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Jewellery with a Purpose: How Slow Fashion Gives us Meaning

For the past few years, our global fashion consumption has led to a mindset of short-term purchases, rather than long term investments, which further contributes to an “open-loop” industry of produce, use, and waste. These wasteful consumption patterns contribute drastically to climate change, yet provide us with little to no meaning or purpose. The Covid-19 Pandemic has forced us all to reassess the way we view our relationship towards what we wear and the global impact of these choices. Due to this, we have witnessed a rise in demand for sustainable, ethical, and slow fashion as a way to construct meaning and a positive legacy.

Fast Fashion vs Slow Fashion: What are The Differences?

It is no secret that hyper-consumption needs to change; we are purchasing and discarding fast fashion items at a record pace with “three out of five fast fashion items ending up in a landfill” (Clean Clothes Campaign, 2019). These cheap, low-quality, “trendy” products leave our sight just as quick as we purchase them. In addition to this, fashion accounts for 20 to 35 percent of microplastic flows into the ocean (The State of Fashion, McKinsey 2020). Although it may be financially cheaper, fast fashion is far from “cheap”. Once we weigh in the ethical, environmental, and human cost, it actually is very expensive. Perfectly illustrated by Eco-Age founder Livia Firth: “fast fashion is like fast food. After the sugar rush, it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.” Hyper-consumption is the core of fast fashion’s exploitative nature. The need for ‘more’ without thought has surpassed the need to sustain ethical practices. In order to change consumer mindsets from a constant demand for newness to embracing slow fashion, we need to encourage education and transparency surrounding the production of our purchases. This shift is vital for a more sustainable future. Slow fashion epitomises this mantra as it favours quality over quantity.
  Dana Thomas, in her book Fashionopolis, investigates the true cost of fast fashion and how our mindset as consumers has been shaped by years of over-consumption and dissociation. Child labour, collapsing factories, mindless consumption, contaminated waterways, all in the name of fast fashion. As a way out, Thomas advocates for slow fashion which she defines as “a growing movement of makers, designers, merchants, and manufacturers worldwide who, in response to fast fashion and globalisation, have significantly dialed back their pace and financial ambition” and instead choosing to “honour craftsmanship and respect tradition while embracing modern technology to make production cleaner and more efficient.” Instead of following trend cycles, slow fashion employs enduring styles that are durable and versatile. Because of this, slow fashion can be defined as the antithesis of fast fashion. It is a movement that asks us to stop and consider our purchases, educating ourselves about the impact of our fashion choices. Ultimately, slow fashion encourages slower production, the use of sustainable non-toxic materials, ethical practices, and invites consumers to invest in well-made and lasting clothes. Slow fashion conveys to us how essential the connection between the consumer is. It allows for a deeper relationship to all facets of production by developing an understanding of raw materials and their environmental effect, committing to slower manufacturing schedules, made-to-order collections, and championing zero-waste.

Is sustainability in the jewellery industry important?

When we think about fast fashion, we generally understand the implications of unsustainable and unethical practices in the garment industry, a lack of rights for garment workers, synthetic dyes, and tonnes of garments filling up our landfills. However, beyond clothes and footwear, there is a big issue routinely taken out of our discourse surrounding sustainability and that is fast jewellery. As Ebba Goring, director of Incorporation of Goldsmiths states: “the disposability and poor quality of fast fashion jewellery means that it is not designed to last and will ultimately end up in the bin and in most cases not recycled.” Our disposable mindset surrounding our jewellery can appear more subtle than our relationship to garments but is it no less toxic. Currently, the ever-changing trend cycle means that most of us can snap up “Instagramable” pieces, which will satiate our desires quickly, requiring little financial or emotional investment. This process leaves us feeling empty, with that replica piece having little meaning to us after a short time. Not only is it a copy of what everyone else is wearing, it supports an industry that is harmful by filling our landfills and using harsh chemicals. One study by The Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health and the Ecology Center states that more than 58 percent of low-cost jewellery ranks high for toxic chemicals. In addition to toxicity concerns, gem and metal mining further environmental degradation and the violation of human rights such as long-term medical conditions from asthma to organ damage (Harvard Law-The Cost of Gold Report). With these concerns in mind, it’s about time we become more mindful about our purchases and support brands that ethically source their materials. We need a more sustainable and conscious approach to our consumption of jewellery.

How You Can Connect with Your Jewellery Through Slow Fashion Storytelling

  Elizabeth L.Cline, author and fast fashion and labour rights expert notes that: “clothes could have more meaning and longevity if we think less about owning the latest or cheapest thing and develop more of a relationship with the things we wear.” So, what is the best way to reconnect our relationship with our jewellery? The answer is in slow handmade pieces. Slow fashion, and in particular, handmade jewellery, restores the consumer with the artistry of a piece, creating an emotional connection through storytelling. Developing this relationship is key as there has been a great dissonance between how and who makes our jewellery and how we perceive our relationship with those items. Slow made jewellery champions craftsmanship, often fashioning handmade pieces, rather than mass produced cast jewellery. This means that each piece will be entirely unique from one another. This slow production allows the us to invest meaning to these pieces, not clouded by the unethical baggage of fast produced jewellery.

What Do We Do Now?

Globally, we are at a turning point with our hyper-consumption of fast fashion. We are becoming aware of the true cost of cheap and low quality pieces, which are consumed far too quickly, then disposed of within a year. Yet, the events of 2020 have allowed for a reassessment of our priorities and the legacy we want to leave behind. We can now strive to place meaning on to quality hand-made pieces that honour craftsmanship. These pieces will invoke the feeling of keepsakes, something to be treasured as handmade jewellery thrives on its uniqueness, unlike cast mass produced jewellery. Ultimately, the biggest difference is that slow handmade jewellery will last for the consumer but the effects of fast unethical jewellery will be felt by our planet forever. As Vivienne Westwood notes: “buy less, choose well. Make it last. Every purchase you make, counts as a vote for what kind of world you want to see”.

Written by Kaja Van-Ristell

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