Slow fashion means quality over quantity. Here are 5 simple tips for a slower and more sustainable wardrobe.
In a world of 99-cent bikinis and epic YouTube shopping hauls, clothing has never been cheaper.
Global brands offer new collections every few weeks – while last week’s styles are tossed into the bargain bins.
Fashion moves fast and constantly reinvents itself to lure more shoppers.
And it’s made fast too, by underpaid workers that hastily stitch together slabs of polyester.
But fast fashion isn’t made to last. And a whopping 85% of clothes end up in landfills – while 60% of new purchases get thrown away within a year.
Slow fashion is a reaction to this mega industry. It emphasizes quality over quantity – and it promotes clothing that’s made without exploitation of workers or the environment.
Slow fashion brands use eco-friendly materials (like linen) in timeless styles that can be worn for many years. These brands often draw inspiration from local artisans and traditional, regional ways of making garments.
Slow fashion meaning:
made from quality eco-friendly and sustainable materials – like linen, organic cotton or Tencel
uses repurposed textiles or raw materials
timeless instead of trendy and often made in wearable and classic styles.
sold at smaller local shops instead of global chains
locally made to allow control over the supply chain and labor conditions
released in fewer collections or sold as a seasonless and permanent selection
made to order or in small batches to reduce excess production
has a fully transparent system of production
manufactured well to increase the life of the garment
designed with cultural and emotional meaning
Slow fashion vs sustainable fashion
The concept of slow fashion is similar to sustainable fashion – both call for a change in the fast-fashion status quo for the good of the workers and the environment.
Sustainable fashion emphasizes natural materials and low-impact manufacturing that doesn’t produce toxic waste.
Slow fashion, in turn, emphasizes quality locally-made garments produced on a smaller scale.
Brands have responded with labels like “ethical” and “sustainable” now seen at the world’s biggest retailers.
But these changes are sometimes mere slogans to appeal to the consumer. And they’re just another form of greenwashing that doesn’t always go beyond the label.
Fast fashion brands still use child labour and function in deplorable conditions, while brands rarely track where their stock is coming from.
And while the slow fashion movement has made strides in promoting a more sustainable lifestyle, it hasn’t exactly toppled the billion-dollar fast fashion giants.
Slow fashion is costlier to produce – it uses premium fabrics and pays workers a fair wage. And as a result, slow fashion brands are more expensive and not always accessible to everyone.
But there are some simple tips to build a more sustainable wardrobe that’s both practical and timeless.
Slow fashion facts
A single pair of jeans takes up to 20,000 litres of water to make.
Three-fifths of all clothing ends up in an incinerator or landfill within a year of production.
Clothing production has doubled in the last 15 years – and clothes are being worn less and thrown away quicker than ever before.
The fashion industry produces some 20 percent of global wastewater.
Only 15 percent of consumers recycle their used clothes.
Slow fashion tips
“Buy less, choose well, make it last,” Vivienne Westwood said. And that’s still the best advice for refining your closet – and leaving fast fashion behind for good.
1. Buy less: Slow fashion stands against the mindless consumption that sees clothing as a disposable, throw-away indulgence. If you’ve ever spent a weekend at a shopping mall, you know that shopping is often a pastime and a form of retail therapy – clothes are not purchased out of necessity. In a society that treats clothing as a status symbol, slow fashion is about slowing down your consumption.
2. Choose well: A hurried, impulse buy of a trendy item often gets shoved to the back of the closet. When buying new clothes, be selective and thoughtful to ensure the piece will last for many seasons. Chose quality fabrics that are made well – and invest in higher-end pieces that won’t fall apart in the laundry. Define your style and be selective about what fits your aesthetic – and what’s right for your body.
3. Make it last: Take proper care of your clothing and follow care instructions on the label to use the right temperatures and cycles.
4. Fix what’s broken: If your jeans are too long, take them to a tailor and get them hemmed. If your sweaters have holes, mend them with a needle and thread. Too often we’re told to get rid of clothing that shows any kind of wear. But a few simple stitches can often fix many problems. Get a sewing kit and mend small holes and replace lost buttons. Make your footwear last longer by taking in broken heals or worn-out soles to a shoe repair shop. And if you don’t love the fit of a garment then get it altered.
How to leave fast fashion behind:
5. Shop secondhand: Thrift stores are great if you’re on a budget – or if you’re looking for durable basics that have already survived some wear. Secondhand shops are great to experiment with new cuts and colors to hone in on your personal style. They’re also great for some guilt-free retail therapy and can breathe new life into garments you already own.
6. Dispose responsibly: The bulk of clothes donated to thrift shops end up in landfills. Buy less and choose well, but when you fumble then make an effort to return the item, upcycle or pass it along to a friend.
7. Unfollow toxic influencers: If your social media feed makes you feel insecure about your style – and leaves you dreaming about that next shopping spree that will magically make your life better – then it’s time to unfollow any accounts that make you feel small. Unsubscribe from newsletters and YouTube channels that promote fast fashion and endless shopping sprees.
8. Do your research: Look into the brands you’re buying from. Treat your money spent as an investment into the brand. Browse their website to learn about their materials and sourcing. How transparent is the brand in their practices? How often do they produce new collections?
9. Shop smart: Read labels and make sure the fabrics are high quality – avoid polyester and synthetics. Check the stitching for durability and don’t forget tell-tale details like buttons, zippers and hooks that often signal the quality of production. Price isn’t always a good indicator of quality – so learn how to shop smart and spot good quality garments.
10. Wear your old pieces in new ways: Look through your closet and you’ll probably find clothes you forgot you even had. Style what you already own in new and surprising combinations.
Is a capsule wardrobe the answer?
A curated collection of staples that works well together eliminates the stress of deciding what to wear.
If your closet is overflowing but it feels like you have nothing to wear, a capsule wardrobe takes the hassle out of getting dressed.
Pick a color palette that fits your style – then keep all your basics in neutral tones and add a few accent colors and patters for personality.
Know what pieces you wear most often – and invest in high-quality and timeless versions of those styles.
Asket has a single permanent collection that offers perfectly-fitting staples like t-shirts and jeans.
The brand develops just a few wardrobe essentials a year and always works to improve existing items. Their items are made to fit a woman’s real body – and sold at reasonable prices.
Their collection also boasts t-shirts made with lyocell, a silky and breathable material made from renewable sources. The t-shirts are loose with an open neckline and slightly shorter sleeves – and they’re very comfortable.
Founded in 2015, this Stockholm-based brand pays its workers a living wage, uses organic cotton and works with non-toxic dyes.
This Los Angeles brand makes luxury vegan handbags, totes, clutches and accessories – all handcrafted from premium European fabrics.
Their pieces are durable and timeless. And the brand is manufactured locally with eco-friendly materials.
Svala is inspired by the founder’s love of animals and nature – and her affinity for minimal and clean-cut Scandinavian design.
The brand offers innovative pieces like a gold-speckled tote made from cork and clutches made with a new material from pineapple leaf fibres. Svala also uses BioVeg – an innovative fabric made from recycled polyester – to create very unique pieces.
Slow fashion quotes
If you’re looking for motivation, these powerful quotes will make you re-thing fast fashion:
“Infinite growth of material consumption in a finite world is an impossibility.” – E.F. Schumacher
“Fast fashion is not free. Someone somewhere is paying.” – Lucy Siegle
“Colonialism is not a thing of the past, it is a current economic reality.” – Céline Semaan
“The most sustainable garment is the one already in your wardrobe.” – Orsola de Castro
“Cheap fashion is really far from that. It may be cheap in terms of the financial cost, but very expensive when it comes to the environment and the cost of human life.” – Sass Brown
The role of governments
We can make all these changes as consumers, but we can’t get at the root of the problem unless we hold our governments and politicians accountable.
Yes it’s absolutely worthwhile to buy organic cotton and limit your spending. We’re definitely making a difference when we opt for slow fashion.
But brands will always want to lower their costs and increase their profits. And today fast fashion is worse than ever with Chinese brands making their clothing even cheaper thanks to child labour.
Governments need to step in and force corporations to pay for their impact on the environment. Taxing carbon, water and plastics would discourage their use and make natural materials more profitable.
Yes, we need slow fashion. But we also need to support the politicians who advocate for these changes.