It’s fairly obvious by this point that fast fashion sucks (we all agree on this, right?). But after we wrote about the environmental effects of fast fashion a few months ago, we want to spend more time talking about the opposite of fast fashion — slow fashion — and how to realistically move forward at a slower pace.
Fast fashion is constantly in the news these days.
- Mountains of clothes piled high in deserts.
- Celebrities selected as sustainable spokespeople with no knowledge (or concern) about the matter.
- Companies *cough* Shein *cough* shelling out millions of dollars to give influencers the ‘inside scoop’ to prove how great Shein is when they could have instead given that money to the people making the clothes.
It’s a difficult industry to escape and we think that slow fashion feels a bit more out of reach — like a blurry image that isn’t getting any sharper.
Today we’re going to spend some time attempting to unblur that image a little bit. It’s all about balance and what you can reasonably do within your life and schedule. From discussing the benefits of slow fashion to laying out how to look for fair fashion brands, we’re covering actionable steps you can take to reduce the impact your clothes have on the future of our planet.
the opposite of fast fashion
Not to sound like a boomer, buuuut before slow fashion was even popular, ( r e ) ˣ founder Paulina was advocating for a fairer and less wasteful industry.
As a (very successful) designer for over a decade, she has a deep connection with and appreciation for the fashion industry — just not all the waste. That’s how ( r e ) ˣ got its start — from Paulina witnessing all the waste that happens behind the scenes before the clothes even get in front of you and wanting to divert some of that waste.
For simplicity's sake, we’re calling slow fashion the opposite of fast fashion. But the fashion industry in general is incredibly complex and global. Slow fashion isn’t perfect, but it’s a giant leap in the right direction.
slowing it down
Handmade with care, this wool coat is draped on an aging dress form that has been inherited through the years. Generations of people have sewn and tailored this way. It may take longer but the sterdy fashion and textile work is well worth it.
If fast fashion is defined as moving a garment from design to doorstep as quickly as possible, it makes sense that slow fashion is considered the process of ensuring a garment takes the appropriate amount of time to make its way through that same supply chain.
Originally coined by Kate Fletcher, a professor at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion UAL, slow fashion breaks away from the modern industry — it involves rethinking the system, production, marketing, and mindset that we all currently participate in.
Many articles and brands will echo that slow fashion is about purchasing from more sustainable brands — but we want to take that definition a step further.
Slow fashion is also about slowing down in general.
- Slow down how much time, money, and energy you spend on clothes.
- Slow down how much you discard.
- Increase how much you re-wear, mend, and recycle.
This is especially important considering that many sustainability initiatives are voluntary with no regulatory agency to report to. Advocating for more governmental regulations is an important step towards holding these companies responsible.
It’s equally as important to rethink how much you consume in addition to how you consume.
what defines a slow fashion brand
There are a few key principles, philosophies, and strategies that we can look at when trying to define slow fashion and slow fashion brands.
We agree with Kate Fletcher, the person who coined the phrase, and her belief that slow fashion goes beyond the superficial and into the systemic.
Remake is an organization fighting for “fair pay and climate justice within the clothing industry.” On their mission to disrupt the industry, they publish an annual report each year that assesses major brands while providing a guide for improvement.
The six key areas Remake uses for assessment outline the factors that are important to defining slow fashion brands.
- When evaluating a company for better slow fashion processes, the usage of biogenic, synthetic, and recycled synthetic materials should be considered. This includes the treatment of the raw material suppliers, the animals, the humans, and the end of that material's life (circularity). More info is available on page 27 of the 2022 report.
- It is necessary for companies to provide detailed lists of all their partner factories including (but not limited to) addresses, working conditions, and even petrochemical refineries and farms. Before you think that’s too extensive, traceability holds these companies accountable for wages paid, hours worked, labor standards, and violations. (Page 18).
Wages & Wellbeing
- Living wages should be evaluated for all levels of employees. A livable wage ensures employees can realistically live off the wages they are paid. This also ensures employees are getting any wages they are duly owed. (Page 20).
- Responsible business practices directly influence how factory workers work. They include practices such as the price/rate/timeline suppliers are paid, requested (demanded) deadlines, the consistency of orders, and the termination of a contract/agreement. (Page 24).
- The fashion industry has directly contributed to the global climate crisis. Part of their responsibility is to regulate and plan for climate, chemicals, water, circularity, and length of life. Companies need to be taking dramatic measures to slash their greenhouse gas emissions; setting and approving long and short-term targets and net-zero targets; following wastewater guidelines; and sustainably managing water in the local places they source goods and raw materials from. To properly implement circularity and end-of-life tactics, they must replace the current linear models, not run parallel to them. (Page 30).
- How a company is run, controlled, and operated has a direct impact on how it moves through the industry. A company should be open and honest about how it engages with its stakeholders, its executive compensation, racial justice, inclusive hiring practices, and everything else it does to “advance social, racial, and environmental progress.”(Page 37).
- From our beliefs and research, the slow fashion industry directly combats the idea of growth. We do not need to ravage the planet, exploit people, and line the pockets of billionaires. In order to make and sustain change, the idea of what growth and success are and what they should look like must be reimagined to include every part of the supply chain — including people and environment — not just a few of the executives “running things”.
Lastly, the idea around slow fashion and practicing slow fashion also brings about the idea of change. We cannot continue on the same path of linear growth (and destruction). Participating in slow fashion requires a mindset change, a habit change, and a governing change that we all need to fight for.
We encourage you to give the Remake Report a browse as it is a great and thorough example of what’s currently happening and what still needs to change.
Many of the elements of this section incorporate different elements of ‘fair fashion’. That includes livable wages, safe working conditions, the ability to complete a job in a safe amount of time, and much more.
But more than being the right thing to do, human rights are an essential part of the fight against climate change.
ethics & social responsibility behind fair fashion
The way the fashion industry works now involves a lot of international travel and a stark difference between the Global North and the Global South.
When a garment begins, it is designed/imagined somewhere in the global north. Think NYC, LA, London, Amsterdam, Tokyo, etc.
The materials are grown or the fossil fuels are imported to factories in the Global South where the designs are sent for production. The fashion houses of the Global North negotiate with factories on prices and timelines to obtain the lowest rate and fastest production. The factories agree out of fear of losing the business.
In order for the factory to maintain the margins they just agreed to, they spend as little money as they can — on labor, safe working conditions, overtime, or environmentally friendly techniques and practices. And of course, the employees are forbidden from slowing that down in any way such as by unionizing.
In the Global South, the garments are dyed, cut, stitched, and sent to the Global North for resale. Once they’ve arrived to be sold, the prices are marked up, and (generally) underpaid retail employees sell the products.
Executives pocket the profits, they take ~millions of dollars in bonuses and salaries and then complain that no one wants to work.
Finally, when the consumer is done with their clothes, usually after about seven wears (SEVEN!!), they’re sent to the landfill, donated to secondhand stores, and eventually end up back in the deserts, markets, and landfills of the Global South.
human rights are part of the fight against climate change.
Fashion houses are always looking to cut prices wherever they can — and those with the least amount of bargaining power are always the most affected.
You see this in the argument that exploitation is okay (in the Global South) because it’s providing people with a job. Never mind that the job forces them to work long hours in unsafe working conditions for less than a livable wage.
People, land, and materials will continue to be exploited so long as entire countries are not compensated enough to lift themselves out of poverty.
Paying fair wages is so important to the environmental movement that a t-shirt sold at a price that includes fair wages for the person who made it, creates less environmental impact than a t-shirt made with sustainable materials made with unfair wages.
In a book by UC Santa Barbara environmental scientist Roland Geyer, The Business of Less: The Role of Companies and Businesses on a Planet in Peril, he explains that spending $20 more on a garment is $20 not spent on something with an environmental impact.
Paying a livable wage is also more beneficial to the environment than making that same t-shirt out of natural material but for lower wages.
Just by making an increase to livable wages, 65.3 million metric tons of CO2 would be immediately removed from the global economy.
implement and support ethical, socially responsible, and slow fashion
Okay, so you’re probably wondering how you can put some of this into action, right? You’re ready to pay $5 more for a t-shirt that enables someone to have a comfortable life.
We love that energy!
As with every complex subject, there is no exact answer but here are some things you can start doing right now.
- Shop less.
- Ask yourself if you really need it or if it’s just all over your algorithm.
- Shop secondhand when you do need something.
- Look for brands that are putting the work in (read that Remake report).
- Sign petitions, donate, and spread the word about organizations pushing for more regulation and more action from giant companies.
It’s not going to be easy but it’s going to involve some unfollowing — at least for a while. While you figure out what you hope to accomplish during this process and get to the root of why you shop so much unfollow any accounts, influencers, celebrities, or anything else that encourages you to buy. Especially unfollow anything always running LAST MINUTE SALES.
Replace all that consumerism by following one or two of the following organizations. Think about what stands out to you and what resonates with you. Then start interacting.
- Sign up for their email list.
- Follow them on socials.
- Browse their current campaigns to see what you can learn more about, what petitions you can sign, and what you can share.
slow fashion & ethical companies to follow
Remake has high standards they will hold brands accountable to while providing solutions for change across the industry. They are the creators of the #payup movement to get big brands to cough up back pay for garment workers.
The world’s largest fashion activism movement. Follow them to mobilize, make policies, and educate.
Slow Factory focuses on the intersection of climate justice and human rights through the lens of culture, science, and design.
Demanding legislation for livable wages across the garment, textile, and footwear industries.
“Amplifying worker voices in the garment and sportswear industry”
A directory of conscious fashion brands that highlight creatives and organizations making industry-wide changes. Follow them to dive deeper into the big issues and explore potential solutions.
All levels of individuals passionate about conscious fashion are welcome to explore this community that fosters dynamic conversations and idea exchanges.
Curious about a fashion brand? Looking for a sustainable pair of jeans? Through deep dives into the industry, brand ratings, and top picks, Good On You has your back.
“EFI is a leading voice in promoting sustainability and good governance in the fashion industry.”
If you’ve made it this far thank you 🙏🏽!
We know it can seem difficult and nearly impossible to make real change in an industry as large as the fashion industry. But the truth is you have so much power! You’ve heard it time and time again but what you buy and where you put your money tells these organizations what to spend more money on.
When you choose to invest your money in slow fashion VS fast fashion, you’re uplifting the small brands and helping them stay afloat to do more. As a small business ourselves, we can tell you that we feel it when you choose to purchase from us!
You have the power, now you have the resources, let’s be the start of a better future.