The world is in the midst of a major shift towards sustainable fashion. But what does that mean for you and your wardrobe? I’m here to help you understand how fast fashion has changed the industry, why it matters, and how slow fashion can change your life.
The way we shop has changed dramatically in the past few years. The introduction of fast fashion, for example, has made it possible to buy new clothes at a lower price point. No more do you have to wait until your favorite clothing store goes on sale before you can get that latest trend. Instead, you can just head down to your nearest H&M or Forever 21 and pick up whatever catches your eye.
But with this convenience comes an environmental cost: Fast fashion is wreaking havoc on our planet’s natural resources and environment.
Fast fashion vs slow fashion: below we will delve further into each and examine the rise of sustainable fashion.
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What is fast fashion?
Fast fashion refers to a form of mass produced clothing based on fashion trends. Inherently unsustainable, this system encourages the overconsumption of clothing and gives rise to disposable pieces that are manufactured with little thought for their environmental impact.
In order to feed consumer demand, fast fashion stores churn out new styles every week, which means clothes have a short lifespan in your wardrobe. It’s estimated that it takes only about 30 washes before a new item has outlived its wearability. From there, they either go straight into a landfill or charity donation bin.
The fashion industry generates between 100 and 150 billion garments annually. It consumes huge quantities of raw materials and energy and produces 100 million tons of waste each year – 80% of which ends up in landfills.
The fast fashion industry has made it so cheap and easy to dress yourself in the latest fashion trends that you might not even notice how often you buy new pieces.
Fast fashion companies have been able to offer prices so low because they use cheap labor and materials for their clothing. They also have little incentive to encourage recycling or reuse – as a result, 70% of your clothes could be thrown away after just one wear.
The negative impact of fast fashion on the environment
Fast fashion’s low price point comes at a much higher environmental cost. Every stage in the life cycle of your clothes (from cultivation to production, storage, transportation and disposal) contributes to its carbon footprint.
The extraction and processing of raw materials account for 50% of fast fashion’s impact on the planet. The production of cotton requires the use of large amounts of pesticides which are harmful to both people and the planet. The process is also incredibly water-intensive. Around 8,000 liters are used every single day in just one pair of jeans! And that’s not all: The dyeing and printing of fabrics emit hazardous chemicals into the air we breathe.
The production of fast fashion is notorious for the use of sweatshops and child labor in developing countries. These unsavory business practices exploit factory workers who are paid poverty wages and forced to work in unsafe conditions.
The demand for cheaper and faster fashion has led to tragedies like the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013. When a building housing five garment factories collapsed, 1,134 people were killed and 2,500 severely injured. Most of those employed in this industry are women working long hours on little pay – typically earning 34% less than men. They are vulnerable to workplace harassment from which they have little recourse.
Disposable fast fashion pieces aren’t made to last. Many clothes today are treated as disposable and end up in landfills after just a few wears. Overusing this resource is causing damage that we can’t undo – and the problems will only get worse with the increasing demand for new clothing.
The fast fashion industry has led to excessive consumption of clothing at unsustainable levels. The abundance of cheap, disposable clothes promotes over-consumption and encourages us to replace old items with new ones – even when they’re still wearable.
DID YOU KNOW: Clothing production is the third biggest manufacturing industry after the automotive and technology industries. Textile production contributes more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined – House of Common Environmental Audit Committee 2019
What is slow fashion?
In contrast to fast fashion, the slow fashion movement focuses on ensuring that the entire life cycle of a garment is sustainable. In other words, they look at how a piece was made from start to finish before it gets sold.
Slow fashion companies take care in choosing materials for their products and work with suppliers who follow ethical labor guidelines. They also give customers information about where their clothes come from and what impact they have on the environment – something fast fashion stores simply don’t do.
How does slow fashion impact the environment?
While fast fashion relies on cheap labor and materials, slow fashion aims to focus on sustainability, which ensures that your clothes are made from natural, biodegradable materials. They also look at how much energy is used to produce a garment and if it’s recyclable or reusable in the future.
As such, products that come from sustainable fashion brands have a smaller environmental footprint than those from fast fashion stores. With so many people buying new items each season, cheap clothes can’t break down for recycling and end up in landfill instead. Meanwhile, clothing manufacturers need to continue using resources like fresh water and power in order to keep up with demand.
Slowly but surely though we seem to be turning the tables on fast fashion. With the rise of ethical shopping brands, people are realising how harmful it is to our planet to buy new clothes constantly, and instead preferring more sustainable methods of shopping.
Fast fashion vs slow fashion: The key differences
- Ethical clothing companies ensure that the supply chain follows ethical work guidelines and pays employees fair wages. In contrast, fast fashion stores rely on cheap labor overseas, which means they can provide their customers with clothes at low prices.
- While the production of fast fashion uses many harmful materials and emits a lot of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, slow fashion companies work with sustainable materials and look at the entire life cycle of their products.
- Fast fashion companies churn out new clothes each season and often use cheap materials that cannot be reused. In contrast, slow fashion brands use high-quality materials and ensure that their clothes can be recycled or repurposed at the end of their life cycle.
- Due to the cheap materials used by fast fashion companies, their clothes are cheaper than slow fashion garments.
- Fast fashion companies don’t tend to share any information about where their clothes come from or how they impact the environment. Slow fashion brands, however, educate their customers with this type of knowledge.
- Fast fashion is much more accessible to the average shopper, whereas the slow fashion movement is slightly more exclusive.
Slow fashion: A sustainable alternative
Now that you’re aware of how harmful fast fashion is, it can be hard to continue buying cheap pieces. But if you’re not ready to stop shopping altogether, why not choose a more sustainable way to shop?
The first step toward slow fashion is shopping consciously and taking stock of what you own. Chances are you have a lot of clothing right now that will never get worn. Be honest with yourself – would you really wear those old yoga pants again? How long has it been since you wore that dress from Forever 21 last? Once you take inventory, donate anything that you don’t love or haven’t worn in a year.
Next, think about investing in high-quality clothes that will stay in your wardrobe for years to come. If you buy something made from cheap materials, chances are it won’t last long. By choosing better quality pieces, you’ll have less to worry about when it comes time to do laundry or get ready for an event.
When it comes down to it, we have some pretty basic needs what is most important when choosing clothing. If people were more educated about where their clothes come from they would be able to make sure companies are adhering by certain standards because due diligence must be done with what gets sold to the general public.
You don’t need to give up shopping altogether, but you might want to think twice before adding something new to your cart. Buying less, buying better, and recycling are all simple ways that you can make a positive difference for our planet each time you hit the shops.
By buying only the essentials and giving old clothes a second life, you can take pride in knowing that you’ve made a positive impact on the planet simply by shopping more consciously.
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Sustainable fashion is becoming more and more popular, as people become more aware of the negative impacts of fast fashion.
While there are some challenges to sustainable fashion, such as higher costs and lack of availability, the benefits far outweigh these disadvantages.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful in understanding fast fashion vs slow fashion. If you want to learn more, or find out where you can buy sustainable clothing, please check out some of the resources below.