You might think Carl Honoré is a difficult man to corner. The bestselling author of In Praise of Slow, which examines the dangers of instant gratification and rampant consumerism, travels the world giving lectures on the qualities of Slow Living, from the importance of yoga and Tantric sex to the benefits of culinary traditions.
According to the Financial Times, his book, which has been translated into 35 languages, is “to the Slow Movement what Das Kapital is to communism”, so you would expect him to be in global demand, which he is. But he’s also a realist, which means he knows a good subject matter when he sees one.
In the hundreds of interviews Carl gives on the Slow Movement, rarely does he have the opportunity to discuss the benefits of Slow products — goods which are locally sourced, handmade, and built to last. It turns out it’s one of his favourite subjects. Here, he offers some insights into why Slow goods can enhance your quality of life.
Firstly, how would you define Slow products?
Every time we buy something, we’re making a statement about what kind of world we want to live in. So one way to drive forward the Slow revolution is to buy products that are Slow. That means products that last, that are made in ways that don’t harm people or the environment, and that involve a fair distribution of wealth. On the other side of the equation, products can also be designed to help people to slow down.
At Waremakers, we believe that buying quality goods can enhance your quality of life. What qualities would you identify in Slow products?
The ideal Slow product uses materials and resources in ways that respect the environment; promotes diversity, eccentricity and real character rather than cookie-cutter products that look the same all over the world; connects the consumer to the maker; and is built to last.
At the end of its life-cycle, a Slow Product can be recycled, reused or reinvented. In a culture of rampant consumerism, the only thing that matters is instant gratification and the end product. Nowadays, though, people realise the process that creates the product matters as much, if not more.
Many consumers are no longer interested in fast, disposable products. They want pieces that are well-made and built to last, that have a story behind them, and that have not damaged the environment in their production.
How important is the ethos: ‘buy less, buy better’?
Very important. The driving ethos of modern consumerism is that “more is better”, which is burning out the planet and everyone on it. If we’re going to survive and thrive as a species, then we need to embrace the notion that slower is often better, and that less is often more.
How would you define an ‘honest’ good?
There is a great hunger for transparency across every field of human activity, from politics to medicine to business. People want to know what is being done in their name, and how their personal decisions affect the world around them. To me, an ‘honest’ good is one that lays out the full story about its production as clearly as possible — and lets the consumer decide whether to buy it or not.
Can fast fashion ever be stopped?
I think the fashion industry is starting to realise that many consumers are no longer interested in fast, disposable fashion. They want pieces that are well made, that have a story behind them, and that have not damaged the environment in their production.
Fashionistas will always love fast fashion, but I think increasingly there will be room for slow fashion too. I hear many young fashion students who are looking for ways to incorporate the values of Slow into their fashion work. I believe the balance will tip more and more to slow fashion. It has to because we cannot sustain the current model of consumption for six, seven or eight billion people.
How did you make the change towards Slow in your own life?
There is a very clear ‘before’ and ‘after’ for me. Before, I was always trying to do more and more things in less and less time. I was all about speed and quantity. Now, I approach each thing seeking to do it as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible.
My first step was realising that I had got stuck in fast-forward, and that too much speed was doing me damage. Then I began making concrete changes. I dropped one sport (tennis — I still play hockey, football, squash and running!) and reduced my TV-watching to a few hours a week instead of a few hours a day. And I switch off my technology whenever possible, instead of always being connected. The upshot is that I apply the slow lens to every aspect of my life, including fashion. I buy few clothes but those I buy are usually tailored and of high quality.
Not everything ‘fast’ is bad. Surely we can incorporate a balance in our lives?
Yes, totally. Slow is not the anti-fast. It’s about the right speed. In fact, we need the fast stuff to help us live Slow. If I can be more efficient thanks to my iPhone or laptop, then that gives me more time to cook meals at home and talk to my family. But only if I am disciplined enough to impose limits on myself. And this is the key: instead of using the ‘fast’ aspects to help us live Slow, we become addicted to the speed and never unplug or stop.
To what extent do you feel that mass consumerism is to blame for this culture of hectic living?
It is definitely part of the problem. The world has become a giant smorgasbord of things to consume and experience — and the natural human instinct is to want to have it all. The catch is that having it all is a recipe for hurrying it all. Modern consumerism is also hardwired for speed: it’s all about fast consumption, fast turnover, fast debts, and fast profits.
Why are Slow products more relevant than ever before?
Because we are bumping up against the limits of what people and the planet can take. Think about it for a moment: is worshipping at the altar of the quick fix making us happier, healthier and more productive? Is it helping to tackle the epic challenges confronting humanity at the start of the 21st century? Is there really an app for everything? Of course not.
Trying to solve problems in a hurry, sticking on a plaster when surgery is needed, might deliver temporary reprieve — but usually at the price of storing up worse trouble for later. The hard, unpalatable truth is the quick fix never truly fixes anything at all. And sometimes it just makes things worse.
Finally, we have to ask, do you wear a watch?
I stopped wearing a watch in 2002 as part of my research for In Praise of Slow. It started as a symbolic gesture but came to make a real difference in my life. I used to wear one and looked at it all the time. Now, I feel free from that obsession with the passing of time. I can get the time from my computer screen or from public clocks. Or I just ask people in the street, and that sometimes starts an interesting conversation. And I’m still very punctual!