Buying less? Mending? Quality materials? Just what is ‘slow fashion’ and how is it really helping you to reduce your carbon footprint?
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Buy fewer, better quality clothes. Shop thoughtfully made. Repair and wear what you love. In the age of sustainable fashion, it feels like more brands are dolling out slogans like these. They’re meant to show the ways that you can be sustainable thanks to the term ‘slow fashion’. Yet, while many of us have heard the term, few are sure what it actually means. Sure, we can figure out that it’s the opposite of fast fashion which has been known to have detrimental effects on the environment, the people who make the clothes, and the people who wear them. But, while ethical and sustainable are more clearly defined, this term can leave many of us wondering ‘What is slow fashion?’
It turns out that slow fashion is all of the above. It’s buying less. It’s buying quality pieces that will last longer. It’s wearing and mending what is already in our closets. Because the answer to ‘what is slow fashion’ is that ‘it’s a movement that encourages brands and customers to produce and consume less to minimize our impact on the planet.’
When brands produce less we use fewer resources like raw materials and water and limit carbon emissions in processing and transporting these materials. When we buy less and use longer, we limit the number of items tossed into landfills. In the U.S. alone, we dumped 11.2 million tons of textile waste into landfills in 2017. It’s estimated that the average American throws out 80 lbs of clothing each year. Imagine the environmental impact you’d make if you purchased 20% less clothing this year.
Buy Fewer Better Quality Clothes
Slow fashion is a mindset. For brands, it’s about making quality items made to last. For consumers, it’s about choosing quality items instead of those made as cheaply as possible and meant to be worn once. Take, for instance, the classic T-shirt. You can support slow fashion by investing in a $50 well-made organic cotton t-shirt that is made to withstand 100 washes and can be worn with multiple pieces in your closet in multiple ways.
Or, you can buy a $5 t-shirt that might not make it through even 10 washes without pilling, fading, or coming undone at the seams. Now, this isn’t to say that quality items always come with a higher price tag. Yet, for items that you wear again and again – the classic white tee, a trench coat, the perfect jeans- isn’t it worth investing in an item that you’ll have for the long run?
If you’re wondering how to spot quality pieces, here are 2 tips.
- Shop Sturdy Fabrics: Not all kinds of cotton, silks, wools, or linen fabrics are made the same. When a brand uses fabrics that were made by cutting corners, it shows. When a fabric is sturdy the fibers are woven tightly. That means that if you put your hand behind a t-shirt, it won’t be see-through. And, that shirt will be able to withstand the wear and tear of your day-to-day and washing much better than flimsy t-shirts.
- Get Good Sewing: You don’t have to be a sewing expert to spot the good stitches from the bad ones. One tip is to turn the item inside out and look at the seams. Are the seams neat? Or, are there loose threads where the fabric is sewn together? Wobbly lines or sloppy seams, mean that the clothes were made poorly and are less likely to last past a few wears. Clean, straight lines show that care was taken to ensure the garment will last forever.
Shop Thoughtfully Made
Ethical brands that carefully vet and support the factories where their clothing is made will always be a better choice than brands that have their clothing made in factories that pay their workers a minimum Los Angeles wage of $4.40. Brands like Boohoo have recently come under fire by the press for turning a blind eye to exploitative working conditions, excessive pollution, and using chemicals in their clothing that “might cause cancer and birth defects or reproductive harm.” Yet, what really packs a punch to these fast-fashion brands is when consumers like you and I choose to put our money behind transparent and ethical brands.
Seven of the 15 pesticides commonly used on cotton in the United States are listed as “possible,” “likely,” “probable” or “known” human carcinogens by the Environmental Protection Agency. ~ World Wildlife Fund
Support brands that put a little thought into how their clothing is made. Do they use organic materials? Great, because the pesticides and other harsh chemicals used to treat cotton crops have been known to have a negative impact on both the soil and our health. Do they use water-based dyes and filtration systems to minimize water waste and dying? That’s pretty great too. Unfortunately, several common dyes used in the textile industries have been shown to cause allergic reactions and in some cases have carcinogenic (cancer-causing) effects. Adding to this is the fact that the fashion industry produces 10% of the world’s CO2 emissions to make these toxic pieces of clothing that eventually make their way into landfills after less than 2 wears.
So, How Does Slow Minimize Your Carbon Footprint?
When design, sourcing, and production are done the right way, clothing is consciously, ethically, and slowly made. It takes time and more raw materials to weave together sturdy fabrics. Natural dyes and water filtration systems come with extra steps. Higher wages might mean higher clothing prices. But, for the consumer and the brand, when we slow down to put quality, not quantity first, that means we’ll have well-made and ethical clothing that we can hopefully wear and love a little bit longer.
Because let’s face it, most of us don’t need more clothes. And, landfills don’t need more clothing laced with toxic dyes and finishes that contaminate our soil and release toxins into the environment. There are so many ‘wrongs’ with fast fashion and yet these are the brands that produce anywhere from 12-24 collections yearly and contribute to 1.2 billion tons of CO2 emissions. But, when we buy less and support truly slow ethical fashion brands, we are sending a message to fast fashion brands. We as consumers can support our love of fashion while simultaneously supporting the environment. We can limit carbon emissions and monitor our buying habits to shop less. Most of all, we can and will support slow fashion.