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What motivates us to buy the things we do? This is the fundamental distinction between slow and fast fashion—two seemingly rival movements in fashion that draw criticism and praise, respectively.
Slow Fashion vs. Fast Fashion
Fast Fashion produces clothes at vastly reduced costs and in massive quantities. Many of the modern, chic brands are fast fashion—Forever 21, Express, H&M, Zara, and Primark. Their trendy clothes make the hottest runway trends available to people at lower costs, which has vastly improved participation in an otherwise elite and unreachable world. But, affordable apparel comes at a great cost, especially for those abroad employed by companies to produce the styles we can’t wait to bring home.
A five-dollar t-shirt from one of these vast suppliers will likely not last you more than a couple washes. Consider though, the undisclosed cost of that inexpensive shirt. Producing such massive quantities of apparel means keeping labor costs low, and all too often these companies take advantage of lower labor costs abroad. The exploitation of millions of disadvantaged workers is part and parcel in an industry that overburdens workers with high production demands. Bangladesh is a hugely popular destination for outsourcing workers, as over 3 million people (mostly women) are employed in garment factories. A study conducted on 540 workers in Cambodia, India, and Bangladesh revealed that women earned less than the minimum hourly wage 64% of the time, and were often exposed to gender bias by male supervisors. Additionally, recent reports from factory employees exposes the plight of violence in factories supplying H&M and the Gap. The brutality of factory life, the report concludes, is a direct result of a global supply chain that “creates unreasonable production targets… resulting in women working unpaid overtime and working very fast under extreme pressure.”
The antithesis of fast fashion, and perhaps a more sanguine alternative, is slow fashion. Slow fashion believes in sustainable and humane practices which in turn elevates production costs including material and labor. The principle behind slow fashion is one that is governing our purchasing decisions—more and more people are giving much greater consideration to environmental and humane concerns than ever before.
Slow fashion businesses work on a much smaller scale and produce essential and long-lasting items rather than disposable ones. Slow fashion reminds us that clothes can be art, and similarly to the paintings and murals that adorn museum walls, they should be unique and provide value to the consumer. The movement resembles pre-industrial era philosophy that utilized locally sourced materials and products rather than artificial, heavily manufactured goods.
Perhaps the greatest irony of our society is that while we consume so much information on a daily basis, we can even more easily ignore those realities we do not want to face. But, happily, the Slow Fashion movement inspires many to consider the real-life effects of an individual’s purchasing choices before a shopping splurge.