What is slow fashion, and why should you care?
We all know what fast fashion is. And maybe, you even read about some of the struggles in the fast fashion industry – like sweatshops and stealing from independent designers.
Slow fashion is the “cure” to the flaws in the increasingly popular fast fashion system. It refers to the movement towards more socially and environmentally responsible and transparent supply chains, ideally making product that’s better than the (sometimes pretty low) standard that the textile industry as a whole currently rolls with.
Why is this important?
Shopping slow(er) fashion can not only benefit other people and the environment – it’s also a great financial choice for consumers, who, according to The Atlantic, are buying five times as much clothing now than they did in 1980.
Let’s look at some of the key factors in each category.
Environmental Benefits of Slow Fashion
The textile industry is a mess when it comes to waste and pollution – but you don’t have to take my word for it. Here are some convincing facts to think about for the next time you mass buy (and mass dispose of) your clothing:
- Textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally, after agriculture. (source)
- Americans throw away an estimated 68 lbs of clothing per person per year. Only 15% of discarded textiles are reclaimed or recycled. (source) And landfill space isn’t cheap or readily available, either.
- 20% of water pollution globally is caused by textile processing. (source)
Social Responsibility + Slow Fashion
It’s not some crazy industry secret that there’s a lot of sketchy stuff going on in the factories where (often, but not always) your cheapest pieces of clothing are made. In 2017, factory workers were sewing notes into product in Zara – “I made this item that you are going to buy, but I didn’t get paid for it.”
Yes, “livable” wages can be tricky. To what extent makes a wage “livable?” Would this be based on single workers, or the cost to raise a certain number of family members? How do you define a decent living standard?
But you know what’s not tricky? Knowing you want something better than industry facts like this:
- An estimated 250 million children (aged 4-15) are forced to work in sweatshops in developing countries, with many forced to work 16 hour days. (source)
- 85% of garment workers making less than $3 a day are women. (source)
- In 2013, in the worst garment factory disaster in history, 1,134 workers died in Bangladesh after the Savar building collapse. The day before the collapse, cracks in the building forced an evacuation. However, later in the day the building was then deemed “safe,” and all workers forced to return. Workers who would not return were threatened with a withheld months pay. 3,122 workers were in the building at the time of the collapse. (source)
Financial Benefits of Slow Fashion
Yes. Fairly paying for labor and more sustainable practices means that a product costs more to produce. Surprisingly, however, this may not be as big of an increase as one would think. According to this report from the University of Massachusetts on the financial aspect behind increasing garment manufacturer wages, an increase in wages by 100% for workers in underpaid factories would only result in a 5% increase in cost for the consumer.
And that 5% increase for the consumer can be easily counteracted through participation in slow(er) fashion– do you really need a trillion t-shirts that you know will go out of style, shrink, or be thrown out by the end of the season?
Let’s do the math: according to stats from Closetmaid, the average woman buys 5 new pieces of clothing per month. Let’s assume these are cheaper fast fashion buys – pricing each of the items at $20. (5 items) x ($20) = $100/month on clothing, a total of $1,200 on clothing each year, with most of it leaving your wardrobe due to poor construction or old fads. And as we know, these clothes are NOT meant to last! Don’t kid yourself. You KNOW you’re not going to be pulling out your “vintage Forever 21 dress” in 40 years (like I said before — you get SIX washes, you guys).
Now instead imagine yourself buying 2-3 new pieces of clothing per season, building yourself a capsule wardrobe focusing on style as opposed to fashion or fads. Even if you were spending triple the cost on items — (3 items) * ($60) = $180 per three months (one season). That comes out to $60 per month, saving you $480 a year while still growing your closet with stylish classics that can last you longer than 6 wears.
If you’re watching your wardrobe carefully and making diligent shopping choices based on what you actually need, it’s safe to say you’re probably saving money along with doing your part to decrease textile pollution and helping put an end to unethical factory conditions.
Ethical, slow fashion for the win.