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Fast fashion vs slow fashion

Comparing fast fashion vs slow fashion helps us see some key differences between business as usual fashion and the way we could be doing fashion. 

One of the problems with globalized “fast” fashion is that it’s so dang complicated. A single garment can pass through hundreds of hands before reaching you, the consumer. A zipper can come from Bangladesh, while a seam can be sewn in Turkey. Our pieces of clothing are like a collage assembled in a global marketplace. 

The reason? Fast fashion brands scour the earth to find the cheapest source. The race to the bottom is one of the main problems with fast fashion. Tracking down where these sources are located and who did the work is tough. In some cases, your garments even rely on practices like modern day slavery. The materials used to make the products can destroy ecosystems. 

But this is all avoidable. “Slow” fashion addresses these problems by hitting pause. Slow fashion makers question the underlying assumptions of each decision that goes into making a garment. You can go through this process to and practice “slow” fashion habits when you shop for clothes.  

 

What is fast fashion?

 

The reason the adjective “fast” is used to describe the “bad” side of the fashion industry is because the rate of production, design and sales is indeed hyperactive. It’s quicker than ever before, and it feels like the momentum is impossible to slow down.

    • High rate of consumption: Clothing is sold so frequently that consumers have closets filled with far more cheaply produced clothing items than ever. Factors that influence shopping include: The need to share on trend outfits on social media, social pressure to always show up in something new to different events, and celebrity and influencer overconsumption habits.  
    • Short trend season: As many as 51 different fashion lines are produced in a year by fast fashion brands. They bring the new items onto the retail shopping floors and share the new lines online. Oftentimes they modify high fashion styles for a broader consumer base. Sometimes, they are also influenced by street fashion or “grassroots” fashion trends shared online. 
  • Quick decision-making: Fast fashion brands wield enormous power and they can quickly grant or take away contracts from manufacturers who compete in a race to the bottom for the lowest price.  
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    Key fast fashion facts

    Fast fashion is “bad” because cheap clothing is made in a wasteful, unfair, and environmentally damaging way. Here are some problems with fast fashion by the numbers: 

  • “93% of brands surveyed by the Fashion Checker aren’t paying garment workers a living wage” (Fashion Checker).  
  • In other words, clothing production is outsourced to cheap manufacturers overseas that exploit workers.  

  • “Washing, solvents, and dyes used in manufacturing are responsible for one-fifth of industrial water pollution” (McKinsey)
  • Efficient use of resources to make clothes is not common.  

  • “The fashion industry is responsible for 8% of carbon emissions” (UN Environment)
  • Garment transportation produces a big carbon footprint and the industry’s manufacturing itself contributes to climate change. 

  • “The average American throws away around 81 pounds of clothing yearly” (Saturday Evening Post)
  • Fast fashion brands sell clothes at a low price point for consumers, but the clothes aren’t worn long and end up in the landfill. 

  • “More than $500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing underutilization and the lack of recycling” (Ellen MacArthur Foundation)
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    Fast fashion clothing is considered disposable (by both brands and shoppers) 

  • “As much as 15% of fabric ends up trashed in the process of making clothes.” (Fast Company)
  • The fast fashion industry creates a lot of textile waste. 

  • “Fast fashion brands like Fashion Nova, Boohoo, Revolve, Pretty Little Thing and Forever 21 all score less than 10% on the Fashion Transparency Index” (Fashion Transparency Index)
  • The supply chains of fast fashion brands are hard to trace, complex, and constantly changing. 

    Don’t worry. Fast fashion isn’t the only choice available. Actually, the way we shop can make a huge difference. This is where slow fashion comes in.

     

    What is slow fashion? 

     

    Slow fashion is a movement that counteracts the harms of the fast fashion business model. Slow fashion hopes to solve many of the problems associated with fast fashion by critiquing and adjusting how clothing is made. Even if you’re not a clothing producer, you can still keep these principles in mind when you either make or buy clothes from any label or brand.  

    Here are some ways slow fashion differs from fast fashion: 

  • A smaller scale business model 
  • Few “major” brands are known for their slow fashion model. This is why you’ll usually find smaller fashion brands operating with slow fashion principles. 

  • A “traceable” supply chain
  •  A clothing supply chain is made up of all of the different suppliers of the parts of a garment. Having a simpler supply chain means there’s just a few steps from the production of the garment’s parts and its assembly to the end user. Manufacturers with a traceable supply chain know how each of those parts are produced and they can actually guarantee there is no unfair labor or environmentally harmful practices used to make the garment’s components. 

  • Fair labor standards based on independent verification
  • When corporations say they have fair labor practices, it’s important to check whether this is their own claim, or if it’s backed up by a third-party verifying organization. Without confirmation from an independent source, there’s little guarantee that fair labor is being used. Unfair labor practices in the garment industry are so common, it’s important for routine checks to be made at factories by independent auditors. 

  • Environmentally friendly materials 
  • Slow fashion is made of fabrics that are better for the environment and help reduce waste. Some examples are recycled fabric, unused fabric from factories (known as dead stock), organic natural fibers, and thrifted fabric remnants or pieces of clothing.

  • Energy and resource efficiency 
  • Slow fashion manufacturers pay attention to how much resources they use. They are usually conscious of the ways fresh water can be preserved in manufacturing processes. 

  • Prioritizing local production
  • Slow fashion is usually made in a small region without long transportation trips between the steps in production. 

  • Higher cost reflects the value of higher quality materials and labor standards
  • It’s true that slow fashion is often more expensive than fast fashion. This is because the production process costs more as a result of correcting the exploitative practices of fast fashion companies. 

  • Fewer pieces bought and sold, so both the shopper expects the clothes to last longer
  • Having long-lasting clothes is a gift because you can have so many more memories associated with a special garment. Having this kind of appreciation for your clothes also makes an impact by reducing landfill waste. Slow fashion clothing makers create items that are unique or highly durable. They’re meant to last a long time. 

  • Clothing can be recycled, reused, resold or repurposed
  • Since slow fashion produces high quality items, it can easily be resold or used in other fashion upcycling projects. 

    What are some slow fashion brands?

    • Reformation
    • Amour Vert
    • Eileen Fisher
    • Alternative Apparel
    • Re/done
    • Stella McCartney
    • Cuyana

    How to shop the slow fashion way

    If you want to practice slow fashion in your own life, here are some ways to start: 

    • Buy clothes that you will love for a long time. 
    • Buy clothes from natural fibers and materials that have a lower environmental impact than polyester or leather.  
    • Keep track of how many times you wear a piece of clothing. Aim for wearing a single garment 100 times before letting it go. 
    • Buy pre-loved clothing to extend the life of a garment. 
    • Do research on the brands you shop from. 
    • Normalize wearing clothes for a longer time by gifting thrift, photographing yourself in older clothes and explaining your clothing choices to friends. 

     

    Fast fashion vs slow fashion recap

     

    Fast fashion:

    • Large retail stores with major brand names  
    • Cheap prices
    • Trends change fast
    • Low labor standards
    • Lacks transparency in supply chain
    • High CO2 emissions
    • High water and energy use
    • High water pollution from chemical dyes
    • Synthetic, environmentally harmful materials
    • Materials are not recycled and difficult to recycle
    • High textile waste
    • Encourages wasteful consumption (clothing worn once or twice)

     

    Slow fashion: 

    • Smaller labels and output
    • Usually higher price points
    • Classic, unique, lasting styles
    • Fair labor standards
    • Transparency in how the clothes are made
    • Lower CO2 emissions
    • Lower water and energy use
    • Use of natural dyes and pigments
    • Use of natural materials like linen, organic cotton, Tencel, etc.

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