Whether we turn a blind-eye to the issue or react to it, there’s an unstoppable current of new research which exposes the dark ramifications of the fashion industry. Currently, Netflix is featuring Andrew Morgan’s documentary ‘The True Cost’ which unveils the human and environmental costs that have grown exponentially as the price of clothing drops. Close to home here in Sydney, 6000kg of fashion waste is currently dumped and displayed in Martin Place to promote ABC’s upcoming ‘War on Waste’– the amount of waste produced every 10 minutes in Australia. As a result, a lot of negative attention has weighed down the concept of “fast fashion”- a phenomenon in which many large brands strive to minimise the time and cost of manufacturing to respond quickly to ephemeral fashion trends demanded by consumers who wish to buy clothes at a low cost.
What arises from all this backlash on “fast fashion” emerges from the opposite side of the spectrum- “slow fashion.” The idea of slow fashion is appealing; it paints itself with words like “eco,” “sustainable,” “ethical,” “revolutionary.” It’s a movement which highlights the idea of longevity through slower consumption, slower production, and the recognition of fairer wages and lower carbon footprints. It is also, perhaps, a movement that is too idealistic and consumer-centred.
To start off with, whether or not it is achievable to slow down the production processes of the fashion industry still remains as a question. Asking for absolutely everyone in the world to give a damn- although it is an admirable goal- seems like a utopic vision. Establishing dualism between “fast / slow fashion” only seems to also inevitably create a divide in interest between brands / consumers. When asked about “slow fashion” in an interview with Clara Vuletich, a Sydney-based sustainability strategist and designer, she responds with this:
“I can see it’s a useful term as an antidote to the ‘fast fashion’ system, and it’s easy for people to understand… yet I don’t believe fast fashion will ever disappear; some of the most brilliant technical innovations and talented people are within that system. I am more interested in exploring what opportunities or solutions there are to working within the system to create change.”
As the focus on how consumers should spend and how they can place pressure on brands is intrinsically linked to the idea of “slow fashion,” we consequently can fail to recognise how fashion brands themselves can transition from promoting over-consumption towards advocating for mindful consumption. Rather than highlighting how we should slow down consumption- an idea that is unlikely to be quickly adopted by clothing brands as it is antithetical to their marketing agendas- we should aim to look into alternative ways to create sustainable and systemic change.
For example; adopting a closed-loop system. In a closed-loop system, companies can be more mindful of the clothes that could potentially be thrown out. Instead of dumping overstock or enabling consumers to throw away their clothes, brands and consumers can work cooperatively as stores re-collect clothing items that would have ended up in landfills. With the collected materials, designers can consider how recycling or upcycling can be used to transform the discarded clothes back into something purchasable. This is currently what brands such as Adidas are currently trying to do.
However, closed-loop systems aren’t our holy grail- at least not yet. Due to technological limitations, it can often be extremely inefficient to recycle materials. For instance, it is still very difficult to separate the fibres of cotton-poly blends to recycle such materials, as highlighted by the criticism against H&M’s misleading campaign towards sustainability.
Whilst encouraging brands to make a sustainable and systemic difference may not be completely efficient and might be a bit idealistic itself as for now, it is at least something achievable with the aid of technological advancement. It’s a way which allows consumers and brands to work side by side to reduce the environmental and human cost of the fashion industry. It’s tangible, unlike the dichotomy of “slow/ fast fashion,” which only seems to polarise the fashion industry.