Slow Fashion in a Developing Economy

The global fashion industry is slowly awakening to the sustainability and ethical crisis that fast fashion has created. We are experiencing a fashion revolution, if you will. Belinda and I are seeing a shift in fashion talk on Instagram – just as our own fashion philosophy has evolved. We see more and more talk about choosing natural fibers, buying pre-loved or local and sourcing ethically made clothes. Transparency, sustainability, living wage and circular economy are topics being discussed in boardrooms of luxury brands and design studios, globally and locally. What does this mean for local, South African designers, brands and consumers?

South Africa has a growing population and poverty is very real and very visible. You cannot live in our beautiful country and say that you don’t see poverty everyday. Because of this, South African consumers are willing to donate unwanted clothes to local charitable causes. We have a culture of donating clothes to less fortunate people, but buying pre-loved clothing is a relatively new concept. Students and eccentrics would scour markets for vintage finds, but most consumers just want to save a few rands and still look decent. The easy and affordable way is to buy from fast fashion brands.

The lack of awareness of the detrimental effects of fast fashion is a huge problem in South Africa. For a large population of the country, pollution that has no direct bearing on their situation and therefore has to take a back seat to more immediate problems. Buying slow fashion is more often for people who have the luxury of choice.

For consumers who can choose, South Africa has exciting and good quality slow fashion brands. Some labels, like “Sitting Pretty” and “Lunar”, have been designing sustainably for a while, taking the environment and social concerns into account. And the number of slow fashion brands are growing with labels like “Sunny the Label” joining the ranks, but it is still just a drop in the ocean.

One of the biggest obsticles local designers have to overcome is finding ethical, sustainable resources and that pushes up the manufacturing costs. It is difficult to find good, locally produced fabric. There are very few mills in South Africa and I have no idea how many are implementing sustainable and fair trade practices. Designers are often required to source fabric from Turkey, India or Europe.

The shift is happening. Some South African designers and some consumers (who can afford it) are changing to slow fashion, but this is not enough to stop fashion pollution. We need the big companies to change so that people from all walks of life can have access to affordable responsible fashion. We need political will to not allow cheap, low quality imports. We need to create more awareness and have conversations about this topic so that the big companies and politicians feel pressured into changing. And if at all possible, choose slow fashion now by buying locally made or pre-loved clothing.

Matilda xo

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