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What is Slow Fashion?

October 26, 2021

The word “slow” might get a bad reputation, especially with trends towards things being faster, whether it be cars or the internet, being prevalent for the longest time. Still, in the case of fashion, slow might be better. Slow fashion exists in direct contrast to the culture of fast fashion, and is a great way to ethically interact with the world around us. So take a breath, feel free to slow down, and learn about this fashion movement that’s essential for the 21st Century.

What is Fast Fashion? 

Before getting into what slow fashion is, it’s important to fully understand what it wants to separate itself from. Despite the catchy name, fast fashion is a trend that’s wholly negative both for the individual, and for the planet as a whole. While mass production has made numerous wonderful things possible, it’s also led to the cheap manufacturing of on-trend clothes built to last a season, then be discarded once they outlive their time in the spotlight or the natural lifespan of the garment. 

Fast fashions has its origins in the year 1864, when the invention of the sewing machine made making clothes significantly easier and significantly less costly.  In the decades to follow, factories where seamstresses made clothing in batches and were historically underpaid began to pop up. The first major incident of the fast fashion industry harming workers came during the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, where a fire started within the factory while workers were blocked by employer practices from exiting the building. Nearly 150 individuals, nearly all women immigrants, lost their lives. 

The next evolution in fast fashion came just after World War II, when mass standardized production of practical clothes became the norm. This would lead to an ultimately greater acceptance of factory-made clothes over individually tailored designs. Fast fashion hasn’t always been the issue that it is today, but within the last twenty years, where increased digital presence of brands, faster fashion cycles, and the ease with which clothing can be bought online, brands have sought to put out clothing in larger batches at higher rates.

Fast Fashion: The Negatives 

Fast Fashion has a variety of negative traits associated with it, least of all the following:

  • Pollution: Fast fashion manufacturing is the biggest environmental polluter after the oil industry. Not only does the process of making the garments themselves often cause harm to the environment, but because these articles of clothing are not built to last they often wind up in the garbage or in landfills after quickly deteriorating. When these items are made out of fabrics which aren’t biodegradable, which is most of the time, it translates to a constant stream of ocean pollution. 
  • Workers’ Health: Fast fashion companies are only able to produce in the quantities and sell at the cost they do because of corner-cutting throughout the process. Many times they export labor overseas, where they are able to financially exploit their workers by paying substandard wages and maintaining health standards that wouldn’t pass muster in many other places. Look into any given fast fashion company, and it’s easy to find horror stories of workers injured on the job, or communities wracked by the ill effects of emissions from factories. 
  • Your Wardrobe: The next issue with fast fashion is less universally damaging than the previous two, but still very real. When you buy clothes designed to last a season or two and then fade, it means you have to regularly change out clothes in your wardrobe to adjust to the fact that you’ve invested in a company who thrives on churn. This causes a higher level of consumption, which in turn contributes to both pollution and the continued function of fast fashion brands
  • Ethicality: Fast fashion doesn’t take into consideration the workers who build their designs, the consumers who purchase them, or the planet whose resources are used to build them. This adds up to a wholly unethical business model. 

Slow Fashion: Back to the Classics 

Fast fashion is a modern problem, which slow fashion seeks to solve through returning to classic solutions. In the last decade, an increasing awareness of the individual when it comes to how we interact with the world around us has led to people asking for more from their fashion companies, and for fashion designers to ask more of themselves. It’s little wonder that a significant number of searches relating to fast fashion question its ethicality and environmental impact.

Prior to the industrial revolution, wholly new clothes were less easy to come by, as designers and manufacturers had to make clothing individually, often to the specific designations of the buyer. These garments couldn’t simply be bought and tossed and replaced in annual cycles: Clothing during this time was truly built to last and be repaired over the course of several years, only replaced or added to when genuinely necessary. Rather than have a whole closet full of pieces which individually were not built to last for a long period of time, a smaller amount of garments made to survive both in terms of style and design made it so people would be able to clothe themselves with less environmental impact, and ultimately less personal financial impact. 

Slow fashion seeks to return to these classic trends. Rather than spewing out a constant array of mass-produced new equipment in a bid to wholly encapsulate what’s trendy at one particular moment, slow fashion brands produce smaller quantities of goods with a higher standard for quality. Next up, we’ll be getting into some of the specific standards slow fashion brands tend to have.

Slow Fashion Characteristics 

Every brand is different, but slow fashion as a whole has some unifying characteristics. These aren’t solely aesthetic ones, as slow fashion has more to do with the manufacturing and design process than the stylistic fundamentals underlying specific lines, but include a wide variety of benefits ranging from the way it helps the environment to the way it helps the individual.

Pollution 

Every piece of fabric, no matter how ethically it’s sourced, has its downsides. Cotton requires a massive amount of water to be produced, wool requires sheep to be sustained, and many synthetic fibers require chemical processes. Rather than haphazardly engage in these practices without any consideration for environmental impact, slow fashion at its core has a significantly undersized environmental impact compared to that of fast fashion  

Smaller Batch Sizes

Slow fashion and streetwear meet in the common ground that both utilize small batch sizes for subtly different purposes. On a stylistic front, by buying clothing made in small quantities you are ensuring that your fashion is more personal than that produced in constant factory motions from fast fashion brands. Small quantities of each product also allows more individual attention to be paid to each garment, marking an increase in quality and an overall reduction of waste in the manufacturing process. 

Wardrobe Standards 

Slow fashion brands often prioritize versatility over garments that only really work with highly specialized outfits. For that reason, many brands give offerings that fit in nicely in the realm of closet staples, allowing you to easily integrate them into your regular attire. As an added benefit, having a wide variety of slow fashion staples in your closet makes it easier to select new gear to pair with it with confidence that you’ll be able to wear both for years to come.

Made to Last 

It used to be that most people knew how to sew in order to repair garments, and while many would agree that this is still an important skill to know, widespread sewing knowledge has begun to fall by the wayside. Fast fashion brands are rarely made to be repaired as they see use, whereas even if you don’t personally have skill at repairing garments, slow fashion brands are often able to be fixed and altered as needed over time. 

There are several ways to check if a brand is truly made to last, but one easy way to check when it comes to formalwear is whether or not the shirt, pants, or jacket comes with extra buttons. If there are extra buttons included, it means the designer intended the piece to be repaired over time, regardless of what regular wear and tear does.   

Locally Made 

If you have an American brand whose items are also made in the USA, odds are you may have stumbled onto a slow fashion brand if they meet these other criteria. By sourcing their designs locally, brands show a commitment not only to the community around them, but also directly showcase a stand against the sweatshop practices which give fast fashion brands a bad reputation. Some designers, like Daniel Patrick, even hand make a variety of garments to truly give individual attention to every piece. 

While not every company that outsources its manufacturing engages in abusive business practices (many European countries are well-vaunted for high standards when it comes to labor laws), a quick google search can often be enough to analyze the base practices of a brand. 

Quality in Mind 

If a fashion brand seeks to create gear that will truly last, both in terms of stylistic longevity and durability under wear, they have to seek out quality materials. These include special fabrics like linens, jersey materials, as well as unique selections of blended fabrics to improve the overall performance of a garment. The greater individual quality of garments is only made possible thanks to a dedication to eschew mass-produced, fast fashion. 

Many times, slow fashion brands also have a greater personal touch than fast fashion brands. Here, individual designers truly make themselves felt in influencing the overall direction and purpose of a brand. 

Ethicality 

If nothing else is to be gained from slow fashion, ethicality is by far the most important fundamental of this design style. Slow fashion rejects pollution, exploitation, and churn, in favor of the idea that fashion, beyond being an external expression of an individual's style, also has an obligation towards the workers who make it possible and the planet whose materials we source to make it a reality.  

The Cost of Slow Fashion

Slow fashion does have one slight drawback, that in the long run is really only a negative depending on point of view. Slow fashion brands do tend to cost more than fast fashion brands, for many of the reasons which makes it so desirable. 

A high degree of attention to ethical practices by refusing to cut corners to cut costs, smaller batch sizes, and greater quality of materials all add up to create higher costs. By compensating workers well, improving each garment, as well as creating less of each individual garment, it takes a higher price point for designers to remain in business. However, by reducing the amount of clothing an individual needs by producing designs made to last, slow fashion brands also reduce the extent to which an individual needs to shop and upgrade their wardrobe. All in all, the slight financial cost increase of individual slow fashion garments is offset by an overall commitment to sustainability, and reducing the amount everyone needs to consume.

In the final analysis, slow fashion brings personality, individuality, and ethicality back to mainstream fashion in a move that’s long overdue. Whether you’ve been invested in the moral compass of the movement or are newly introduced, we hope it makes you think more about what you’re really getting when you buy a new piece of gear. 

 

Sources:

Fashion History Lesson: The Origins of Fast Fashion I Fashionista

The Negative Effects of Fast Fashion I Borgen Magazine

What Is Slow Fashion? I Good On You


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