Honestly, I have been ecstatic at the growing interest it slow fashion: the act of producing clothing that strives to take into consideration fabric and design quality as well as sustainable practices that respect human labor, the environment, and animals (Marquis, 2021).
The idea is to take what has become a modern destructive practice and transform it into one of integrity, creativity, and sustainability.
Personally, I have never been a consistent clothing shopper despite liking fashion. Most of my life from childhood to adulthood has involved some kind of uniform, which has made collecting clothing unnecessary. By the time I did get into putting outfits together, I still kept my closet simple and held onto most of clothes for over a decade, and only made purchases of ten to twelve pieces a year.
I am of the mindset that clothing should be worn until it is unwearable. And, after it has outlived its lifespan, it should be given a new purpose, whether that be upcycled, recycled, or donated. This is especially important since “90% of our clothing is thrown away before it needs to be” (Encircled, 2023).
After a piece of clothing’s very short lifespan, it usually ends up in a landfill. Most of these clothes are not made from biodegradable materials, but synthetic materials made with harmful chemicals that could take centuries to decompose.
What is Fast Fashion?
“Fast fashion is a business model based on replicating high-end catwalk designs and celebrity looks by mass producing them (cheap and fast) to take advantage of the latest fashion tends (Saxon, 2022).
This business model, however, creates insane amounts of waste, uses underpaid and sometimes unpaid human labor (often child labor), and depletes natural resources (Saxon, 2022). And, due to the speed at which many companies manufacture these items, many companies have stolen designs from independent creators and even their own competitors to keep up with demand.
Fast fashion conglomerate Shein, for example, copied the design of ELEXIAY’s Amelia Sweater from the look to the color. They have also stolen from Blogilates’s POPFLEX by copying her Pirouette Skort, and Baiia’s Zanzibar Wrapsuit.
Fast fashion companies and retailers push the notion that “more is better,” causing a massive consumption issue that produces poor quality clothing that destroys our environment and exploits workers into constantly creating “cheap garments that do not last” (Saxon, 2022).
Clothing used to represent function and identity (DK, 2012). Materials for clothing were carefully sourced and the garments were made exclusively by hand. Garments also might not have been made by one person, but several artisans that specialized in specific crafts such as embroidery or tailoring.
During and after the Industrial Revolution, the Western World made a transition to mechanized manufacturing. Materials that used to be made by hand (such as textiles and lace) were quickly being mass produced through machinery, making clothing cheaper and putting craftsmen out of work.
Even though all clothing is still technically made and finished by people using sewing machines, cheaper textile manufacturing has had an influence on our modern perception of cost in relation to a garment today. The ramifications are devastating: poor working conditions, unlivable wages, and environmental impacts are just the tip of the iceberg. Despite some of us knowing this, we expect clothing to be inexpensive, and see even well-made garments as being unreasonably priced.
The truth is, after the cost of fabric and labor, clothing should be far more expensive than it actually is.
I have had well meaning friends and acquaintances tell me I could sell my handmade hats for $5 each, not knowing that the yarn itself cost $10 a skein, and took ten hours to knit.
What consists of Slow Fashion?
Slow fashion utilizes practices such as recycling and upcycling clothing, making your own clothing, and thrifting second hand clothes. Slow fashion also takes into consideration giving discarded fabrics new life such as creating clothing out of vintage fabrics or bedsheets.
Originally, I was skeptical of these practices, feeling some special way about wearing someone else’s garments (however, I do not recommend this for undergarments). But, most second-hand items are not very worn, if at all. I also found it surprisingly fun to take an older item and upcycle it into something new.
I get it, fast fashion produces affordable clothing for the average person in an era where inflation is high. I also recognize that it is impossible to be 100% cruelty free for everything. I also do not advocate throwing out fast fashion pieces that you love! You already own it, so continue to love it and make the best of it!
What slow fashion seeks to do is limit overconsumption because at the end of the day the massive landfills of cheap clothing contribute to climate change at such a horrendous rate that we really have to ask ourselves this question: what is worth more: regularly owning and disposing over 500 pieces of cheap clothing that have contributed to environmental abuses that have long-term impacts on our health and planet, or owning 200 pieces made with integrity that reduce such impacts? (Whew! That was a mouthful!)
Blackhistorymonth.org, (2021). Rethinking the Lives of Black Victorians. Black History Month. Retrieved from https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/article/listings/region/online-event/rethinking-the-lives-of-black-victorians/
DK Publishing, (2012). Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style. DK Smithsonian
Encircled, (2023). Lifecycle of a Garment. Retrieved from https://www.encircled.co/pages/end-of-life-cycle?shpxid=dc7664b0-ff90-4a20-bebc-aac03ed42eba
Nguyen, L., (2022). Fast Fashion: The Danger of Sweatshops. Earth.org. Retrieved from https://earth.org/sweatshops/
Organique, (2022). The dirty secret of unwanted fashion – when the landfill meets your dress. Organique.com. Retrieved from https://www.organiquestudio.com/blogs/backstage/fast-fashion-on-landfills
Von Elven, M. (2018). People do not wear at least 50 percent of their wardrobes, says study. Fashion United. Retrieved from https://fashionunited.uk/news/fashion/people-do-not-wear-at-least-50-percent-of-their-wardrobes-according-to-study/2018081638356
Marquis, C. (2021). What Does Slow Fashion “Actually” Mean? Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/christophermarquis/2021/05/14/what-does-slow-fashion-actually-mean/?sh=6cf1b4f73b4d
Saxon, K., (2022). What Is Fast Fashion? Definitions, Problems, Examples (In 2022). The Vou. Retrieved from https://thevou.com/fashion/fast-fashion/#origin
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