Slow fashion is the new kid on the block, a yet-to-be-recognised offspring of the fair trade movement, a righteous sibling of fast fashion. No matter how you look at it, though, it’s clear that slow fashion leaders need to take a stand together in order to turn the industry into a power to be reckoned with.
There’s a plethora of slow fashion thinkers out there, eager to share their thoughts with the world and rally the next generation of consumers. In fact, most slow fashion articles I see are focused on the consumer and what she has to do to make change happen. It is really simple, you see, she just needs to open her wallet and make the right decision: choose slow fashion brands, like Zady and The Reformation, over the H&Ms and Zaras of the world.
It’s easier said than done, though. Have you tried to buy something from a slow fashion brand before? I have…tried. Not only there is a price issue ($20 t-shirt, anyone?), there’s also a problem of limited selection. Most slow fashion companies have a very small assortment of products, so you have to hop through many sites or stores to find something you like. And, it’s plain hard to even discover slow fashion brands. Consumers have to know the term “slow fashion” to begin with, just so they can Google it and delve into online research.
Here is what I’m getting at. Consumers truly are the only ones who can make real change. Let’s not kid ourselves; money rules the world. However, it is unfair to expect them to make “informed buying decisions” if there is no one to inform them. (Besides H&M marketing gurus, of course.) That’s why it is time for slow fashion to come together as an industry to define itself, set clear standards and elect a governing body.
Slow fashion: Setting up for success
1. Intentionality of impact
At a recent impact investing event, an important point was raised: the intentionality of impact. I think this idea should be at the core of any business that calls itself a social business (either formally or informally). If your social impact is not intentional, your enterprise should not be called “social”. This point can and should be applied to slow fashion movement. What is the intention of your fashion business? Does your mission of paying fair wages inform all your business decisions, or is it just a marketing schtick you can use to join the ranks of slow fashion?
2. Settings standards
So, how can slow fashion brands differentiate themselves from fast fashion, and what standards should the industry be enforcing? An important step toward creating any kind of standards or rules is to understand why they are being created.
Slow fashion standards should have three primary goals:
- to help the public make informed buying decisions
- to fend off dishonorable companies
- to create an identity for the slow fashion movement
The standards should be the key few, a short but exhaustive list of conditions to be met by every slow fashion company. Ethical sourcing, product transparency, safe working conditions and fair wages are the most obvious candidates. (Stephanie Hepburn of Good Cloth provides some good if utterly disheartening statistics on the latter here.) The standards should also be measurable – a minimum wage and minimum age requirement for factory workers, a list of prohibited chemical materials and acceptable levels thereof – and, thus, easily enforceable. Last but not least, they should be community-driven and voted upon by the industry players themselves. This will ensure the practicality and relevance, of the standards as well as their acceptance in the industry.
3. Slow fashion police
I know this doesn’t sound sexy, but without an industry watchdog, any standards are meaningless. A point I cannot overstate: there should be one and only one “Slow Fashion Police” and certification. (We’ve been there with fair trade before; let’s not make the same mistakes with slow fashion.) For example, at GlobeIn, the social business I work for, we source from fair trade and “fairly-trading” companies (companies that set their own standards like paying fair wages and prices to producers, without being certified by the Fair Trade Federation) for our Artisan Subscription Box. In doing so, we’ve learnt that some companies choose not to obtain Fair Trade Certification because they’re not satisfied with the standards established by the Fair Trade Federation. Lesson learnt: consensus is key.
This slow fashion watchdog will have to be a third-party, a non-profit organisation, and ideally will be financed in equal parts by the members of the slow fashion industry. This structure will not only ensure transparency and accountability, but will also prevent the certifying body from having to rely on certification fees (as is the case with the Fair Trade Federation). High certification fees could potentially discourage some companies from joining the movement, particularly smaller companies with lower profits, which in turn will fracture the young industry and stagnate its growth.
I want to conclude on a good note: everything IS in the power of the slow fashion movement, which now serves as a continuation of fair trade beyond coffee and chocolate. The industry is at its naissance, but thanks to modern technology and social media, its first steps are already being watched by millions of consumers worldwide. (I hope in a year or so, I will be quoting statistics from the first slow fashion industry report!) If these three steps– focusing on intentionality of impact, setting clear standards and electing an industry watchdog–are done properly, the conscious consumer already awaits, ready to champion the new industry with her wallet and ready to overthrow fast fashion.
Featured image shows a clothing display in a Zara store. Photo from ThinkRetail.
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