Sustainability: What slow fashion means to me and why I choose to wear my values

Slow fashion is the antidote to the juggernaut of disposable, unsustainable fast fashion. Christina Robert on why she has embraced it and what it means to her

I care deeply about Mother Nature, but I don’t want Friends of The Earth telling me what to put on in the morning. In fact, when it comes to fashion, the words sustainable and ethical come across like dreary chaperones at the school dance. And as for the word ‘artisanal’, save it for the cheese.

So yes, I am vain and hypocritical, but I don’t care. I know that I am at my best when I live from the inside out and don’t worry about what other people think, which is why I love the concept of slow fashion.

Slow Fashion is a term coined by sustainability design consultant Kate Fletcher in 2008. Since then the movement has been gaining momentum around the world. Its philosophy embraces politics, economics, sustainability as well as the human condition. It can mean saving to buy better, more expensive clothes that will last. It can also mean connecting with the story behind a coat, a bag, a hat.

It definitely means looking after the clothes you have and only wearing clothes that delight you in a profound and enduring way. Slow fashion is for those of us who are wise enough to know that our role in society is much more than that of a ‘consumer’.

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Even with the best intentions, cheap clothes require cheap labour

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Meanwhile, fast fashion is the term used for most high-street retailers these days. Advances in technology have made it possible to deliver low prices on constantly updated collections. Did you know that trend a week is the new normal?

This rising obsession (and it is an obsession) with new clothes has become as dangerous to our health as any addiction.

What fast fashion is costing us

Remember the marshmallow test? Behavioural psychologists discovered that we humans are at our best when we are able to delay gratification. In fact, the ability to delay gratification is now thought to be one of the key indicators for success. The other one, according to Harvard’s Grant Study, is the ability to form relationships. Fast fashion isn’t helping us do either.

Our clothes are being made in countries we’ve never been to by people we will never see. One only has to think of Whistles’ recent This Is What a Feminist Looks LIke T-shirt debacle to realise that even with the best intentions, cheap clothes require cheap labour.

And despite the best efforts made by many retailers, producing all these clothes is still clogging waste streams, poisoning our environment, contributing to climate change, drinking way too much of our ‘blue water’ and creating Jenga-like conditions for local economies. In other words, those £3 T-shirts are costing us more than we know.

Until we figure out what Kate Fletcher and others are calling a ‘post-growth’ model for the industry, new clothes need to be approached with caution.

My first sustainable fashion garment

However, even when, like me, you are well acquainted with all the grim statistics, in can be hard to break with the status quo. This is where slow fashion comes in. Slow fashion has the power to take us out of our heads and into the hearts. Slow fashion has the ability to make us truly happy. Fast fashion just wants us to eat more marshmallows.

I once tried on a black cocktail number made of incredibly luxurious black jersey, that I had seen through a shop window. It hugged and draped in all the right places. It was backless and had a gathered panel of red fabric just above my backside. I knew I had to buy it right then as it was a one-off.

As I was paying, the designer happened to drop by. She introduced herself as Orsola del Castro and explained that my new dress was made with offcuts from one of the best textile manufacturers in the north of Italy and put had been put together at a nearby cooperative of disadvantaged women.

I didn’t intend to do good by buying that dress, but I liked the story. When I wore it to a party the following week, I felt fantastic. Little did I know that that was my first taste of slow fashion.

Why ethical fashion fits with my values

The reason slow fashion feels so much better than fast fashion is because it comes in our size, not some business model’s. Whether we know it or not we all have an internal recipe for happiness. Our recipes are made up of lists of ingredients, or values. I’m not talking about morals; I’m talking about what we love, what is important to us, what makes us soar.

We can access our values by remembering a ‘peak experience’ in our lives and then describing the qualities around it. My list includes things like dancing, agelessness, spontaneity and somewhere on there I think I even had champagne.

I know this because I did this exercise when I was training to be a life coach. I have subsequently seen a lot of other people’s lists and I can tell you that I have yet to see a list that doesn’t include the words freedom, creativity, nature, connection and beauty. Try finding those in a bin of Primark jumpers.

Want to ward off those winter blues? Figure out what lights you up and bring more of it into your life. The website Not Just A Label describes slow fashion as a way to re-connect with personal passions. Why not visualise a peak experience and then list all the values around it?

For me, slow fashion is about yearning, anticipation, desire and the thrill of possession. It is about Harris Tweed and my mother’s shocking pink taffeta wrap. It is about finding a perfect camel coat in a charity shop like I did last year.

It is about quality and self expression. It is about saving for well-made shoes that last. It is about mending and polishing, and caring for beautiful things. It is about falling in love with brilliant design.

It is about planning and experimenting with my own wardrobe. It is about rebellion and waking up to my own power. It is about sewing patches on my favourite pair of jeans. It is about the comfort of wearing my husband’s jumpers and a piece of jewellery my daughter made me.

It is about making, getting curious and being blown away by what we humble humans are capable of.

In the end, the real gift of slow fashion is that it allows what we wear to enhance the pleasure of being alive. Keep the marshmallows, bring on the wine.