My guess is you’re probably familiar with the term but have you ever considered why slow fashion is important and how adopting slow fashion practices and supporting mindful brands can make a difference?
What is slow fashion?
Essentially, slow fashion is a response to fast fashion. Slow fashion focuses on classic style, quality design and craftsmanship, garment longevity and wearability whereas fast fashion prioritises short term trends, mass production and poorly made garments. When I think of slow fashion, I think of my grandparent’s approach to their wardrobes; they didn’t have a lot of clothes, outfit repeating was the norm their clothes were carefully looked after.
What's Wrong with Fast Fashion?
You’re probably aware that fast fashion can have a negative impact on our environment and social systems, but what are those impacts and how can slow fashion help instead?
Overconsumption and Waste
The fashion year traditionally has four seasons (autumn/winter, spring/summer, resort and pre fall). However, many fashion brands today operate on a 52 micro seasons model which mass produces poor quality garments sold to consumers at a low prices because it generates more sales. In short, the fashion industry produces, and consumers buy, too many clothes. These clothes are only briefly worn before they end up in charity stores, or worse, landfill. Significantly, “under-utilised” clothes and insufficient recycling systems contributes to a loss in value of $500 billion USD each year, while “it is estimated that more than half of ‘fast fashion’ produced is disposed of in under a year” (A New Textiles Economy, page 36).
Natural Resource Depletion
Our wardrobes are produced at the expense water, land, oil and other natural resources. Clothing’s water footprint in the UK in 2016 totalled 8 billion cubic metres (Valuing our Clothes, page 14) while approximately “342 million barrels of oil” is needed for annual synthetic textile production (A New Textiles Economy, page 38). Furthermore, most materials are lost, and not recycled, after a garment’s final use (A New Textiles Economy, page 36).
Pollution and Environmental Damage
Fashion damages the environment and animals. Chemicals used in production (such as dyes, pesticides, fertilisers), green house gasses, and plastic microfibres which end up in our waterways, contributes to pollution. For example, the fashion industry produces approximately 3.3 billion tonnes of Co2 each year (Fixing Fashion, page 28).
Workers who make clothes for fast fashion companies are often exploited, work in dangerous conditions and are not paid a living wage. This is how fast fashion brands justify the low retail price while still returning a profit. The terrible Rana Plaza disaster, where many workers died when a factory collapsed, is a poignant example of how others usually have to pay the price for our wardrobe bargains.
Why is Slow Fashion Important?
Slow fashion practices help reduce clothing waste and overconsumption therefore minimising brand and consumer’s impact on the fashion industry. Slow fashion encourages consumers and brands to view clothing , and the natural resources needed to produce them, as valuable commodities instead of disposable ones and to buy clothes with the long term in mind. Slow fashion promotes buying less, but investing in timeless pieces which will last well beyond next seasons trends. Amongst other things, this helps to reduce pollution because “doubling the number of time a garment is worn on average would reduce GHG emissions by 44% compared with producing a new garment” (Textiles and the Environment, page 6). WRAP also “found that extending the average life of clothes by just nine months would save 5 billion in resources used to supply, launder and dispose of clothing”. Accordingly, we can help preserve the environment for future generations by slowing down our wardrobes.
The slow fashion movement is also important to incentive brands to change. Brands respond to consumer shopping habits so more consumers practicing slow fashion will encourage more brands to initiate change. Furthermore, a slower approach to style can help you build a better wardrobe. Rather than focusing on trends it helps you hone your personal style and create a wardrobe you genuinely love and wear.
How does slow fashion differ from sustainable fashion and ethical fashion?
Slow fashion is related to the ethical and sustainable fashion but each term is slightly different. Slow fashion is about how our clothes are produced and bought. It’s about cultivating mindful shopping habits and reducing textile waste and overconsumption. It’s also about recognising the valuable natural resources which go into making the clothes we wear and trying to ensure that these resources are not unnecessarily squandered by appreciating our wardrobes and using clothes for their full lifecycle. Sustainable fashion is about reducing clothes impact on the environment during, and after, production whereas ethical fashion is about supply chain practices and ensuring the workers who make our clothes are treated, and paid, fairly.
What are slow fashion practices for consumers?
Some slow fashion practices for consumers include:
- Buying clothes intentionally to ensure they will be used for their full life cycle.
- Prioritising quality over quantity and purchasing well made, well tailored items.
- Purchasing classic designs, silhouettes and styles which won’t date quickly to maximise wear.
- Finding your personal style instead of replicating the latest seasonal trends.
- Buying clothes with the intention of wearing them for years.
- Using capsule wardrobe principles to maximise styling and wear.
- Caring for clothes so they last longer.
What are slow fashion practices for Brands?
Slow fashion brands often:
- Produce small collections or batches to reduce excess garments being left over. Sometimes clothes are sold on a “made to order” basis.
- Release new collections infrequently, sometimes in accordance with traditional fashion seasons.
- Create designs which are classic or timeless rather than trend driven.
- Put effort into the fit, design and quality of a garment.
- Incorporate capsule wardrobe principles into collections to maximise wearability and styling options.
Can I still practice slow fashion while buying from regular brands?
My belief is that it’s preferable to support brands who have sustainable and ethical practices, where possible. But I don’t buy exclusively from conscious brands because sometimes I can’t find pieces which fit my personal style, size or budget. Slow fashion is about how you buy, wear and look after your clothes. You can still create an slow fashion wardrobe when buying from a high street brand by purchasing clothes intentionally, choosing classic designs and paying attention to quality, fit and fabric composition.
What are some slow fashion and sustainable brands?
There are some wonderful fashion brands who are prioritising slow fashion practices. A few of my favourites are linked below.
(Some of these links are affiliate links which mean I may earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase using these links. This helps support this blog. You can read more about this here).
Start Small and Be Gentle
I’m passionate about slow fashion but you don’t have to be perfect to make a difference. I love the sustainability quote by Anne Marie Bonneau,“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly”. The same goes for slow fashion. It’s about creating better, long lasting habits – so choose one slow fashion practice to start with and build from there.
- Ellen MAcarthur Foundation “A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future” (2017).
- House of Commons, Environmental Audit Committee “Fixing Fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability” (19 February 2019).
- Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) “Valuing our Clothes: the Cost of UK Fashion” (July 2017).
- WRAP, “Design for extending clothing life” (accessed 15 October 2023)
- Nikolina Sajin, European Parliamentary Research Service, “Textiles and the Environment” (May 2022).
- Techfashionista, Fashion Seasons Explained (accessed 15 October 2023)