Slow down!

Mass-produced trendy clothing may look great on you, but it is harming our environment

Fast fashion is killing our environment one outfit at a time.

The fashion industry is in the midst of an undeniably crucial debate on fast fashion versus slow fashion. The fashion industry is often overlooked as one of the primary polluters in the world, second only to oil refineries. However, this is not surprising since inexpensive and fast mass-manufacturing is at the heart of the global retail market.

What’s fast?

Fashion industry generates a shocking 1.26 billion tons of greenhouse emissions every year, more than the amount created by aviation and shipping industries combined. While consumers choose to throw more than half of fast fashion clothing away in less than a year, the average number of times that the same garment is worn has dropped over 35%. Our seemingly insatiable appetite for fast fashion has damaged the environment tremendously.

Behind the glam and glitz of the fashion industry, there are several hidden unethical practices, including disaster incidents at sweat-shops in Asia, and the exploitation of labour due to the quick demand for inexpensive mass-produced clothing. With fast fashion at the forefront of trends today, we have alienated some of our traditional handloom crafts, as they are time-consuming compared to machine-made fabrics, computer embroideries etc. Not only does this lead to loss of livelihood, it is a devastating loss of genuine creativity, tradition and heritage.

Going slow

Fortunately, there is a growing conversation across the world about sustainable, ethical clothing. Coined as ‘slow fashion’, it is the movement of designing, creating and buying garments more for their quality and longevity, over trend and glamour. It directly gives precedence to a slower production process, an increased focus on design and a significantly lower carbon footprint.

There is a growing shift towards the purchase of garments that have a long shelf-life and timeless aesthetic, without corresponding to just one trend. Fast fashion brands change their collections every month, sometimes twice a month, to keep pace with the newest and most popular trends, but now there are a number of sustainable brands, even in India, which have adopted ethical ways and are conscious of their practices. In the recent past, this change has become a vital contributor to the growing socio-economic and environmental issues in India. In my opinion, this type of business should be widely encouraged and supported to survive and lead the wave in the future.

This new wave of conscious players has truly transformed sustainable and eco-friendly designs, drastically elevating the style quotient, and all this while seeking innovative approaches to lessen their carbon footprint and chemical load. Not only are these brands looking at products in terms of their ethical value and identity, but they’re also seeing a growing movement of change among the consumer universe.

Sustainable future

An important force behind the growing sustainability movement is the realisation that sustainability leadership can serve as a real source of differentiation. There is now a growing transparency in terms of artisan wages, alternative materials and fabrics, with conscious efforts towards decreased wastage. In the West, high fashion brands such as Viktor & Rolf, Gucci and Stella McCartney have also joined the dialogue. Even leaders of the fast fashion packs like H&M and Zara have released their own sustainable ranges.

Some Indian brands promote slow fashion with a focus on design, pure fabrics and handcrafted embellishments. They use handloom fabrics like woven silk, Chanderi, cotton and wool, simultaneously including traditional methods of printing and hand-embroidery in their collections.

The future of fashion lies in technology and sustainability. Aspiring fashion designers should marry sustainability and design, with high fashion. Fashion houses should change their production, distribution and marketing practices and align their strategies towards greater sustainability. As consumers gain more knowledge about a brand’s commitment to ethical and sustainable practices, the more the brand is likely to be preferred over others.

The desire to rock an #OOTD or a new look every day has led to the rise of fast fashion, which then, in turn, has fuelled this obsession with ‘more’ and so goes on this vicious cycle. It is high time that we make smart choices each day and look beyond accumulating unnecessary purchases. It is difficult to discard everything and build a new wardrobe altogether, but the first step to creating a sustainable wardrobe is to ‘repeat’. Repeating outfits is the new chic, embraced by global icons like Kate Middleton and Deepika Padukone! Even though it’s not nearly seen enough, but it’s a sure start.

Slow fashion brands are the brands of the future. Fast fashion brands will be unable to continue their wasteful practices due to natural depletion of resources. The labels with awareness, resources and skills will join and add to the slow clothing movement, fuelling a conversation that will allow us to find a way to work together to better our industry and the world at large.

(The author is designer of AM:PM)

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