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Once upon a time, slow was synonymous with bad. Slow service, slow lines, slow-witted — all meant dissatisfaction, frustration, impatience. That’s no longer the case. Over the last few years, slow has taken on a series of positive connotations, coming to signify quality, meaningful connections, the ability to enjoy life on a deeper level, and the very important quest for sustainable living.

But the shift has actually been in place for the past three decades. In 1986, Italian activist Carlo Petrini launched the non-profit Slow Food, an organisation promoting local food and traditional cooking that’s since spread worldwide. In 2004, Canadian author Carl Honoré coined the phrase ‘slow movement’ in his book In Praise of Slow, spearheading the cultural phenomenon to encompass all aspects of lifestyle. Almost paradoxically, the rise of slowness has accelerated in recent seasons, linked to the ever-faster pace we are moving at.

It’s easy to understand why. In the age of tech- and efficiency-driven everything, instant social media and breakneck consumption, the idea of a slow morning to reconnect with oneself sounds more than appealing. The popularity of mindfulness and apps like Headspace is clear proof of that. So is the success of yoga, whose practice has been steadily on the rise around the world, Hong Kong included. Here, one just has to look at the exponential growth of Pure Yoga, which since starting in 2002 has opened 12 locations across the city, including Pacific Place and Starstreet Precinct. Its 1,600 weekly classes are almost always fully booked out, as are its teacher training programmes.

But the rise of slowness is also a result of environmental concerns. As the threat of global warming becomes increasingly tangible and discarded mass-produced items fill landfills to bursting, many of us are taking a step back to reassess our consumption.

Industries like travel, fashion and design are reassessing too. Today, a rising number of hospitality businesses are engaging with local communities and adopting green initiatives in an effort to sensibly use the resources around them. Experiential trips embracing the notion of slow — from living the rural life in Spain to herding sheep and goats in the Himalayas — have become alluring alternatives to your regular beach holiday. And even that’s changing, with beach and reef clean-ups, stretching classes and sunrise meditation on offer in more than one resort destination.

Fashion brands, both high-end and high-street, have been rethinking their production process and pushing back against the pressure to deliver new products every few months. Gucci’s Alessandro Michele voiced that push poignantly in September 2017, when in the notes for his spring/summer 2018 collection he wrote, “Resist the mantra of speed that violently leads to losing oneself. Resist the illusion of something new at any cost.

Ever since then, the fashion house has pledged its commitment to sustainability and transparency — last year, it launched Gucci Equilibrium, a platform for its social and environmental initiatives.

Other labels have slowed down by shining light on artisanal craftsmanship and ethical sourcing. Theory runs a Good Fabrics initiative that uses premium merino wool woven by pioneers of renewable manufacturing in Italy. The 182-year-old Hermès, which has always made craftsmanship its core pillar, continues to be highly-sought after because of it — and has in fact seen a growth in sales globally.

Similarly, a number of small, independent brands have found success because of their slower approach to business. In Hong Kong, many are centred around the Starstreet Precinct; there’s an array of eateries offering slow-made, local ingredients and dishes, and the same mood is prevailing in fashion and homewares. Multi-brand concept store Kapok is a case in point. The boutique prides itself on carrying niche designers and products that ‘will last for more than one season’, says head buyer Chris Lo. ‘Creativity and craftsmanship are more important than meeting trends,’ she adds. ‘We support fashion with substance.’ Lo observes that an increasing number of people are drawn to their approach; as she puts it, they’re ‘looking for items that feel special and unique, and last longer’.

Nearby Lala Curio specialises in artisanal home furnishings, handmade wallpaper and one-of-a-kind objets d’art, has built a loyal customer base — both locally and internationally — on that same ethos of quality and uniqueness.  The company works with artisans near Beijing for its cloisonné, and has a workshop in Suzhou where it creates its wallpaper. Its mission from the start was to approach design with a slower, more meaningful pace, says founder Laura Cheung.

‘We work on reinventing the lost crafts of Asia, and that’s been resonating incredibly well with our clientele,’ she says. ‘We honour the skills, time and arts behind our products, and respect the process involved in making them, however slow or minute or complex it is. I think of it as new luxury. The items we create aren’t just “seasonal”, but are to be passed on to the next generations. I believe people appreciate that, now more than ever, because of all the issues that the opposite trends — fast fashion, fast consumerism — have caused.”

Cheung sums up the current mood: ‘There’s a longing for a more sustainable lifestyle, but also a wish to keep traditions alive. Nothing captures that better that slowness.’