a woman looking slow fashion brand clothes

What is Slow Fashion? The Sustainable Anti-Movement

Nearly every slow fashion advocate was originally a fast-fashion fanatic. After fast-fashion first appeared on the scene around 20 years ago, it quickly dominated the fashion industry. It appeals directly to middle class consumers. Big brands like Zara and Urban Outfitters created endless designer level styles at significantly cheaper price points. Consumers for whom upmarket fashions were always unavailable, the sudden attainability of affordable copies was so enticing.

The cheap construction of these styles allotted for extremely quick turn-around times. Suddenly, the customary four-season fashion calendar turned into a 52-season calendar with new styles hitting fast-fashion stores every week. It’s no surprise then that the amount of unsold and wasted garments increased to unimaginable heights.

The fashion industry’s carbon footprint accounts for 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Fashion guzzles more energy than the aviation and global shipping industries combined. The rising awareness of fashion’s massive waste has sparked a counter-movement with a straight-forward title: slow fashion.

Slow fashion emerged as a movement to combat the polluting effects of fast-fashion. Kate Fletcher coined this term, an author and professor of sustainability in design and fashion at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion in London. Fletcher saw the need for a slow fashion movement after the rising popularity of the slow food movement, which also formed to combat rising pollution and an increase in consumer irreverence.

The Problem with Fast-Fashion

Fast-fashion has made it too easy to discard relatively new clothing without feeling any regret. When brands like Forever 21 and Topshop refresh their stock every week, clothing starts to feel like a cheap commodity. Fast-fashion is considered to be the birth of “throw-away culture.” The average consumer wears a garment only seven times before tossing it.

Throw away-culture is reflected by the brands as well as the consumers. Fast-fashion giant H&M has admitted to burning 12 tons of unsold garments per year, roughly $4.3 billion in unsold inventory. When the company that sells your clothes makes it clear they don’t value their products, it becomes too easy for you to not value them either.

In addition to the massive amounts of carbon that is released into the atmosphere from creating and burning unwanted clothing, the hazardous manufacture of cheap fabrics accounts for roughly 35 percent of all microplastics in the ocean.

The cheap production values of fast-fashion take a dangerous toll on the garment workers. They live and work abroad, generating cheap fashion for western brands. Currently, there are over 5,000 factories in Bangladesh alone. These workers are notoriously forced to labor in unsafe conditions with the lowest earning employees making an average of $3 a day.

The 2013 garment factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 1,000 workers brought global attention to the human cost of fast-fashion. Finally, with all eyes focused on the wreckage left behind by fast-fashion (literally and figuratively) consumers began pushing for change.

slow fashion, a women is choosing some garments

The Rise of Slow Fashion

Slow fashion was originally coined in 2007, but it has really gained momentum over the last eight or so years. Slow fashion emphasizes the artistry of making clothes and celebrates the garment workers and craftspeople who produce them.

Instead of chasing trends, slow fashion brands focus on creating timeless and versatile pieces. These pieces are well constructed and guaranteed to last you years if not a lifetime. Brands often use sturdy fabrics like linen, Tencel, and organic cotton. These fabrics have a low environmental impact and can easily last a long time in any wardrobe.  

Proper slow fashion is ethical as well as sustainable. This means brands value their workers at every step of the supply chain. The ethical component of slow fashion ensures workers are paid fair wages, are guaranteed safe working conditions, and only work a reasonable number of hours.

However, slow fashion is not just about new sustainably and ethically made products. Slow fashion is an all-encompassing movement dedicated to a change in the consumer mindset. Slow fashion advocates work to encourage secondhand shopping, recycling of old garments, and a trend towards buying less and being more considerate about what you buy.

To paraphrase sustainable activist, Anna Lappé, every time you open your wallet you are using your dollar to vote for the kind of world you want to live in. Do you want to live in a world that is progressively drowning under a sea of garments and textile pollution – irreversibly contaminating our air and our water? Or do you want to be part of the global solution, casting your vote to clean our land and our skies by being more conscious of your consumer choices?

Beginning Your Slow Fashion Journey

The journey to slow living and conscious fashion choices is not a difficult journey at all. The best way to start is at home, searching through your own wardrobe and reflecting on the kind of consumer choices you make. Here are a few easy ways to get started:

  1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Launch an excavation into your closet and locate the pieces you haven’t touched in over a year. Keep your favorite pieces – the ones you wear often, the ones that have sentimental meaning, and the ones that go with everything. Anything you can do without you can either donate or upcycle into something else. Just remember to only donate things that are in good shape. Any poor donations will likely end up in a landfill anyway.
  2. Less is More: The easiest way to live more slowly is by taking longer to commit to new items. Impulse buys normally end up in a donation bin after only a few wears. Combat this by being pickier about new purchases and only commit to clothes you know you will love for years.
  3. Conscious is Key: Avoid fast-fashion brands. Make an active choice to support slow fashion companies. These brands give back to the earth and the hands that made their clothes. Slow fashion pieces will last much longer than their fast-fashion counterparts. They are designed for a life that is eternally in style.