Where to start with slow fashion? There are so many things to consider, plenty of terms and resources to consume. It's overwhelming when you are trying to build a more ethical and sustainable wardrobe. Let's begin with an introduction to slow fashion and why it matters today.
Slow fashion proposes an alternative to fast fashion. It's a movement within the textile and apparel industry that respects the well-being of people making our clothes, their impact on the environment, and the planet as a whole.
There are so many issues to address in the fashion industry. Why do so many brands and retailers continue to ignore the welfare of farmers and garment factory workers?
The fashion industry is also the second-largest polluter globally. It has a huge carbon footprint and contributes to climate change massively.
Read up my article on the catastrophic contribution of the fashion industry to climate change to learn about the huge social and environmental impact of your wardrobe.
It's difficult to ignore the enormous amount of textile and plastic waste that the apparel and footwear industry generates each year. Most of it ends up in landfills to decompose over many years or be incinerated.
The fashion industry needs to change. Slow fashion is rising to drive more transparency and more accountability in this wasteful industry, without sacrificing style, availability, and affordability.
Fast fashion is the main driver of growth in the clothing industry. The apparel industry has been growing at a 4.78% yearly rate since 2011.
At the same time, fast fashion has tremendous consequences for the planet, the people, and the animals living on it.
Today, clothing is considered disposable and often single-use thanks to the rise of fast fashion over the last 20 years. 88% of consumers prefer shopping for fast fashion in the United States.
Fast fashion brands and retailers keep making new trendy clothes cheaply and poorly. Consumers don't want to pay too much for them and wear them only a few times.
People are wearing their clothes less often globally. Check out my article on the small number of times the average piece of clothing is worn.
To answer consumers' demand for trendy and affordable clothing, fast fashion brands use unethical and unsustainable production methods while extracting non-renewable resources.
Slow fashion is a more ethical and sustainable way to produce and consume clothing. Here is an introduction to slow fashion.
Slow Fashion Introduction
Slow fashion arguably started with the definition of textile consultant Kate Fletcher in her article for The Ecologist in 2007. She wrote:
"Slow fashion is about designing, producing, consuming and living better. Slow fashion is not time-based but quality-based (which has some time components). Slow is not the opposite of fast – there is no dualism – but a different approach in which designers, buyers, retailers, and consumers are more aware of the impacts of products on workers, communities, and ecosystems."
Slow fashion, similar to ethical and sustainable fashion, or conscious fashion, is about supporting sustainable sourcing of materials, producing quality clothing fairly, and consuming more responsibly.
Conscious consumers following the slow fashion movement are more mindful about the clothes they buy and who they support with their money.
They understand the big social and environmental impact of their purchase decisions. They make deliberate clothing choices to drive fashion designers and brands to adopt fair or sustainable practices.
Slow fashion and durable clothing isn't necessarily more expensive. It's possible to be live more sustainably on a budget with simple changes.
Buying fewer clothes overall and higher quality is a great way to do so. So is thrifting and buying second-hand clothing. Swapping clothes with friends, subscribing to a clothing rental, donating, selling, or up-cycling used clothes are all sustainable practices that reduce the ecological footprint of fashion drastically.
Read up my list of the top 10 advantages of buying second-hand clothing to learn why it's now cool to buy and sell old clothes.
If you don't know how to start following the slow fashion movement, try to consider clothes as an investment. Each time you buy a new piece of clothing, pay close attention to how it was made, quality, durability, and reselling potential.
This is a more responsible and environmentally friendly way of shopping for new clothes. It's part of the conscious consumerism world. Prioritize clothing designed to last over trendier and cheaply made clothes.
Are you wondering what kind of material you should be looking for when buying new clothes? Read up my guide on the top 10 eco-friendly and sustainable fabrics.
Low impact materials for sustainable clothing include:
- recycled fabrics such as recycled cotton, polyester, and nylon
- natural and organic fibers such as linen, hemp, ramie, and jute
- regenerated cellulosic fibers such as lyocell, modal, and viscose
- up-cycled materials such as repurposed fabric or deadstock fabric
There is a lot of greenwashing going on in the fashion industry. Brands and retailers make misleading claims about the environmental impact of the clothes they sell and their activities.
When buying sustainable clothing, make sure to look for certifications from third-party organizations that confirm the claims a brand is making about its eco-friendly lines.
Read up my list of the best certification standards for textiles.
Taking good care of the clothes you buy also makes a huge difference. It's better for the environment to reuse, repair, re-purpose, and recycle as much as possible. It reduces water and energy consumption while keeping clothes away from landfills.
Why Does Slow Fashion Matter
Cheap clothing is responsible for the 2013 Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Dhaka Bangladesh due to a structural failure. It killed 1,134 people and injured more than 2,500 people.
It's now more important than ever to encourage consumers and brands to be more accountable for the social and environmental impacts of their decisions.
"Slow fashion is the deliberate choice to buy better-quality items less often. When purchases are made, they’re environmentally and ethically conscious rather than trend-driven. The garments are durable and lend themselves to repairs, not disposal. Slow fashion is also transparent: Buyers know where their clothes are coming from, and items are often handmade by artisans."
- Hilary Milnes, Digiday retail editor
Slow fashion matters a lot today to minimize the amount of water and energy used throughout the average piece of clothing lifecycle, from raw material sourcing and manufacturing to distribution, consumption, and disposal.
It's also crucial to reduce plastic waste by using recycled or biodegradable packaging materials. An excessive amount of plastic waste is created by the production of synthetic fabrics and the transport of goods from manufacturers to customers.
Many clothing manufacturing processes are highly damaging to the environment. Most fabric manufacturing, bleaching, dyeing, and treatments are very toxic.
Fashion is not only the second most polluting industry in the world but also very exploitative and abusive toward local communities where production and distribution facilities are located.
Fashion has to become more sustainable in many ways:
- the overproduction and overconsumption of clothing has to stop
- fashion brands should care for the workers in their supply chains
- consumers must make better purchasing decisions
- designers should create clothing with sustainable materials
There are a multitude of factors to consider when shopping for slow fashion. So many social and environmental concerns to keep in mind.
If you are new to ethical fashion, prioritize what feels right for you and what you are most passionate about.
The rising awareness of the climate change crisis and the constantly growing consumers' demand for environmentally friendly products are pushing the fashion industry to change.
Some fashion brands and designers are making a conscious effort to become better. They aim to reduce the social and environmental impact of their new collections while keeping sustainable clothing accessible to most.
As consumers, we can become more responsible and support ethical fashion brands with great values.
Useful Slow Fashion Resources
Here some great resources to keep learning about slow fashion:
- The True Cost by Andrew Morgan
- To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing out the World? by Lucy Siegle
- Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline
- The Sustainable Fashion Handbook by Sandy Black
- Definitive List Of Fast Fashion Brands To Avoid by Alex Assoune
- How To Check If a Fashion Brand is Ethical by Alex Assoune
- Fashion Revolution: a not-for-profit global movement
Change is coming in the fashion industry but needs to happen faster. Slow fashion encourages a bright future for fashion in the coming years. It's very exciting to see the progress being made but at the same time frightening when you realize how much there is still to be done.
All we can do is stay positive about the coming changes and strive to become better continuously.
The green movement is booming in many industries, including fashion. Conscious consumerism is taking off and many people are starting to understand why slow fashion matters today.
But it's not realistic to wish for 100% sustainable production and consumption tomorrow. It's not desirable to stop buying and enjoying beautiful fashion entirely. Just adopting a few simple and responsible shopping practices daily can do a lot already.
Tell us about your slow fashion journey and the next step you are taking in the comments below.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.