The Role of Indigenous Cultures In Slow Fashion



Slow fashion is not just a trend but a solution for the textile industry. It is an important notion on emerging sustainable practices in fashion. Nowadays the term carries crucial meaning for next generations and for indigenous communities. But how do indigenous cultures get involved in slow fashion? And how can we support it?


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As formal consumers, it is essential to understand what slow fashion implies. Nowadays, the harmful effects of the fashion industry are only increasing on the environment, which limits the time to think of proposals to fight against this phenomenon. What many people do not realize is that the cultural heritage of countless civilizations seems to be the answer to the mass production of clothing. Considering that slow fashion has global reach and can involve millenary sustainable methods as well as the use of natural materials.

So, what does slow fashion mean?  This concept arises from the need to oppose fast fashion, by creating a lifestyle that considers the protection of the environment, respect for labor rights, and promotion of social development. It is a way of thinking and making  that promotes long-term conscious changes in brands, designers, workers, and customers. In addition, slow fashion is  a process that encourages high-quality garments, reduces footprint, assures fair wages, zero waste, and gradual production. 

Ethnic groups are becoming one of the most representative elements of slow fashion since they create their garments based on natural resources through environmental responsibility. For now, ethnic businesses are a luxurious and sustainable way to improve the garment industry, as they go hand in hand with a value chain; that allows business activities to operate ethically. 

Ethnicity in fashion expresses through the mix and match of various designs, patterns, textures, and colors which have a cultural value and meaning that distinguishes one society from another. However, the most important aspect of ethnicity for slow fashion is how these communities construct their garments through the traditions of each group. 



From mosses and herbs to avocado pits and onion skins, they have served as tools to extract colors in an ecological way when dyeing fabrics. As a cultural heritage, indigenous groups have used, for more than 1000 years, nature to obtain different pigments of vegetable, biological and mineral origin.  

This is a kind of artisan weaving that is commonly used in cotton, linen, silk and wool, to produce patterns with ancestral meanings in skirts, shirts, pants, bags and much more.  Reflecting every essence of Mexican regions, artisans and ethnicities. 



From generation to generation, bamboo and sometimes palm leaves have been used to create a style of hat that is not only recognized in Thailand but also in the Asian continent, in countries such as Japan, Vietnam and China.

It is a cone-shaped craft that protects from sun and rain alike, which also replaces the production of plastic and the use of mercury for hats or caps. These are materials with great potential since their main characteristics are their flexibility and weather resistance. 



Wax fabrics are rectangular cotton fabrics, representative of the local West African industry, which is inspired by the ethnic groups of the island of Java, as they use wax finishes on these pieces that generate a vibrant print, a soft texture and a light feel. 

Although these fabrics originally came from a Dutch idea, it was not until the decolonization of Africa in the last century that wax fabrics began to be commercialized to represent in their patterns cities, buildings, personalities, dates and important celebrations of the continent. Some of the themes symbolized are religion, female empowerment, love, animals and politics.



This process consists of sculpting or carving patterns on pieces of wood, which are then used by hand to apply to silk and cotton fabrics. Stamps are inspired by natural elements, geometric figures and cultural motifs of each region in India.  

This technique is recognized around the world and many people use it as stamping with stamps, however, what makes this method unique is the replacement of the dyes with resin in the pressure pieces. Thus, when the artisans introduce the fabrics to an ink bath, the parts blocked by the resin are not dyed. 


Despite the fact these are time-consuming processes, they are undoubtedly a good alternative to the chemical and synthetic agents that are often produced in large textile factories. That nowadays affects the environment through carbon emissions and water pollution, and the human system via toxic substances that damage the respiratory system and the skin. 

Even if such practices are common for ethnic groups, the fashion industry is still in a transitional stage where luxury brands are trying to implement such sustainability in the production of their collections and merchandise. They can use different strategies like partnering with indigenous suppliers or traders, collaborating with indigenous designers and workers or even by direct sales of indigenous garments and accessories. 

Unfortunately, in some cases involving well-known brands, indigenous groups face plagiarism and cultural appropriation. To create new collections and designs, these companies use cultural elements for the sole purpose of commercialization, without giving proper credit and without taking into account the social value of these minorities, crossing the fine line between tribute and dispossession. 

Luckily, many organizations and initiatives grow to fight these situations and to change the fashion industry toward a sustainable future, where the ways of producing and consuming consider environmental protection, social responsibility, circular economy and human rights. Here are some top global efforts related to this goal.




An organization created in 1968 to promote, recognize and protect the human rights of indigenous peoples, within all possible spheres. By providing them with sufficient tools and guidance for them to be part of the decision-making process in their communities and to be able to defend themselves against any wrongdoing or criminal acts.



A public-private partnership, Ethical Fashion Initiative was founded by Simone Cipriani in 2009, with the objective of offering sustainable services, products and development projects in the fashion industry. Which works based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals to create economic opportunities for creative businesses. Its Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) framework helps ethnic communities, designers and brands to reduce risks at their supply chain. 



Fashion Revolution is global activist movement created with the idea of re-structuring the fashion industry through the change and effort of designers, brands, consumers, workers, press, academics and policy-makers.  Working since 2013 with its famous slogan "Who made my clothes?", the movement refers to the importance of knowing the labor conditions in the production chains of big brands. 



A world forum in charge of developing a system that regulates and balances innovation and creativity. It has a special program that protects the information, practices, beliefs and ideas of indigenous societies from the inappropriate and uncontrolled use of their knowledge extracted by others. 

Finally, it is crucial to understand that ethnic products now represent the key point for developing slow fashion under sustainable and ethical standards. They are a way to return to our roots, appreciate different cultures and maintain an ecological balance. And they are also a solution to combat the effects in the world, including social inequality, global warming, overproduction and labor exploitation.


So we must always remember that change can be found  in the smallest places and in the people we least imagine


 +  Words:

Regina Berndt
Luxiders Magazine