This is a guest post – the very first one on this blog! – by Lia from Rosette Fair Trade. Take it away, Lia!
Since you’re reading this blog, I’m going to assume you’ve already got a vague idea about why slow fashion is important for the environment. I mean, we’ve all heard it like a broken record: go green! Buy sustainable products! Reduce waste!
And don’t get me wrong; it’s all great. Let’s do all that.
But there’s a missing piece that we so often don’t talk about, and that’s slow fashion.
Eco-fabrics get tons of play, in apparel and otherwise. Who in the green living community hasn’t looked at hemp shower curtains or bamboo bed sheets at some point or another? (Is it just me?) Eco-fabrics are super great for the planet, and help us to avoid things like cotton that’s often sprayed heavily with harmful chemicals. But the way you hear eco-fabrics promoted, you’d think that it’s a marvelous idea to go from buying 20 pieces of cotton clothing per year to buying 20 pieces of bamboo clothing per year. And the truth is that the fabric itself is not enough to make our consumer habits sustainable.
Fast fashion is damaging, no matter what it’s made of.
Slow fashion is important because it asks us to take a step back and evaluate whether we want to make an investment in our clothing. It’s a plea for reducing how much we buy overall and using our belongings until they’re not useful anymore. The average Canadian buys over 70 articles of clothing per year. If that number doesn’t blow your mind, I’m not sure what will, to be honest, because that’s like if we bought a new piece of clothing every 5 days or so. When you think of it in these terms, it becomes clear pretty quickly that the sheer volume of what we’re consuming is out of control.
So let’s dive into how we’ve ended up here, and what we can do to improve the situation.
What is Fast Fashion?
You might be asking yourself what fast fashion actually is. The answer is pretty simple: it’s fashion that’s made to be worn for a short period of time to cater to changing fashion trends.
Fast fashion is usually quite low-quality and typically manufacturers don’t bother with eco-fabrics, organic textiles or anything like that. The goal is to produce it for as little as possible and sell a ton of it to make that money back. Consumers buy it, wear it for a short period, realize the fashion trends have changed and throw the garment away. Then rinse and repeat.
Why is Fast Fashion Bad?
If you think about it, you can see how this model produces a lot of waste. Clothing just packs our landfills in North America (and elsewhere too, no doubt). Canadians throw away about 12 million tons of textiles per year. Let me repeat that:
Canadians throw away about 12 million tons of textiles per year.
What possible reason could we have for throwing away that much fabric? Surely it’s not all worn out, and if it is, surely we can find ways to make fabric last longer, can’t we? [Psst, check out the textile recycling companies that are trying to make a difference!]
The reason, as outlined above is largely aesthetic and partly because fast fashion is built to wear out quickly from the start. Corners are cut, quality is low and even if we want to wear it for a long time, we usually don’t have that option.
And fast fashion’s detrimental effects on the environment are even more widespread than simple waste production.
Just as bad as the environmental ramifications are the human ones. When companies are trying to cut corners, the first place that happens is in the wages of its workers and suppliers. Farmers are paid pennies on the dollar, factory workers are working for so little wages that they can’t even get by, and supervisors are hired for very slightly more to keep them all in line. Everyone is afraid to receive $0, so they receive the pennies instead.
Loose Safety Standards
The other major problem with this is the safety standards. The Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 is a perfect example of why fast fashion is dangerous.
What is Slow Fashion?
Slow fashion takes the model of fast fashion and dumps it on its head. It makes an effort to produce high-quality clothing that will last a long time. And because it’s meant to last a long time, it doesn’t cater as closely to the ever-changing fashion trends. It tries to be classic and timeless.
An example of slow fashion is fair trade clothing. Those who know me know that I run a business called Rosette Fair Trade, and a central part of that business is carrying only authentic fair trade products that have been vouched for by third parties. This means that unless a garment is authentically fair trade—meaning that it has been reviewed by a major organization with high standards—I don’t carry it. I made this choice because I was sick and tired of feeling like we just had to continue in this cycle of buying whatever clothing our corporate puppet masters told us, changing it constantly and throwing a ton of money and clothing away!
Fair trade fashion, and slow fashion more generally, is making a real difference, because it asks consumers to treasure the items we buy and also buy fewer of them. It asks consumers to make their clothing last for a few years instead of a few months. And in return, it has social and environmental standards to help you rest assured that the extra investment is worthwhile.
What Makes Fair Trade Fashion Better?
Fair trade apparel brands are held to a high standard that considers people and planet before profit.
In order for a garment to be authentically called fair trade, it has to demonstrate that workers were paid a living wage, were working in safe conditions, have the ability to unionize and so on. It also has to respect the environment, which is why you’ll sometimes find reclaimed materials used in fair trade clothing and accessories. Eco-fabrics or eco-textiles are also very popular, because fair trade companies also value a healthy planet and biodiversity!
To know your apparel is authentic fair trade, look for the mark of a fair trade verifier or certifier. Be sure that you understand what the overseeing organization stands for. Two I stand fully behind are Fairtrade International and Fair Trade Federation, which are also two of the largest ones in the world. Both oversee producers that make amazing, high-quality garments and accessories.
Looking for a symbol on the website of your favourite apparel brand is important because the words “fair trade” on their own are actually very subjective. A lot of brands have caught on that customers want their clothing made in ethical ways, so they engage in what’s called fairwashing. (If you’ve heard of greenwashing, I’m sure you’ll understand right away what fairwashing means.) They say their products are fair trade, but have nothing to back that up. So third-party verification is a solid way to know that they’re being transparent and ethical in their business practices.
Is Slow Fashion the Same as Fair Trade?
No, but they are cousins! Slow fashion and fair trade fashion are related to each other, but not really the same. Slow fashion may be fair trade, but not always. However, fair trade fashion falls under the slow fashion umbrella.
It might help if you think of it this way: all fair trade fashion is slow fashion, but not all slow fashion is fair trade fashion.
Does that mean that slow fashion is bad? Definitely not!
It might just mean that the garment was fully produced locally, for example. Fair trade is a system that makes sure that folks in the developing world are treated with dignity. But if something is made in California of organic hemp grown in California? Fair trade isn’t really relevant in those cases. It could still be very green (note: organic!), and they may be protecting their workers and so on. In these cases, it’s great to look for another verifying organization, like B Corp, for example, and organic certification.
You may be thinking: is all this verification necessary? And as much as I’d love us to live in a world where you can take businesses at their word, unfortunately that’s not always the case. It’s a shame, because there are so many great, hardworking small business owners out there that lose out because of a few bad apples!
Is Local the Same as Slow Fashion?
Again, nope! But that doesn’t mean there’s no value in buying local!
For example, remember how we were just talking about how verifying businesses is important because of fairwashing? Well, mostly that’s done by large corporations anyway, so it’s less of an issue if you’re supporting your local Mom & Pop shop!
Not only that, but there’s inherent value in supporting small, local businesses! Small businesses have a way smaller environmental footprint and help to shift some of the power that huge companies have in the economic system. So definitely shop small and shop local!
What are the Best Sustainable Clothing Options?
Always do what you can to tick off a couple of different boxes from this list:
This will usually put you on the right track to make sure that what you’re investing in is slow fashion, made by actually sustainable brands.
If you’re still not sure, I welcome you to check out my top 6 fair trade clothing brands in Canada. If you’re in the US rather than Canada, you’re in luck because you can find a number of suggestions on the EcoAnouk blog already!
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