As modern day consumers of fashion, we all love a good deal, especially when it comes with minimal effort. Amidst our busy, over-scheduled and over-caffeinated lives, accessibility and ease are king. We want to shop for items quickly and ideally, for as little money as possible. But most of us don’t stop to think about the repercussion these conveniences have on the global environment, and the impact of what’s referred to as “fast fashion” – inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. For some, in the pursuit of staying stylish, it’s not uncommon to wear an inexpensive garment a few times and then toss it (!). Fast fashion promotes the mindset that we need to be continuously “updating our wardrobe” in order to stay current, creating a constant state of dissatisfaction and a yearning for more. This demand for speed in the apparel industry has dramatically increased many environmental concerns, so much so that Forbes dubs fast-fashion as “the largest disruptor in the retail industry today.”1
Over the past few years, and particularly following the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 1,000 factory workers (who were making clothes for large, Western fashion brands), the fashion industry has started to wake up to reality. A small-but-devoted collective of activists, such as Fashion Revolution, and brands like Reformation, Everlane and People Tree, are focusing on raising awareness, being transparent and reversing the detrimental effects that apparel manufacturing has on our planet. Brands are beginning to take a stand and incorporate positive changes into their practices, directly opposing the fast fashion model and reverting to a smarter, more sustainable approach. This slow fashion movement is a cleaner, safer and more humane alternative to its counterpart. But what does it really stand for?2
What is slow fashion?
The slow fashion movement is about designing, producing, consuming and living more consciously and sustainably. It slows down the pace of shopping, views products as long-lasting and considers the whole lifecycle of a garment. With slow fashion in mind, designers, buyers and retailers take into consideration the full impact that products have on their workers, communities and ecosystems. Similar to slow living, slow fashion goes against societal norms that say we need more, and that faster and cheaper is better.
Slow fashion is about creating a personal relationship with our consumption of clothing – one that’s purposeful, intentional, holistic, and more timeless than trendy. It’s about creating a visual aesthetic that suits our identity versus one that fits into fleeting trends. And it respects each step of the manufacturing process, from fabric manufacturing and dye processes to waste management and transportation, garment production and packaging, holding premium the benevolent treatment of fellow humans and Mother Earth.3
Kate Fletcher coined the term “slow fashion” in 2007 at the Center for Sustainable Fashion in the UK. “Fast fashion is about greed," said Fletcher. “It’s time to slow down and consider the true cost of choosing quantity over quality.”4
According to Textile Exchange, fashion and textiles account for 10 percent of the world’s global carbon impact – using mass amounts of energy and occupying more than 5 percent of landfills. In addition, this industry uses 3 trillion gallons of fresh water, accounting for 20 percent of freshwater pollution, and many of the 40 million garment-factory workers in the world make less than $1 a day. We’re also consuming 400 percent more clothing than we did two decades ago.5
What makes a brand a slow fashion brand?
There are certain characteristics to look out for when looking for brands involved in the slow fashion movement. Here are some key factors:
- Clothing is typically made from high-quality, sustainable and/or eco-friendly fabrics and materials.
- Pieces are mostly found in local boutiques (smaller stores) versus large retailers (department stores).
- Garments are locally sourced, produced and sold.
- There is a focus on smaller collections that are commonly released during spring and fall seasons (1 to 3 times a year).6
How can we support the slow fashion movement?
There are many ways to support the slow fashion movement, but one of the easiest things to do is simply buy less. Think quality over quantity, appreciate what we already have and purchase only what we need. Take time to care for our wardrobes and shop for personal style instead of the hottest trends. (Sometimes, if we keep our clothes long enough, the trends will come back around!). Be thoughtful about fabric content and try to support brands that use sustainable fabrications. It’s easier to know who made our clothes when we avoid mainstream fashion, so shop local and support vintage and second-hand boutiques.6
The way we spend our money is a vote for the world we want. Let our dollars do the talking and support brands working to make the world a better place. It's also important to do our homework and avoid greenwashing brands – ones that say they’re slow, ethical or sustainable in their marketing, but don’t walk the walk. Transparency is key! Find out where brands have their garments produced, how they’re manufactured and what their supply chain looks like.3
Here are a few of our favorite brands who are doing their best to slow the industry down to a more sustainable pace: Reformation, Patagonia, Stella McCartney, Pendleton, Girlfriend Collective, People Tree, Eileen Fisher, Zady and of course, Everviolet.
“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” — Anna Lappé, advocate and educator