In today’s world, we have nearly instant access to trending fashion styles. It’s easy to browse online and add cheap, fast fashion to your cart—and at great prices. “What’s the harm?” Unfortunately, the fashion industry accounts for nearly 1.2 billion tons of CO2 per year– that’s nearly 10% of carbon emissions around the world. And with most of these new garments ending up in landfills, most of your new garments will come with a pretty steep environmental price.
Slow fashion attempts to address these sustainability issues by cutting carbon emissions, addressing overproduction and industrial waste, and ensuring that garment workers are getting paid a fair wage and have access to safe working conditions along the way. Of course, these are pretty big issues to fix—and it’s become pretty clear that simply shopping for sustainable labels isn’t enough to change the entire industry.
To ensure our wardrobes are as sustainable as possible, we need to start by rethinking our purchasing habits—and that begins with defining what is considered sustainable fashion, slow fashion, and understanding the intersection between the two to make more environmentally-friendly purchasing decisions along the way.
Keep reading to discover how thoughtful, intentional, and holistic purchasing supports the sustainable fashion industry, and how slow fashion can be considered sustainable.
What is Sustainable Fashion?
You’ve probably heard or seen the term ‘sustainable fashion’ popping up on the marketing materials of some of your favorite brands. But what does the term sustainable fashion actually mean?
Sustainable fashion refers to clothing that is designed, manufactured, and distributed in ways that are considered friendly to the environment and is considered a subtype of slow fashion. Brands that are looking to be more sustainable may opt for natural materials in their manufacturing process, like linen or cotton, in order to reduce their waste and remove harmful chemicals from the production process of their garments. They may also be more transparent about their waste processes and indicate whether their manufacturing materials are vegan and cruelty-free.
Brands that consider themselves sustainable fashion leaders may also work to improve the lifecycle of their products and ensure that less clothing ends up in landfills. They may do this by promoting circular production loops—in other words, creating new materials out of donated or recycled items. In this way, sustainable fashion is concerned about the production of a clothing item, and whether the manufacturing processes surrounding it are environmentally-friendly.
What is Slow Fashion?
Slow fashion is considered an umbrella term and direct contrast to the ‘fast fashion’ movement. The term was first coined by author and design activist Kate Fletcher, who defined it as creating garments that were based on quality rather than time. This means that slow fashion pieces are meant to last longer and are manufactured with more intention, encouraging slower production and resulting in well-made, long-lasting garments.
While sustainable fashion describes a brand’s mission, approach to eco-friendly collections, or a consumer’s efforts towards rethinking our relationship with the clothes we wear and our environment, slow fashion combines a brand’s practices with a consumer’s shopping habits. It’s more concerned with the quality of styles, the resulting product, and looks to create garments that are good for both the consumer and the environment.
If you’re shopping from a designer brand that proposes a slow fashion model, they might do limited or seasonal drops, rather than pushing out new, trending styles to their website on a weekly basis. They’ll also promote slower production schedules, capsule collections, and designs that produce zero-waste or follow a circular production model. In this way, slow fashion brands are able to create quality, made-to-last pieces that will outlive momentary trends. They encourage customers to build capsule wardrobes and invest in clothing that they will keep for a lifetime.
The Bottom Line
To summarize, slow fashion often encompasses sustainable fashion; the two are not always mutually exclusive. While sustainable fashion is concerned with a brand’s production and manufacturing processes, slow fashion is concerned with the consumer’s choice to prioritize long-lasting, designer clothes in their wardrobe.
How to Become a More Sustainable Shopper
Fast fashion works against sustainability, quality, and fair working conditions in order to receive a lower price tag. Sustainable, slow fashion, on the other hand, combats waste while promoting ethical and environmentally-friendly production practices, allowing consumers to wear their clothes with peace of mind.
There’s tons of brands committed to slow, sustainable fashion. To shop more sustainably, look to buy fashion designer clothing made with natural fibers and buy sustainably-made lingerie and quality jewelry that will never go out of style. When you can, consider buying local to cut down on shipping costs, and even opt for vintage or upcycled items to cut down on landfill clothing waste.
While becoming a completely sustainable shopper is quite an aspirational goal, there’s many ways to develop more sustainable shopping habits over time, and investing in slow fashion is a great place to start.