Degrowth(*1) is an idea that critiques the global capitalist system, which is focused on pursuing growth at all costs resulting in human exploitation and environmental destruction. This concept(*2) calls for a reduction of production and consumption, particularly in the Global North, and encourages liberation from the one-sided Western paradigm of development.
The desire for constant economic growth started in the 17th and 18th century, when technological innovation started driving increased prosperity. This is when Government policies have focused on the goal of growing and expanding economies. Some experts argue that we can’t prosper in a world without economic growth as it has led to all the modern day comforts we enjoy. The common misconception people have about degrowth is that it means living less comfortably. On the contrary, it is a way for society to live in prosperity while being in harmony with nature. It isn’t about living uncomfortably but rather it is about choosing not to live in excess. Degrowth is a planned reduction of energy and resources that aims to bring the economy back into balance with the living world in a way that reduces inequality and improves human well-being. (*3)
THE DEGROWTH AGENDA
Large corporations today, including fast fashion brands, have adopted an approach that believes that society can keep expanding overall economic activities while achieving a reduction of emissions. Degrowth requires a different adoption called post-growth. This is an approach (*4) that argues that the unlimited expansion of production and consumption is impossible on a finite planet.
A useful tool to support a post-growth approach is the doughnut created by economist Kate Raworth. The doughnut helps policymakers map and survey the sectors within a city or nation that are overshooting planetary boundaries and identifies sectors of society that are not meeting minimum standards.
Professor Dr. Federico Savini of the University of Amsterdam, highlights in his article (*5) that the doughnut tool offers a map of the problem but doesn’t provide a specific plan of action. This is where the Degrowth agenda comes in. Degrowth acknowledges that in order to stay within planetary boundaries, it is necessary for society to reduce economic activities that generate environmental damage, such as production and consumption, while also addressing the issue of wealth being in the hands of a small % of the population.
DEGROWTH IN FASHION
So what does degrowth look like in the context of fashion? First of all, it is the opposite of how fast fashion brands currently operate. Fast fashion brands have adopted the approach of continuing to grow while incorporating some initiatives to reduce emissions and the use of existing resources. Although, this approach has failed to address the key social and environment issues that the industry continues to contribute to.
Instead degrowth challenges fashion brands to slow down production, pay workers living wages and spread out profits across the entire supply to support clean energy and pollution reduction. (*6)
Degrowth in fashion also involves exploring other ways of enjoying (*7) and consuming fashion. It is a fashion industry free of trends that explores repairing, clothes swapping, rental, shopping secondhand or upcycling to extend the life of existing fashion products and reduce the extraction of resources to produce new garments.
A major challenge we face in adopting degrowth, is that the current mainstream fashion industry thrives off our insecurities to sell us more products. The industry has convinced consumers that we need to constantly buy new trendy clothes in order to be acceptable and happy but in reality it has the opposite effect(*8) . As consumers, you have the power to change the current system by choosing to go against it. You can invest in lesser high-quality seasonless products and participate in initiatives that extend the life of products (such as upcycling, repairing, clothes swapping, secondhand shopping, renting). Rather than being driven by trends and being dictated by the industry, you can choose to consume fashion in a way that truly brings you joy.
DEGROWTH IN OUR CONTEXT
At Kinabuhi, we aim to support degrowth through our business model by choosing to produce less, use existing materials, such as fabric scraps, deadstock fabric and damaged clothing, to produce all our products. We also design garments not based on trends but focus on creating classic pieces that can be worn and loved for years to come.
Our original handwoven textiles are a key part of our unique pieces and we design them in a way that represents how we view and celebrate our culture and Philippine identity. By producing these textiles locally from fibre to finished product and having a close connection with our makers allows us to value our products even more.
We aim to pass on this connection to our customers through sharing the stories of our makers and our designs with the hope of encouraging them to have a greater appreciation for the clothing we are offering.
Degrowth is already being adopted by many slow fashion and independent brands like us. Rather than a fashion industry full of brands with a constant desire to scale and grow, we believe in a fashion industry that is full of slow fashion brands that are committed to degrowth and creating a positive social and environmental impact.