Once upon a time, I bought all my clothes at Forever 21, Old Navy, and anywhere else I could get the latest trends for rock-bottom prices. I remember how excited I was when an H&M opened up near me, because it meant an even bigger selection of the type of clothes I liked and could afford (in my defense, I was a teenager, and my clothing budget came from my minimum wage summer job at the local pool).
Fortunately, those days are long gone. I’ve learned a lot about the fashion industry since then, from the poor working conditions, to the overuse of resources, to the pollution it causes, and the tremendous amount of waste it creates. I also like to think my sense of style has improved a bit since my teenage years (I mean really, why was I always wearing those “flared” jeans?!).
Instead of trying (and mostly failing) to keep pace with the ever-changing trends of fast fashion, I’ve turned to slow fashion. Slow fashion is a reaction against fast fashion, the cheap, trendy clothing that is rapidly mass-produced and subsequently discarded, without concern for the impact on the environment or human welfare. Slow fashion on the other hand, is a movement that encourages people to buy fewer clothes of higher quality, through sustainable processes, and with high regard for the people who make them. Slow fashion is at the intersection of ethical and environmentally-friendly fashion. It encompasses garments that are locally sourced, produced, and sold. Supporting slow fashion means selecting well-made, long-lasting garments that celebrate people and the planet.
Whether you still stop at fast fashion retailers or buy exclusively second-hand, I think there’s always room for improvement when it comes to making ethical wardrobe choices. Maybe you can wash your clothes less often, or maybe you can choose fabrics that don’t contribute to micro plastic pollution. Maybe you can simplify your wardrobe, and simply borrow special occasion garments when you need them. Whatever it may be, we all need reasons to buy less, buy better, and slow down our style. So here are the top ten reasons that I came up with:
1. Reduce waste. About 60% of all clothing ends up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being made (McKinsey, 2016). Not only that, but the total amount of fashion waste is expected to reach 148 million tons by 2030—equivalent to 17.5 kg of waste per person, per year, across the planet (Global Fashion Agenda, 2017). By buying less clothing and choosing to shop second-hand, we can encourage companies to produce fewer garments and reduce the total amount of waste created by the fashion industry.
2. Save water. It takes 2,720 liters of water to make a single cotton t-shirt–that’s the amount a person normally consumes over a three year period (Fashion Revolution, 2018). This is not something to take lightly, because water scarcity affects every continent on earth, and at the current rate of consumption, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages by 2025 (World Wildlife Fund, 2019). But once again, by buying less and choosing used, we can drastically reduce our consumption of this precious resource.
3. Lower your carbon footprint. The global apparel and footwear industry accounts for 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, or 3,990 million metric tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere each year (Quantis, 2018). Carbon dioxide is of course the major cause of climate change, and just in case there are any skeptics out there, you should also know that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (a group of 1,300 scientists from around the world) concluded that the probability that human activities over the last 50 years have warmed our planet is over 95% (IPCC, 2018). Choosing locally made clothing is just one way to reduce your carbon footprint, by eliminating the fossil fuels required to transport that little black dress all the way from China.
4. Reduce exposure to toxic chemicals. Of the 2,400 substances used in clothing manufacturing, researchers have found that approximately 30% of the identified substances pose a known risk to human health. (Elle MacArthur Foundation 2017). Cotton farmers and factory workers face long-term exposure to pesticides, toxic dyes, and other harmful chemicals that have lead to vomiting, headaches, respiratory diseases, depression, seizures, and death, just to name a few (Eco Warrior Princess, 2016). If you think this toxins don’t affect you, think again. Consumers also suffer from allergens and endrocrine-disrupting chemicals found in clothing (Mercola, 2017). And if you try washing them away, they can also pollute the water supply. Fortunately, by choosing garments made from natural or sustainable fibers and nontoxic dyes, we can mitigate these effects.
5. Support fair wages and working conditions. Many retailers keep prices low by producing their garments in factories where workers earn astoundingly low wages, labor under dangerous conditions, and face constant pressure to work faster and produce more. Global Fashion Agenda found that over 50% of workers in the fashion industry are not even paid the minimum wage in their country (2017). On the other hand, slow fashion is made by workers who are paid a living wage and treated fairly. Slow fashion also prioritizes transparency, so that consumers know where their clothes come from.
6. Support animal welfare. Animal abuse in the fashion industry is rampant; animals are tortured to make use of their fur, skin, or hide. But that’s only half the story. Many more animals are harmed when pollution from the fashion industry destroys their habitats and disrupts food chains (Mercola, 2017). Remember how those toxic chemicals from clothing production make their way into the water supply? Well, fish and other wildlife end up consuming the polluted water, which harms them, and ultimately us, as the toxins make their way up the food chain. Choose sustainably made clothing to support animal welfare, both directly and indirectly.
7. Support small businesses and independent designers. Fast fashion is generally produced by mass market retailers, whereas slow fashion favors smaller, independent labels. Smaller brands have more control over every step of the manufacturing process, and can more easily implement ethical and sustainable practices to produce high quality clothing.
8. Save money. Even if the environmental and ethical benefits of slow fashion are too abstract to comprehend, you can’t deny the cost-saving benefits of slow fashion. It might seem more expensive in the short-term to invest in high quality clothing, but these items will last far longer than fast fashion garments, provided you take care of them. Plus, if you choose second-hand clothing, you will save even more over retail prices.
9. Save time. Think about how much time you spend agonizing over what to wear. Having many items to choose from can make the decision-making process harder. It may seem counterintuitive, but having a smaller wardrobe actually means less time spent making a decision. And if all your clothes are high quality, beautifully made pieces, you really can’t go wrong no matter what you choose to wear.
10. Develop your personal style. Fashion shouldn’t be about chasing trends, but rather about cultivating your own personal sense of style. It’s about being creative, not about wearing what everyone else is wearing. Not all trends will suit every taste, or flatter every figure. That’s why your style should be uniquely suited to you. As Bea Johnson puts it in her book, Zero Waste Home, “fashion defined as trends are indeed ephemeral, expensive, and environmentally destructive; on the other hand, fashion defined as style is accessible to anyone and is limited only to one’s creativity and confidence.”
What other reasons can you think of for choosing slow fashion? I’m sure there are many, many more!
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