What is Slow Fashion, Really?
The fashion industry has a host of problems. Overproduction. Exploited labor. Exponential waste. Water pollution. Microplastics. Greenwashing. We could go on.
But. There’s an answer to these problems that’s becoming more and more popular: slow fashion.
The term slow fashion was first coined by author, design activist, and professor Kate Fletcher in an article for The Ecologist. When Fletcher first described her ideal fashion model, it mirrored the Slow Food Movement, which aimed to defend regional traditions, good food, gastronomic pleasure and a slow pace of life. As a result, Fletcher wanted slow fashion to focus on quality versus quantity, in addition to the environmental ideals that were associated with sustainable fashion.
Essentially, slow fashion was a reaction to the rapid expansion of fast fashion.The rise of fast fashion from the early 2000s created large-scale environmental and ethical issues within the fashion industry. Remember all those problems we mentioned at the beginning of this post?
Consumer expectations for clothing that could be made faster and cheaper so they could keep up with trends drove brands to focus on hyper-speed production methods and cut corners wherever possible to make it happen.
This ended up creating an unsustainable culture surrounding fashion itself, where clothing is expected to be cheap, on-trend for only a short amount of time, and easily disposable. Fast Fashion essentially created a culture where you could buy an item, wear it once, and dispose of it, and that would be considered normal. And this could happen every single week.
Think we’re kidding? Think again. Just take a look at these stats for proof:
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, clothing production has doubled in the last 15 years while clothing utilization has decreased 36%.
The average American buys 70 apparel items a year. That’s a new piece of clothing every four to five days.
The lifetime of an apparel item in developed countries is less than three years.
More than 50% of fast fashion produced is disposed in under one year.
People, like Fletcher, had begun to notice the instability of the fast fashion model — and they wanted to change that.
Fashion wasn’t always like this. And slow fashion aims to take us back to where it began, before the Industrial Revolution.
Before the rise of mass production, most garments were handmade in small batches slowly and relatively locally to the customer. The introduction of textile machinery in England in the 18th and 19th centuries meant that fabric and garments could be produced in larger quantities at cheaper prices — but it also created a slew of problems.
Not only did mass-produced fashion reduce the quality of garments and make fashion more homogenous, it hurt the livelihoods of artisans and craftspeople. Instead of a fashion economy of independent designers, collectives of artisans, skilled weavers, and expert tailors, it shifted to one of industrialized factories that exploited low-paid labor.
Modern-day slow fashion wants to step away from these practices and return to the old ways.
Initially, it asks us to take a step back and ask ourselves if we really need something new, or if there’s something in our closet that might be similar. It then encourages us to mend items instead of throwing them out if we can. And when we do need to shop for new clothes, buying fewer garments less often, and opting for second hand and small, sustainable brands. Finally, it asks us to stop treating our clothes as disposable, and to make an effort to repair, upcycle, donate, gift, or responsibly dispose of them when they no longer serve us.
How can you join the slow fashion movement?
Slow fashion’s barrier to entry is pretty low — anyone can join the movement. And you don’t even need to buy anything new to participate! Here are a few ways you can get involved:
- Shop Secondhand — Head over to your local thrift, consignment, or vintage shop when you want to add something new to your closet. Secondhand doesn’t equal second best.
- Mend Your Clothes — Before you throw something out, see if you can mend it first to make it’s life last longer.
- Upcycle — If that’s not possible, try upcycling the garment into another piece or downcycle it into rags you can use for cleaning your home!
- Recycle Clothes You Can’t Wear Anymore — Another option for your unwanted clothes is to recycle them. There are textile recycling centers
that you can send your clothes to, and there are even brands (like For Days) that will recycle your clothes for store credit.
- Swap with Friends — If there are some well-loved pieces in your closet that you don’t want anymore, but want to make sure go to a good home, host a swap with your friends!
- Rent Special Items — If you have a wedding coming up to attend or some other fancy event, try renting something instead of buying to avoid having items in your closet that you never plan on wearing again.
- Do a No Buy Month — Hit the pause button on your clothing purchases, and see if you can make it a month. It’s easier than you might think!
- Shop Sustainable & Local — Shop brands who prioritize ethical practices and having a low impact on the planet, and whose production is close to home if possible!
- Learn About Fair Fashion Practices — Follow organizations like Fashion Revolution and ReMake on social media and shop at sustainable marketplaces like SLVR MAPLE that want to help you become a conscious consumer and make more educated buying decisions.
How to tell a brand is embracing the slow fashion model
- Designs that are more about timeless styles than trends.
- Traceable supply chains. If a brand is really producing intentionally, they’ll be able to track each step of the production process and they will share this information with their consumers.
- Their garments are made with durable materials and with attention to quality.
Often made by hand or made with handmade techniques/elements.
While slow fashion isn’t free of machinery, it’s made in smaller workshops or artisan cooperatives as opposed to huge factories with assembly lines of workers.
Produced in small batches or is made-to-order.
While slow, ethical, and sustainable fashion all describe efforts towards an aspirational goal — rethinking our relationship to clothes — slow fashion combines a brand’s practices (and promises!) with a customer’s shopping habits. So when you think about how you want to participate in fashion going forward, just remember that slow fashion calls for building a more intentional relationship with our wardrobe. Most relationships in life last longer when they aren’t rushed. With fashion, it’s just the same.