Slow Fashion – A User's Guide

Slow Fashion – A User's Guide

Slow Fashion – A User's Guide


The term ‘Slow Fashion’ was first coined by designer, academic and writer Kate Fletcher to describe her vision for a fashion industry where sustainability was a core tenet. Ligature Journal is proud to bring you our own guide to the impact of this increasingly influential movement, written for us by blogger and craft activist, Felicia Semple.

Consumers are getting more conscious; there is a rising cultural awareness that the decisions we make when purchasing, whether it be food, building materials or fashion, are a big part of what shapes our world more broadly. For many of us a purchasing decision is no longer simply based on features, availability and price, but rather, is based on some understanding of the impact that the product, and its production, have on our social and physical environment. And as this consciousness increases around purchasing fashion, we are looking for a word that describes the factors we need to consider when purchasing or producing ethically. Slow Fashion is it.

Slow fashion is a term that has only recently been coined, and at this point I believe it’s definition is one that still should be, and is, fluid and evolving. A few people have had a shot at creating a definition, however, as soon as one participates in a conversation about Slow Fashion online, (as I am wont to do!) then it quickly becomes clear that there is not yet a common understanding of what choosing Slow Fashion involves. Words such as elitist get bandied around, and there seems to be a feeling that Slow Fashion is something you can only participate in if you have the finances to support it; that it is unaffordable, and/or inaccessible, to the masses. Like nearly every big issue we humans have ever tried to tackle, the issues around Slow Fashion are complex.

However, from what I can see in the commentary, the understanding of Slow Fashion that appears to be prevalent, is that Slow Fashion is about choosing "ethical" materials and then making garments within an ethical system of manufacturing. By ethical we appear to mean using methods that are “the best” for the animals, plants and the earth, and the people who make them. This is not my understanding of what Slow Fashion is. This high-level definition of Slow Fashion doesn’t acknowledge the complexities we face as consumers. If Slow Fashion is an attempt to find a solution to the downsides that are increasingly apparent in choosing fast fashion, then by engaging with Slow Fashion we are attempting to choose a more ethical way of clothing ourselves. And in order to create a term that is useful, meaningful and inclusive, the complexity and tradeoffs inherent in these choices need to be fully acknowledged within the definition itself. We need a definition that doesn’t feel elitist, and provides guidance around how to take responsibility for our choices.

Let’s first talk a little about the complexities; Slow Fashion is not one thing or one choice. To use an example that will resonate with other avid knitters out there, while it could mean purchasing only single source, organic yarn from a well fed sheep, it could also mean purchasing wool from the local woollen mill that may be superwash (coated in a chemical) but is local from a well fed sheep. In this example it might be more ethical to use a superwash yarn, produced by people receiving good wages, from sheep who are treated well, that was spun locally but not organically, due to transport miles, than a specialist single-source organic yarn made in England, purchased from an American company which then ships it to me in Australia. Or maybe not. Maybe the fact that much of Australia is in drought, and so using precious water scouring wool can never be ethical, so the English wool that has come via an American retailer is more ethical… Or maybe a Chinese wool would be better. One that was dyed using acid dyes, but has less transport miles as it hasn't arrived from England, but then again the Chinese merino often comes from Australia anyway. And is there any transparency around labour practices? Complexities and more complexities. The thing is that I don't know what is exactly the most ethical choice and so I'm called upon to make a decision based on what I know, what I can find out, what I need and my purchasing power at the time.

The discussion is full of grey and there is no one right answer and there is no one choice that is "Ethical" with a capital E. You can't get a gold star for any of this. All we can do is our best; to be informed and make choices that make the most sense on any given day. We need to accept that often we will make those choices in uncertainty, but strive to take responsibility for them regardless. So far I haven't found a definition of Slow Fashion that is completely satisfying to me. I think part of the problem is that many of them seem to be written from the vantage point of what it takes to be a Slow Fashion producer, rather than what it takes to be a Slow Fashion consumer. And Slow Fashion from a consumer’s perspective needs a better description in order to create a more inclusive discussion and encourage people to see that it is something they can participate in. So I wrote my own.

Choosing Slow Fashion means simply: to take responsibility for the choices you make around your consumption of clothing, while participating in ongoing education about the complexities, and while taking into account your personal life circumstances by making the most ethical choice you can at the time. This includes How much clothing you choose to own Where the materials are sourced from What the materials are and how they are processed Who makes them and the conditions they work under The industry that surrounds the making of those clothes The transport miles involved in getting it from where it was grown and made to you The longevity and durability of the piece What happens to the piece of clothing after it is no longer useful to you or wearable. This definition explicitly acknowledges the complexities of Slow Fashion and that every person has different life circumstances, purchasing power and access to knowledge. Slow Fashion may look different for different people.
Felicia Semple of The Craft Sessions

Rising consciousness about the impact we have on our world, means that people are trying take more responsibility for the choices we make day to day. Those choices are the thing we have control over. Others might follow our example, or they might not, but in a way it doesn’t matter. We have to live the change that we want to see in the world. Big changes in cultural norms happen slowly and the little choices we make everyday as producers or consumers, have impact over time that isn’t necessarily visible to us, but happens none the less.

This article appears in issue one of ligature journal, available now