Fast fashion vs. slow fashion: The impact of the choices we make

fast fashion vs. slow fashion

The terms “fast fashion” and “slow fashion” get thrown around quite frequently. But what do they really mean? What is this “fast fashion vs. slow fashion” all about? I’ve experienced both, and I’m here to break down their similarities and differences so you can make the best decision for your lifestyle. Choosing between fast and slow fashion isn’t just about style: it’s about values.

Do you want to help the environment? Do you want to support small businesses? Maybe you just want to save money (that’s okay, too!). In this guide, I’ll give you all the information you need to make a wise decision that aligns with your personal values.

Fast fashion

In today’s world, it seems like everyone can be a celebrity. And if you can’t make it as a celebrity, you can certainly dress like one. Fast fashion has made it easier than ever for consumers to buy trendy clothes, wear them while they’re popular, and toss them when the next season arrives.

Online stores like Zara and Forever 21 offer fashionable clothes at affordable prices. It might be convenient, but fast fashion comes at a price. And if we’re not careful, we might all end up paying for it.

What is fast fashion?

Essentially, fast fashion is cheap clothing that’s designed, produced, and sold at breakneck speed. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t say I like saving up for months to buy that expensive purse that’s not going to be cool anymore at the end of the year. In the past, fast fashion allowed me to jump on the latest trends without destroying my budget for the month. In fact, it’s one of my favorite ways to go shopping on a budget.

Fashion trends come and go, and in today’s digital age, the market is more unpredictable than ever. Clothing styles want to stay on top of the trends by churning out popular styles as quickly as possible. They scope out the hottest designs at fashion shows, come up with their own versions that use cheaper materials, and make them available on their website. Consumers buy them and wear them while they’re still popular. When the clothes fall out of fashion, people can throw them away or add them to the growing pile in the back of their closet.

fast fashion 1
Photo: Nathan Dumlao

In the past, the hottest styles were inaccessible to ordinary consumers. But fast fashion is so cheap that anyone can afford to refresh their wardrobe multiple times a year. Fast fashion keeps prices low by using cheap materials that don’t stand up to long-term use. Most consumers don’t plan on wearing them for more than a few months anyway, so they’re not concerned with long-term use. These clothes are here for a second, then gone in the blink of an eye, already replaced by the next big thing on the market.

Sounds pretty hectic, right? It’s a lot to take in, but it helps people stay on top of the latest trends. For example, when I went clothes shopping last month, I simply hopped onto the Fashion Nova website and bought a few pieces that looked interesting. I already knew they were trendy without scrolling through Instagram. It’s incredibly convenient, but I won’t pretend that it doesn’t come with its downsides.

Sounds intriguing? Before we compare fast fashion vs. slow fashion, let’s dig into the world of fast fashion a little deeper.

The strategy behind fast fashion

If you’re an influencer, you don’t have time to wait around. You want to get your hands on the latest fashion trends the instant they appear on the runway. That’s the strategy behind fast fashion. Instead of waiting months for a cheaper alternative to appear on the market, consumers can grab the hottest looks within days of their release. They can dress like their favorite celebrities and mimic popular influencers. Even high fashion looks from major brands are finally within their reach. Consumers can pounce on the trends while they’re hot and jump from one look to another without emptying their bank account.

Fast fashion also helps clothing stores stay on top of the latest trends. Using cheap materials and outsourced labor, they can add new looks to their marketplace as quickly as possible. No more playing catch-up and adding clothes from the fall season when everyone else has moved on to spring. They rapidly cycle through goods, make profits, and provide looks that they know their customers will love. It keeps the industry moving and helps people stay employed. Plus, fast fashion helps brands stay relevant and build a strong customer base.

strategy behind fast fashion
Photo: Timon Studler

Fast fashion also helps people keep up with the fast pace of social media. Before Facebook and Instagram, a new style could linger in the public consciousness for months as it slowly dispersed throughout the United States. Now everyone’s connected to thousands of influencers across the globe–and as a result, the fashion industry is moving at breakneck speed. While slow fashion can take weeks or months to produce, fast fashion is ready to go at a moment’s notice. It’s quick, efficient and always relevant.

Fast fashion advantages

In a lot of ways, fast fashion has leveled the playing field. You don’t need to be a millionaire or a world-famous celebrity to get access to the hottest fashion designs. Anyone with a few hundred dollars in their bank account can invest in a totally new look that turns heads wherever they go. You also don’t need to be a fashionista who spends hours researching the latest trends. In fact, you can hop on your favorite fast fashion website and find all the most popular looks waiting for you. It’s always up-to-date because fast fashion has such a quick turnaround time.

In the past, the world of high fashion was exclusive to upper-class individuals. Now anyone can wear their favorite high fashion looks. Fast fashion takes inspiration from the newest looks on the catwalk and makes their own version of these outfits. You might not be able to afford a Gucci sweater, but you can probably afford a close imitation. And if nobody’s looking at the tags, does it really matter? Wearing fast fashion can help people feel good about themselves and make a strong first impression when meeting others for the first time.

Fast fashion also allows clothing stores to stay in business and reap large profits. They can save money by using cheap materials and reusing designs that they saw on the catwalk. Instead of hiring expert artisans, they can save money on labor by outsourcing these jobs to sweatshops overseas. Best of all, fast fashion has made it easier than ever for clothing stores to stay relevant. They can reach influencers, find a loyal audience, and enjoy thousands of shout-outs on social media. In some ways, fast fashion might be the best thing ever to happen to the retail industry.

What are the advantages of fast fashion?

Here are the advantages of fast fashion:

Makes it easier for consumers to stay on top of fashion trends.
Allows people to buy high fashion looks on a budget.
Makes it easy for influencers to refresh their wardrobe.
Helps clothing companies stay in business and reap high profits.
Makes people feel good about themselves even if they can’t afford expensive clothes.

The problem with fast fashion

When you first hear about fast fashion, it might almost sound too good to be true. High fashion looks at a fraction of the cost? Sign me up! But unfortunately, the world of fast fashion comes at a price. There’s a reason these products are so cheap, and it’s not because they’re so durable and sustainable. In fact, fast fashion has had a negative impact on the environment, the fashion industry, and workers’ lives around the globe. For this reason, you might want to think twice about spending half your paycheck at your favorite fast fashion store.

Environmental impact

What happens to that fast fashion shirt when you throw it away? Chances are, it’ll end up in a landfill. The world’s landfills are already overflowing, and the popularity of fast fashion has encouraged people to add more trash to the heap. Since fast fashion is deliberately made with low-quality materials, most people can’t hang on to their clothes even if they wanted to. The more clothes get thrown away, the more new clothes have to be made, which fuels an endless waste cycle. This depletes our resources and increases the pollution that comes from major factories.

environmental impact
Photo: Chris Liverani

To make matters worse, most fast fashion is made from non-biodegradable materials like plastic and polyester. These materials don’t break down, they’ll be sitting in landfills for centuries. While some brands use cotton, the massive cotton fields can wreak havoc on developing countries. Growing cotton requires massive amounts of water, as well as harmful pesticides that can seep into the environment and poison the water supply. Even natural products like leather are often sourced using cruel, unsustainable means. The fast fashion industry is responsible for creating excess waste and harming the environment in ways that we can’t even begin to imagine.

Human rights at risk

To keep their products cheap, many brands outsource their labor to factories overseas. Since these factories aren’t regulated like factories in Western countries, workers are subjected to abuse and harassment. Employees are expected to meet their quotas through any means necessary. Countless workers have reported physical abuse, sexual assault, and harassment from their supervisors. These factories also force their employees to work long hours and deny them the opportunity to take breaks or use the restroom. Employees can be terminated at any time, which makes them reluctant to report abuse or harassment.

Fast fashion brand examples

Some of the most popular fast fashion brands are Zara, Forever 21, and Fashion Nova. These brands have online websites that stock thousands of cheap, fashionable styles. When you scroll through Instagram, you’ll frequently see influencers wearing clothes that they purchased from these brands. No matter how much the market fluctuates, these brands always seem to be on top of the latest trends. Some brands limit the number of their products to make them even more popular and exclusive. Their clothes are typically made of cheap materials that tear or fade after a few months.

Here are some of the top fast fashion brands in the United States:

  • Zara.
  • Forever 21.
  • Fashion Nova.
  • H&M.
  • Old Navy.
  • Gap.
  • American Apparel.

The rise of fast fashion

The popularity of fast fashion coincides with the rise of the Internet. While textiles had been a booming industry since the early 1900s, the early 2000s ushered in a wave of online shopping and rising demand for fashionable clothing. To keep up with the market, brands started using cheap materials and borrowing designs from the world’s top fashion houses. The rise of influencer culture also contributed to the popularity of fast fashion. With increasing pressure to stay on top of fashion trends, young people started rotating their wardrobe every few months.

Overconsumption

It seems easy enough. Buy a cheap T-shirt online, wear it while it’s popular and throw it out when you don’t need it anymore. The fabric doesn’t hold up to long-term use anyway, so there’s no point in letting it take up space in your closet. But have you ever thought about where all that discarded clothing ends up? No one is using it, and since it’s non-biodegradable, it’s not going to return to the earth. That shirt you threw away is sitting in a landfill. And it’s going to be there for a long time to come.

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One shirt might not make a huge difference, but thousands of people are throwing away hats, socks, skirts, pants, T-shirts, jewelry, watches, sunglasses, purses and much more. They throw everything out and refresh their entire wardrobe, then throw out their new clothes when they’re not popular anymore. It’s an endless cycle of waste. When you think about everything else that people throw away on a daily basis, it’s easy to see why our landfills are overflowing. Fast fashion encourages a culture of rapid consumerism that’s harmful to the environment.

It’s a little frightening, right? In the next chapter, I’ll cover slow fashion and why it’s better for the environment and for consumers.

Slow fashion

Slow fashion is essentially the opposite of fast fashion. Unlike fast fashion, which is about keeping up with the latest trends and churning out pieces as quickly as possible, slow fashion is about focusing on simple, timeless designs that don’t adhere to any modern trends.

Slow fashion uses ethical, sustainable materials that are built to last for years at a time. It has a much slower turnaround time and tends to be more expensive, but I think the trade-offs are worth it. If anything, I think I’ve saved money by investing in slow fashion pieces that could last a lifetime, rather than fast fashion pieces that fall apart after a few months.

What is slow fashion?

Slow fashion is the practice of making durable, long-lasting clothing from natural materials. Unlike fast fashion, slow fashion doesn’t care what’s trendy at the moment. Slow fashion is all about creating timeless pieces that you can wear for years at a time. It takes much longer to produce since some slow fashion pieces are gathered and stitched by hand.

If you switch to slow fashion, you won’t be keeping up with the hottest Instagram trends anymore. But does it really matter? A lot of people are tired of seeing the same thing and appreciate people who aren’t afraid to show off their unique style.

Slow fashion tends to be much more simplistic than traditional fashion. Since these pieces are made to last, they typically incorporate basic silhouettes with a simple monochrome design. This might not sound appealing, but it actually makes slow fashion incredibly versatile. You don’t have to worry about your clothes going out of style in a month or two with slow fashion. Some fashion is simply timeless. There’s never going to be a time when people don’t wear white T-shirts, long overcoats, or flowing skirts.

what is slow fashion
Photo: Dami Adebayo

I guess you could say that slow fashion is the fashion world’s way of hitting the brakes. Because let’s face it: trying to keep up with the trends and throwing out your wardrobe every few months is exhausting. And while fast fashion is cheaper, up-front, it’s a lot more expensive in the long run. You’re continually buying clothes that you won’t even wear three months from now. Slow fashion allows you to stop, take a break, and appreciate genuine clothing made from soft, natural materials.

Slow fashion principles

I’ll admit it: I’ve gotten caught up in the world of fast fashion. It’s cheap, convenient and requires almost no effort on my part. I have to hop online and order a few clothes to stay on top of the latest trends. But while it might be simple, I have to admit that fast fashion isn’t very moral. If you asked me to define the principle of fast fashion, I’d say it’s “Get rich quick by feeding into consumerism.” Not a very good way to make a living.

Slow fashion appeals to me because it actually stands for something. Slow fashion is essentially a counterbalance to the rapid, consumer-based world of fast fashion. Instead of burning through resources as quickly as possible, slow fashion aims to make the fashion world more ethical and sustainable. Slow fashion also aims to help consumers by offering a lot more quality for their money. Unlike fast fashion, slow fashion typically doesn’t involve ripping off other designer’s ideas. Slow fashion is a small, insular world that thinks about the future instead of focusing on the present.

In a lot of ways, slow fashion is also a return to a more old-fashioned mindset. “Old-fashioned” doesn’t automatically mean “good,” but in this case, I think it does. Slow fashion is made to last and lovingly crafted by expert seamstresses. When you wear a piece of slow fashion, you’re wearing a piece that someone actually sat down and took time to design. They didn’t just go to a fashion show and copy what they saw on the runway. They designed a comfortable, durable and efficient piece, then brought their idea to life and sold it for an affordable price. And now you get to reap the benefits.

Here are the principles behind slow fashion:

  • Creating original designs rather than rip-offs.
  • Using sustainable, ethically sourced materials.
  • Making pieces that can be worn for years at a time.
  • Focusing on the future instead of the present moment.
  • Reducing the amount of waste in landfills.
  • Sticking with classic designs instead of jumping on fleeting trends.
  • Making high-quality garments accessible and affordable.
  • Employing experienced designers, seamstresses, and craftsmen.
  • Encouraging people to think about what they’re buying.

The history behind slow fashion

The history of slow fashion is as old as clothing itself. Before modern technology, slow fashion was all you had. In fact, centuries ago, people made most of their clothing by hand. The Industrial Revolution made it possible for people to mass-produce clothing, which led to today’s consumerist society. It seems that the more technology advances, the greater the demand is for fast, affordable fashion that can be used and thrown away within a month. It might be convenient, but it’s not good for consumers–or the environment.

In recent years, the slow fashion movement developed to counteract that. Slow fashion is essentially a return to the traditional ideals we held centuries ago. People who work in the slow fashion industry believe that fashion should be relaxed, slow-paced, and focused more on practicality than garnering a bunch of Instagram followers. Personally, it’s a movement that I’m proud to take part in.

The slow fashion movement

How big is the slow fashion movement, anyway? In recent years, countless slow fashion brands have appeared on the market. It might not be as popular as fast fashion, but slow fashion is steadily gaining a following. More and more people are ditching the breakneck speed of fast fashion and the desire to keep up with their favorite influencers. Instead, they’re getting back to basics with a simple wardrobe made from classic, traditional pieces.

slow fashion movement
Photo: Sarah Dorweiler

If you want to take part in the slow fashion movement, ditch the fast fashion brands and start buying from slow fashion companies. Slow fashion tends to be more expensive, up-front, but you’ll be saving money in the long run. In fact, you might be able to go several months without buying new clothes. No more dealing with loose, flimsy fabric that falls apart in the washing machine.

And if slow fashion is a little too slow-paced for you, try easing into it with a combination of slow fashion and fast fashion. You’ll still be saving money if you have a few reliable pieces in your closet to bolster your rapidly changing wardrobe of fast fashion. You can also experiment with a “capsule wardrobe” with a select number of pieces. This helps you save money and encourages you to get creative by finding new ways to mix-and-match your wardrobe. Plus, fewer clothes means less waste taking up space in landfills.

Slow fashion impact

Choosing one company over another might not seem like it’ll have much of an impact. If anything, you feel like the biggest impact was on your wallet! Slow fashion is a little pricier than those $10 tops you were buying from Fashion Nova. But while you might not see the effects right away, investing in slow fashion is actually one of the best things you can do for yourself and the environment.

Have you ever thought about where fast fashion comes from? Those thousands of pieces aren’t sewn by hand. They’re not even made in Western countries. Instead, most fast fashion brands outsource their products to sweatshops from emerging economies. That’s part of the reason why fast fashion is so affordable. Fast fashion companies save millions of dollars by outsourcing their business, and they pass those savings along to you. But with those savings comes a lot of human rights violations.

On the other hand, slow fashion is made by independently owned companies that keep their entire business in Western countries. They might buy some of their materials from other countries, but they use sustainable methods and don’t exploit workers. It’s a locally-owned operation that you can actually feel good about supporting.

The environment

When talking about fast fashion vs. slow fashion, we must say the second one is much better for the environment. When you throw away last season’s wardrobe, those clothes don’t just disappear. Instead, they end up taking up space in landfills. And since fast fashion typically isn’t made from biodegradable materials, those clothes are going to be sitting there for centuries.

environmental impact slow fashion 1
Photo: Fernando Brasil

Slow fashion takes everything bad about fast fashion and does the exact opposite. Slow fashion pieces are made from durable materials that could easily last for decades. They’re made from biodegradable materials like cotton and wool. So, even if you throw them in the trash, they’ll eventually break down and return to the earth. And while fast fashion is typically made from limited resources like plastic and polyester, slow fashion is sustainable and can theoretically be produced indefinitely.

Ethic and sustainable fashion

What is sustainable fashion?

Speaking of sustainable fashion: what does that mean, anyway? Sustainable products are made from renewable materials that can be harvested again and again. Conversely, unsustainable products are made from limited resources. For example, many fast fashion pieces are made from polyester, which is a product made from petroleum. Petroleum is a non-renewable resource: when it’s gone, it’s gone forever.

Slow fashion is better for the environment because it’s made from renewable resources like cotton, wool, linen, and bamboo. These products are sustainable because they can be planted, grown, and harvested every season. As long as we have land to grow these plants, they’re not limited resources. Plastic and polyester won’t be around forever, but cotton and wool could theoretically exist throughout the earth’s entire lifespan. When you invest in slow fashion, you’re investing in the future.

Slow fashion is much more ethical than fast fashion. Remember those sweatshops I talked about earlier? Sweatshop workers are essentially paid pennies to work in a crowded factory for long, grueling hours. They face abuse and harassment from their supervisors and can be terminated at any time. In Western countries, we have workers’ rights that don’t exist in other countries. And unfortunately, fast fashion takes advantage of that.

Slow fashion brand examples

The slow fashion business is booming. It’s impossible to list all the brands, but here are some of the most popular slow fashion brands on the market:

  • Alternative Apparel.
  • Stella McCartney.
  • JW Anderson.
  • Everlane.
  • Eileen Fisher.
  • Prada Re-Nylon.
  • Olivia Rose.
  • Theory.
  • Gerbase.

Quality over quantity

In the end, slow fashion is about scaling back. It’s about minimalism. It’s about looking at the piles of fast fashion in your wardrobe and asking yourself “Do I really need all that stuff?”. While fast fashion is all about churning out as much product as possible, slow fashion is about taking your time and focusing on a few high-quality pieces. It’s about cutting out the clutter in your life and concentrating on what’s really important.

If you want my opinion, one slow fashion piece is worth five or ten fast fashion pieces. It’ll last much longer, it’s much better for the environment, and it’s undeniably more comfortable. Think about slipping into a 100% cotton shirt, a soft wool jacket, or a flowing linen skirt. There’s something familiar and comforting about wearing clothes made from real materials. You’ll feel like you’re getting back to the natural world and start remembering what life was like before you were obsessed over following the newest trends. You can step back, take a breath, and see what you’ve been missing all these years.

Fast fashion vs. slow fashion

Now that we’ve talked about the differences between fast fashion and slow fashion, it’s time to compare these industries in more detail. I don’t necessarily believe that we should get rid of one industry in favor of the other: both have their advantages and disadvantages.

However, let’s find a balance that makes clothing affordable and accessible without feeding into our fast-paced, consumerist lifestyles. In the end, it’s your decision which industry you contribute to. Here’s a more detailed rundown of the differences between fast fashion and slow fashion:

Production

The differences between fast fashion and slow fashion start all the way at the beginning when the clothing is first produced. If you recall, fast fashion moves at a breakneck speed to keep up with the hottest trends. This means that they can’t wait around for a sewist to sew everything by hand. Fast fashion is typically produced in overseas factories and sweatshops from emerging economies to get everything done as quickly as possible.

What about the materials used to make fast fashion? The industry isn’t going to wait around for those, either. They grab whatever’s quickest and cheapest and use that to make clothing. Usually, that involves non-renewable resources like polyester and plastic. These products are made from petroleum. So, we’ll have to figure out something else when that’s gone. But until then, the fast fashion industry is rapidly tearing through the world’s supply of non-renewable resources.

production materials
Photo: Micheile Henderson

Slow fashion is the exact opposite. Since slow fashion is all about quality and comfort, their pieces are produced by small businesses that work in Western countries’ factories or sew their articles by hand. Since they’re not worried about staying on top of the latest trends, they’re not concerned with getting their products in stores as soon as possible. Slow fashion has a slow turnaround time. But for these businesses, it’s worth taking extra time to produce a high-quality piece.

And since slow fashion isn’t worried about speed, they can take the time to source materials from ethical, sustainable sources. Slow fashion is typically made from renewable resources like cotton, wool, and linen. These products are either sourced from Western countries or purchased from other countries. Instead of burning through non-renewable resources, they’re participating in a healthy cycle of growth and harvest.

Consumption

Fast fashion is defined by consumption. Their products are specifically designed to be consumed and thrown away as quickly as possible. Fast fashion aims to stay on top of the latest trends–but everyone knows that trends don’t last forever. And in today’s society, trends that might have lingered for months can be over in a matter of days. If you want to keep up with the rest of the influencers, you need a continually rotating wardrobe. That’s where fast fashion comes in.

Fast fashion businesses purposely design their products to be cheap and low-quality. People snatch up their products because they’re cheap and inspired by the hottest designs. In fact, many fast fashion businesses deliberately copy looks that they saw at fashion shows or high fashion websites. You can wear the piece for a few months while it’s still popular. And when the article goes out of style, you may toss it in the trash and buy a new set of clothes. Fast fashion pieces aren’t made to last anyway–they’re made of cheap materials that typically stretch, tear and fade after a season or two.

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In other words, you’re not buying clothing that’s made to last. You’re buying clothing that’s made to make an impression. And since it’s made of low-quality materials, you don’t feel guilty for throwing it out.

On the other hand, slow fashion doesn’t encourage people to consume. If anything, it encourages people to buy a few pieces and enjoy them for years to come. Slow fashion is made from quality materials like 100% wool and cotton that will last a long time. They can stand up to regular wear and tear and won’t fall apart in the washing machine. They’re soft, comfortable, and simple enough to be used all year round. Slow fashion is one of the best investments you can make for your wardrobe.

Since slow fashion moves at a much slower pace, its clothes tend to be much more expensive. Businesses have to stay afloat somehow, and they’re not burning through pieces as quickly as the fast fashion industry. But when you buy a slow fashion piece, you’re buying a piece that will pay for itself after a year or two of use. Instead of buying new clothes every month, you’ll have one sweater or jacket that you can use for years. Plus, the materials are ethical and sustainable and can be renewed again and again.

Social responsibility

While it’s not talked about as much, fast fashion has a role in human rights violations. Fast fashion is so affordable because the companies cut corners in every way possible. That includes the design, materials, and production. Why pay Western countries workers minimum wage when you can outsource your labor and pay workers from emerging economies a fraction of that amount? That seems to be the mindset behind a lot of fast fashion businesses. To save money on production, they outsource the labor to sweatshops in various countries across the globe.

social responsibility
Photo: fran hogan

Since they’re not in Western nations, they’re not subjected to the Western world labor laws. In fact, some of these countries hardly seem to have labor laws at all. Employees are abused, belittled, and harassed on a daily basis. They don’t report it half the time because they know they’ll get fired if they do. They’re forced to work long hours in appallingly filthy work conditions. There are no breaks, no mandated vacation time. Many employees don’t even get bathroom breaks. It’s a miserable way to live, and the fast fashion industry partially perpetuates it.

Conversely, slow fashion is located almost entirely in Western countries. Some slow fashion brands work with emerging economies to get their materials, but they always source their materials in safe, ethical ways. They don’t outsource their labor to sweatshops or force migrant workers to harvest crops in unsafe conditions. Instead, their clothing is made right here in Western nations. When you buy slow fashion, you’re not contributing to sweatshop labor. You’re helping a small business stay afloat and continue to make high-quality products. I’m not saying that you’re a bad person if you buy fast fashion pieces, but just be aware of where your fashion is coming from.

Climate care

At this point, it’s probably evident to you which option is better for the environment. Fast fashion contributes to a mass consumerist mindset. If their pieces were made from biodegradable materials, it wouldn’t be a huge issue–there would still be a lot of waste, but at least it would break down and return to the earth. Unfortunately, it’s not the case. Fast fashion is made from non-biodegradable materials that aren’t going to break down any time soon. You could live to be hundreds of years old, and your old sweatshirt would still be sitting in a landfill.

And where does all that waste go? We pile it into landfills or heap it on barges and push them into the ocean. Unfortunately, these are just temporary solutions that aren’t going to last forever. That trash isn’t going anywhere, and every day we add more waste to the pile. One day, we’re going to run out of space for our trash.

But you wouldn’t know it from looking at the fast fashion industry. They don’t just contribute to mass consumerism–they actively encourage it by telling people to buy cheap clothes and throw them out at the end of the season. Have you ever thought about how many pieces of clothing are thrown away every year? I don’t have exact numbers for you, but I’d estimate that the number is well into the hundreds of thousands. And fast fashion is telling us that it’s okay to add to the pile.

climate care
Photo: John Cameron

Ultimately, slow fashion is much better for the environment. It uses materials at a much slower pace that gives the environment time to heal and produce more. Their clothes are made from biodegradable materials. So, when you throw away a piece of slow fashion, it won’t sit in the landfill forever. They’re also made from renewable materials like cotton and wool, rather than non-renewable materials like petroleum. The world will run out of oil, but it won’t run out of cotton–if we’re smart about it, anyway.

Instead of encouraging you to buy as much as possible, slow fashion encourages you to slow down and think about what you’re purchasing. It encourages you to invest in a selected few pieces and take care of them so they’ll last a lifetime. No more spending money on clothes you don’t really need. You’re thinking about the future instead of living in the present.

Accessibility

While slow fashion is undeniably better for consumers and the environment. It’s an undeniable fact that fast fashion is much more accessible. Slow fashion isn’t outrageously expensive, but one piece can cost well over a hundred dollars. If you’re like most people, you don’t have that kind of money lying around. And when you need new clothes, you need them now. You can’t wait around until you’ve saved enough money to splurge on a single top or a pair of jeans. You can’t immediately swap out your wardrobe with slow fashion looks unless you’re making a lot of money (and if you are, what are you waiting for?)

Fast fashion is much more accessible. You can easily grab a new top, a skirt, and a pair of pants without breaking a hundred dollars. And better yet, you know that fast fashion is always trendy. You know you’re getting the perfect looks to turn heads at a party or dazzle followers on Instagram. While slow fashion has a timeless beauty, up-and-coming influencers don’t have the money to splurge thousands of dollars on a new wardrobe. Fast fashion makes it easier for them to collect followers and gain a large audience on social media.

However, one downside of fast fashion is that their products aren’t made to last. Within a few months, you’ll be spending your hard-earned money on new clothes all over again. Slow fashion lasts much longer, so if you can afford to buy a piece or two, it’s worth the investment. Fast fashion might be cheaper up-front, but have you ever thought about how much you’re actually spending? You’re probably paying more on fast fashion every year than you would if you stuck to a few slow fashion pieces.

Minimalism

Fast fashion is made for people who want everything. You want high fashion, and you want it now. You want new clothes every month, so you don’t get tired of the old ones. You want the excitement you feel when you get a package in the mail. You want to attract followers on Instagram and make a living as an influencer. You want to keep your mind stimulated so you don’t get stuck in your head.

minimalism clothing

These aren’t necessarily bad things, but slow fashion encourages you to take a completely different approach. Instead of feeding into every desire, slow fashion encourages a spare, minimalist lifestyle. For this reason, many people prefer slow fashion when they’re building a capsule wardrobe.

A capsule wardrobe is an essential wardrobe made of a select number of pieces. When you’re limiting yourself, you have to make sure that every piece is versatile and functional. And since slow fashion is much more expensive, you can’t splurge all at once. You have to gradually build up your collection and figure out how to use your current wardrobe in the meantime. Slow fashion encourages a pared-down lifestyle that invites you to get back to basics and stop cluttering your closet with clothes that you don’t really need.

What can we do about it?

At this point, you might be starting to think that slow fashion is the way to go. It’s better for consumers, environmentally friendly, and actually cheaper in the long run. When I started making the switch to slow fashion, I asked myself why I’d ever spent so much time trying to keep up with the fast fashion industry. Fast fashion isn’t just bad for consumers: it’s also just plain exhausting. I felt like slow fashion gave me the chance to step back and think about what I was wearing. It’s a little hard to get into, so here are some steps you can take to dip your toe in the world of slow fashion.

Make a Slow Transition

Some people like to stay on top of the hottest fashion trends. And if you’re an Instagram influencer, staying on top of the trends is literally your job. For that reason, I realize that it can be challenging to make the transition to slow fashion. If you ask me, a lot of slow fashion pieces actually adhere to modern fashion trends: they’re simple, minimalist, and typically feature neutral colors. But I realize that basic designs and neutral colors won’t be in style forever. And when everyone’s on to the next big thing, you’ll still have a bunch of beige sweaters hanging in your closet.

When I started investing in a slow fashion, I didn’t want to lose touch with modern trends, either. That’s why I started by investing in one piece at a time. Let’s face it: no matter what’s in style, you’re always going to need the basics. Instead of buying a new undershirt every season, why not buy a slow fashion piece that’s made to last? You can build up the basics by purchasing slow fashion pieces. I started off with a black sweater that looks good with half the clothes in my wardrobe. Now I don’t have to buy black shirts from fast fashion companies all the time: I can simply use this piece when I want to accessorize and mix-and-match.

slow transition to slow fashion
Photo: George Bakos

When you buy a slow fashion piece, it takes the place of some of the fast fashion pieces you’ve been buying. Over time, you can gradually build up your wardrobe until the majority of it comes from slow fashion. This doesn’t mean that you can never buy fast fashion again: it just means that you won’t be depending on it for every little thing. Because if you get hooked on fast fashion, you’ll find that you’re throwing out everything, even basics like plain white T-shirts. Why not save some money and replace that portion of your wardrobe?

Ideally, you’d be able to replace your entire wardrobe with slow fashion pieces. However, there’s no denying that the fashion industry moves quickly–and fast fashion is always on top of it. Try sticking to a basic set of slow fashion pieces and buying a few fast fashion pieces each month that give your wardrobe a fashionable touch. You’ll get the best of both worlds: comfort and durability matched with trendy designs.

Experiment with a Capsule Wardrobe

I’ve mentioned the capsule wardrobe earlier, but now let’s talk about it in more detail. If you’re used to burning through fast fashion pieces every few months, sticking to a capsule wardrobe can be incredibly challenging. However, it can also be incredibly rewarding. You’ll learn that your clothes are much more versatile than you give them credit for. And better yet, you’ll learn to treasure and take care of your wardrobe instead of treating every piece like it’s disposable. I think everyone should try a capsule wardrobe at least once in their lifetime.

What is a capsule wardrobe?

So what is a capsule wardrobe, anyway? It’s a small wardrobe made of a few essential pieces. Forget about rifling through hundreds of clothes as you plan your wardrobe for the next day. You’ll have a select few tops, bottoms, shoes, and accessories to choose from. As a result, you’ll have to figure out new and exciting ways to switch up your wardrobe without resorting to buying more pieces.

A capsule wardrobe is an excellent way for people to introduce themselves to the world of slow fashion. You could try this with a few fast fashion pieces, but since they’re not exactly made to last, they probably won’t hold up to continuous use. On the other hand, slow fashion is made from strong, durable materials. You can wear the same set of pieces every day for months and not have to haul a bag of clothes to the dumpster. As you get creative with your looks, you’ll realize that a single piece has more value than you ever imagined.

How to dress well on a budget (without fast fashion) | Justine Leconte
by Justine Leconte officiel

If you’re used to the world of fast fashion, this can be a little intimidating. Fast fashion is all about maximalism: loading up your online cart with purchases and cramming your wardrobe full of hundreds of pieces. For this reason, you might want to experiment with a capsule wardrobe before taking a plunge. Try setting aside a few days a week where you’ll only wear clothes from your capsule wardrobe. You’ll still be saving time and money since you won’t feel like you need a new wardrobe for every day of the week anymore.

So how do you build a capsule wardrobe? Choose a number like fifteen or thirty. This is the number of all the pieces in your wardrobe, including shoes, purses, jewelry, and other accessories. No more, no less. Invest in some high-quality slow fashion pieces that can be combined to create different looks. Since you’re limiting yourself, you’re going to need a wardrobe that’s as versatile as possible. It might sound impossible, but when you’ve gotten the hang of it, you’ll start to think that maybe you don’t need a closet crammed with hundreds of different outfits.

Treat Yourself Once in a While

Let’s be honest: slow fashion isn’t the cheapest. It’s not the most expensive clothing in the world, but I won’t pretend that it’s as cheap and convenient as a $15 top from Forever 21. If you’re like me, you probably don’t have hundreds of dollars lying around to spend on a new wardrobe.

treat yourself shopping

However, I also feel like a lot of people have the mindset that slow fashion is a punishment. Fast fashion is the fun treat that they buy to reward themselves, while slow fashion is the boring, utilitarian piece that sits in the back of their closet. They know they should switch to slow fashion, but it’s expensive, slow-paced, and not nearly as exciting. Every once in a while, they force themselves to shell out a hundred dollars for a jacket or sweater, then let the piece sit in the back of their closet while they cycle through an endless rotation of fast fashion outfits.

I think people need to change their mindset. Slow fashion might not be as “exciting” as fast fashion, but it’s not a punishment. It’s not something that you should force yourself to buy so you can grudgingly feel like you’re supporting the environment. Instead, slow fashion is a reward. It’s a treat. It’s a gift to yourself that you’ll cherish for years to come.

Can you even remember the fast fashion looks you were wearing a year ago? Fast fashion comes and goes like the changing of the seasons. But when you buy a piece of slow fashion, you’re investing. You’re buying a piece made from fine materials like cotton and wool that was designed to be as comfortable as possible. It’s durable enough that it can accompany you on all your adventures. It’s the 21st century equivalent of buying yourself a fur coat or a mink stole. Don’t view it as a punishment–view it as a reward.

And when you’ve got some extra money to spare, resist the urge to load up your cart with cheap fast fashion and buy a nice, high-quality coat or sweatshirt instead. Over time, you’ll slowly build up your wardrobe until you’ve got a luxurious collection that some of the world’s top fashion designers would envy. Can a closet full of cheap-off brand tees do that?

Do Your Research

Before you go any further, I should probably caution you about doing your research. Not all slow fashion businesses are alike. While most slow fashion brands are ethical, some brands hide shady practices under the guise of being environmentally-friendly. If you’re on a vegan diet, you’ve probably learned that “vegan” doesn’t always mean “healthy.” The same is true with slow fashion. Just because a company sells slow fashion doesn’t mean that they’re using ethical, sustainable materials.

Check out the website before you make a purchase. Read about the company, their manufacturing methods, and the materials they use. Slow fashion companies should use renewable materials like linen and wool. They might use a few non-renewable materials, but that shouldn’t make up the bulk of the product. If their store is full of clothes made from polyester, it’s a safe bet that you’re not dealing with a true slow fashion company.

While you’re there, take a look at the company’s values and the way they source their materials. Do they harvest their materials using safe, sustainable methods, or do they exploit workers in foreign countries? Most companies won’t exactly tell you about their unethical business practices, so you might want to do some research outside of their website. Plug their brand name into Google and see if any news articles come up.

A good company will also list their materials right there on their website. Be on the lookout for biodegradable materials like wool, linen, cotton, bamboo, and cork. Some brands also use leather. So, if you’re vegan, you’ll want to keep an eye out for that. Make sure the company shares your values before you give them your money.

Share the Joys of Slow Fashion with Your Family and Friends

One person switching over to slow fashion can make a world of difference. And if you encourage your friends and family members to do the same, you have no idea how much change you can inspire. Become an advocate for slow fashion and educate your loved ones about the advantages. Many people don’t know about the differences between fast fashion and slow fashion–in fact, some people have never even heard the words “slow fashion” before. They see the fast fashion market is booming and assume that’s where they need to be. However, there’s a world of quality fashion out there that’s well within their reach.

share slow fashion 1
Foto: Clem Onojeghuo

If you’re having trouble convincing them to ease up on the fast fashion, surprise them with slow fashion gifts for holidays or birthdays. They’ll be impressed when they feel the high-quality materials and observe the expert craftsmanship. Your loved ones will feel like you just bought them an exquisite fur coat. Once they’ve tried slow fashion for the first time, they’ll start to realize that they’ve been missing out on.

Don’t have a lot of money to spare? Try lending out some of your pieces. Just be warned–you might not get them back.

If you’re an Instagram influencer, you have the perfect platform to educate your followers about the world of slow fashion. Show off your pieces and talk about the values and ethics behind slow fashion businesses. You can even promote your favorite companies to help boost their sales. Your followers are watching you and waiting to see what you’ll do next. Why not give them something to strive for?

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to stay on top of the latest trends to be fashionable. Who do you think sets these trends in the first place? It’s not the people who followed what everyone else was doing. Rather, it’s the people who had the confidence to step out with their own unique style. When you’re ready, leave the world of fast fashion behind and start gathering a new audience with your own unique looks.

Conclusion

Making the jump from fast fashion to slow fashion isn’t easy. And in the end, slow fashion can’t account for every single need. You’re going to have days when you want to treat yourself to a $20 sweater or need a cheap undershirt to replace the one that tore apart in the wash. I’m not saying that you should immediately throw out your closet and empty your bank account so you can stock up slow fashion–although if you have the means to do that, go for it. It would help if people were a little more thoughtful about the way they consume clothing.

Fast fashion doesn’t just provide you with cheap clothing. It feeds into that part of your brain that demands instant satisfaction. You get a hit of serotonin when you load up your cart with purchases and get a large package in the mail. It can be satisfying for a while, but the satisfaction never lasts. You need more purchases to keep the serotonin flowing. At the end of the month, you look at the damage you did to your bank account and wonder if it was all worth it. But by this point, you feel like you can’t stop.

Slow fashion allows you to step back and focus on what’s really important. Buying fast fashion might provide instant gratification, but isn’t it more rewarding to save money over time and buy a high-quality piece made of some of the finest materials on the market? You’ll feel like you accomplished something instead of feeding into that part of your brain that always wants more. And it’s not an exaggeration: you have accomplished something. You’ve broken free of the cycle of consumerism and learned to appreciate true craftsmanship. You’re not just another consumer: you’re a high fashion connoisseur.

I hope this piece has impacted your life and helped you think more critically about the pieces you’re buying. Thanks for taking the time out of your day to read this piece! I’d love to hear your feedback, so feel free to shoot us an email or leave a comment below. We’d be grateful if you shared this piece with your friends and family members. Want to stay in touch with us? Subscribe to our newsletter to get email updates delivered right to your mailbox. I can’t wait to hear from you soon!

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