“Fast, adjective: able to move or happen quickly”. ‘Fast’ is a word that is associated with velocity, dynamically, technological progress and often even efficiency.
Everyone wants a fast car, to be a fast runner, a fast learner, we all want fast broadband, fast laptops, fast phones…
But there are two words that can suddenly turn it into a very negative adjective: food and fashion. Fast means unhealthy, unethical, non-sustainable, cheap and toxic when it comes to these two categories.
While we hear the terms fast-food and fast-fashion almost on a daily basis, the opposite concepts are not equally talked about. So, if a £5 t-shirt polyester T-shirt from Primark can be compared to a McDonald's cheeseburger, what is the fashion equivalent of a nice homemade seasonal veggie soup?
Terms like ‘sustainable’, ‘conscious’, ‘green’ have been overused and taken out of context so many times in the past few years that they seem to have lost meaning.
Even for experts, it is incredibly easy to be fooled by operations of so-called greenwashing, namely the association of the above-mentioned magic words with a clothing line, which is usually everything but sustainable, in order to boost sales.
The real issue is that there is no black or white. Literally, any fashion company could claim to make conscious clothes without having to worry whether that is true or not, simply because sustainability is a spectrum.
So how can we avoid falling into the greenwashing net?
One thing to keep in mind is that the word ‘slow’ is generally good if associated with fashion. A slow production is usually a synonym of a lighter footprint, fairer treatment of workers, animals and the environment.
Slow Fashion can be defined as the exact opposite of Fast Fashion. What the Slow Sashion Movement focuses on is the reduction of consumption and production altogether. Its mission is well summarised in the motto “Buy less, buy better”.
The term Slow Fashion was coined by Kate Fletcher of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, on the back of the Slow Food movement. The idea behind it is to contrast the fast fashion phenomenon, which encourages faster trend cycles, the production of cheaper garments, to be worn a few times and then thrown away.
What the slow fashion movement advocates is not simply a shift in the production methods but a completely new approach to shopping. Slow Fashion clothes tend to be made of durable materials, have timeless designs, to make sure they won’t get out of fashion in a few years time, they tend to be season-less and they might also be made-to-order, to reduce production and wastage at the bare minimum.
The Slow Fashion Movement pushes towards a return to the old way of fashion production. In the pre-Fast Fashion era, going shopping was a sporadic activity to be done once or twice a year or before a special occasion.
This way of shopping would obviously be pretty elitist: wealthier people could afford to have several clothes compared to the working class who would usually own a single outfit for each occasion. For this reason, when Fast Fashion came along, it was perceived by many as a good thing, as it made trendy clothes accessible. Fast Fashion clothes would be modelled on those seen in catwalks and fashion magazines and everyone would be able to wear the latest trends even on a small budget.
However, questions around the provenience of these cheap garments started arising quickly. How can an embroiled dress cost only £10? Are the people producing it treated and paid fairly? Where does the material come from? Where do all these clothes go once they are no longer trendy?
And the answers to those questions were absolutely horrifying.
The fashion industry alone is today the second biggest polluter. It was proven that it is responsible for 10% of the global carbon dioxide emissions every year, 20% of industrial water pollution and 70 million trees being cut every year. Every minute a truckload of clothes is sent to a landfill or burned, and only 1% of garments is currently recycled into new fashion items.
While still too many people choose to turn a blind eye to the disastrous effects of Fast Fashion on the environment, the Business Research Company’s found that there is an increasing awareness and shift towards sustainable fashion options. The study found that the ethical fashion market has reached a value of almost $6.35 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow up to $8.25 billion by 2023.
This surely positive data is however miles away from being reassuring. It is time to roll up our sleeves, change our way of consuming and hope for this awareness to reach everyone and grow faster (and make the word “fast” regain some dignity).