Fast vs Slow: Why Caring is Fashionable

About a year and a half ago, I found myself in a Youtube hole learning about the concept of a zero-waste lifestyle which inevitably touched on the topic of conscious consumption including ethical and sustainable fashion. After some time spent reading and listening, I decided to take the plunge, claim some social responsibility and implement a few changes in my life. I wanted to be more conscious of the brands I invested in and at the very least research who manufactured my clothes. Naturally, I came across terms like “fast fashion” vs “slow fashion”.

What is Fast Fashion?

“Inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.”

Fashion wasn’t always fast. Before the industrial revolution, we needed to source materials such as wool and leather which would then be prepared, treated and woven to make our clothes. But once we were introduced to new technology that sped up production, starting as small as the sewing machine, clothing could be produced much more easily and much faster than ever before. This “efficiency” became the ethos of fashion in the 1990s and 2000s, where low-cost fashion was being pumped out at a higher rate to keep up with the emerging trends. In an environment where supply and demand were at a constant high, pressured into meeting these, retailers cut costs and as a result not only did this lead to unethical practices but also a much more significant carbon footprint. For instance, polyester is one of the most common materials to be used in the manufacturing of fast fashion. It is cheap and versatile but it is also a “synthetic petroleum-based fiber, meaning it is made from a carbon-intensive non-renewable resource.”

Why does it matter?

Image by Mitch Blunt via New York Times

Image by Mitch Blunt via New York Times

With these environmental and ethical corners being cut, the fast fashion industry has become the second largest polluter of clean water after agriculture in the whole world. Furthermore, producing these garments requires climate-changing emissions. Global textile production produces 1.2bn tonnes of carbon emissions a year - more than international flights and maritime shipping. More than 70 million barrels of oil are used to make polyester each year. And not only does making polyester negatively impact the environment in a huge way, but the fabric isn't biodegradable, meaning when it gets thrown out, it ends up in landfills where it takes over 200 years to decompose.

Even if retailers were to produce clothes made out of natural fabrics as opposed to the cheap and toxic materials, the rate at which fashion is demanded is staggeringly high that the cotton required would require “enormous quantities of water and pesticides in developing countries. This results in risks of drought [which create] huge amounts [of] stress on water basins and other environmental concerns biodiversity and soil quality, competition for resources between companies and local communities“.

Another issue with garments being produced as fast as they are being demanded, this means that more and more clothes are being disposed of- in spring 2017, 235 million pieces of clothing were thought to have been sent to landfill in the UK alone! The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee found that:

  • British shoppers buy far more new clothes than any nation in Europe

  • People are buying twice as many items of clothing as they did a decade ago

  • Fish in the seas are eating synthetic fibres dislodged in the wash

Despite people constantly turning a blind eye to the environmental impacts, the human costs are even worse. Those who produce these clothes have been found to work in some of the most dangerous, toxic environments whether it be sweatshops or factories. 80% of garment workers are women and forced and child labour is widespread. They work long hours including forced overtime in awful conditions for notoriously low wages. “Further down the supply chain, there are the farmers who may work with toxic chemicals that can have devastating impacts on their physical and mental health”. So many of these workers are not protected and are even criminalised for speaking out against their horrific conditions and breach of their basic human rights which inevitably results in a cycle of misconduct.

What is Slow Fashion? And What is Ethical Fashion?

“Slow fashion, the alternative to fast fashion and part of what has been called the "slow movement", advocates for principles similar to the principles of slow food, such as good quality, clean environment, and fairness for both consumers and producers.”

“Ethical Fashion concerns human and animal rights. It is about fair treatment and respect for the people employed to create the clothing. It also touches on providing people with equal opportunities.”

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Embracing the values of the slow movement and the method of slow consumption allows you to take control of what you spend your money on and what you value as necessary. Differentiating between necessity and desire is an important component. Eco and ethical fashion concern the impact of clothing production on the environment, but mindfulness for your own actions allows you to be a part of a healthier system of recycling, reusing and reducing. Several brands are ecologically minded by implementing these three values to their production, they also source local materials and resources to create their product, thus reducing the environmental impact of transporting materials. “It also involves manufacturing techniques that are eco-friendly, including clothing production with new sustainable fabric materials, but it also includes items made from reclaimed fabric, secondhand pieces, and vintage.”

What can you do to help?

Fairtrade notes that “one of the most effective ways of changing the way our clothes are made, is to make sure your favourite brand knows that you want your clothes to be fairly made. Send an email, write a letter, take part in Fashion Revolution’s social media campaign – if we all demand fairer pay and safe working conditions for cotton workers and growers, companies will sit up, take notice and change the way they do business.”

I started off by introducing small changes into my life. I sorted through my whole closet to see what I wanted to keep, donate or recycle. I didn’t throw anything away, I would repurpose them instead. “Instead of waiting around for popular brands and stores to embrace eco-friendly practices, consumers can reduce the environmental cost of fast fashion by opting for recycled clothing at consignment shops or choosing eco-friendly fabric made from natural and organic fibers”. Before you stop buying from fast fashion brands and start looking into every single sustainable, ethical brand there is, start by looking at your own buying behaviour instead. Challenge your own attitudes. Yes, think critically about the brands your investing in, but also think critically about what you actually need. Consider buying second-hand, or closet swapping with friends. There are campaigns by Fashion Revolution who launched #whomademyclothes? And you can also start following like-minded individuals on social media or read books on sustainable and ethical living. The options are honestly endless, but

“most importantly, learn and talk to discover your own opinions and solutions about it. Don’t let it be something you block out because it’s difficult or makes you feel ashamed”.



Article by Yaz Omran