As environmental consciousness gains greater currency, there is frequent talk about shifting from fast fashion to slow fashion. Before one gets around to deciding between the two, a proper understanding of the terms is necessary.
First, choosing between the two has nothing to do with style preferences. Rather, it’s all about values. These include being concerned about the environment and the survival of small businesses that promote greater employment generation and inclusive growth. If you’re concerned about the above, slow fashion will suit you.
Problems of Fast Fashion
Conversely, if one always keep abreast of the latest fashion trends and seeks to save money too, you would prefer fast fashion. Though there’s nothing wrong with saving money or being up to speed on fashion trends, these choices have hidden ecological costs.
Here’s why. Fast fashion is inexpensive clothing, designed, manufactured and sold speedily. In effect, your trendy apparel could be out of fashion within a year or so. But being cheap, it allows people to overhaul wardrobes periodically.
However, such supposedly trendy products are neither durable nor sustainable. This is why they are comparatively cheap. But the biggest issue with fast fashion is its negative footprint on the planet, the fashion fraternity, artisans, weavers and other industry workers worldwide.
For example, when you throw away that trendy trouser purchased last year, it usually ends up in some overflowing landfill. Fast fashion only keeps adding to the thrash hills in landfills. The trendy garments aren’t durable because they are produced with cheap materials and, therefore, have to be thrown away after some time. The more clothes are junked, you end up buying even more to replenish your wardrobe, triggering a sustained cycle of waste that depletes global resources and raises pollution levels from fast fashion factories.
Coined around the 1990s, the phrase ‘fast fashion’ denotes swift manufacturing of the current fashion trends that are then sold at affordable prices. Consequently, the garments move speedily from the catwalk to stores and then to consumers before being discarded the moment a new fashion trend arrives. Although these garments are not manufactured to last long, the irony is they don’t decay easily in landfills because of their high synthetic content.
Advantages of Slow Fashion
On the other hand, slow fashion is the antithesis of fast fashion since it’s about producing simple, ageless prints that don’t necessarily follow so-called modern trends. What’s more, slow fashion is based on natural materials produced ethically and sustainably, ensuring they last for years. Best of all, being biodegradable, they leave a minimal footprint on the environment.
Of course, such garments are more expensive, given their slow production time. Nonetheless, the benefits from environmental sustainability and the long life of these products compensate for this.
The other aspect is that slow fashion promotes inclusive growth since such garments are stitched by hand. The patterns are also simpler, incorporating basic silhouettes and minimalistic monochrome designs.
Coming back to fast fashion, as these products are mass produced, they are manufactured in low-cost economies where the working conditions are typically abysmal. It was such overcrowded conditions that triggered the Rana Plaza building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in April 2013. Almost 1,132 people were killed while 2,500-plus workers from five garment factories were injured.
Unlike fast fashion, slow fashion is produced in safer working conditions as most of the work is done by hand. Although many fashion-conscious buyers are aware of such issues, people ignore the ground realities so they can continue buying trendy clothes that are easier on their pocket.
Nevertheless, considering the implications of climate change, we should stop turning a blind eye to the impact of our choice of clothing on Mother Earth. If we are conscious of our societal responsibility, it’s best to embrace a sustainable lifestyle, especially when it comes to the products we use, including clothing. While reams have been written about sustainable living, we must act on our noble intentions. No doubt the transition from overly materialistic lifestyles and fast fashion towards simpler living and slow fashion won’t be easy. Nor will it happen overnight.
Yet, if we remain determined to walk on the path of sustainable living, patience, perseverance and thoughtfulness will ascertain we meet our goal sooner than later. For people intent on making the shift to sustainable, slow fashion, some practical advice can help hasten the transition.
Adopt the Slow and Steady Approach
To begin with, it’s better to take small, steady steps rather than adopting a big bang approach. Take a week at a time and then graduate to a month. Once these goals are met, make it a quarter of living sustainably. During the initial stages, make sure at least part of your purchases are based on slow fashion. A staggered approach will help you take care of the extra expenses entailed by slow fashion.
Categorise and Declutter Your Wardrobe
Note the number of fast and slow fashion garments you have. Then segregate the two. It’s possible you may have only fast fashion garments at this stage. No worries. Separate the ones that are relatively older and out of fashion. Your goal should be to replace these with slow fashion garments. Even if three or four fast fashion clothes can only be replaced with one or two slow fashion ones, it’s a good start. Decluttering or doing away with out-of-fashion apparel will not only create more space in your wardrobe but will also help clear your mind and make you feel better. Also, do some research to know the sustainable brands that sell budget-friendly garments.
Shop at Stores Selling Slow Fashion
Over the coming weeks and months, stop visiting the usual fashion hotspots. Instead, patronise outlets selling traditional ethnic wear woven by hand from local artisans. Even if these clothes are expensive, remember that their durability will make certain they are more cost-effective as they last longer. Your old fast fashion clothes could then be donated to some charity, a deserving institution or even needy friends and relatives.
For Special Occasions, Rent Fast Fashion Attire
If you need to wear fast fashion for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries or special events, renting such garments could be a more cost-effective and environment-friendly option. There are many online fashion rental stores and start-ups offering an array of the latest fashionwear for all occasions. For every occasion, you can then wear some select outfit without worrying about repeating the same. Moreover, since it is not possible to wear extravagant garments every now and then, renting is an ideal option. Where daily wear is concerned, slow fashion can remain your preferred mode of dressing.
Opt for Vintage Styles
Be it floral prints, plaids, polka and the like, vintage styles have an evergreen charm. Slow fashion clothes based on these designs could stand you in good stead for years together without losing their allure. Therefore, opt for these prints even if it seems you are going against the latest fashion trends. Be assured that you will stand out gracefully in a crowd of me-too outfits, be it at a party or an informal gathering.
Repeat Clothes and Set an Example
While fashionistas may insist clothes should not be repeated, don’t forget the impact of this ethos on the environment. Never fear going against the tide if it benefits the environment. Repeating your garments at periodic intervals will mean you spend less on buying more clothes. When you stand up for your ecological values, sooner or later people will respect this attitude as it sets one apart from the herd. If you still feel conscious about repeating an outfit, use it along with different accessories to vary your overall look. Thereby, friends won’t be sure whether it’s the same outfit or another one.
Support Ethical Designers
Today, many brands may claim they are using sustainable materials and adhering to environmentally sound practices. But dig below the surface and these claims may turn out to be superficial. Make sure the ethnic brands you support are transparent about their materials and manufacturing practices. After you have clarified the brands practising a zero-waste policy and only using organic materials, purchase all or most of your clothes from these outlets. Your support will help the outlet thrive while ensuring the uplift of local artisans and communities by augmenting their livelihood opportunities.
Spread the Good Word about Slow Fashion
If none of your peers favours slow fashion, you can be a trendsetter among family and friends by adopting it and then telling them about its benefits – ecological, social and personal. As more people take to the slow fashion movement, you will feel proud of your contribution to supporting a worthy cause that benefits both the planet and the people.
Let’s not forget, sustainability of our planet is now a non-negotiable issue given the mounting ravages of climate change. And slow fashion is one of the myriad means of supporting this societal mission.