Traditionally the fashion industry had two seasons, Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter; these coincided with Fashion Weeks in London, Paris, Milan, and New York. Now fast fashion companies produce 52 micro-seasons a year – a season a WEEK – to capitalise on spending potential. That’s a lot of clothing not intended to last longer than a handful of wears, and a high environmental price to pay, with increased resources needed to produce huge amounts of garments at a grossly unsustainable rate.
The use of natural resources in the the garment industry has become a huge environmental issue; from the depletion of fossil fuels and freshwater reservoirs for cotton crops, the toxic chemicals used to dye and treat textiles (now the second largest source of water pollution in the world), and manmade pesticides causing increased pressure on nature.
As well as the social and ecological impacts of the fast fashion industry, industrial garment production has also had tragic consequences for humans. In 2013, the disaster at Rana Plaza killed over a thousand workers and injured more than double that amount when the 5-storey building collapsed; though garment factory owners knew the building was unsafe, they continued to operate full factories that produced garments for high street retailers such as Primark, Mango, and Matalan. Some of the families of the victims have yet to be compensated.
So why slow fashion? Well first of all, let me be clear – I am not a minimalist by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve written about it here, here, and here. I love fashion, I love shopping, and I adore pretty things; I just want to be more conscious of where my clothes come from.
Support Independant Brands
I love supporting independant Scottish design almost as much as I enjoy wearing clothes so bright they can be seen from space; when asked #whomademyclothes, I can answer without a shadow of a doubt. My wardrobe is full of pieces from my favourite local designers, because there’s really nothing like finding someone who just “gets” your aesthetic. I love the impeccable tailoring and statement shapes from Totty Rocks, the use of sequins as a wardrobe staple at Isolated Heroes, and the bright and playful silhouettes at Squint Clothing. Whether your look is classic, colour block, mermaid, minion, minimalist or maximalist, there will be an independent brand out there just waiting to become your favourite.
Some pieces will always look good
Over a decade ago, I first spotted a stunning caftan dress in a magazine, and then spent ages trying to justify the price to myself; from Temperley’s S/S 2007 Ready to Wear collection, it was everything I wanted in a summer outfit. Could I afford it? Would I wear it again? How many weeks of instant noodles would I have to live on to offset the cost?
In the end, I bought it to wear to a wedding that year, and it turns out that it’s basically the perfect warm weather frock for any event I plan to eat, sit, or dance at. It’s since been worn to several weddings, fancy dinners, parties, photo shoots, and random Toronto patios over the last decade; it is always occasion appropriate and it is probably the only item of my wardrobe from 10 years ago that still fits.
When I was younger, I would be so precious with expensive pieces, always planning to save them “for a special occasion”. Sometimes they were saved for so long in the back of the wardrobe that by the time I finally decided to wear them out, they no longer fit or suited my look. If you love something enough to buy it, wear it. Wear that sequinned bomber jacket to the shops, vintage cocktail dress out for for coffee with a friend, and that sculptural statement skirt to work. There’s no reason to save something for best when it’s so fabulous now.
I love colour. My most recent favourite pairing of pink and yellow has carried over in my wardrobe from our sunny Scottish spring to holy-shit-I-am-living-on-the surface-of the-sun. I mean summer.
Pastel colour block is kinda my thing; I’d been looking for that perfect pink skirt for ages, in a shade between baby and Barbie. Some folk search for years for that perfect LBD, but me? A cupcake coloured frothy meringue of a skirt is one of my wardrobe staples.
It’s a common myth that slow fashion equates to a wardrobe entirely in black with muddy shades of neutral greys, browns, and *shudder* beige. Whilst I joke that it’s a devious lie concocted by the fast fashion industry, there *is* an association of ethical fashion with drab colours in bland silhouettes.
I am here to prove that this is completely untrue.
It costs less to repair than to replace
Fact: it’s more cost effective (and sustainable) to repair a quality piece of clothing or resole a pair of well made shoes, than to buy multiple items of cheaply made fast fashion. The key is in the details.
I come from a long(ish) line of dressmakers on my father’s side; my gran made almost every stitch of clothing her kids wore and passed on her skills to my dad (her oldest), who could knock up a miniature replica of anything from a magazine editorial for this precocious fashionista. As for me, one of my first jobs as a teenager was working in a designer’s studio in Toronto; at first I was just given tasks like finishing garments and checking the seams, and eventually moved up to pattern making, grading, draping, and producing samples of new designs.
I always check garments before I buy. Here are some of my tips for things to look for.
- Tug on the fabric. It should spring back well; it it doesn’t the garment won’t hold its shape through multiple wears and washes. Also if a fabric doesn’t feel nice (and obviously this is down to personal preference) then you probably won’t enjoy wearing it.
- Check seams and hems. Are they straight and even? What about loose threads? A wonky seam is a definite red flag for me.
- Try out any zips, buttons, and fasteners. If they don’t work easily, they will only get worse with wear; a well made buttonhole is a sign of a quality garment. Fasterners might be a little stiff when they’re new, but it shouldn’t be a huge struggle to undo a button on a jacket or zip up a dress.
- Pattern matching. If a garment with a plaid, check, or stripe pattern doesn’t match up at the seams. Florals, polka dots, and abstract patterns are usually ok though – just remember that if the pattern consists of straight lines, then the pattern should line up.
- Always check the care label! Some items like suit jackets and coats will need to be dry cleaned, but if you have a wash and dry lifestyle, then a wardrobe full of “dry clean only” pieces probably isn’t for you; not to mention that conventional methods of dry-cleaning can be atrocious for the environment. Research non toxic options wherever possible.
It’s possible to love fashion, and still be sustainable
From the moment I was allowed to dress myself as a bairn, I’ve always loved fashion. I spent my childhood in 80s rah rah bubble skirts and neon pastel Repetto tights, fluorescent tube skirts paired with clashing scrunch socks and lurex scrunchies, and that brief stint of French schoolgirl chic in head to toe Agnès B.
Fashion is a form of self expression, and isn’t it infinitely preferable to express yourself in unique pieces made to last, made ethically, made with care, and made with love? A couple of years ago I started consciously reading up on the slow fashion movement, and what struck me was there seemed to be so many slow fashion bloggers so intent on achieving that optimal “capsule wardrobe” that they seemed to lose their love for colour and fun.
When I first dove headfirst into the rabbit hole that is the ethical fashion movement, I saw a whole different side to the industry. The sheer amount of “waste” textiles that go to landfill is staggering, not to mention the most recent Burberry controversy that makes me feel a bit sick to my stomach.
In the UK textile recycling isn’t widely available, but using unwanted fabric and deadstock to create something fabulous goes a long way towards achieving zero waste. This cute as a button Babar denim clutch from Daisy Boots Designs is a one off piece made from a pair of vintage jeans, reusing textiles that would have gone to landfill to create something beautiful. Red coat from Those Were The Days Vintage.