The Young and the Super Rich are Mainstreaming Slow Fashion

Everybody has clothes they wear more than others for any number of reasons. Those reasons, however, are the key to a greener environment, because if consumers wear the clothes in circulation more often, it comes at the expense of resource-intensive production of new clothes, often most made from cheap, unsustainable materials. In the slow fashion, paradigm clothes have more value for consumers, who in turn tend to care more for the products. The global consumption of fast fashion is in no way in decline at current. On the other hand, changes are clearly underway, and it can be observed in the emergence of new circular startups, public debate, media, and a mountain of upcoming legislative frameworks addressing climate change and environment across the world. It can also be observed in today’s consumer behaviour: "Vintage, secondhand is massive. There is almost a new 'arts and crafts' movement taking place. People dig up the clothes of their grandmother to wear it. There is a search for something tactile, a connection with the things people own. It is not because the interest in textiles and garments is decreasing, but we want a deeper connection to the clothes we wear. That is a paradigm shift because you don’t have a deep connection with you clothes if you swap your wardrobe every six months," Johanne Stenstrup, Danish author, podcast host and sustainable fashion activist, said.

At the tipping point of mainstream

During her presentation at the Sustainable Fur Forum’s event on 29 September, she talked about the emergence of circular business models and the fast-growing secondhand market. All things that point to a market, however not yet a mainstream market. So how far are we from the tipping point? "I’ll say we are just short of 10 per cent. Within trend research, they say that when 12-15 per cent of a population do something, it tips over and becomes mainstream. That’s the tipping point between being a first-mover trend to becoming mainstream. I’ll say slow fashion is very close to becoming mainstream," Johanne Stenstrup said. Part of the paradigm shift is driven by the climate striking youth, who opposes the way their parents have been buying clothes. The other key driver of sustainable fashion is the super-rich, who drive a real demand for traceability, clean raw materials, and sustainability, which is also visible in the hotel- and restaurant sectors. The greenest eco-hotels around are the luxury hotels. The most successful high-end restaurants are those who offer slow food concepts like farm-to-table, fermentation, and locally sourced ingredients. Likewise - although still lacking behind the development in the hotel- and restaurant businesses - it is the high-end luxury fashion brands who have been first to invest in sustainability within the fashion industry. "There is, of course, still demography which is in the market for bling and gold, but there is a real push for sustainability and traceability amongst the superrich. If you can buy anything in the world, you want to be sure things are in order," Johanne Stenstrup said.

Re-establishing our connection with clothes

The emotional value of our clothes is tied with storytelling that was somehow lost during the industrialization. The availability of cheap materials and the efficiency of the production had the consequence that repairment of our clothing slowly, but surely was replaced by the unsustainable ‘buy and throw away’ culture of today. "Capitalism and industrialization have worked to eliminate our connection to our clothing and identity since consumers have been told identity lies in the buying of something new. Now we are beginning to re-establish the connection with the textiles we surround ourselves with. Clothes with emotional value work as an anchor to who we are and are often found in homemade clothes or clothes people have owned for a long time. Our clothing is closely associated with storytelling about ourselves and our identity," Johanne Stenstrup said. However, the slow fashion paradigm is not only in the hands of trendsetting consumer groups but must be established in the interaction between consumers, manufacturers and legislators. Waste management is already high up on the political agenda, and if waste begins to come at a cost for the producers, waste management legislation is likely to push manufacturers further towards circular business models. "Companies have to look at their products more like a service. This can be a built-in repairment guarantee, or rental models, which I think is very interesting for fur- and leather products. It is business models, where you make an income on the same product several times, or provide services to the product throughout its lifetime," Johanne Stenstrup said.

Circular business models

Natural fur has inherent circular qualities because of the material’s strong technical characteristics, and capability for biodegradation. These are qualities the fur sector can work actively with and potentially target new consumer groups. "Fur fits well into the circular economy, but some people have a problem with the animals. It fits with circularity to take responsibility for the second and third life of a product. Some consumers skip the first life of a product and go straight to buying upcycled clothing. This is a consumer group I think will grow bigger. They still want good design, and we can tell that new design with old materials is very much in demand right now," Johanne Stenstrup said.