Fashion brands and retailers have prioritized profits and growth over sustainability and fairness for far too long. Fast fashion encourages a culture of instant gratification and mindless consumption.
The rise of slow fashion over the past few years indicates a shift in consumers' behaviors and a positive response from large players in the textile and apparel industry. The movement aims to reduce the social and environmental impact of fashion.
Slow fashion is highly important for a sustainable fashion future. The fashion industry is the second-largest polluter globally. It creates huge amounts of pollution, carbon emissions, and waste each year.
The state of fast fashion
Fast fashion, overproduction, and overconsumption of cheaply made clothing are responsible for deforestation, water scarcity, microfiber pollution, and textile waste piling up in landfills.
Read up my article on what is the problem with fast fashion to learn more about its negative impact on the planet, people, and animals.
Many young shoppers keep posting #ootd on social media proudly displaying a different outfit every day. Other conscious consumers like Greta Thunberg have stopped buying new clothes unless it's necessary.
It's now more than ever necessary to reinvent the fashion system with more innovation and new technologies than serve sustainable practices. It's time to change the way we produce, distribute, sell, use, dispose of clothing.
"Covid-19 has pushed us off the ledge of discussing change, we no longer have the luxury of complaining about outdated systems yet not doing anything about it. [...] Fashion shows are a dinosaur."
- Simon Ungless, Academy of Art University School of Fashion Executive Director
Celebrities and social media personalities on platforms like Instagram, Youtube, and TikTok, influence young men and women. They keep buying more and more clothing to only wear it a few times before it becomes too old.
Check out my article on the small number of times the average piece of clothing is worn to learn more about how people are wearing their clothes for shorter periods around the world.
16.9 million tons of used textile wastes are produced in the United States every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing each year.
In the United States, clothes are only worn for about a quarter of the global average, as reported by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation based on the data of Euromonitor International.
The report, Fixing fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability, confirms that the United Kingdom buys more clothes per person than any other country in Europe, 26.7kg each year which almost two times more than 16.7kg for Germany.
The need for slow fashion
Fashion used to be slow, local, and expensive. The rise of fast fashion over the last 20 years made buying new clothes cheaper, faster, and easier. Unfortunately, it also made us consider clothes as disposable commodities.
Fashion remains today one of the most polluting industries. It has a catastrophic contribution to climate change. Slow fashion is rising to increase awareness around its issues and reduce pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste.
The global apparel and footwear industry accounts for 8% of the world’s carbon emissions, as reported by the 2019 Fashion Transparency Index. It produces almost as much greenhouse gases as the whole of Europe and much more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
In light of the global climate emergency, social, and environmental disasters, the fashion world must become sustainable. Luckily, more consumers are asking for transparency and accountability.
Fashion brands and retailers must take massive action to promote sustainable practices in the whole supply chain, without resorting to greenwashing.
Read up my list of fast fashion brands accused of greenwashing to learn how companies make misleading claims about the environmental impact of their activities.
Due to the rising consumers' demand for eco-friendly items, fashion brands set goals to lower their footprint, use sustainable materials, and support climate action.
The slow fashion movement rose to the public eye when Kate Fletcher published her article on The Ecologist in 2007. It encourages consumers, fashion designers, brands, and retailers to feel greater responsibility toward the environment.
"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."
- Kate Fletcher, research professor, author, consultant, and design activist
If you are new to slow fashion and want to learn more about its origin, read up my introduction to slow fashion and why it matters.
Building a sustainable fashion future
As consumers, we can join easily join the slow fashion movement by changing our habits. Every small step counts and has an impact on the whole industry.
One of the best ways to be more sustainable is to buy fewer clothes and higher quality. We can also choose to wear ethically made and fairly traded clothing from brands that protect the environment.
Instead of shopping for the latest trends, we can invest in classic and timeless pieces than we can easily combine to create different outfits. It's okay to wear the same clothes multiple times.
It's not only important for the planet to rethink how we consume clothes but also for the well-being of people involved in the supply chains.
Fast fashion creates unfair and unsafe conditions for farmers and workers in garments factories. It's responsible for the death of thousands of people in catastrophic events, such as the Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2013.
Slow fashion pushes the general public, fashion brands, and retailers to transform the traditional take-make-waste system into a more regenerative and circular economy.
It takes time and commitment to change the whole industry. So let's start now. Fortunately, sustainability is rising in the mind of many people around the world.
More and more consumers understand how sustainable fashion matters and decide to adopt new shopping habits that are more favorable to their future.
Slow fashion is so much more than a trend. It's a revolution. It's growing in popularity for many good reasons. We must produce and consume higher-quality garments that are made to last, ethical, and environmentally friendly.
Check out my article on why is slow fashion important for the planet today to understand how it contributes to the protection of our health, environment, and ecosystems.
Consumer habits are changing for the better. Nielsen reports that 73% of global consumers are ready to change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment. 41% of global consumers are highly willing to pay more for products that contain natural or organic ingredients.
This trend is growing among conscious consumers. More people are joining the sustainable and slow fashion movement after getting informed about the disastrous social and environmental impact of their wardrobe.
So fashion brands and retailers create new eco-friendly collections to meet their demands. Many awards and funds are provided to sustainable fashion brands. It's another incentive to prioritize sustainability.
The Redress Desing Award is the world’s largest sustainable fashion design competition. It's an amazing opportunity to promote slow fashion and encourage young designers to build a more sustainable future.
"Organized by Redress, the competition works to educate emerging fashion designers around the world about sustainable design theories and techniques to drive growth towards a circular fashion system. By putting sustainable design talent in the global spotlight, the competition creates a unique platform for passionate and talented fashion game-changers to transform the global fashion industry and rewards the best with career-changing prizes to maximize long-term impact."
- Redress, an environmental NGO working to reduce waste in the fashion industry
Innovation and technology will play a key role in the development of sustainable practices in the fashion industry. With the help of online commerce and digitalization, brands and retailers can reach new audiences and make slow fashion more accessible.
Apps like Poshmark allows consumers to easily buy and sell second-hand fashion online. Giving old garments a new life by selling or donating them to other people is one great way to reduce waste and promote sustainability.
Follow my guide on how to get rid of unwanted clothes for money to learn about other amazing places to sell the clothes you don't wear anymore.
The fashion industry is in constant evolution. Its future must be sustainable. It's time to develop and implement new practices for sustainable fashion. And we must get more people excited about it.
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.