Slow Fashion

by Anneke Smelik

Admit, do you ever buy fast fashion? After all, it is difficult to
resist buying that incredibly cheap t-shirt or jeans that makes you look so
fashionable for this season. Yet, are you aware of the enormous cost of cheap fashion?
As the filmmakers of the
documentary The True Cost say: ‘The
price of clothing has been decreasing for decades, while the human and
environmental costs have grown dramatically’. The American fashion industry magnate, Eileen Fisher, recently exclaimed
that ‘the clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world—second
only to oil’. While this may be a hyperbolic claim, it is well-known that the
fashion industry excels in waste, pollution, and exploitation of human labour
and natural resources.

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Fast fashion emerged at the
end of the 1990s and is characterized by rapid changes in style, ever faster
cycles of global production and consumption, and ever cheaper products. Fashion
is one of the biggest and most
rapidly growing industries that is currently valued at 3 trillion dollars and employs
about 75 million people globally. 90% of the clothes is produced in low-wage
countries, mainly in Asia, while in the price calculation for a piece of
clothing a maximum of 1 or 2 % is accounted for by the wages of mostly female
(80%) textile workers. The fashion industry is a thirsty business, requiring a
lot of water to produce its goods. The manufacturing of a pair of jeans
typically requires about 11,000 litres of water and involves highly toxic dyes.
Due to systematic overproduction, however, the jeans may end up unused on a
waste heap: a staggering 30% of clothes in shops remains unsold. These are
astounding figures.

It is quite a big challenge to make the complex
fashion system more sustainable and more ethical, yet we need to stop the spiralling cycle of
producing and consuming ever more and ever faster. If the problem is a 24/7
society ‘in which producing, consuming, and discarding occur without pause,
hastening the exhaustion of life and the depletion of resources’, as Jonathan Crary
writes (2013: 17), then the solution is to slow down. ‘Slow’ fashion focuses on
creating ethical and sustainable relations between people and their
environment. You don’t have to look far, because some fast fashion chains like
C&A and H&M now feature ‘green’ clothing lines with recycled fibres and
fabrics.

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There are many initiatives
of creating slow fashion in the Netherlands. To name just a few: the Dutch
jeans brand G-star and singer Pharrell Williams launched together ‘RAW for the
Oceans’, a project that uses recycled ocean plastic to create a collection of
fabrics, including two new sorts of denim. Studio Jux produces the
majority of garments in its very own garment factory in Kathmandu, Nepal. Each
garment made in that factory contains a numbered label, which corresponds to
one of the Nepali tailors that buyers can ‘shake hands with’ on the company
website. At MUD Jeans you can lease your jeans and at
Oh My Bag you can buy fair trade bags. There are clothing libraries where you can
borrow or exchange clothes
. Finally, there are of course the developments to
recycle old clothes and textiles—on a more industrial scale at Texperium where for
example KLM uniforms are recycled and made into new products. Marjanne van Helvert recycles
in a more artsy way for her Dirty Design project. So
many inspiring examples!

Let’s displace today’s cult
of speed and start a movement of ‘slow’ fashion!

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