Slow Fashion Movement and Its Implications

Introduction

Sustainability in industry, including fashion industry, is a wide concept that encompasses social, economic, and environmental aspects (Harris, 2003; Shen, 2014). It includes various issues, such as, workers’ rights and safety at workplace, ethical sourcing of resources, minimising environmental effects of business practices, and enhancing beneficial social and economic effects of society, to name a few (Harris, 2003). This essay critically analyses how fashion is responding to the sustainability imperative. The essay discusses the notion of sustainability in fashion and the significance of sustainability in light of rising awareness of need for sustainable development in business. The essay then critically analyses a sustainable strategy now used by fashion brands so as to assess the effectiveness of such strategy for supporting positive change in the short and long term. As the notion of sustainability itself is so wide, the essay focusses on slow fashion as a sustainability imperative. Slow fashion is a recent sustainable movement in the fashion industry (Jung & Jin, 2014). The slow fashion movement is considered to be a socially conscious movement.

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Sustainability in fashion

Han, et al. (2017) explain the concept of sustainability as a general concept and write that there is development of a new wave of sustainability concerns since the 1990s, which included concepts like worker rights and safety, factory conditions, labour laws, and environment. One of the key ideas put forth by Han, et al. (2017) is that sustainability is not a concept that is clearly defined and it includes within itself various concepts like rights of workers and the need for protection of environment. The Triple Bottom Line (TBL) approach is generally used to assess sustainability of business practices as this approach encompasses social, environmental, and economic aspects (Han, et al., 2017). The Triple Bottom Line approach posits that the broad interests of the society should be integrated into corporate objectives so that the business enterprise’s performance can be measured from the perspective of economic, environmental, and social value added by the actions of the business enterprise (Elkington, 2004). The assessment of the corporate actions on the basis of how these actions impact the society and environment is also a way for increasing the accountability of the enterprise in the society (Harrison & Wicks, 2013).

Sustainability in fashion industry then can be explained as practices that are related to enhancing worker rights and safety, improving factory conditions and supply chains, abiding by labour laws, and enhancing respect for environment. This is also how sustainability has been defined by Han, et al. (2017). Harris (2003) further explains the social, economic and environmental sustainability aspects of industry. The social aspect relates to the working conditions in factories as well as terms of service, such as: safe working conditions, fair wages, investments in public facilities for society’s improvement (outdoor spaces, schools, and community centres) (Harris, 2003). Environmental sustainability relates to use of less harmful raw materials, reuse or recycling of materials, ensuring sustainable supply chains, to name a few (Harris, 2003). Economic sustainability relates to prevention of imbalances harmful for agricultural and industrial production (Harris, 2003). Thus, in order to be sustainable, business practices, including in the fashion industry should be viable in terms of their social, economic, and environmental impacts within a society or country.

It may also be noted that within the fashion industry itself, achieving of sustainability is highly challenging due to the complexities of negative environmental and social impacts associated with fashion products; in its life cycle, a fashion product goes through stages of production to consumption to disposal, which add to the complex effects of fashion products within the society (Kozlowski, et al., 2016). It is agreed that the fashion industry has some of the longest and most complicated industrial chains that involve multiple sectors like agriculture, chemical fibre production, textile manufacturing, retail sectors, and even second-hand markets (Kozlowski, et al., 2016). A new challenge in this context is the development of the “fast fashion” business model, which is based on the idea that consumers should be able to buy fashion apparel in large quantities (Kozlowski, et al., 2016). Fast fashion has certain negative attributes in regards to sustainability so that while fast fashion democratises style by making it more accessible; but, it also has significant environmental costs especially carbon footprint; and social costs especially lower wages and protection for labour involved in fast fashion factories (Brewer, 2019). Against this brief overview of sustainability in fashion industry and the issues and challenges in this context, the next and more detailed part of this essay will critically analyse how the specific strategy of slow fashion can be been used to address sustainability concerns.

Sustainable strategies: Slow fashion

One of the new terms that has come to be used in the context of the fashion industry is ‘sustainable fashion’; and not only is this concept new, it is also now widely used terms in the fashion industry (Khandual & Pradhan, 2019). As there are a number of practices that can be related to sustainable business in the fashion industry, it may be challenging to note one practice; however, this essay focusses on how slow fashion can be a sustainability imperative.

To define the term ‘slow fashion’, the term was first conceptualised on the basis of slow food (Fletcher, 2007). In much the same way slow food is conceptualised with emphasis on responsible food production and consumption, slow fashion is also conceptualised on the principles of responsible and sustainable practices in the production, distribution and consumption of fashion products (Brewer, 2019). The concept of slow fashion is related to prioritising craftsmanship, stewardship, and quality over the fast paced and fast changing styles of fast fashion products (Brewer, 2019). As it is based on such values, firms that are involved in slow fashion emphasise on ethical sourcing of sources, and responsible production techniques as well as by using durable materials so that the products can last for a long period of time (Brewer, 2019). A crucial difference between fast and slow fashion is that the labour involved in the production of slow fashion receives higher wages and greater protection because of the level of expertise and craftmanship that they bring to the job (Brewer, 2019). Slow fashion products do cost more than fast fashion products but they also last longer and incorporate timeless styles so that that remain fashionable for a long period of time, thus promoting long term use of the products (Brewer, 2019).

The particular value of slow fashion may be based on the ability of this movement to help shift consumer mindsets from quantity to quality, so as to promote the purchase of high-quality items less often, which leads to less consumption of resources in the production and retailing of the products (Jung & Jin, 2014). The slow fashion movement can lead to less exploitation of natural and human resources because speed and volume of production is avoided in this concept (Jung & Jin, 2014). The emphasis is on slow production and consumption so as to lead to longer product lifespan from manufacturing to discarding (Jung & Jin, 2014).

From a fashion theory perspective, slow fashion movement can be related to the desire of the consumer to add valued items to their wardrobe, which showcase the quality and design of the fashion pieces, while the slow approach taken in the design and production of the product ensures that there is consideration given to the environment by the garment maker (Fletcher, 2007). This is missing in the formulation of fast fashion, which is not the predominant model that defines the global fashion industry today where the fashion industry is primarily characterized “by globalised, vertically integrated production, generally defined as Fast Fashion” (Cataldi, et al., 2017, p. 3). There is today a high supply of fast fashion products which are introduced every six weeks while the traditional fashion industry introduced products two seasons every year (Cataldi, et al., 2017). Fast fashion, as the predominant model in the fashion industry, is produced and distributed or retailed through a complex supply chain which is global and reliant on resource-intensive material inputs (Cataldi, et al., 2017).

Slow fashion approach has been considered to be unique in its inclusion of the consumer in the supply chain, with the consumer becoming a co-producer through the fostering of the personal connections between the consumer and the producer or designer and through development of an overall awareness of the production process by the consumer (Cataldi, et al., 2017). The definition of co-producer in the fashion industry is based on the slow food concept so that co-producer can be defined as follows:

“This term implies that the end user is a vital part of the movement. By supporting the Slow Fashion movement through their purchases, the co-producer takes on the responsibility of the environmental and social aspects of that purchase. The Slow Food movement first coined this term” (Cataldi, et al., 2017, p. 3).

Thus, when the fashion consumer becomes a co-producer, the consumer is more than an end recipient of the product and instead becomes an integral part of the slow fashion movement in itself. This also means that the consumer now has a stake in the environmental and social aspects of the purchase that she is making. It can be argued that this aspect of slow fashion can be useful in developing more mindful approaches by both the producer and the consumer in how they approach style and fashion and conceive of the relationship between fashion on one hand and the environment and the society on the other hand. It is in this context that the value of slow fashion can be sustained by positing to the consumer that they are involved in the mindful consumption of fashion and are contributors to the social and environmental good through the choices that they make in what they wear.

Social fashion industry can be crucial in improving the environmental outcomes for the fashion industry. In contrast with the fast fashion industry, which is characterised by fast changing fashions, lower quality and less durable items, and high consumer demand, the slow fashion industry is characterised by producing products that take longer to craft but last for a long period of time (Cataldi, et al., 2017). Fast fashion leads to higher depletion of resources when new items are produced every six weeks or so as research also suggests that overconsumption contributes to the depletion of fossil fuels used for production and transportation of fashion products as well as overuse and exploitation of water (for cotton crop production), which is avoided in the slow fashion industry (Elkington, 2004).

Slow fashion industry can be crucial in improving the social conditions of the labour that is involved in the fashion industry. As compared to the high turnover in the fast fashion industry, where the retailers demand low production costs from their suppliers, the latter of which pass on this burden to their workers, the slow fashion industry is more focussed on craftsmanship and quality, which means that the producers within the slow fashion industry invest in training the labour and help improve their skills so that they can continue to craft durable and classic clothes that can last a long period of time (Cataldi, et al., 2017; Fletcher, 2007). This also leads to improvement in the wages and working conditions of the labour involved in the slow fashion industry.

In one study carried out by Jung and Jin (2014) to explore the dimensions of slow fashion student and non-student surveys were carried out in the South-eastern United States, the researchers identified five dimensions that accounted for slow fashion. These dimensions were identified as equity, authenticity, functionality, localism and exclusivity (Jung & Jin, 2014). The researchers concluded that the concept of slow fashion encompasses four crucial aspects that are related to sustainable fashion, including caring for producers and local communities (equity and localism); connoting history for sustainable perceived value (authenticity); diversity for the sustainable fashions world (exclusivity); and maximizing product lifespan and efficiency for a sustainable environment (functionality) (Jung & Jin, 2014).

One of the brands that has committed itself to the model of slow fashion is Christy Dawn, which was founded by Christy and Aras Baskanskas. One of the core objectives of this company is to make ‘made to last’ clothes so that consumers buy few good pieces that can last them a long time (Christy Dawn, 2021). For this purpose, the company makes clothes that have classic designs (Christy Dawn, 2021). The company also employs dressmakers and use traditional construction methods that are designed to last. The emphasis is on the higher quality product as opposed to a quantity (Christy Dawn, 2021). The company states in their website that they aim at “understated timeless aesthetic, designing pieces with classic silhouettes” so that the company does not “design with trends in mind, but rather create pieces that serve as staples for decades to come” (Christy Dawn, 2021).

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Slow fashion model that is adopted by the company also focusses on the environment and the social implications of the actions of the company so that emphasis is on use of good sources like cotton that sequesters carbon, increases biodiversity and restores soil health in countries like India (Christy Dawn, 2021). Therefore, the emphasis is on producing non-toxic clothes that are good for the body and the soil and environment (Christy Dawn, 2021). In the short term, the company adopting slow fashion is able to introduce designs less frequently and therefore, focus on production of select designs with long lasting appeal. In the long term, slow fashion model can change the way in which companies source raw materials, work with artisans, design classic pieces, and makes long lasting pieces so as to emphasise on sustainability and good effects of fashion on environment and society.

Conclusion

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To conclude, if sustainability is a concept encompassing social, economic and environmental aspects, then slow fashion can provide some effective ways for increasing sustainability of fashion business. Slow fashion is a new concept and is based on the concept of slow food and the principles of the former are predicated on the latter. This refers to the responsible production, retail, and consumption of fashion. Slow fashion being characterised by the emphasis on quality versus quantity, the pieces are constructed with expertise and durability. The companies that are focussed on slow fashion invest in craftsmen, durable materials for construction and classic designs that will last. Slow fashion model is useful because the fashion consumer becomes a co-producer and an integral part of the slow fashion movement which helps in improving the environmental outcomes for the fashion industry. Slow fashion industry is characterised by producing products that take longer to craft but last for a long period of time. This also means that the industry would then lead to the improvement of social conditions of the labour so as to develop craftsmanship and quality. It is recommended that fashion industry should embrace slow fashion increasingly because this would help to improve environmental and social outcomes that are both essential to sustainability outcomes. Slow fashion would also be essential to developing an industry that is mindful of improving sustainability of fashion industry.

Bibliography

Brewer, M. K., 2019. Slow fashion in a fast fashion world: Promoting sustainability and responsibility. Laws , 8(4), p. 24.

Cataldi, C., Dickson, M. & Grover, C., 2017. Slow fashion: tailoring a strategic approach for sustainability. In: Sustainability in fashion and textiles. s.l.:Routledge , pp. 22-46 .

Christy Dawn, 2021. Honoring Mother Earth. [Online] Available at: https://christydawn.com/pages/our-values-earth [Accessed 7 December 2021].

Elkington, J., 2004. Enter the triple bottom line. In: A. Henriques & J. Richardson, eds. The triple bottomline, does it all add up? Assessing the sustainability of business and CSR. London : Earthscan Publications Ltd. .

Fletcher, K., 2007. Slow fashion. The Ecologist, Volume 37 , p. 61.

Han, S. L.-C., Henninger, C. E., Apeagyei, P. & Tyler, D., 2017. Determining effective sustainable fashion communication strategies. In: Sustainability in Fashion. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 127-149.

Harris, J., 2003. Sustainability and sustainable development. International Society for Ecological Economics, p. Online.

Harrison, J. & Wicks, A., 2013. Stakeholder theory, value and firm performance. Business Ethics Quarterly , 23(1), pp. 97-124.

Jung, S. & Jin, B., 2014. A theoretical investigation of slow fashion: sustainable future of the apparel industry. International journal of consumer studies, 38(5), pp. 510-519.

Khandual, A. & Pradhan, S., 2019. Fashion brands and consumers approach towards sustainable fashion. Fast fashion, fashion brands and sustainable consumption, pp. 37-54.

Kozlowski, A., Searcy, C. & Bardecki, M., 2016. Innovation for a sustainable fashion industry: a design focused approach toward the development of new business models. Green Fashion, pp. 151-169.

Shen, B., 2014. Sustainable fashion supply chain: Lessons from H&M. Sustainability , 6(9), pp. 6236-6249.

Yang, S., Song, Y. & Tong, S., 2017. Sustainable retailing in the fashion industry: A systematic literature review. Sustainability , 9(7), p. 1266.


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