Safia Minney is often introduced as the woman who ‘literally wrote the book on ethical fashion’. Of course, such hyperbole is commonplace, and authorities are often said to have ‘written the book’ on their chosen subject. In Safia’s case however, it’s true. She’s now written several books on the subject, and her pioneering work over the last twenty-five years has provided the foundation for the ethical fashion industry as we know it today.
Safia is as passionate today about the issues confronting the fashion industry as she was when she first started People Tree. In the film The True Cost, there’s a moment where she says she hadn’t expected to still need to be trying to change the way businesses make fashion. For someone who has dedicated so much of her life to improving that of others, and demonstrating via People Tree that it is entirely possible to create beautiful clothes without destroying either the environment or the lives and health of the people making the clothes, this must be immensely frustrating, but this latest book of Safia’s keeps a cool, lucid focus on the issues, making the case for sustainable fashion and more conscious purchasing decisions.
If Slow Fashion were a piece of music, it would be a theme and variations. The theme in this instance is the constant of conviction that fashion must be ethical, the variations coming from the different approaches of individual contributors interviewed by Safia for the book, who are each part of a global movement that must triumph, if we are to make ethical the norm. Each section of this ethical orchestra develops the theme, and we hear from campaigners and lobbyists Livia Firth and Lucy Siegle, fashion influencers that include Lily Cole and Caryn Franklin, designers represented – among others – by Zandra Rhodes and Peter Jensen, and social entrepreneurs like Moon Sharma and Marieke Eyskoot. In some cases, we quite literally hear from people – look out for the QR codes dotted throughout the book that you can scan to see related videos.
The final chapter of the book is dedicated to Eco Concept Stores, and the people who are creating physical environments that bring together a range of brands and products exemplifying slow fashion and the wider slow lifestyle movement. There aren’t many of these – just enough to give a flavour – but Safia has chosen from the best in Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and Japan. Again, the personal stories of the owners of these shops bring their weight to the argument for a fairer, better way of doing business and behaving as consumers. They are also a clear reminder that we can do this now, not at some vague point in the future. Slow fashion, the slow lifestyle, making fewer purchases of items that are better quality and last longer is something we can do right now. It’s already here, already possible. We can all do something about this today, in big steps or small.
Slow Fashion is a book that deserves a broad readership. It’s not a manifesto, nor is it a negative work sticking it to those companies who appear to have learnt little from the disaster at Rana Plaza. I came away from this book revitalised, encouraged by what I can only described as a celebration of those people and companies who are working to make this kinder, more conscious, generous lifestyle a reality. Does Safia Minney still want to change the world? Of course. Read Slow Fashion and you’ll want to change it with her.