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What do Sustainability, Fast Fashion and Slow Fashion Actually Mean?

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Ms.Gampa is a passionate writer and modern day slow fashion crusader who believes that awareness is a powerful medium to bring real change.

We have all heard the buzz words like Sustainability, Fast Fashion and Slow Fashion, more so in the recent times. While there are world renowned brands like Patagonia, Levi’s and many others being on the forefront of the sustainability parade, there are other brands which resort to 'Greenwashing'. This blog is here to break it down to the basics and help you make a conscious choice while you buy your next piece of gorgeous ensemble.

What is Sustainability?

Sustainability or being sustainable is ‘to maintain and preserve’ – it could be economic, environmental, or socio-cultural resources. In the current age of awareness, there is a growing emphasis on environmental degradation, thanks to the gaining momentum on the seriousness of climate change. Sustainability essentially means protecting the current environment, namely air, water, land, and earth, without hampering the ability of the future generations to meet their basic needs.

In the words of Arron Wood – “Sustainability is treating ourselves and our environment as if we are to live on this earth forever”. As rightly said, there is a need for us to consume resources at a pace which can help us and our future generations to sustain them and not abuse them without a sense of accountability.

We constantly hear about "eco-friendly" products in the market, ever wondered what it means? Let us consider an example of a chic white shirt, that displays a tag stating, “Made from Sustainably Sourced Cotton”, this could mean that the cotton used has either been grown using organic and non-conventional methods of farming or that it has been processed in facilities using renewable resources. It could also be that for every cotton bud harvested, there are new ones being planted. It is all about preserving the resources.

Understanding the sustainability element in a garment is oftentimes time-taking and confusing with so much grey area. For better understanding, the academicians and industry leaders have coined categories, namely, Fast Fashion (FF) & Slow Fashion (SF) which are indicative of the resources used in the making.


What is Fast Fashion?

The dawn of the 'industrialization era' around the globe resulted in rapid growth of design, technology and manufacturing abilities. Advancements in industrial capabilities, coupled with the desire of the fashion houses to cloth a wider section of the population fueled the need to establish economies of scale, giving rise to the game-changing 'Fast Fashion'. Booming interest in all things fashion were also ushered in by the larger than life 'silver screens' and the trend-setting movie industries around the world.

Fast-forward to today, busy schedules, chaotic lifestyle and our recent romantic trysts with our gram’, has left us needing everything quick, a sort of instant fixes – we apply the same to our fashion choices. With important factors like accessibility, affordability and the need to stay 'relevant' dominating our fashion choices, it becomes a tough endeavor to choose any different.

Fast Fashion is the production of clothing at a rapid pace in high volumes using low-quality raw materials which are designed to have a low shelf life.

Trendy clothes that are cheap, stylish, and easily replaceable, made its way to wardrobes worldwide. One can also find many tweaked versions or imitations of a designer products, designed to lower the cost and increase the production and sales potential of the product. We’ve all been there wanting to get a pair of shoes that resembles a Louboutin or Burberry, or that neon bomber jacket that is in style around the world without burning a hole in our pockets! but at the price of what? and also, is it possible that in the long run, fast fashion actually proves more expensive?

Fast fashion is not limited to just manufacturers, consumers like you and I have unconsciously become a part of the web turning into flag bearers of fast fashion who resort to needing a wardrobe change faster than normal to stay trendy or with fewer resources to repair and repurpose used clothes. Lack of awareness on the resources consumed, production methods, amounts of waste release and repairing/repurposing techniques also add to the challenge.

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What is Slow Fashion?

Now that we have all just had a reality check on our recent shopping splurge, let’s get to understand what is on the flip side of the coin.

Slow Fashion (SF) or Sustainable Fashion is NOT an opposite of the above, but a 'change in the approach'. It can range from demand-based production, consciously-sourced quality raw materials, ethical work practices, short supply chains and more. There is no one single way to describe SF.

Slow Fashion is about adopting a mindful approach to the production and usage of clothing, all the way to its end-of-life, by preserving, recycling, reusing or repurposing.

On the manufacturers end, they resort to using materials and resources that have been sourced with little to no harm to the environment and our natural resources. For instance, in a recent invention clothes are being made from fruit waste, particularly, from orange peel! Can you believe that? How many of us have just thrown away orange peel? Food waste is a growing environmental and operational concern causing severe effects.

Did you know? 1/4th of the food produced around the world goes to waste, then why not use it to make something wearable, isn’t it? So, this method of utilizing waste to make a new product a.k.a recycling or reusing is a key aspect of Sustainability, in this case Slow Fashion.

Not just clothing, innovations in resource optimization has led to making packaging material from algae, sugarcane waste, milk and other resources. The packaging of clothes is a vital component to SF, we wouldn’t want that plastic protective cover nor the paper liners to exhaust our resources now, do we?


The Showdown


Gauging the Sustainability Factor

To help you make your mind on the sustainability factor of the two fashion trends, let us dive into a framework which is easy to use as a yardstick to gauge them, called Triple Bottom Line designed for you, me and any organization – to strike a balance between People, Environment and Profit

Triple Bottom Line

Triple Bottom Line

People - FF employs 40 million people in the garment industry, with lowest pay in the world – making it a highly labour dependent and exploited industry. In an effort to produce luxury-mimicking goods, brands have resorted to fast production lines and seasons which have risen from 2 a year to more than 50 a year!

SF enables local farmers and small businesses to employ people to implement non-conventional farming methods and production practices, respectively, which will help provide livelihood for many laborers in the region along with fair wages. On the design end, SF will enable provide designers to produce new and innovative designs which will create a parallel meaning for luxury.

Environment - The fashion choices we make have an impact on the Environment right from the manufacturing stage, usage & care, all the way to the end-of-life or disposal stage. On the manufacturing end, FF uses million liters of water to produce garments which are made with low quality cotton grown using poor agricultural practices. Many of the FF clothing like our gym wear or yoga pants are made from oil, coal and water which puts a massive strain on our environment.

“20% of the worlds Industrial water pollution is due to the fashion industry”

On the consumer end, there are two key aspects – One, when FF clothing is washed their fibers easily detach to form microfibers and enter the waterways through our drains which have a huge impact on our ecosystem. Two, 60% of the Clothing made is either burnt or sent to a landfill where it takes up-to 200 years to degrade, and each year 500,000 tons of clothing is sent to trash.

SF on the other hand significantly reduces the speed at which raw materials like water are consumed, and simultaneously, and creates space for innovation to produce clothing from raw materials like food waste, plastic waste, farm waste etc. which will reduce the waste entering our environment.

Profits - Profits made by manufacturers on FF are far higher than the profits we make from buying these affordable pieces - which momentarily seem to be attractively low priced. It is estimated that an average person buys more than 65 pieces of clothing each year! Now this number is predicted to increase with rising online shopping and the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

As shoppers we might save a few rupees on a new outfit, but with low quality clothing to replace which we purchase so many pieces in a year, are we really saving money?

You must be wondering if sustainability or sustainable fashion and profits can co-exist? The answer is YES!!

Brands around the world have incurred reduced costs of manufacturing and rise in revenue, owing to the rising awareness among the younger generation that demands for sustainable clothing. The reduced costs translate to cheaper (slightly expensive than FF) clothes, which have a longer durability, vis-a-vis keeping the classic styles in trend for longer.

Yes, SF can range from affordable to a lot more expensive, however with high quality make and material, there is a sustainable profit for you and the environment as we know. Many argue that the monetary profits from Slow fashion are slow and less significant, in comparison to the quantities sold by FF brands. Though the number of pieces sold are low - the profits are higher, including the social, environmental profits which far outweigh the impacts from Fast Fashion.


Rounding up the Case..

Gauging the two trends based on sustainability alone is limiting, factors like brand Accountability, Authenticity, Functionality, Exclusivity, Intentions and most importantly Willingness to pay more. All these play a crucial role in helping one choose SF over FF

With the glaring differences in pros and cons of FF and SF, we are trying hard to raise awareness on the growing irreversible impact the former has on our environment and lifestyle before it is too late!

So, by nature's law on “anything that rapidly rises, or is created will see a rapid downfall” – so going by it, SF ticks all the boxes of sustainability and eco-friendly practices which is both easy on the environment and even on our pockets in the long run!

“Fashion can be a universal player in protecting the planet”

– Pharrell Williams

The next time you decide to buy a dress or a top, do consider these aspects, because what we wear defines us, so how would you define yourself? In this one case it’s good to be SLOW.

Meandering through the ever-changing maze of the meanings and ethics of fashion can be challenging. However, the importance of awareness on sustainability and most importantly Slow Fashion has become pivotal than ever before.

We have only one home, ‘our planet’, we owe it to be mindful!

So 'Slow it Silly'!

© 2021 Siroi

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