Slow fashion is all about using and loving what you already have and making smart shopping decisions every time you add something to your closet. It doesn’t necessarily mean, though, you have to change all at once. For instance, purging all the clothes you’ve bought from fast-fashion retailers and purchasing an entirely new wardrobe from ethical and sustainable brands. I believe there are attainable steps for all of us, regardless of our starting point, budget, and needs.
But, before talking about slow fashion, let’s take a look at fast fashion first.
What Is Fast Fashion?
We often associate the term fast fashion with certain brands and retailers. However, fashion is per se fast. The fashion industry, as a whole, has always been fast-moving. The main goal of fashion is to continuously develop new trends and create consumer demand for them.
The actual problem is the accelerated pace of the past years. Not long ago, designers and retailers have released a maximum of two collections per year (spring/summer and autumn/winter). In recent years the number of collections went up to one per week, 52 per year! This abundance of choices leads to overflowing closets and piles of trashed clothes we’ve barely worn.
To keep up with this incredible pace, the production of clothes had to speed up. At the same time, prices got lower and lower to make consumers buy more, more often. As a result, quality went down to achieve both goals, fast production and low prices. Plus, the production was transferred to low-cost locations. Production costs were reduced until it hurts – at the expense of fashion workers.
Ethical Fashion vs. Eco-Friendly Fashion vs. Slow Fashion
Let’s have a look at the definition of slow fashion pioneer Kate Fletcher, professor of Sustainability, Design & Fashion, London College of Fashion:
“Slow fashion is about designing, producing, consuming, and living better. Slow fashion is not time-based but quality-based (which has some time components). Slow is not the opposite of fast – there is no dualism, but a different approach in which designers, buyers, retailers and consumers are more aware of the impacts of products on workers, communities and ecosystems.”
This definition shows why we often tie the three terms – ethical, eco-friendly (sustainable), and slow fashion – together or even use them interchangeably. But, they have, so I believe, all a different focus:
Ethical fashion means that fashion workers are treated and paid well, and health and safety requirements are met. Besides, how animals are treated when they contribute to the production, e.g. of natural yarns such as wool or silk, also falls under the ethical umbrella.
Eco-friendly or sustainable fashion focuses more on the effect of the production and disposal of clothes on the environment. This includes the entire process, e.g., from growing cotton down to packaging and shipment.
Slow fashion generally refers to the quality, design, and style of the garment – and how long you’re loving it. Slow fashion means buying quality clothing that’s made to last, shop less frequently, and staying away from fast-paced trends so you can wear the pieces you love for years down the road.
Does It Have to Be ‘All or Nothing’?
When I started my slow fashion journey, I noticed that the conversations around this topic often reflect an “all or nothing” approach. It seems that you’re only allowed to join the slow fashion movement when you do everything “right”. Meaning, you must buy solely from sustainable brands, have no more than 20 items in your wardrobe, and all of them must have a minimalist aesthetic. Well, it’s not always that extreme, but I think you get the point. However, we all have different starting points, different budgets, different needs. And we should be all allowed to embrace our very personal version of slow fashion.
I believe there’s an approach to slow fashion that is not so much dependent on eco-friendly and ethically sourced products. No questions, buying exclusively from such brands and retailers is a worthwhile goal. However, it’s a goal that we can still pursue once we’ve got to a certain point with our wardrobe and learned to shop mindfully. Whereas we all can start our slow fashion journey right away. Change starts small. We can take attainable steps to go down the slow fashion road and make our wardrobe work longer.
How You Shop vs. Where You Shop
Pursuing slow fashion doesn’t mean that you can’t ever again buy from a fast-fashion brand or retailer. In my opinion, how you shop is equally important as where you shop. Slow fashion means buying less frequently. Thus, if you find a piece of clothing in a fast-fashion store that’s made well and take good care of it, you can turn it into slow fashion. Admittedly, not into an ethically or eco-friendly produced product. But as I said before, it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach.
How to Participate in the Slow Fashion Movement
… regardless of our starting point, budget or needs.
Find Your Personal Style and Color Palette
Knowing your personal style and color palette ensures that new additions fit in with your core wardrobe. If they’re versatile and can be mixed and matched with existing clothes, they’ll probably blend in better. Sticking to the preferred style and colors limits the number of mistakes we make when shopping for clothes. Which automatically limits the amount of waste we create.
Go for Silhouettes that Work and Fabrics You Love
When you know it works, stick to it. If you know that a specific fit flatters you, chose similar silhouettes. If you know that you feel your best, e.g., in natural soft fabrics, prefer them over other choices. Again this limits the mistakes you’ll make.
Choose Quality Over Quantity
Slow fashion means to shop less frequently and love our clothes longer. This involves buying better quality items that aren’t falling apart after one wash. Brand name and price tag don’t guarantee better quality, though. So, no matter where we shop and how much money we spend on an item, we should always take a close look at the garment’s construction. These post can help you to spot quality among the abundance of choices:
- How to Spot Quality When Shopping For Clothes – 3 Things to Check
- How to Shop for Quality Shoes You’ll Love to Wear
I can’t really say it often enough. Choosing quality over quantity is the key to many positive changes in our lives.
Go for Timeless, Versatile Pieces
I know you’ve heard this many times before. But I really think it’s good advice to invest in well-made basics in classic cuts, with clean lines as they can be worn longer without going entirely out of trend.
And don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you can’t follow any trends. But I would always recommend to get the basics first and spice them up with very few, well-selected fashionable pieces.
Take Your Time and Shop Strategically
Slow fashion also means making the right buying decisions. To identify what you really need, the holes in your wardrobe, you first want to have an overview. Personally, I have a complete list of all of my clothes. I mark items I need to replace. And I use it as a wish list for new things, including how much I’m willing to spend on these additions. Based on this wardrobe planning list, I can shop more strategically. Here’re some articles that can help you with that often challenging task:
- How to Create and Refine a Wardrobe Wishlist
- Wardrobe Inventory: Questions Beyond “Does It Spark Joy?”
- The Ultimate Guide to a Well-Curated Wardrobe
Moreover, give yourself enough time to find the perfect pieces. I know how tempting it is to jump on an offer right away. And I also know how frustrating it can be when an item you fell in love with is sold out. But if you want to avoid shopping mistakes, sleep on it before making a decision. Find more tips in this posts:
Shop Pre-Owned or Vintage
A way to extend the life cycle of clothing, shoes, and accessories is to buy pre-owned or vintage. This has a positive impact on our environment and allows you to buy high-quality clothes on a budget.
Shop Your Closet
Some YouTubers, e.g., Alyssa Beltempo or Audrey Coyne, create amazing new outfit combinations with their existing wardrobes. They’ve definitely encouraged me to style the clothes I own to recreate a specific look or bring in a unique vibe.
Find a Good Tailor
Taking your clothes to the tailor can help adjust them to changes and, ultimately, love them longer. For instance, if you lose weight or if the silhouette you prefer changes. Hence, when you love the color and fabric, but not the fit of a clothing piece, a good tailor is your friend.
Take Care of Your Clothes
Once we’ve invested in quality pieces, we want them to look perfect as long as possible. Hence, we have to learn how to properly take care of every single item in our closets. With a bit of effort and extra care, we can extend the life of our clothes significantly. In other words, for slow fashion advocates, wardrobe maintenance is a must!
- All about Wardrobe Maintenance
Get Things Repaired
Wardrobe maintenance also entails getting clothes, shoes, and accessories repaired (or do it yourself, if possible). My recommendation is to always take care of any issue right away. Don’t wait until you’ve lost that loose button. Take your shoes to the service before the soles are worn down. Make it a habit to check your belongings regularly if they need attention.
Resell or Donate What You Don’t Want to Keep
This is also a good way to extend the lifespan of your clothes a bit more. Resell or donate items you no longer love. Don’t just trash them. The clothes still have value. Maybe not for you, but most certainly for someone else.
Some More Questions You May Have
Do I have to Purge My Entire Closet to Start Over With Slow Fashion?
If you’ve read some of my posts, you’ve probably noticed that I love decluttering. But I also wrote that you shouldn’t overdo it either. One of the cons of decluttering is the temptation to discard too many clothes all at once. And then, rushing into replacing them too quickly. Still, you certainly profit from decluttering your wardrobe. Just take your time with it.
What If I Can’t Stop Buying New Clothes?
Once you feel confident with your personal style, the vast number of choices around you will be nothing more than inspirations. But if you still feel overwhelmed and continuously tempted to purchase new clothes, take a shopping break. Unsubscribe from retailer emails, skip the fashion magazines, and don’t go (window) shopping for a while. Give yourself time to rethink your relationship with clothes.
Can I No Longer Follow Trends as a Slow Fashion Advocate?
First of all, pursuing slow fashion doesn’t mean you can’t stay informed and aware of what’s going on, what’s on-trend. And of course, you can always incorporate trendy pieces into your wardrobe. But slow fashion also means being true to your personal style. If you fall in love with a trend, tweak it to fit your style personality. By doing so, you automatically ensure that new additions blend in with your existing clothes and that they can be mixed and matched for variety and longevity.
So, this is my personal guide to slow fashion. I hope you agree that we all can go down the slow fashion road – regardless of our starting point, budget or needs.
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Are you already a slow fashion advocate? How did you get started? Let us know!