Curious as to what “slow fashion” is all about? In this article, we’ll look at what it is and why it’s worth paying attention to.
In the last few years, more consumers and companies alike have been advocating for major changes in the fashion industry.
But more recently, consumers have been looking beyond just sustainability to issues like worker conditions, clothing longevity, consumerism, and even animal rights.
In other words, people have been realizing how harmful fast fashion really is.
What is Fast Fashion and Why is it Harmful?
“Fast fashion” is a term used to describe the rapid production of clothing. Fast fashion companies will churn out millions of garments per season in order to keep up with and capitalize on trends.
To accomplish this, these manufacturers use synthetic materials that are harmful to the environment. As a result, the fashion industry produces 10% of the world’s carbon emissions.
In addition, companies use cheap labor to keep costs low. Even worse, some brands are known to use slave labor to produce their clothing.
On the consumer level, this production scheme encourages people to buy more and wear less. Many fast fashion shoppers will buy clothes for a season and then never wear them again, repeating the cycle when the next season rolls around.
As for the clothes themselves, they’re often flimsy, uncomfortable, and short-lived. That’s why the average consumer throws out 81 pounds of clothing per year.
All of this is to say that fast fashion clearly isn’t a sustainable system. People are looking for an alternative, and that’s where slow fashion comes in.
The Rise of Slow Fashion
Slow fashion, a term popularized in 2007 by sustainability activist Kate Fletcher, combats fast fashion by promoting awareness and intentionality around clothing production.
Even though the name seems to imply that slow fashion is just the opposite of fast fashion, there’s more to it than that. Speed does play a role, as slow fashion aims to reduce the outrageous rates of clothing production and consumption, but the story doesn’t end there.
Slow fashion is best described as a way of thinking about the role clothing plays in both your own life and the lives of those it impacts.
Similar to the Slow Food movement, slow fashion focuses on quality over quantity. Materials, labor, and quality — three elements that fast fashion couldn’t care less about — are all thoroughly considered.
As a result, slow fashion has become a bona fide lifestyle movement in the vein of minimalism. It’s no longer about just what you buy clothes but also how and why you buy clothes.
In short, slow fashion is about buying less, buying better, and buying fairer.
Buying Less: The Problem of Consumerism
It might seem obvious that fast fashion encourages people to buy clothes, but the actual impact isn’t all that clear — until you look at the numbers.
While fast fashion is a multi-billion dollar industry, the real problem isn’t how much people are spending. Rather, it’s how often they’re buying clothes.
Since fast fashion companies produce new clothing lines with each new season, there’s a constant stream of marketing and advertising. This has a huge impact on the average consumer’s spending mindset and is ultimately what drives fast fashion’s frantic speeds.
In America alone, consumers buy an average of 64 items of clothing each year (not counting shoes!), which is roughly five per month.
The average adult aged 35-44 spends $209 per month on clothes, which works out to about $40 per item of clothing.
In other words, people are spending less but buying more often. This is why 12.8 million tons of textiles get thrown out every year, usually ending up in landfills.
These spending habits are dangerous not only for consumers’ wallets but also for the environment and the workers making the clothes. When you’re spending an average of $40 per garment, you’re almost certainly buying harmful synthetics made with underpaid labor.
Slow fashion inverts this way of buying clothes by encouraging people to make fewer purchases and consider their current wardrobes first.
Most of the time, we don’t need more clothing. We might want it, but even if we want it, will we end up wearing it for years to come? Usually, the answer is no.
To solve this problem, slow fashion activists often recommend “shopping” in your own closet. The idea is to rediscover forgotten and lesser-worn pieces that you already own and reincorporate them into your regular rotation.
Slow fashion also encourages repairing worn and torn clothes instead of discarding them. Mending clothes is incredibly sustainable and cost-effective, and it’s great to learn some basic repairs so you can sew a button or fix a tear whenever you need to.
Both of these strategies allow you to get more life out of your clothes so you don’t rush out and buy new items to fill in the gaps.
Buying Better: Sustainability & Longevity
Sometimes you legitimately will need to make a purchase, whether that’s an item you’re missing from your wardrobe or simply a garment you know you’ll wear regularly for years.
The slow fashion movement offers two key strategies for buying: purchasing secondhand or supporting small, sustainable makers.
When it comes to overall impact, buying secondhand clothing is always the better option because nothing new is being produced.
Conveniently, this also tends to be cheaper. Between purchasing less often and spending less when they do buy, slow fashion advocates can save a lot of money.
However, buying secondhand isn’t perfect. One issue is that low-quality items from fast fashion companies constantly flood the market.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for secondhand — or if you’re just looking for higher-quality clothes — then it’s best to support smaller clothing brands that make longer-lasting garments.
These slow fashion brands can be identified by high levels of transparency about how they make their clothes. Most of these brands include extensive information about production and material selection on their website.
Slow fashion brands tend to offer fewer, more curated styles that forego trends for timelessness. Some companies will offer only made-to-order garments to reduce both consumption and waste.
Of course, items from these brands typically cost more, but they’re true investments. You’re buying carefully designed clothing that’s often made by hand and built to last for years if not decades.
Buying Fairer: Championing Workers’ Rights
In addition to sustainability and purchasing habits, labor is one of the biggest issues that the slow fashion movement is tackling.
While the use of underpaid and forced labor in fashion has been an open secret for decades, more light has been shed on it recently, and some of the findings are astonishing.
A more publicized example is the exploitation of the Uyghur people, a predominantly Muslim minority in central and east Asia. In the Xinjiang region of China, which produces over 20% of the world’s cotton, Uyghur slaves were forced to pick cotton by hand.
To fight this, many slow fashion groups are spreading awareness, creating activism opportunities, and promoting better buying options.
Slow fashion brands do their part by keeping their operations small and local where possible. They’re also more proactive about material traceability to ensure that they don’t profit from unfair labor, and it’s common for these brands to work closely with family-run heritage businesses.
Slow Fashion FAQs
Need a TL;DR? I’ve got you covered with these common questions about slow fashion.
What is considered Slow fashion?
Slow fashion is an approach to clothing production and consumption that prioritizes awareness of and responsibility toward sustainability, longevity, and ethics.
What is Sustainable fashion?
Sustainable fashion aims to reduce the environmental impact of clothing production. Some consider social progress to be part of sustainable fashion.
Is Slow fashion the same as Sustainable fashion?
While slow fashion and sustainable fashion are connected, they are not the same. Slow fashion is a broader approach that involves consuming less and reducing the rate at which clothes are produced.
Is Slow Fashion the Future?
It’s easy to see why slow fashion appeals to so many, but will it actually create change? My guess is yes, but slowly.
Because slow fashion promotes a way of thinking about clothing instead of an aesthetic, it’s unlikely to die out in the same way minimalism has.
That said, the movement has a lot of work to do, especially since large brands continue to greenwash and use buzzwords such as “sustainable” and “ethical” while making zero real changes to their processes.
At its core, the slow fashion movement is about sensibility and responsibility: not buying more than you need to, and buying better and more ethical clothes when you do buy. It’s hard to argue with that, isn’t it?
Questions? Comments? Leave them below!