In recent years, we as consumers have grown accustomed to the use of terminology like ‘fast fashion’ and gained an understanding of the detrimental effects of this business model. We have heard the news stories of child labour and appalling conditions at the sweatshops used by our favourite brands. However, fast fashion is still a booming industry as we are bombarded with advertising and influencer marketing promoting the wear once and throw-away attitude that fast fashion giants capitalise on.
Fast fashion is defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary as “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasises making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers”. This business model aims to take trends from the catwalks of luxury brands and produce them as cheaply and quickly as possible to provide them for the everyday consumer. This may sound like a positive, as it allows more people to have access to fashionable clothes, however there are many drawbacks to this method of production. To drastically reduce the price of fashion items while producing them at an extremely fast rate, companies use supply chains that often do not pay their workers a living wage, meanwhile forcing them to work in unsafe conditions. Due to the huge demand for cheap labour, often these factories rely on child and slave labour, abusing many human rights. In order for the final product to be sold cheaply to the consumer, the garment workers must pay the price through hard underpaid labour. Better World Apparel argue that “as consumers now demand and expect more for less, creating a race to the bottom in price and quality. It is no secret that the race to the bottom leads to terrible treatment of workers in the supply chain from farmers to factory workers.”
Forbes writes that “on average Americans buy a new piece of clothing every five days. Prices are so cheap that clothing is now seen as essentially disposable. According to a McKinsey study, for every five new garments produced each year, three garments are disposed of”. This reveals the widespread waste problem which has been accelerated by the fast fashion industry. Aggressive marketing tactics have fed into the consumers’ desire to have the newest and most fashionable items, by creating micro trends and 52 trend cycles per year. By accelerating the speed at which trends come and go, companies have created feeling of dissatisfaction, consequently encouraging over-consumption.
By contrast, Slow Fashion is a reaction to the overconsumption and exploitative production processes of fast fashion. The term ‘Slow Fashion’ was coined by Kate Fletcher in 2007, in an article emphasising the greed of the fashion industry and our consumption, and the need to slow it down and make considered choices. EarthKind write that slow fashion “encourages us to be more thoughtful and conscious about what we buy, enabling us to curate a more timeless wardrobe that can be worn for any occasion instead”. This philosophy is opposite to that of fast fashion which promotes following micro trends, wearing clothes once and throwing them away. According to Project Cece, “the Slow Fashion movement encourages a systematic thinking approach because it recognises that the impacts of our collective choices can affect the environment and its people”. In this way, Slow Fashion aims to decrease the speed and quantity of production and put focus back on to quality, while caring for the environment and the rights of garment workers.
Slow Fashion is increasing in popularity as consumers become more aware of the detrimental environmental and social effects of fast fashion and no longer want to support businesses that use this model (Better World Apparel). However, due to the use of fair labour where workers are paid a living wage, and slower production which is sometimes made to order, Slow Fashion often has a much higher price tag than fast fashion. For many people, £300 for a dress just isn’t feasible. However, for those who perhaps can afford it but would rather get more items for their money, it is a question of adjusting their mindset. Slow Fashion garments are often made using better quality materials and with more attention paid to the production, meaning they will wash better and last longer. The philosophy behind Slow Fashion is treating garments as an investment to be a permanent wardrobe addition, rather than purchasing a new item every week. While for some, fast fashion is a necessity, for those who have the privilege of choice, Slow Fashion is the way forward for the wellbeing of our planet and garment workers.