Why Slow Fashion?

By Katina Gad

Why slow fashion?

To put it simply: sustainability matters

A majority of the global community is demanding that the systemic exploitation of natural resources and labor, which benefits a minority at the expense of the majority, come to an end. The fashion industry, and in particular the fast fashion industry, with its planned obsolescence driving high profit margins, exemplifies this apathetic and Inexhaustible demand. Though there are one off solutions including recycling programs, thrift stores, and donation bins across the country for consumers to dispose of their no-longer loved threads, a growing amount of textile products still ends up in the landfill year after year.  In 2011, an estimated “13.1 million tons of textile waste accounted for 5.2% of total municipal solid waste (MSW) generation” (EPA), that number is up from a little over 11.9 million tons of textile waste (4.7% of total MSW) generated in 2007. (Prior year data is shown in the table below)

Municipal Solid Waste Generated in the United States from 1960 to 2006 (in 1000 tons∗)

Waste Component 1960 1970 1980 1990 1995 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Textiles 1,760 2,040 2,530 5,810 7,400 9,440 9,810 10,320 10,590 10,930 11,280 11,840

One off solutions like textile recycling prevent 1 million tons of post-consumer textile product waste from entering the MSW stream annually by temporarily prolonging a products lifecycle, and postponing its entry to the landfill. These programs are extremely helpful because they reduce post-consumer waste, but they don’t prevent the extraction of raw materials or solve the problem of overconsumption. There has been no solid evidence collected to date showing that increasing demand for secondhand goods decreases demand for firsthand materials used to produce fast fashion, or that it influences publicly traded companies to slow their consumption of raw materials. These corporations main objective is to satisfy & retain shareholders as well as to attract new investors, this is achieved by maximizing shareholder wealth through increasing profit margins (decreasing their cost while maximizing revenue). Sustainability is nowhere to be found within the fast fashion formula, so it is not surprising that due to greenwashing many businesses and universities misrepresent sustainability by framing the triple bottom line as ‘people, planet, & profit’. This model is inaccurate, as it disregards the inclusive heterogeneity that is inherent to activating an authentically sustainable organization. A more accurate paradigm of sustainability utilized by entities to outline their triple bottom focuses on People, Planet, & Prosperity. Where:

People = The broadest scope of sustainability accounts for five units of scale in regards to people including individual level, family level, village level, regional level, and worldwide. Organizations have a responsibility to their stakeholders on each of these levels in addition to the environment they operate within.

Planet = Stewardship; sustainable organizations monitor and adjust their environmental impact (including water & energy consumption, use of non-renewable resources, and pollution) to leave the ecosystem better than before or marginalize and minimize these impacts. Many businesses often find money savings within reduced environmental impact, achieved through waste reduction, energy conservation, and maintaining safe manufacturing processes which minimize pollution outputs.

Prosperity = May be measured across many facets, commonly they are time, success, comfort, beauty, knowledge, love, health, relationships, and even money. Prosperity incorporates the wellbeing of all stakeholders, including not just shareholders and management, but also all workers, vendors, surrounding communities, and customers who come into contact with the goods or services across its lifespan.

Textile and Apparel Organizations who utilize a triple bottom line approach acknowledge that their sustainability depends upon the ability to exist harmoniously with social and environmental surroundings.  Slowing down fashion is a necessary step that must be taken to reduce overconsumption, labor exploitation, and cut down on material waste. Sustainability is more than just a buzzword or a trend, it is a lifestyle that goes beyond serving the people, planet, prosperity model; it also protects and enriches the quality of life that future generations will endure.

Additional (non-electronic) References:

Shaping sustainable fashion : changing the way we make and use clothes (Book)

Alison Gwilt and Timo Rissanen. London ; Washington, DC : Earthscan, 2011.