Caryn Franklin interviews Safia Minney about her latest book: Slow Fashion – Aesthetics meets Ethics

23rd March 2016

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Caryn: Good evening everyone and lovely to see you. I’m going to be really teasing out information from Safia about her book that you will hopefully all take home with you tonight. It’s a fantastic book because it is packed with knowledge and words from people who have done a small part of the journey with Safia and for helping to bring those voices and an alternative belief system and that’s crucially important because we need a system to believe in or a logistic to engage with in order to shift and in order to change and Safia is doing all of that work and we just have to agree with it!

So just tell us a little bit about the book…

Safia: There has been a staggering shift in the awareness – in civil society in industry, in policy and in the media after the horrific tragedy of the collapse of Rana Plaza. I wanted to really capture this new chapter which has been full of incredible campaigns like Fashion Revolution, ethical brands and stores that have really put pressure on the industry and policy makers to change. Also, as I was developing the European market for People Tree (now celebrating our 25th anniversary since I started the company in Japan). The retail growth of eco concept stores worldwide is amazing. They sell Fair Trade, sustainable and ethical fashion and look completely different to how they looked 10 years ago. Travelling around Germany, Scandinavia, Japan, it’s incredible to see the prolification of ethical brands has led to better quality stores – alongside ethical and vintage fashion, they sell ethical lifestyle products, local art, they have organic cafes and run talks about well-being and social issues. I think the whole fashion industry is changing and we have some of those key people here tonight who have helped shaped that change.

I’m hoping you can download the QR code reader app onto your phone and watch the films. You can actually go into the stores, look around and see the products and meet the people who run them. These people have done a remarkable job of creating stores which are really engaging. And we need more stores like this, so I’m really hoping that we can promote the eco-concept stores near us. Because this is the future of fashion, telling the story of fashion – the story of the producer and the products.

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Caryn: Tell us a little about why you think it’s taking much longer for the fashion industry to embrace slow produce – we’re in one of many organic, slow food pubs in London but why is slow fashion taking longer?

Safia: Clearly fashion product has a shorter product life cycle – a maximum 6 months often to design a product and get it to market – it makes it very expensive in terms of supply chain development – all of the transparency needs to be done and truly sustainable and fair – this takes time to check properly. We’ve come to a place where we have fair trade and ethical systems and standards for cotton like organic cottons and Fair Trade standards for clothing manufacture. There’s a lot of initiatives that show how to improve the supply chain, worker’s rights and environmental protection, compared to 5 to 10 years ago, I don’t think that fashion companies now have any excuse to not engage with delivering sustainability and worker’s rights behind the products they make and retail.

Caryn: How can we now get over the worthiness of Fair Trade issues not having the edgy approach or coolness that people are looking for when it comes to fashion – how can we weave this in that its uncool not to link the worker with the product?

Safia: There’s beautiful, quality products and really desirable fashion that you will buy because you love the product. Clearly ethical fashion is competing on an un-level playing field and there is no real environmental or social cost factored into conventional fashion prices.

That is a genuine challenge for ethical brands as we spend money on developing supply chains, paying fair prices and better environmental practice, results in less money available to spend on marketing. Caryn, how do you think ethical fashion companies can get more for their tiny marketing budgets?

Caryn: What I do know from the work that I’ve done in promotional work with sustainable fashion is that if we can reach these individuals and get them to make a personal decision and unite them. What happens is that people get stuck in a system and they feel disempowered which is why an alternative belief system is crucial. Everyone wants to make a contribution to change. Especially if you work in fashion – we need to contribute to what feels good about being human. I’ve seen you do it say ‘come and help, you know you want to.’ We need to incorporate more ambassadors who can do that on your behalf, invite people to switch, to make changes in their lives on a limited budget so that they feel very engaged with slow fashion and what it is they love about fashion itself and the opportunity for change.

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Safia: It might sound strange, but despite being an owner of People Tree, we ought to be buying less fashion. We ought to be buying more second-hand vintage, up-cycled and when we do buy something new, of course it should be Fair Trade and organic! It’s about people being more conscious about what they buy.

Caryn: Do you have a simple point to leave our audience with tonight?

Safia: I just want to tell you about some of the feedback I got from some of the Fair Trade groups I work with from around the world including Nepal, Bangladesh and India about the Slow Fashion Book.

In Bangladesh they said: “If we have better stores selling our clothing and products, we can empower more women, more people with these orders, we can build schools, we can build clean water facilities, we can start micro credit programs”.

From India: “We want to introduce some of your campaigns in Europe here in India – your book is inspiring to us!”

So really there is just so much excitement from the Fair Trade movement about this book. I really hope to create livelihoods and support people to help themselves, my new book will inspire people to start new stores and to continue to campaign for fairer fashion, I hope.

Slow Fashion is available to purchase from local bookshops, Amazon and direct from New Internationalist.

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