How Can Slow Fashion Save the Environment?

How Can Slow Fashion Save the Environment?

For the past 20 years, economic growth and booming bottom lines have been pursued and celebrated at the expense of sustainability, equality and fair labour laws.

Fast fashion endorses a problematic culture of consumption and disposal. Celebrity sightings, price, and novelty take precedence over concerns about drought, slavery and food scarcity. Slow fashion is the counter-movement gaining momentum.

Fashion is a dirty industry — literally. It pollutes our water supply, encourages overconsumption, and exploits the women and children who work in factories. It demands an unending supply of finite resources and produces huge amounts of waste.

But fashion is also a means of artistic expression. There's something fun and exciting about taking a risk and using what you wear to articulate your personal style.

So how do you match your love for clothing with your love for our planet? You can slowly express your viewpoint while still promoting sustainable practices that keep the Earth healthy.

What is Slow Fashion?

Slow fashion describes the process of manufacturing clothing ethically, taking into consideration the workers and environment. It ensures the workers are paid fair wages and are provided with a safe working environment.

Ethical manufacturing methods are most costly, resulting in more expensive clothes.

However, they are made from better-quality materials, which are more durable and will last longer than clothing manufactured using fast fashion methods.

You may pay $10 for a t-shirt from a brand producing their clothes through fast fashion techniques, but how long will the shirt really last?

Its colour may begin to fade, and the lesser quality fabric may begin to break within a couple of months. So now every few months you are buying a new $10 t-shirt to replace the one the previous one.

Whereas, you could have spent $30 on a t-shirt manufactured using slow, ethical fashion, and it would have lasted years.

Avoiding this choice benefits the companies using fast fashion techniques because a single consumer is spending more money on their products in the long term.

The cheap cost of fast fashion is also prompting consumers to purchase more than necessary.

Think about all the clothes in your closet. Now think about how much you use regularly.

For a fast-paced industry like fashion, trends are constantly changing, and those trying to keep up may be tempted to purchase poorly produced, lower quality clothing simply due to the speed of its release.

Fast fashion produces large quantities of cheap clothing quickly. Using safer ethical practices may take more time but is worth the wait in the end.

FAQs About Slow Fashion 

Why is slow fashion more sustainable?

She defines slow fashion as quality-based rather than time-based.

Other slow fashion pioneers note that the movement encourages slower production, unifies sustainability with ethics, and ultimately invites consumers to invest in well-made and lasting clothes.

Is slow fashion really sustainable?

Slow fashion is the alternative to fast fashion, and promotes a slower, more sustainable approach.

It supports buying vintage or second hand clothes, redesigning old clothes, shopping from smaller producers, and buying quality garments with a longer lifespan.

How does slow fashion impact the environment?

The fashion industry accounts for 5% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Pulse Of The Fashion Industry report. And textile production contributes more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined.

What is the impact of fast fashion?

The fashion industry contributes to around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, due in part to its energy intensive production processes, which exceed those of the aviation and shipping industries combined.

Different fabrics release varying amounts of toxic by-products, both pre and post-production.

Fashion And The Environment

It's no secret that the fashion industry takes a toll on the environment. Take cotton as an example.

Although it's a textile used in many clothing items, it's also the most pesticide-intensive crop globally, and its production seriously degrades soil quality.

What's more, it's an extremely thirsty crop, requiring about 20,000 litres of water for an output of one kilogram (2.2 pounds) — the equivalent of just one T-shirt and one pair of jeans.

"Alternative" synthetic fabrics, like polyester, also wreak havoc on our planet. Both coal and petroleum are key ingredients in this fabric, and its production requires massive amounts of energy.

And since polyester fibres aren't natural, they don't break down. This means that items made from polyester will sit in our landfills for hundreds of years.

But it's unfair to assign all the blame to farmers and lab technicians. Consumer demand has risen sharply since about 2000, and many brands are not only instigating such trends; they're supporting them.

Although the fashion industry has traditionally had two primary seasons per year (spring/summer and fall/winter), many fast-fashion companies create clothing and churn through their inventory at an alarming rate.

In addition, many brands unveil new collections every single week, so it's not uncommon for stores to have more than 50 micro-seasons per year.

And, of course, every clothing item has a lifespan. Since fast fashion pieces aren't very durable, they don't survive lots of wear or a high number of washes — which encourages consumers to throw them away and replace them more often.

Unfortunately, about 85 per cent of all textiles in the United States end up in landfills, and the average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing every year. So consumers still have lots of room for improvement.

Slow Fashion And The Environment

Slow fashion encourages sustainable practices, as well as ethical working conditions. The antithesis of fast fashion focuses on quality and longevity while standing up for both nature and people.

A growing number of farmers and organizations support the slow-fashion movement.

One such example is the Better Cotton Initiative, which outlines principles and methods for sustainable cultivation, but many different organizations provide resources and information to today's farmers.

Consumers often feel powerless to change the fashion industry, but we can make a difference through our collective efforts.

Start by recognizing your own purchasing power.

Then, when you choose brands that are committed to slow fashion and decide to boycott (or at least avoid) labels that perpetuate fast fashion, you're taking a stand and sparking change.

Can you believe that the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry, only after oil? It makes sense when you think about the destructive processes used to make most clothing and the amount of waste it creates.

Slow fashion companies make their apparel while keeping long-term sustainability in mind.

They use safe and ethical practices, which reduce the use of toxic chemicals.

They also aim to make the product more durable so that it will last and you will not need to make purchases as often. Ultimately, the idea is that lowering consumption will decrease the need for production and the amount of waste.

Fast fashion uses synthetic and inorganic fabrics for apparel that are not created to last and are not biodegradable.

A vast majority of their clothing ends up in landfills. Companies practising ethical manufacturing use natural and eco-friendly fabrics.

Fabrics such as organic cotton, silk, lyocell, and alpaca are natural and eco-friendly.

However, just because a company uses natural fabrics does not mean that they are practising environmentally safe methods.

When fabrics are treated, many companies use harsh chemicals that are harmful to the environment.

For example, organic cotton is a natural fibre that is grown without pesticides but may be dyed and treated with formaldehyde and other environmentally damaging products.

Looking for clothes that are naturally dyed and labelled "Certified Organic", sustainable, or eco-friendly is a fool-proof way to make sure you are avoiding clothes created using these methods.

Science is also changing the fashion industry by developing technologies that create new ways to make fashion "greener".

New methods of creating, dyeing, treating, and recycling fabrics are being created.

Additionally, when you need to purge your closet of unwanted items, it's a good idea to sort them by quality.

Sell your high-quality items online or at a secondhand clothing store, or host a clothing swap or garage sale.

Take your good-quality items to thrift stores, and recycle your low-quality items at drop-off locations or through in-store recycling programs.

Whatever you do, don't just throw those clothes away!

How To Get Into Slow Fashion?

While we expect systemic change to occur in political forums and ministers' offices, people like Greta Thunberg and Malala demonstrate the far-reaching impact of individual action and commitment.

So although few of us may aspire to set sail for New York on a zero-carbon yacht to appeal for deeper emissions cuts at the Climate Action Summit, we can join the movement through smaller but crucial steps to decrease consumption.

When we deselect unethical fashion, we show retailers that climate change is a force to be reckoned with.

Moreover, big brands shape their strategies according to consumers' spending habits. So we have a tremendous responsibility to choose ethically in the fight against global warming.

Wear your clothes multiple times

Zara recently committed to using 100% sustainable fabric by 2025, setting a strong example around the industry.

Kim Kardashian and the Duchess of Sussex made a point of wearing the same outfit twice, a somewhat controversial move for women of this (fast) fashion calibre. However, slow fashion is sustainable and is making it okay to wear an outfit more than once.

Buy Less

Even the greenest garment uses resources for production and transport to your home, creating some environmental impact.

The root of the problem lies in our excessive consumerism: we buy 10 while our grandmothers bought 2.

We tend to think that buying new clothes will make us happy. Maybe we should reconsider some foundations of our lifestyle. 

Buy Clothes From Sustainable Brands

More and more fashion brands take into account the environmental and social impact of their production.

You can find our favourite sustainable brands in the section The Brands We Like.

We will not lie to you: the offer is still limited, and it is easier and cheaper to go to the closest shopping centre to refill your wardrobe.

But the more we demand sustainable clothing, and the more will be available- just like organic food was difficult to find 15 years ago. Today, it is available in most supermarkets.

Pricewise, yes, you will pay more for sustainable clothing than in a fast fashion shop, but now we know what lies behind those very low prices.

Nonetheless, sustainable brands will not necessarily cost more than brand-name clothing, for which we sometimes pay high prices for the image, but rarely for the quality or the sustainability.

Buy Better Quality

Because clothes have become so cheap, we no longer care as much about quality. Instead, we just buy new garments when the ones we have lost their shape or appeal.

Additionally, we have all had the experience of buying expensive clothing or a pair of shoes and facing disappointment when they already look old or have holes in them two months later.

If we stop buying poor quality, it will push brands to improve the quality of their garments. It will also allow us to keep our clothes longer, which is good for our wallets and for the environment.

Think Twice Before Throwing Out Your Clothes

Don't throw your clothes in the normal bins! Most of them consist of synthetic, non-biodegradable fibre and will just pile up in the landfill. There are other options:

  • Try to repair them. Sometimes with a bit of imagination, you can repair or even redesign a torn garment.
  • Donate your clothes to your friends, family, neighbours, or to charity.
  • Sell them on secondhand apps like Vinted.
  • Some clothes shops take back used clothes from their own brand or even from other brands.
  • Put them in the textile recycling bin. Textiles can be recycled to make new clothing.

Buy Second Hand, Swap, & Rent Clothing

Instead of buying new clothing, have a look at alternative options:

  • Secondhand shop: It's not a new concept! You can find secondhand shops everywhere in the world. Many websites and apps also offer all kinds of secondhand options ranging from the cheapest to brand-name clothes.
  • Swap clothes: These types of initiatives are popping up all over the world. Participants bring clothes that are no longer wear and exchange them for clothes they will use. This is an economical and eco-friendly way to refill your wardrobe. You can also organize it with your friends. 
  • Rent clothes: Clothes rentals is also a growing industry. This is a great option, especially for clothes you will not wear for a long time or often (baby or pregnancy clothes, party dresses). Some companies also offer a monthly fee, allowing customers to renew their wardrobe constantly.

The organization of second-hand, swapping and renting clothes usually takes place on a local level. 

Shop ethical and reduce consumption

The movement for slow fashion has morphed into several methodologies for sustainable action. While some swear by minimal consumption, others screen online stores for ethical brands.

A separate camp includes those committed wholeheartedly to clothing swaps or altering what is already hanging in their closet.

But as we crawl the internet for alternative consumption habits, it is perhaps worth reevaluating the very concept of consumption.

The fashion industry is one of many heavily polluting industries that all need to grips with their environmental impact, but it is only the tip of the iceberg.

The food we eat, the cars we drive, the countries we visit, the houses we build all demand scrutiny, from their supply chain to their afterlife.

Slow Fashion Means A Slow Lifestyle

The collapse of Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2013, where more than 1,000 garment workers died, painfully showcases how far beyond a single item the fashion industry operates.

Each piece represents a long and often untraceable journey across the globe before we're able to swipe our cards and make them ours.

Ignoring the consequences of fast fashion and skewed margins threatens to undermine the movement as a whole.

Ultimately, this calls for a lifestyle change where we accept, embrace and cherish a life of less meat, public transport, no flying and a smaller wardrobe. In many ways, it takes slow fashion and makes it a quiet life.

We must collectively push for a circular economy in a fashion where no amount of money can exempt anyone from contributing.

It requires conscious choices from the time we wake up until we go to bed.

This takes commitment, stamina and patience. It means we vote for those who pledge to change the structures of the economy as a driver for real change.

We may have to boycott brands, places and destinations we hold dear. But if we wish to see a planet fit for the next generation, action must happen not tomorrow or next week but today, at this moment, right now.

The Environmental Cost of Fashion

The fashion industry represents an important part of our economies, with a value of more than 2.5 trillion $USD and employing over 75 million people worldwide.

Over the past decades, the sector has seen spectacular growth as clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014. However, while people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than in 2000, they only kept the clothes for half as long.

While the fashion sector is booming, increasing attention has been brought to the impressive range of negative environmental impacts that the industry is responsible for.

For example, fashion production makes up 10% of humanity's carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams. What's more, 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year, and washing some types of clothes sends a significant amount of microplastics into the ocean.

Part of advocating for the slow fashion movement includes activism against fast fashion. If brands don't hear from customers, they have no reason to change their supply chains.

So don't get discouraged if you can't purchase every fancy minimalist garment; you can still do your part to push for fair fashion by using your voice.

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