Currently, the fact that resources aren’t endless is pushing not only clothing manufacturers, brands, NGO’s and educational institutions to rethink the way fashion collections are manufactured towards a more environmental-friendly take, but also consumers to become aware about the fact that amassing clothes in the closet that end up being worn once or twice is equally damaging. 'Slow fashion' stands for a voluntary slowdown and a consequent restriction of clothing consumption by extending the useful life of clothing.

Last week the University of Hannover (Hochschule Hannover) hosted a day conference around this topic, while introducing a project funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research called ‘Slow fashion: creative, technical and economic innovations for mass-market sustainable products in fashion’. In this project, design students have created collections by following slow fashion’ principles (view images in this report). The first half of the conference in Hannover offered a very lively discussion between the audience and two interesting guests: Dr. Kirsten Brodde, campaigner toxics at Greenpeace and Hendrik Heuermann, sustainability manager at H&M. Brodde underlined the turn that Greenpeace campaigns have taken to propel a new consumption style driven with values like longevity of the garment and the search for certified eco fibers. In a private conversation with SI, Brodde emphasized the difficulty that consumers have in order to identify which clothing brands are real ‘green’ or only pretend to be. “All brands do something, but in order to differentiate what is really good und what is possibly only well-meant, consumers are having it hard again and again”, she explains. “Any consumer wants to pay more for a ‘green’ garment manufactured in fair working conditions and being fooled. If they’re ready to pay a bit more for clothes, then they want to make sure that the company produced them decently”, she concludes.

Heuermann of H&M talked about the various initiatives that the fashion chain has introduced in order to become greener, like collecting customers’ old garments in store in order to recycle them –and simultaneously offering a 20% product discount to those consumers for a new acquisition. The rate of garments that are recycled is though small, as the initiative is still young. Eventually, he also stressed the difficulties that represent recycling cotton fibers in garments blended with other ones like polyester, but that the Swedish company is undertaking steps in order to recycle fibers because it’s actually smarter from the business costs’ perspective.

Fiona Hoa-Lan Gutschke "in progress" slow fashion project at the University of Hannover
Fiona Hoa-Lan Gutschke "in progress" slow fashion project at the University of Hannover
The afternoon was followed by a workshop on design and trends for sustainable clothing, which tackled the actions that a designer might try while working in order to produce less waste. Mentioned strategies during the discussion were the reduction of samples, the no-destruction of sample-garments and the use of certified fabrics like organic cotton.

Slow fashion comprehends the incorporation of one of these three key processes during manufacturing: upcycling, zero waste and cradle to cradle –in cradle to cradle production all material inputs and outputs are seen either as technical or biological nutrients. Technical nutrients can be recycled or reused with no loss of quality and biological nutrients composted or consumed-. In spite of the difficulties mentioned before, some fashion companies are making real efforts to follow these sustainable principles. Nudie Jeans has produced some garments within its fall/winter ’15 range made out of recycled fibers or at least part recycled fibers: Two coats made with recycled wool and knitted scarves and beanies made from recycled denim. Also Marchi&Fildi, a Biella top quality yarn manufacturer, has just launched Ecotec, a selection of cotton yarns obtained by transforming pre-consumer cotton fabric leftovers that can contain up to a maximum of 70% of the old cotton fibers. Ecotec is more sustainable than new cotton because they don’t need water, or dyeing substances. All in all, there’s a wellness revolution in fashion going on right now and the industry is changing in full-swing. So future developments in tune with slow fashion’ principles in the manufacturing field and a progressively increased-awareness of big fashion players towards this topics let us see some rays of hope on the horizon.

'Edifice, a zero waste concept' at the University of Hannover
'Edifice, a zero waste concept' at the University of Hannover