Fashion is polluting. Fashion is exploitative.
We all agree that fashion production is harmful, but what about consumption?
As consumers we have a key role within the fashion industry: we have the power to decide which brands to reward and which not. How? Choosing which to be loyal to and which not to buy from.
Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.
– Anna Lappé
This is mighty, isn’t it? As consumers, we can decide to be part of the problem or part of the solution.
If you want to change your consumption habits and you don’t know where to start or if you just want to know more, this article is meant for you!
What does slow fashion mean?
We all know that there’s the need to be more sustainable and ethical, as well as to reduce the speed of our fashion consumption habits. But what do sustainable fashion, ethical fashion, slow fashion actually mean? Are they the same thing or are they the sides of the same coin? Let’s try to shed some light!
Slow fashion synonyms – a useful mini dictionary
Sustainable fashion is about the conscious use of natural resources and the respect of people. Sustainable fashion basically seeks to create an industry that prioritizes not having harmful impacts on the planet, society, or animals over making money.
Ethical fashion is generally defined as a production model that benefits fashion workers. However, its broader and more complete definition says that ethical fashion is concerned with workers and also animal rights. Fashion workers should be empowered and gratified by what they do for a living. At the same time, ethical fashion sustains that keep harming animals for human vanity and clothes is wrong.
Slow fashion is more of a mindset, a way of living. It combines sustainability and ethics and, contrarily to the other two, is not only about production. Slow fashion is also about the consumption and the use of clothes. Slow fashion prioritizes the environment, all people, and animals. It refers to a more conscious way of designing and shopping.
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 fashion is (…) 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
Minimalist fashion means having only clothes and accessories that you love to wear and that can be easily matched to each other thanks to their high versatility, comfort, colors, and style.
Circular fashion creates clothes from natural materials and designs them with the purpose that they can be recycled, upcycled, or even biodegrade at the end of their lifecycle.
Slow fashion vs fast fashion
Probably, the better way to understand what slow fashion really is and what it means is to compare it with its opposite: fast fashion.
These two fashion systems are inherently different: on one hand, slow fashion brands release around 2 – generally handcrafted – collections per year. On the other hand, fast fashion brands create an average of 52 machine-made collections annually (one for each week of the year).
Slow fashion has a long term view: clothes are made to last. Fast fashion has a short term view: clothes go out of style as soon as they’re bought.
The speed of production (or time) – together with underpaid workers and raw material exploitation – is a way for fast fashion brands to make more money. If they produce more, they sell more. As such, they increasingly speed up their production processes. Slow fashion opposes this.
The fast fashion system requires massive use of natural resources and lots of working hours. Moreover, not everything that is produced is also sold: H&M, one of the biggest fast fashion brands, has been accused of burning 12 tons of unsold clothing per year.
What about consumers? We get rid of 82,782,000 tons of clothes every year. This is insane! It’s definitely time to rethink our relationships with clothes.
Can you see the difference? Fast fashion creates cheap clothes of poor quality that consumers buy and throw away too quickly. Slow fashion reacts to this by promoting the sale and purchase of a few but high-quality, artisanal, locally sourced, and timeless clothes that are good for the planet, people, and animals (and for our money!).
Why is slow fashion important?
As mentioned, we should look at slow fashion as a new way of living sustainably and ethically. The slow fashion principles encourage the creation and use of versatile and timeless pieces made in sweatshop-free workspaces and made from innovative fabrics.
The latest sustainable fabrics come from food by-products, recycled plastic, and plants. They are really good for the environment as can be recycled over and over again, reshaped, and are even biodegradable and, most importantly, they don’t hurt animals.
Now that we’ve cleared up that slow fashion is important, we need to find an effective way to practice it.
How can you practice slow fashion?
Slow fashion is about really understanding what your needs are and finding the best product to address those needs.
– Shivam Punjya
Slow fashion is easy to practice: it’s not about buying new clothes, it’s rather about rethinking our relationships with items that we already own. I’d like to give you some tips for joining slow fashion easily and promptly. Are you curious?
Begin by opening your wardrobe and stop thinking of your clothes as disposable. Preferably:
- Repair what can be repaired
- Upcycle – a pair of jeans can be turned into a pair of shorts, for example!
- Swap or donate or sell what you no longer need – globally, only 20% of textiles are reused or recycled
- Ask yourself “Do I really need something new?”
If you really need to buy something new, here’s want you can do:
- Avoid fast fashion and ready-to-wear brands
- Refuse trends and create your own timeless style
- Choose quality instead of quantity – buy high quality pieces that will last and consider the Cost Per Wear of your clothes
- Prefer local artisanal shops – avoiding mass shops also mean reducing the CO2 emission due to international transports
- Look for sustainable and ethical alternative fabrics – we have a lot of guides that you may find useful:
- 12 Innovative Vegan & Zero-Waste Fabrics We’ll All Be Wearing Soon
- Is Genetically Modified Cotton a Sustainable Alternative?
- 8 Reasons Why Lyocell Is My Favorite Textile
- All the Pros and Cons of Organic Cotton You Might Want to Know About
- Vegan Leather: High-Quality Leather Alternative or Cheap Imitation?
- Are Goats Killed to Make Cashmere? The Dirty Secrets of Wool
- Do Silkworms Feel Pain? The Reason Why Vegans Don’t Wear Silk
- Check for brands’ materials and impacts on people, animals, and the environment on Good On You
- Check out secondhand apps like Depop, Vinted, threadUP (it only ships to the United States and Canada), Swap.com (it only ships to the 48 contiguous states in the USA) – there are many out there, but these are by far my favorites
- Use The RealReal (app and website) for your pre-owned luxury goods shopping
- Consider vintage and thrift shops
It’s easy to go slow, isn’t it? Do never forget that, at the end of the day, what really matters is that you feel involved in this wave of change, so feel free to define your own way of being more mindful.
Is slow fashion sustainable?
Yes, slow fashion is sustainable. By slowing down production and consumption of fashion we save water, reduce emissions of CO2, decrease the use of chemicals, and guarantee a fair wage to workers. By slowing down the use of clothing – proper care and washing are the first things to do – we can decrease the number of plastic microfibers dumped into the sea, for instance.
Is there a situation in which practicing slow fashion is not sustainable? Sadly, it can happen, for example, when you rashly buy pre-loved clothes. Let’s figure this out.
Is thrifting slow fashion?
Oh yes, thrifting is a way to practice slow fashion. By definition, buying something that already exists means saving raw materials and preventing secondhand clothes in a good shape from landfill. Moreover, you can find good deals for unique pieces. I’d say that thrifting is a great way to shop consciously and at a very small price.
In thrift shops, you can basically find anything you need and save money while contributing to save natural resources, and reduce textile waste. Every time you buy pre-loved clothes, you’re giving them a new life and preventing them to end up in landfills. Thrifting helps you to be sustainable, ethical, thoughtful, and stylish on a budget.
However, thrifty clothing may not always be as trendy and this, together with the small prices, can have a side effect: we can be tempted to buy more clothes than needed.
How can we avoid acting as fast fashion consumers even when we buy second hand? We should always keep in mind what slow fashion is: a mindful and quality-based approach to consumption. Even in a thrift shop don’t forget to ask yourself: “Do I really need it?”
How do you know if it is a slow fashion brand?
We’ve cleared up how you can practice slow fashion. But is there an easy way to identify a brand that stands up for both nature and people? Some qualities usually distinguish slow fashion brands from others. I have created an easy-to-read list of the main characteristics a slow fashion brand should have:
- One or more certifications of sustainable and ethical production – GOTs, BCI, PETA, Fairtrade are only some of the most known
- Two (or three at maximum) collections released per year – usually you can find spring/summer and fall/winter collections
- Locally sourced, crafted, and sold clothing
- Use of high-quality, innovative, organic, vegan, and natural fibers and fabrics
- Essential, versatile, classic, minimal, premium, and timeless style
- Zero waste design – even fabric scraps deserve a second chance!
- Cruelty-free practices
- Research for comfort and stylish silhouettes
- Small production batches – often they only produce what has been pre-ordered to prevent overproduction and deadstock
Let’s now explore a few fashion brands that I have selected using the above listed features.
5 slow fashion brands you can’t miss out
1. Oakie Label
Based in: Australia
Materials: linen, organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, ramie (a fiber made from the stalks of the Chinese Nettle plant)
Prices starting at $22
Oakie is a slow and vegan brand that promotes love for Earth and for life. The carefully selected and handpicked premium fibers are used to create versatile and comfortable clothes for women, men, and kids. Oakie is designed and based in Australia while it’s fairly made and dyed in Bali. They avoid synthetic fabrics and use only natural ingredients like vegetables, flowers, and fruits to color the textiles.
Based in: USA
Materials: linen, organic cotton, Tencel, modal
Prices starting at $129
Sotela is an inclusive brand that designs essential womenswear in a small range of neutral colors. All their pieces are handmade from eco-friendly fabric in California. Sotela seeks to restore a positive relationship with clothing and our bodies too. They also offer zero waste scrunchies and pouches at a very small price.
What other ethical and sustainable brands are made in the USA? 18 Slow Fashion Brands Manufacturing Clothes In The USA
3. Aff & Jam
Based in: UK
Materials: vintage clothes, organic fibers
Prices starting at $32
Aff & Jam (Affandjam on Instagram) is an incredible brand, by far the most exclusive on this list. Aff & Jam is run by two black artists grown in London who create wearable art. How? They rework and hand paint vintage and recycled items making them unique pieces of art. Aff & Jam also design their own original collection made from locally sourced and organic fabrics.
Based in: Slovenia
Materials: organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, linen
Prices starting at $71
Mila.Vert creates timeless basics, knitwear, business wear, and accessories for women who want to wear contemporary classics on a budget. Everything they made is 100% cruelty-free and responsibly designed and produced in safe Slovenian workplaces. Their items are made-to-order to eliminate left-over stocks and avoid overproduction.
Based in: Sri Lanka
Materials: coconut shells, Hana (a plant which leaves are scraped by hand to extract a strong and translucent fiber), Piñatex (vegan leather made from pineapple leaves)
Prices starting at $44
Kantala creates some of the most colorful, stylish, and vegan handbags I’ve ever seen. 22 skilled local artisans made Kanatala’s vegan bags and accessories using an ancient craft technique under threat of extinction – it is also known as the “handwoven Hana mat” and is 300 years old – and tools passed down to them through the generations. Kantala only uses valuable materials to promote Sri Lanka in the world.
How does slow fashion help the environment?
In order to get how slow fashion helps the environment, we should first look at some numbers recently published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation:
- Every year the fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water
- Around 20% of global wastewater comes from fabric dyeing and treatments
- More than 80% of the total fiber input used for clothing is burned or disposed of in landfills
- The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global emissions
- Every year 500,000 tons of plastic microfibers are dumped into the ocean, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles
Crazy, right? There’s the need to slow down the pace at which fashion is produced and consumed. We all need to be more mindful and thoughtful. By joining the slow fashion movement and following its principles we can help this world to heal.
Why is slow fashion expensive?
Many people are put off by the higher prices of slow fashion, but there are more and more brands offering affordable, sustainable, and ethical alternatives. We have a list of 50 brands to dress consciously on a budget you could check out.
Slow fashion is more expensive than fast fashion and this is a point. However, let me say that this fact is true if you limit it to the short term. Indeed, a sustainable wardrobe hardly needs to be updated and filled with new items frequently. A fast fashion wardrobe requires the opposite. As such, in the long term, you’ll be surprised at how much you can save by making sustainable choices.
There’s then another undeniable evidence: sustainable and ethical clothes are produced by fairly paid workers, in proper working spaces, from consciously sourced natural resources, with high-quality, alternative, and even vegan fabrics. These characteristics make slow fashion as expensive as good and thoughtful.
Slow fashion and slow food: what do they have in common?
When Kate Fletcher coined the expression “Slow Fashion” in 2007 (click here to read the article) she was inspired by the Slow Food Movement. This movement was founded in Italy in 1986 by Carlo Petrini and today is an international non-profit organization involving millions of people in over 160 countries.
The Slow Food Movement promotes local food cultures, diversity, and traditions while opposes the standardization of taste and the rise of fast-food chains. It seeks to improve the relationship we have with food, our precious fuel.
But slow food is not only about what we eat, as well as slow fashion is not only about what we wear. It’s an actual call for change that works to ensure that everyone has access to food that is:
- Good: quality, flavorsome and healthy food
- Clean: production that does not harm the environment
- Fair: accessible prices for consumers and fair conditions and pay for producers
We can find the same principles in the idea of slow fashion: prefer quality clothes that don’t cost the environment, produced by fairly paid and healthy workers, and that give emotions.
Be it food or fashion, always remember that the slower the better.
Bonus tip: do you know how to take care of your clothes?
I have one last – yet not least – tip for you. In order to reduce the environmental impact of fashion, we should also learn how to properly take care and wash our clothes. Believe it or not, but even this simple daily routine must be done very carefully as washing clothes can badly impact the environment in at least two ways: water pollution and landfill filling up.
Most of the standard detergents and cleaning products are not biodegradable but fossil fuel-based. As such, it’s good to prefer plant-based and natural products, even better if they have sustainable packaging.
But that is not all. Did you know that each cycle of a washing machine on average releases more than 700,000 microscopic plastic fibers into rivers and oceans? Synthetic clothes are the biggest polluters. imagine how many marine lives have been damaged and are being hurt every day.
Moreover, the repeated loss of fiber also causes the loss of colors, dyes, and the overall textile structure. As such, the life of clothes gets shorter. What happens next? Ruined clothes are mostly dumped in landfills and even burned.
Don’t panic! Taking care of clothes is easy if we know how to do it.
- Begin by reading the labels – they contain all the information you need about a specific garment
- Wash less and turn clothes inside out to reduce the damage of the fibers
- Keep in mind that even the high temperatures wear out the fibers quickly and contribute to the global CO2 emissions. Washing at 30° degrees (or less) protects both your clothes and the environment!
Before becoming passionate and a supporter of a fashion system that respects the environment, people, and animals, I was a fast fashion consumer. Everything changed when I watched The True Cost, back in 2015. Have you ever watched it? It’s a highly recommended documentary and it’ll help you to move towards a more conscious fashion or to strengthen your position if you’re already part of the movement. You can’t miss it out.
There’s no better way than another to adopt or improve a “slow” mindset. What matters is finding your own way of exposing yourself and making your contribution. The world needs you to be a better place.
Alberta Bernardi is a Ph.D. in Management, Innovation, and Sustainable Development. She likes to call herself a “sustainability warrior” because she aims to spread knowledge on the environment, ethics, and plastic pollution day after day. Her love of nature and battle against plastic around the world are on Instagram @together_no_plastic