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Slow cure for the fast-fashion diet

T-shirts for the price of a sandwich are giving the planet serious indigestion, says Simon Beales

Having a birthday at the end of January has its good and bad points. On the plus side people are usually ready for a great party, having survived the excesses of Christmas. On the downside there is always that annual survey they roll out saying that according to scientists my birthday falls in the most depressing week of the year. Thanks a bunch - as if being yet another year closer to that great bargain bin in the sky wasn't bad enough already.

It's also that time of year when the old cliches become ever-more timely. The policemen seem to be getting younger, the politicians more cynical and (having conducted my own personal survey - just me and a nice glass of red) I can confirm that the world is getting madder.

Take two recent examples. While buying ink cartridges for our printer the other day, the salesman informed me that it was in fact cheaper and more cost-effective to buy a completely new printer. Same brand, same functions and our current one is less than a year old. Naturally (and now regretfully) I bought the new one. It's still sitting in the corner staring at me, as I pluck up the courage to get the thing connected. But how crazy. A perfectly good printer is now obsolete and has such a low second-hand value that it will probably end up at the charity shop.

Second, I was in Gap the other day with my girlfriend. She was browsing away while I stood in the corner trying not to look like some dodgy miscreant. In the 10 minutes I was standing there, 10 women came up and bought a T-shirt marked down to £2.99. They didn't try it on. They didn't even hold it up to themselves. They saw the price, grabbed it and went on their way. So where is the value in that purchase? When a T-shirt costs less than a sandwich, it becomes expendable and meaningless. Inevitably it will fall apart and end up in the bin or again at the charity shop. However, I heard the other day that the Salvation Army is now so awash with cheap clothes that they are having to bury them in landfills, rather than pass them on to those who need them.

And yet isn't it amazing how those organisations responsible for fast fashion are now jumping on the green bandwagon? Tesco proudly tells us that it is going to be giving us greater environmental information with its food products.

Does anyone believe these companies have the environment at the heart of their business? Or are they just using 'green' credentials as a cynical marketing tool? And to further demonstrate the supermarkets' power, we have a toothless and cowardly Competition Commission that suggests supermarket giants have no effect on independent traders or suppliers. What a farce.

So let's start a movement. Just as the Slow Food organisation grew out of a reaction to fast food and the appalling effect it has on our nation's health, how about a Slow Fashion movement? Let's encourage people to take a little time, spend a little more money on a single item, look after their clothes and enjoy them for years. Maybe we could get some higher-end independent designers together, or maybe get a charity involved.

I'm not saying we are perfect, and I'm sure an environmental audit would reveal a lot that is wrong with our organisation. But surely there is a far more eco-friendly approach to fashion than simply treating a fashion garment like a BLT. I've already thought of a slogan. How about 'Mind the Gap'?

- Simon Beales is managing director of Brighton independent designer womenswear store Simultane and wholesale label Sarah Arnett.

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