If you have been following fashion news, there are chances that you would have come across buzzwords like slow fashion, sustainable fashion and ethical fashion. International designers and labels have been on the sustainable band wagon since about three decades now. In India, the movement is gaining momentum, albeit in the marginal elitist fashion aficionados.
So before you head out and make the purchase under either of three labels- slow fashion, sustainable fashion and ethical fashion, here’s a breakdown of what do these terminologies mean and why do they exist…
Kate Fletcher, an eco-textile consultant, coined the term ‘Slow Fashion’ in 2007. It was adapted from the concept of ‘Slow Food movement’ started by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986. Slow Fashion draws a parallel with Slow Food movement by aiming to strike a balance in consumption pattern of fashion consumers by increasing awareness and responsibility towards environment.
Since last century, the entire process of fibre to fashion has been ruled by fashion trends being showcased through four collections in a year. Growing cotton in the farms to ginning to weaving the fabrics to dyeing – all these essential process in textile production creates a huge impact on the environment. Whether it is the use of fertilizers and pesticides to increase per hectare production, disposing effluents after dyeing the fabrics or overuse of water in producing one pair of jeans, there is a sizeable amount of environmental damage that happens.
Once the textile is ready to be converted in a fashionable garment and produced in bulk, factory workers come in picture.
Biggest fashion conglomerates outsource their production from countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, China and India as the labour wages are lower as compared to developed countries. However, most of these factories run in abysmal conditions where the workers are working overtime in cramped dim-lit environment. The machinery and venue safety is a perennial concern. While it might be passed off as ‘employment generation’ by these few governments, more often than not it is just outsourcing of cheap labour by the developed countries.
The Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, in which 1,130 people died and 2,500 were injured when a run-down eight-storey factory complex making clothes for Primark, Benetton, Walmart and other Western brands collapsed, highlighted the dangers of the industry in Bangladesh. Closer home, some Bengaluru factories keep women (the majority of garment workers) in hostels monitored by male security guards and severely restrict their movements. Most are allowed to leave for only two hours a week, usually on Sunday to buy groceries and other items, and only after registering with a guard. The rest of the time, women are expected to travel only to and from work, and guards record when they arrive at and leave the hostels.
Moving on from factory workers condition, these mass produced garments are then sold off at retail outlets at affordable high street rates. Mass-production and poor labour wages give the manufacturer/fashion house a huge scope to cut on the rates.
However, the demand-supply economics works well in a competitive environment. Consumption pattern by the fashion conscious population has witnessed an upward growth in the past two decades owing to mass produced affordable fashion. We all have more than 100+ garments in our closet now as compared to an average of 30+ garments about two decades ago.
Quite a substantial increase right?
Top it up with the increase in landfill dump that is increased with the rise in amount of clothes being discarded every year. It is not just the energy-intensive process of making the garments from fibre to fabric that is causing environmental and human rights issues; the reality is that most of the clothes we wear end up in landfill.
So yes, while you flaunt around that bargain deal top that you just got from H&M, Zara, Stalkbuylove or Ajio, someone somewhere has paid the price for it.
This is exactly where Sustainable, Ethical and slow fashion comes in picture.
Sustainable fashion focuses on environmental impact that a garment has; in laymen terms it means no use of fertilizer to produce the cotton used for fabric, using drip irrigation method for harvesting thereby saving water, using natural dyes to prevent the effect of toxic effluents on water and ensuring that minimum carbon footprints are generated in production of one garment. It means labour used is local and the garment travels very less from crop to final finish to avoid larger carbon footprints.
Ethical Fashion deals with advocacy of fair trade practices in fashion industry. It means right price is being paid to farmer, weaver, dyer, tailor and factory worker that is in sync with labour laws of the country.
Slow Fashion essentially deals with timeless styles that are unaffected by seasonal trends in fashion. It is a movement to promote cuts, silhouettes and colours that stay with the wearer always, regardless of changing seasons. It is an antithesis of fast fashion; the one where every week new styles keep coming up. It advocates buying quality garment that stays longer rather than buying 10 fast fashion garments that wear and tear easily…
Slow Fashion’s antecedents trace back to 30 years ago.
A revolutionary movement was started by Patagonia, outdoor retailer from USA, back in 80’s. It took the world by storm with its iconic ad – ‘Do not Buy this Jacket’ in a bid to promote anti-consumerism. It has played a strong role in environmental activism. It advocated buying less, repairing if needed and wearing the loved clothes more often. It struck a chord with a segment of people who believed in this cause and its sales zoomed up by 47% in next two years. All through these years, Patagonia advocates buying less but buying good quality only.
Eileen Fischer is another label that has spearheaded the slow fashion movement in last three decades producing quality organic work-wear for women.
India too is catching up with the slow fashion revolution indeed. There is an up rise of designers shifting to branding and re-branding themselves as the purveyors of slow fashion. With labels like Paromita Banerjee, Soham Dave, Shades of India, Naushad Ali, Three, Runway Bicycle, Doodlage and more, there sure are many options to check for a conscious consumer. Easy silhouettes, naturally dyed clothes, organic fabrics – all tick marks done while promoting sustainable and slow fashion in India.
However, is the slow fashion revolution truly democratic in India?
Is it all inclusive or is it catering to the niche segment only?
How does one promote conscious- fashion -consumer behaviour?
(Watch this space for the next article on the Series on ‘Slow Fashion and its evolution’)