Slow it Down: Responsible Creation and Ethical Consumption
WHAT IS SLOW FASHION?:
In order to grasp exactly what slow fashion is, we must first explore what it actively opposes--fast fashion. No longer is mainstream fashion a reflection of fine craftsmanship, but rather of fleeting trends and mechanical construction. Once a trend is introduced on the runway, fast fashion brands get to work replicating these garments using methods of mass production, and (most often) inexpensive fabrics. While the fast fashion industry has allowed for the emergence of a wider realm of participation in the world of fashion, it comes at a shocking socio-environmental price. Below, we will explore how fast fashion came to be, it's environmental and social implications, and discuss how movement towards a slow fashion dominated industry may be the best thing for the planet, and humankind at large.
BRIEF HISTORY OF FAST FASHION:
Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the fashion industry, and practice thereof, has seen a drastic change in character. The industrial revolution was a transitionary period that ran from the late 1700s to the early 1800s. The period was marked by movement away from agrarian society, and the embracing of mechanization (the replacement of handwork with machine work). Mechanization was adapted widely across various industries--including garment making. With the advent of machines such as the power loom and the sewing machine, garment making became quicker, easier, and more affordable. It is here, during the industrial revolution that the possibility of the Fast Fashion industry was made clear; however, the industry itself would not fully emerge until the early 2000s.
Zara hit New York in 1989 and quickly became the paradigm for other fashion brands. Adopting their quick response time to new fashion trends, large number of collections, and shockingly accessible prices, stores like H&M, and TopShop joined the fast fashion ranks. Today, hundreds of fast fashion brands dominate the fashion industry.
WHY IT MATTERS:
Facilitated through largely cheap fabric use, and targeted trend advertising, fast fashion brands heavily contribute to waste, chemical contamination, and carbon emissions.
Here’s the thing the fast fashion industry doesn't want their consumers to know, the industry thrives and survives on the continual tossing out of “old” clothes. "Old" here does not refer to the actual age of the garments, but rather their fleeting relevance. Once a garment is deemed “out of style” by the fast fashion industry, consumers regretfully seek out and buy the next trend. These actions of buying, discarding, and buying again turn into a cyclical pattern of environmental damage. Additionally, fast fashion garments are made with materials that tear, fade, and shrink quickly. It is not surprising, then, that although people purchased 60% more clothes in 2014 than in 2000, the clothes were kept for only half as long, contributing to the colossal 85% of textiles that end up in the dump.
The fast fashion industry is responsible for 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions. To put this into perspective, that's more than all international flights combined! Furthermore, the low quality fabrics that make fast fashion so accessible, are responsible for the 500,000 tons of polyester deposited into the ocean yearly. Check out the infographic on the right for more statistics regarding the environmental consequences of fast fashion (wearclothesout).
In addition to its environmental impact, the industry practices condemnable human rights violations. By outsourcing manual labor to less developed regions of the world, fast fashion brands exploit vulnerable workers by paying them very little while demanding very much. Oftentimes these workers are paid less than the equivalent to 1 USD an hour which is a very small amount for any job, let alone a dangerous one. These factory jobs frequently expose workers to toxic chemicals, refuse breaks, and require lengthy overtime.
SLOW FASHION: a step in the right direction
It is important to note that we shouldn't feel guilt or shame in participating in Fast Fashion: it is simply the norm the world has come to know. However, we should take conscious steps to reduce our reliance on it. So how can we as consumers push back against the consequences of fast fashion?
BUY SLOW! Investing in pieces that are sustainably made is a great way to practice ethical consumption. Aside from the incentives listed above, here are a few other reasons slow fashion is the best way to buy. The first can be summed up by the simple phrase “Quality over Quantity”.
We all have items sitting in our closet that have lost their shape, or their color. Those clothes that just feel different than when you first bought them. Most likely, that’s because these items are a product of fast fashion, and as stated above, are made to deteriorate over time. In contrast, slow fashion garments are made with quality in mind: they hold their shape, color, and feel. Give it a few years, and investment pieces from slow fashion companies may look and feel better than the day you bought them.
The second reason to buy slow is the difference in fit. Because slow fashion takes its time, as its name alludes, it produces garments that mold to your body in the perfect way rather than in vague size categories (ie: SM, M, L). It’s hard to put the perfect fit into words, but trust me here, it’s life changing.
Thirdly, the mere experience of buying slow is something incredible in itself. True fashion lovers understand that it isn’t just about wearing the garment, it's the entire process of creation, and fitting, that makes an article of clothing memorable.
So the next time you get the urge to buy something new, consider buying slow! You'll be doing yourself, and the world, a favor.
Kowalski, Kyle, et al. “What Is Slow Fashion (vs Ethical & Sustainable Fashion)?” Sloww, 24 May 2020, www.sloww.co/slow-fashion-101/.
Reid, Lindsey. “Fast-Fashion: Unethical and Unsustainable.” UAB Institute for Human Rights Blog, 22 Jan. 2020, sites.uab.edu/humanrights/2018/04/26/fast-fashion-unethical-and-unsustainable/.
Sustain your Style. “Fashion & Environment.” SustainYourStyle, www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/whats-wrong-with-the-fashion-industry.wearclothesoutnottheplanet. “Fast Fashion Facts.” Wear Clothes Out, Not The Planet, 29 Sept. 2016,
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