The global fashion industry has been a major contributor to environmental degradation and climate change. But an increasingly welcome movement known as “slow fashion” is rising to challenge the unsustainable practices of the fast fashion industry.
If you’re looking to live more sustainably, and do more than just recycle and use less plastic, welcome to the cause!
Slow fashion encourages people to shop more environmentally friendly and make their wardrobes more sustainable. It pushes the notion of quality over quantity, sustainability, and ethical production practices.
“Slow fashion is about designing, producing, consuming, and living better. Slow fashion is not time-based but quality-based (which has some time components). Slow is not the opposite of fast – there is no dualism – but a different approach in which designers, buyers, retailers, and consumers are more aware of the impacts of products on workers, communities, and ecosystems.”
~Kate Fletcher – slow fashion consultant, professor, and activist
Several initiatives have cropped up in the past decade to make the fashion industry more sustainable. Slow fashion brands, for example, focus on designing and producing clothing with eco-friendly materials and supply chains. The slow food movement–started in 1986 by Carl Petrini–has also impacted fashion: many of its principles, such as seasonality, locality, and quality, have been adopted by the slow fashion industry.
Additionally, many brands and corporations have begun focusing more on sustainably sourced materials, such as organic cotton and recycled fabrics, which are far less harmful to the environment than conventional materials used in fast-fashion items.
If we want to effect long-lasting, positive environmental change and think about our future, it’s time to have a meaningful conversation with ourselves and our closet.
So without further ado, let’s explore how we can shop more sustainably and make our wardrobes more eco-friendly.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I might get a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you choose to make a purchase through any of these links. Please read the full disclosure for more information.
Tips for Easily Implementing Slow Fashion
We all know how exciting it is to go shopping for the latest outfits. Whether looking for a new pair of heels, a dress for a date, or a couple of new sweaters to get all cozy in, we want to stick with the latest fashion trends, so it doesn’t look like we’re ten years behind.
But have you ever stopped to think about the origin of the clothes you buy? Well, it’s time to start.
Look For Organic Cotton
One of the most impactful changes you can make, without sacrificing style, is shopping more consciously and looking for clothes made from organic cotton.
Organic cotton is a natural, renewable fiber free of toxic chemicals like lead, formaldehyde, and phthalates, pesticides, and fertilizers. This can be harmful to your health and the environment every time these clothes are washed.
And bonus! It also happens to be softer and more breathable than conventional cotton, making it a fantastic choice for everyday wear because it’s more comfortable and lasts longer.
Additionally, organic cotton uses less water than traditional cotton during growth, mainly relying on rain and groundwater. And let’s face it: most water used on crops is already polluted with fertilizers and pesticides. But organic cotton skips all that crap.
By investing in organic cotton, you can reduce your environmental impact, better protect your health and the future of the planet, and effortlessly implement slow fashion into your wardrobe.
Make sure to look for certifications like USDA Certified Organic, GOTS, Certified B Corporation, Fair Trade, and FSC Certified.
Look for Other Sustainable Fabrics
Hey, I know it’s not likely that every article of clothing you own will be made of organic cotton, so here is a list of some alternatives for when the aforementioned fabric is not available, or simply not the right fabric for the job.
- Recycled cotton. Created by reusing textile waste, such as fabric scraps, clothing, and yarns. Good because it uses significantly less water, energy, and land than traditional cotton production. Look for certifications like GRS, RCS, and OEKA-TEX so you know it’s cleanly sourced.
- Recycled polyester. Made from recycled bottles and renewable bamboo.
- Organic hemp. Highly beneficial to the soil and environment, is carbon negative (absorbs CO2), and uses less water than cotton. Also look for standard certifications like USDA Certified Organic, GOTS, Organic Content Standard, or OEKA-TEX.
- Organic Linen. Very similar to hemp.
- Cork. Popular for shoes, bags, and belts.
- Piñatex. The wave of the vegan leather future. Made from pineapple plant fibers and utilizes little to no water during production.
These are just some examples of materials that are less toxic and more ecologically sound. The best fabrics are those that avoid toxins, chemicals, and pesticides.
Buy Fewer Clothes
Many consumers have the habit of impulsively buying the hottest and latest clothing items, only to never wear them again. In one of her books, wardrobe consultant and clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner says most of us only wear 20% of what’s in our wardrobe.
I know I’m guilty of that, so there’s no judgment here. But to decrease your consumption and help make a more sustainable wardrobe, start by trying to buy less.
Before making that purchase, really consider how often you will wear the item. And if you don’t think it’s something you’ll wear on the regular, put it back.
Take good care of your clothes by avoiding frequent washes, using a delicates bag when warranted, making sure it’s set to “cold” in order to prevent fading, and switching to a gentle cycle.
Not only will this help reduce the amount of clothing that winds up in landfills, but it’s also a better way to get more life out of clothes with fewer trips to the store. The eco-fashion world has taken this mantra to heart by encouraging shoppers to invest in more quality pieces that will last longer.
Focus on Quality, not Quantity
Sometimes, it’s easy to get tempted by fast fashion brands offering affordable prices. Sure, these items may look attractive at the moment, but more often than not, they’re of lesser quality and will wear out quickly.
Investing in quality pieces instead of focusing on quantity and trends will make your wardrobe “healthier” in the long run.
I’ve owned the silk blouse below since the late 80’s. It’s one of the few pieces I’ve managed to keep over the years, and I absolutely love it–but don’t wear it too often–and I get compliments on it when I do.
Quality garments made from more durable materials really can last years, even decades, if you take care of them.
Investing in good materials also means you’ll be more likely to repair an item instead of ditching it at the first sign of wear and tear, reducing more landfill waste. Steer away from those cheaper knockoffs, and invest with confidence in real quality pieces.
The higher cost of quality items is often worth it when you factor in their longer lifespan.
Support Slow Fashion Brands
Slow fashion brands prioritize smarter production and transparent practices, so if you want to green up your wardrobe one step further, why not shop from a slow fashion brand?
Buying from a slow fashion brand means supporting their initiatives for sustainability, such as reduced water usage, fair wages, ethical work environment, and eco-friendly materials.
The following are just a handful of companies that focus on slow fashion, and I support these brands because of their push towards ethical practices:
- Made Trade
- Fair Indigo
- Christy Dawn
- Girlfriend Collective
- For Days
You can also be confident that whatever you purchase is made with greater attention to detail, as slow fashion brands prioritize quality over quantity. Plus, many of these brands have a great selection of timeless pieces you can wear season after season without looking outdated.
Resisting the urge to upgrade your wardrobe with other brands that don’t operate ethically or practice transparency is a wonderful way to support slow fashion brands that are leading the charge for more sustainable fashion.
The ethical fashion industry is thriving, and there’s never been a better time to support it.
If you’re fond of designer wear and high-ticket items, why not consider buying them secondhand?
Shopping secondhand is the easiest way to get more ethical and sustainable pieces without breaking the bank. Whether you head to your local thrift shop in search of vintage gems or explore the convenience of online secondhand merchants, you can find amazing deals on items you would never have been able to purchase new.
Additionally, thrifting saves money and allows for more creativity and one-of-a-kind opportunities.
Reuse is one of the pillars of sustainability, which is why it’s important to steer your shopping habits toward buying pre-loved items instead of new clothes every time you need something new.
Support Small Businesses
When it comes to switching to a more sustainable wardrobe, a relatively simple way to make a positive impact is by supporting small businesses that utilize earth-friendly materials like the ones listed above.
It’s a win-win because you get unique, quality clothes made sustainably while boosting the local area’s economy and supporting a small business owner.
New startups are also making a big difference in the fashion industry. Investing in small businesses can help support independent makers and creative entrepreneurs who create with ethical principles and sustainability at their core.
Shopping from small, sustainable startups is one of the best ways to ensure that what you wear is made with fairness, respect for people and the planet, and a passion for high-quality items.
Ignore Social Media
We all know the social media industry is a major influencer in fashion trends. But it’s time to start recognizing the negative impact of fast fashion on our planet and unfollow influencers, brands, and corporations that promote unsustainable practices.
From micro-influencers to megastars, your favorite celebrities may be promoting brands that aren’t so eco-friendly or ethical. Don’t fall into the trap of buying clothes just because a popular influencer is wearing them.
Many of these items are made using unsustainable practices, ultimately flying in the face of your sustainable wardrobe mission.
If an individual or brand isn’t championing sustainability, don’t follow them. Shop smarter by purchasing pieces from designers actively trying to reduce their carbon footprint. There’s nothing wrong with trendy pieces as long as they’ve been ethically sourced.
Consider Renting, Not Buying, For a Special Occasion
If you’re like me, there have probably been occasions you’ve needed a special outfit for a party or once-in-a-lifetime event. You frantically scramble through your wardrobe only to discover … you’ve got nothing that’ll fit the occasion.
You’re only options are to buy something new you may or may not wear again, borrow, or …
By renting designer items and accessories, you can stay on-trend at a fraction of the price, avoiding wasting your hard-earned cash and feeling anxious when that same dress starts appearing everywhere on Insta. There’s also the environmental bonus when you’re done with a rental item, you return it in its original condition, and fashion rental companies will take care of the rest.
The awesome win-win with this approach is that you can wear something fashionable, new, and unique item every time you get the urge, feeling fashionable and guilt-free.
There are more and more companies embracing this approach, Nuuly being one that caters to those who want to rent fashionable outfits on the regular.
For $88 per month, you get to rent and keep 6 outfits for 30 days. Shipping and returns are included in the monthly fee, and you can cancel or pause at any time. Seems simple enough. Look at some of their cute options below.
My only bugaboo with clothing rental companies is that some of these outfits come from non-sustainable brands and companies. But I think it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of renting a non-sustainable brand from a sustainable company that promotes reusing and repurposing instead of fast fashion trends.
There are other rental companies out there like Armoire, Vince Unfold, Gwynnie Bee, and Fashion Pass. You can choose casual or formal, and they all have different plans, some allowing unlimited rentals and others having limits.
This whole concept of clothing rental is fairly new to me, and I’m thinking of putting one month’s membership from one of these companies on my birthday wish list. It just looks too fun to NOT try out.
Hunt Down Timeless, Not Trendy
The fashion industry is constantly churning out new trends and collections, to the point that it’s barely possible to keep up. To me, it’s highly unethical consumerism. You get the latest and greatest in a new look and before you know it, everyone has moved on to something else.
But just because a dress or “look” isn’t trending anymore doesn’t mean it’s no longer in style. In fact, a lot of new designs that seem to be “trending” are in fact considered timeless pieces.
To find timeless clothes, it’s a bit nuanced and hard to put into exact words but look for something simple and streamlined as opposed to over the top, like a cashmere sweater or a tweed suit, some bootleg or wide-leg pants or jeans (not bellbottoms), turtlenecks, diamond and pearl earrings and necklaces, etc.
Trendy fashion vs. Timeless fashion
You can definitely go for the elevated look too. Think clean and sophisticated, something you’d be proud to wear around your grandma or to a mixed family gathering. Neutral tones are a safe bet, as are vintage items because by very definition they are timeless.
Make Your Own Clothes
If you own a sewing machine or know a tailor, why not have your own outfits made by hand?
You control the labor practices, the amount of waste, and the type of fabric you use. Making your own clothes is a highly sustainable practice and one I don’t see talked about too much.
Slow Fashion Frequently Asked Questions
When did slow fashion come about?
The slow fashion movement can be traced back to the late 2000s when brands and consumers became more aware of their impact on the fashion industry. The slow fashion movement has been gaining traction in recent years as more people want to buy better quality clothes that last longer and are made from sustainable materials that won’t pollute the environment.
Before the industrial revolution, most clothes were made to last. But now, it’s a churn-and-burn motto aimed at promoting as much as possible and selling whatever it takes to make the most profit, environment and people be damned.
Big brands like H&M, Forever 21, and Anthropologie (a.k.a. Urban Outfitters) have been at the forefront of fast fashion and have immensely influenced many shoppers’ habits. However, with the emergence of slow fashion brands that are working to promote sustainability and transparency, there are now alternatives that allow us to buy more sustainably and ethically produced clothing.
What is fast fashion vs. slow fashion?
Every day, our closets are filled with the latest fashion trends that come and go faster than we can even keep track. Believe it or not, it’s estimated that an alarming portion of our garments will be worn one time–yes, ONE TIME–before being discarded.
This constant buying cycle is fueled by the ever-growing fast fashion industry, which churns out low-cost clothing made from cheap materials with questionable labor practices.
Fast fashion advocates awful environmental and social impact, pushing consumers to buy more than they need at the expense of workers and our planet.
On the other hand, slow fashion is about creating quality, sustainable pieces that will last longer and minimize the fashion industry’s environmental impact. The slow fashion movement concerns sustainability, ethical production where workers are treated fairly, and conscious consumption.
The core principles of this movement focus on quality over quantity, using alternative, natural, and organic materials such as cotton, linen, or hemp while avoiding toxic fabrics like polyester, rayon, acrylic, and nylon. It also encourages local production, with a greater emphasis on ethical labor practices throughout the entire supply chain.
Why is slow fashion better for the planet?
Slow fashion is better for the planet because it focuses on cleaner production, higher quality non-toxic items, and positive work environments, reducing the environmental impact of the fashion industry.
Let’s look at some interesting albeit scary fashion facts:
- Fashion accounts for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, and 20% of the world’s wastewater, making it the second biggest contributor to pollution.
- More than half of all clothing, and 85% of all textiles, wind up in landfills.
- 35% of all microplastics in the ocean come from synthetic clothing like polyester and nylon
- Forced child labor is often used in the fashion industry, particularly in other countries like Argentina, Brazil, China, and the Philippines.
- It takes 2,000 gallons of water to make one pair of jeans.
I could go on and on but I think you get the drift.
Slow fashion encourages purchasing from brands that use eco-friendly manufacturing and materials, such as organic cotton, recycled materials, and natural dyes, which are better for the environment.
Additionally, slow fashion often focuses on ethical production, meaning that workers are paid fair wages in safe working conditions. By avoiding traditional fast fashion, you can reduce your environmental footprint and help improve working conditions worldwide.