Could slow fashion improve your health?


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You need to slow down, stat! We have trouble with the concept of slow, don’t we? Given the frenetic pace of modern life, it’s not surprising. We are feeding the lie that busier lives are better lives, and in doing so rushing recklessly towards stress-related sickness. According to this study, half of all working Aussies “experience high levels of occupational burnout”. The knowledge that much of this stress is self-created doesn’t seem to stop us running ourselves ragged.

But despite mind-spinning reports that scientists have broken the universe’s speed limit (it’s something to do with the speed of light in a vacuum, apparently; what do I know? I’m a fashion person), down here we simply cannot accelerate for ever. Something’s going to get in the way. Like corners. Or our frayed tempers. What kind of status symbol is exhaustion anyway?.

“When we rush through our days, rarely taking the time to slow down and consider our choices, actions, or interactions, we miss out on so much,” Slow author Brooke McAlary says. “We miss out on real connection to the people we spend time with, the places we live and the things we choose to own, and we miss out on quality in those same things. When we choose to slow down, even just a little each day, we give ourselves the opportunity to connect and be present, and to really pay attention.”

She reckons the result is feeling happier, healthier and more grounded. “It’s in paying attention that life reveals so many of its little treasures, that we’d otherwise be too busy to notice,” McAlary says.

She notes that a growing number of people are recognising the wisdom of such thinking, and there’s a “general movement towards slow living, that takes in meditation and digital detoxes as well as things like the slow food and slow fashion”.

The slow food movement was founded by Italian chef Carlo Petrini in the 1980s, and advocates for seasonal eating based on local, natural produce, cooked mindfully “to recognise the strong connections between plate, planet, people, politics and culture”.

Slow fashion is trickier to define. Is it about hand-made, natural fibres, mending and DIY? Or bespoke, made-to-order, limited editions that are worth the wait? Can the big brands really embrace slow fashion? How will the digital world respond?

And is slow fashion good for us?

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that fast fashion is unhealthy. A new exhibition, Fast Fashion: The Dark Side of Fashion, presented by the Goethe-Institut at Melbourne’s RMIT Gallery, documents its negative impacts. It includes a devastating photographic series, Death of A Thousand Dreams, shot by Taslima Akhter in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza factory disaster in Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, we know that fashion and textile production can poison our air and waterways. Sometimes individual fashion items are poisonous too.

The cheapie European store Primark has just recalled a batch of men’s thongs containing a banned carcinogenic chemical.

In 2012, for its Toxic Threads report, Greenpeace tested 141 garments from 29 countries, and found hormone-disrupting NPEs present in just under two-thirds of them. Some of the garments also had toxic phthalates and cancer-causing amines from azo dyes, which still haven’t been banned in this country.

Greenpeace’s 2016 follow-up report, The Detox Catwalk, found that while some companies – notably H&M and Inditex – had “worked hard” to remove toxic chemicals from their supply chains, others not so much. Nike, Esprit and Victoria’s Secret all made the report’s “faux pas” category. Could slow fashion be the cure?

Jenny Underwood, the curator of the Slow Fashion Studio “response” to Fast Fashion: The Dark Side of Fashion said: “We’ve used the main part of the exhibition as a provocation to rethink our relationships to clothing and materials.”

The studio showcases the work of nine local fashion designers and academics, who explore various ideas behind slow fashion. Tania Splawa-Neyman, for example, will be running the Mending Mart, where you can barter for her skills to fix your old duds. Jo Cramer’s the Living Wardrobe explores how technology can help foster deeper connections with our clothes; she imagines a future where our garments can tell us how to best dispose of them.

While she stops short of prescribing a diet of it for a healthier life, Underwood does concede that slow fashion’s focus on transparency could mitigate against cases such as the poisonous thongs. “Supply chains have become so elongated and complex, and so much is hidden,” she says. “We’ve lost sight of who is making our clothes, how and from what.”

“To me ‘slow’ is a philosophy to think differently. In the modern age where we have so many demands on our lives, where it feels like technology and information are coming at us faster every day, to be able to take time for reflection is the ultimate luxury.”

Catch Fast Fashion: The Dark Side of Fashion and the Slow Fashion Studio at RMIT Gallery from July 21 – September 9. 

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