Small Thing Can You do Today to Create Change?
It’s through email lists and social media that corporate retailers have power over us and our mindless mobile scrolling.
How many retailers have your email address and send you sale emails on the reg? And how many of those catch your attention each week? Do you find yourself clicking and shopping, even when you don’t need an item? It’s easy to do. I find myself doing it far too often.
But a couple months ago, I took the time to unsubscribe from a lot of them.
That simple act of unsubscribing puts the power back in your hands.
To unsubscribe from any retailer email, simply scroll to the bottom of the email and look for an “unsubscribe” link. It is usually very small, may be gray and inconspicuous (may not look like a link). But it will be there. Because legally, it’s required for them to have an option for you to unsubscribe.
This is the one small change I recommend making during Fashion Revolution week: Take the time to unsubscribe from fast fashion emails. It will help stop you from over-consuming fashion.
If you’re looking for a list of retailers who are considered fast fashion retailers, this is a good resource.
Want to Do More? Fashion Revolution Resources
I recommend “Slow Fashion: Aesthetics Meets Ethics,” if you’re looking to learn more about these issues. Spring for a used version of the hardcover book instead of going with Kindle. For only $10 more, you’ll receive a hardcover book with a thread-sewn and lovely exposed binding. The cover is textured and features a stark white and black top and a printed bottom that resembles a beautiful fabric print - very appropriate for the content.
Inside the book are many full color images and even some full page bleed images that help tell the inspired stories sprinkled throughout the book. The photographer featured is Miki Alcalde, who visually tells the story of artisans and influencers on the pages.
For Fashion Revolution week, a lot of blogs and brands are proving lists of more ways to create change. See these for more inspiration:
Other helpful resources:
- The Fashion Revolution website
- More Brands Should Reveal Where Their Clothes are Made
- 35 Fair Trade & Ethical Clothing Brands Betting Against Fast Fashion
- Patagonia: The Activist Company
- People Tree website
For our fellow humans, the environment and your closet, I hope you'll join us at Journey to Good in making one small change during Fashion Revolution week.