Slow Fashion Book Club: Sustainable Fashion by Jennifer Farley Gordon and Colleen Hill
A month ago, I started my own little sustainable fashion book club, where I commit to reading one book or watching one documentary about the fashion industry per month. During September I read the wonderful, info-packed book: Sustainable Fashion by Jennifer Farley Gordon and Colleen Hill. The book dives deep into different themes of sustainability in fashion.
What's so unique about this book, is that it describes each theme from the 18th century onwards, giving the reader insights into why the fashion industry is what it is today. The roots of the current problems in the fashion industry have been building since the industrial revolution. These problems, therefore, need in-depth solutions that should include not only changes in manufacturing but also shifts in consuming and in how we value clothing.
Here are my key takeaways from this book:
1. Can fashion ever be sustainable?
"It is nearly impossible for the Fashion industry to be truly sustainable. Fashion is guided by a cycle of style change, in which the old is rapidly replaced by the new."
I love to use the phrase sustainable fashion, but I haven’t stopped to think about what I mean by using it. Despite being a very common term, there doesn’t exist a standard definition for what sustainable fashion means.
For some, the term sustainable fashion is a conundrum, in which fashion, which is defined as “guided by a cycle of style change”, cannot be called sustainable. :
"Sustainable fashion is inherently paradoxical as sustainability cannot fit easily within such a system of planned obsolescence”
And I do agree, in a sense. We need to change the meaning of fashion to include sustainability in it.
MY LEARNING POINT: For fashion to be sustainable, we should let go of a rapid cycle of style changes inherent in fashion. This means shifting our focus from instant short-term gratification to seeking value in the long-term. Moreover, we need to be intentional, and reflective with our style: instead of buying what is trendy, we need to know what could look good for years or even decades later. Let your style be as unique as you are, don't let fads fool you.
2. Clothes NEED MORE LOVE AND DEVOTION
Consumers of the past developed an emotional attachment to their clothing - both because it was a highly valued commodity, and because it was commonly made especially for them. The sense of connection to our clothing is all but lost today.
Before the industrial revolution, clothes and textiles were expensive. And I mean, EXTREME kind of expensive. Fabric production was scrutinizingly tedious, time-consuming work that involved not one but many craftsmen.
Think for a moment: The manual looms that were used to make fabrics could make up to 1 inch of fabric per day. 1 inch, PER DAY!
The high cost of fabrics meant that everyone, even the wealthy, saved fabrics, remodelled their clothes, and sold unwanted items in the secondhand market. " It is rare in fact to find an 18th-century dress that does not show some signs alteration.”
The fabrics were considered to be so valuable that they would have never, ever been just thrown away. Clothes "were costly, cherished commodity that were quite literally used to shreds”. Fabrics retained value even when they went out of style and it was common that they were passed down through generations.
LEARNING POINT: We need a big shift in attitudes towards clothes: they should not be disposable but cherished items that should be modifiable as styles and our bodies change. LOVE your clothes, cherish them like you would cherish a family heirloom!
All in all, fast fashion has changed how clothing is valued. Once a highly cherished commodity, fashion is now considered disposable. For slow fashion to become mainstream, we would need a gigantic shift in how we consume, value, and produce clothes. It is not a simple process as we are dealing with things like addiction to instant gratification and consumerism.
"Changing the way we consume means we must first come to terms with the harsh realities of the ethical and environmental effects of fast fashion."
Clothes are made up of stories, they are woven into the fabrics themselves. We need to be aware of the negative stories and be more part of the positive ones.