According to a 2016 Oxfam report, more than 15 million people who work in the clothing manufacturing industry are based in developing countries worldwide. More than 80% of the people working in the industry are women, often too young to work and from poor rural backgrounds. Fast fashion alone produces 20% of global wastewater, contaminating rivers, oceans, drinking water and soil. The industry also emits 1.2 billion tons of CO2 per year, more than air travel and shipping combined. With such clear and convincing statistics on fast fashion as an environmental and social threat, why do we still buy cheaply designed and massively produced clothing?
What is mass production?
Mass production is the process of large quantities of a standardized product by an automated mechanical process. It is responsible for the evolution of consumerism by lowering the unit cost of many goods used. Mass produced items aalso known as fast moving consumer goods (FMCGs) characterized by frequent purchases, low prices, short shelf life, rapid consumption and low engagement production processes. The characteristics reflect consumerist practices. Consumerism is the social and economic practice that encourages the purchasing of goods and services in ever increasing amounts. To maintain the trend, manufacturers design products with artificially limited useful lifespans which easily become obsolete.
It is important that as fashion consumers we take more responsibility for what we consume by educating ourselves on the processes involved in the products we use everyday. The persistent issues of climate change, environmental degradation and human rights violations force fashion designers, manufacturers and distributors to adopt production methods which will spare the earth rather than destroy it further. Slow fashion forces us to ask why before purchasing and to educate ourselves more on fashion production processes. Kate Fletcher (2008), fashion and sustainability writer, argues that slow fashion should use organic and recycled materials in an effort to fulfil the triple bottom benchmark aimed at reducing the number of goods produced. Furthermore, it should help us focus on designing, producing and consuming products that positively enhance our lives without compromising the health of the earth and its natural resources.
What should be done?
Slow fashion production means that clothing starts with well thought out beginnings, is produced by ethically paid workers and is meant to be worn for years to come. The fast fashion industry, however, focuses on producing as many items as possible without considering these factors which leads to the exploitation of laborers, natural resource wastage and over-production. The conscious practice of slow fashion links the pleasure of fashion to awareness and responsibility which both affirm the importance of fashion to our culture and recognizes the urgency of a sustainable agenda.
Choosing slow fashion methods gives way to choice, information, cultural diversity and identity, and most importantly balance. The balance gives way to a combination of rapid imaginative change and symbolic expression as well as durability and long term engagement, which would then result in quality products. Slow fashion gives rise to our psychological needs, to form identity, communicate and be creative through our fashion choices, as well as our physical needs which are to cover and protect us from the extremes of our current climates. So instead of buying large quantities of cheaply made clothing, we’d rather spend our hard earned money to purchase carefully designed clothing with low negative environmental and socio-economic impacts.