When we talk about the slow fashion movement, we often get bogged down in discussions about the specific improvements major fashion players and end consumers can make to ensure a fairer, more sustainable fashion industry. But what if we’ve got the whole thing wrong? What if even the most stylish eco warriors can’t see the fashion forest for all the organic trees? Kate Fletcher certainly thinks so – and when the woman who coined the term “slow fashion” speaks, we should all be listening.
The Professor of Sustainability, Design and Fashion at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at the University of the Arts in London is known as a researcher, writer and speaker on all things slow fashion. More importantly, she was the first person to use the term that has since become a fixed entry in the design dictionary. In part, she defined slow fashion in opposition to fast fashion, calling speed a “defining characteristic of today’s textile and clothing industry.”
However, Fletcher considers the most common solutions to fast fashion’s problems “technical issues”. While a switch to organic fibres, payment of fair wages and a general improvement of working conditions are all steps in the right direction, they don’t get to the heart of what slow fashion really means. For Fletcher, slow fashion encompasses so much more than deceleration. The ideal of higher quality garments, produced under fair conditions in smaller quantities, forms the basis of its philosophy, not its end goal. If we continue to buy vast quantities of fashion – even fair, organic, sustainable fashion – the real problem can’t be solved. To truly tackle it, we need to rethink our own relationship with the clothes we wear.
Slow fashion’s foremost theorist wants her brainchild to be less about clothes and how they are produced, and more about the ways that people interact with them. We could be so much more than consumers if we redefine fashion as all the ways we use, adapt, alter and tend to the garments we own. If we change our perspective, we are no longer passive consumers of the trends and styles dictated by brands and designers. Instead, our slow experience of fashion becomes an active and personal one, as we continually shape each individual garment, the longer we own and wear it.
In addition to her publications, both academic and popular, Kate Fletcher’s projects vividly illustrate what the slow fashion theory looks like in practice. For “Lifetimes,“ she and research partner, Mathilda Tham, asked women to keep fashion diaries, to select both their favourite garments and ones they had never worn and to document the rituals around their laundry. The resulting data helped them develop future scenarios around fast and slow clothes, which put a stronger focus on the acts of keeping, selecting, wearing and caring for garments.
We should all review our own role in the lives of our clothes, including the things we already do, as well as those we can and should do to make them last longer. According to Kate Fletcher, that's the beginning of a journey towards true slow fashion.