The Slow Movement: What it means and why it’s relevant

Slow fashion

Slow has never been so fashionable as it is now. And for that I am glad.

The Slow concept originated with the Slow Food campaign in 1986 when Carlo Petrini protested the opening of a McDonald’s restaurant in Rome. The Slow Food movement arose out of a desire to protect local food cultures and place more emphasis on the pleasure of food rather than the instant gratification of the fast food culture.

Today, this movement is seeing the growth of a global culture that respects quality food, locally sourced ingredients and care for the earth, coupled with a strong emphasis on pleasure.

The Slow Food movement sprang up from a desire to protect local food cultures and place more emphasis on the pleasure of food rather than the instant gratification of the fast food culture
The Slow Food movement marked the beginning of a Slow culture that is gaining popularity worldwide

Slow fashion

The fashion industry is undergoing a similar transformation. Slow fashion represents all things eco-friendly and ethical. The term, Slow Fashion, was first coined by Kate Fletcher from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion in London. It values treating the environment with care, quality over quantity and style that lasts decades as opposed to a single season.

Carl Honoré’s book, In Praise of Slowness, explores the Slow philosophy. Here he describes the “slow movement” thus:

“It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.”

The Slow movement is not organised or run be any one entity. It is essentially a movement conceptualised and maintained by many individuals who together expand the Slow community globally.

Mainstream fashion relies on mass production – the garment-making process, from design to retail floor, can take just a few weeks.

It’s impressive, yes. But I strongly believe that the process is needs to be seriously interrogated. Mass production enables retailers to sell trendy garments at low prices, thus encouraging consumers to purchase a lot more than they actually need. This global tendency towards overconsumption comes at a heavy price for the environment and workers in the supply chain.

Rana Plaza

Garment workers who survived the Rana Plaza factory collapse, take a stand against inhumane working conditions
Garment workers who survived the Rana Plaza factory collapse, take a stand against inhumane working conditions

Think of the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh four years ago. A total of 1 135 workers were killed and thousands were injured, when the building they were working in collapsed.

Fast fashion is synomous with a myriad of concerning issues – burning fossil fuels, overflowing landfill sites, chemicals release, and discarded clothes. Not to mention the human cost – child labour, poor working conditions and minimum wage. Unravelling the fast fashion industry is an ideal many strive for, but it may be a pipe dream for now.

Nevertheless, there are signs that a new consumer is emerging – a consumer who desires more accountability from brands.

Slow fashion is being seen, more and more, as a desirable choice.

The Rana Plaza tragedy put in the spotlight the ravages of fast fashion and exposed the putrid underbelly of a glamorous beast.

Suddenly, global brands were being called out for their production processes. Ethical gained imporance. Slow was becoming de rigeur.

A positive offshoot of the tragedy was the launch of the Fashion Revolution movement – a global initiative calling for more ethics and sustainability in the fashion industry.

Fashion Revolution says on its website:

“We want to unite the fashion industry and ignite a revolution to radically change the way our clothes are sourced, produced and purchased, so that what the world wears has been made in a safe, clean and fair way.”

Fashion Revolution Week is the organisation’s #WhoMadeMyClothes campaign. It takes place in April every year – around the time the Rana Plaza factory collapsed. The purpose of the campaign is to get people to ask brands – big and small – “who made my clothes” and demand more transparency in the fashion supply chain.

Fashion Revolution activists with #WhoMadeMyClothes posters and banners
Fashion Revolution activists with #WhoMadeMyClothes posters and banners

Important concepts to understand

If you’re new to the slow/ethical/sustainable fashion scene it may serve you well to understand the difference between these three concepts.

In a nutshell:

  • Slow is about the piece of clothing itself
  • Ethical is about human rights
  • Sustainable is about the environment

When we speak about slow fashion were generally speaking of style, design and quality of a product. Also important is the intention behind how that product was made. Slow fashion is about buying clothing made of durable fabrics and shunning ever-changing trends in favour of quality pieces you can wear for years to come.

Sustainable fashion is all about the effects of the manufacturing process on the environment. It starts with the farming process and includes the use of pesticides in growing cotton for example, what dyes are used, water and waste treatment, energy reduction, and even packaging.

The concept of ethical fashion is somewhat difficult to pin down. Though it is essentially about how clothing is made. From how the raw materials were grown and farmed to how garment workers are treated and paid (including aspects like sweatshops, child labour and the abuse of workers).

Sometimes, sustainable fashion and the treatment of animals is also included under the “ethical fashion” umbrella.

My Slow journey

In the last five years, I’ve made an active choice to buy with a conscience. Instead of aiming for hundreds of cheaply made garments that I rarely or never wear, I now have fewer quality pieces that will last me decades.

I’ve made a decision to purchase garments that are produced slowly, with natural fabrics, and preferably made locally by people who love what they do. I am an active supporter of the “Support Local, Buy Local” campaign and kicked of my blog series with a piece on this.

It’s not easy to eschew the culture of fast. For years it breathed life into our bellies. But when someone compliments me on a dress I bought three years ago, I feel a sense of deep gratitude.

To quote Honoré again: the “slow approach” is a “revolutionary process in the contemporary world because it encourages taking time to ensure quality production, to give value to the product, and contemplate the connection with the environment”.

As we become aware of the consequences of consumption, we will realise we have a choice. We can choose to slow down.

The aim of this series is to provide you with the information to hopefully choose differently. I encourage you to think about what you wear and where you buy. I believe passionatey that it is possible to have pleasure and integrity in the clothing we wear.

  • In an ongoing exploration of the Slow movement and the Buy Local campaign, I will be showcasing a number of local businesses that embrace the ethical/sustainable/slow philosophy. Watch this space!
  • Do you support local businesses? Drop me a mail or comment below.
  • Also read Support Local: Why I think this movement is important

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Meneesha
Online and books editor by day, mum even while I sleep, individual all the time. I live in the beautiful city of Durban - the unpolished gem in South Africa. If I didn't have a family, I'd be that crazy cat lady your mum probably warned you not to feed! Blogging is where I share, vent, rant, laugh and generally be myself. Join the ride!

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