Everything You Need to Know About the Slow Fiber Fashion Movement
MILAN — Why are many global consumers so at ease about overpaying for a bottle of wine but so stubbornly expecting a pair of undies to cost no more than, say, 3 euros?
This and similar questions on how consumers perceive the global textile and Fashion industries and their willingness to pay a premium price for sustainable products were among the triggers that led former university professor and textile entrepreneur Dario Casalini to found Slow Fiber.
Born in 2022 as a spinoff of the more established Slow Food movement, Slow Fiber gathers 21 textile companies that have subscribed its manifesto. The latter bloomed from Casalini’s book “Dress Good, Clean and Fair,” a critique of the Fashion system’s continued neglect of its environmental footprint, inspired by the manifesto for the Slow Food movement envisioned by its founder, Carlo Petrini.
“My goal was to apply the same principle of Slow Food to Fashion,” Casalini said in an interview. When he published his book, Petrini, who agreed to write the preface, made him promise that he would follow in his footsteps and try to start a Fashion-leaning movement.
Slow Fiber’s associated companies include Oscalito, L’Opificio; Quagliotti; Remmert; Pettinatura Di Verrone; Tintoria Finissaggio 2000; Angelo Vasino Spa; Olcese Ferrari; FelliColor; Manifattura Tessile Di Nole; Holding Moda; Lanecardate; Italfil; Pattern; Maglificio Maggia; Vitale Barberis Canonico; Gruppo Albini; Botto Giuseppe; Cangioli 1859; Tintoria Ferraris, and Chrimartex.
Casalini argued that the sustainability conversation is highly polarized and gives little to no visibility to the number of companies doing things right.
“There’s too little serious deep dive on the topic. I want to prove that some textile companies that are sustainable because they tackle biodiversity, the territory and the environment have always been there,” he said. “A different paradigm [business model, compared to fast-Fashion] does exist and it never gets the same media buzz that other [fast-Fashion] companies generate, just because they pour lots of investments in [sustainability-leaning] communication even though they are still not paying for the negative externalities they generate,” he said.
Casalini is a textile and Fashion entrepreneur himself, who heads his family’s Oscalito innerwear company, and has succeeded in attracting 16 companies to Slow Fiber as founding members and has since been able to involve five more.
The network is unprecedented, Casalini claimed. “I understand it sounds pretentious, but our ambition is just saying that a sustainable industrial model does exist…and in creating a network we were tackling the [sustainability] issue from an entrepreneurial standpoint, not as activists,” he said.
He argued that the Made in Italy moniker associated with quality and aesthetics is often too little marketed as sustainable. “What about crafting a beautiful piece of clothing and at the same time polluting, or enslaving [workers]…how can you call that beauty?” he questioned provocatively.
“Quality and Made in Italy are great attributes if the impact of those products on people and the environment is sustainable, if they have a positive impact on everybody,” he said.
Although the luxury and high-end Fashion sector have made quantum leaps in their eco-minded journey, viewed from a global perspective the Fashion industry as a whole is still underperforming. “Half of the global Fashion industry is destructive because it produces too much or chases a reduction of costs, thus neglecting the negative externalities, namely people and the environment,” Casalini contended.
The Slow Fiber’s founder is particularly skeptical of Europe’s Green Deal, which includes several new requirements to be implemented for Fashion companies. He believes that in its quest to standardize assessments across players it is poised to end up as a weak toolbox.
Citing the LCA, or Life Cycle Assessment, as an example, he explained how primary LCA certification is onerous, requesting that data from all products in one company’s assortment are measured and collected across their lifespan. This leaves players on the higher-end of the supply chain — spinners, textile-makers, laundries and those with less financial backing — with no option than to embrace secondary LCA, based on already existing scientific databases collected by researchers.
“The outcome is that my performance is measured on the basis of average data comprising my company and fast-Fashion companies, so we’re both going to get the passing grade,” he said. “We’re going as far as to green light fast Fashion all the while downgrading the really virtuous companies,” Casalini said.
What’s more, Fashion is a diversified business with brands and manufacturers boasting different business models, whose footprint can hardly be compared.
That true sustainability advocates are doubtful about certification is no news, their fragmentation often deemed as vague and superficial and although Slow Fiber’s members do embrace them, the movement’s responsible stance translates also into KPIs centered on the manifesto’s principles.
It is filled with keywords, including “good,” which stands for companies’ link with the territory; “clean,” which considers the environmental footprint and ongoing commitment to reduce it; “fair,” entailing human resources management, welfare and people-centric policies; “healthy,” which tackles the use of chemicals, and “durable,” which assesses a product’s durability.
In addition to charting a serious course for the sustainability advancement of textile companies, the Slow Fiber consortium is geared at building an integrated pipeline to ultimately safeguard it. Casalini said there is currently no representation for makers of man-made fibers in the consortium, but he hopes that the overall number of associates will grow, even with the addition of foreign companies. “We’re not saying that the virtuous [model] is only Made in Italy,” he said.
In a synergistic effort, the involved companies are codeveloping R&D projects, and although scattered at present, they could become a pillar in the future of Slow Fiber, which is looking for permanent headquarters. Next September the first Slow Fiber-branded garment, a T-shirt, will be unveiled.
Back to the original question that triggered the whole movement, Casalini does not entirely blame consumers for expecting Fashion to be accessible, if not cheap. “Consumers are experiencing informational asymmetry on products, they have a hard time understanding what’s sustainable and what’s not,” he said.
“The true questions to pose them would be: ‘Would you be willing to give up on your favorite brand [if you knew products are not sustainable]? And how much more would you agree to spend [on sustainable Fashion]?’” he said.
Everything You Need to Know About the Slow Fiber Fashion Movement