Fast fashion. The shockingly cheap price is usually what reels us in.
“What!? You mean this top is only $9! I have to have it. I can’t afford not to buy it at this price!” We’ve all fallen victim to fast fashion’s clutches at one time or another.
Slow fashion is the best alternative, but many of us aren’t sure how to transition our wardrobes or don’t think we can afford it. I’m here to show you that you can. Let’s briefly look at the main differences and then we’ll dive into some slow closet tips.
What is a fast fashion vs. slow fashion brand? In a nutshell, fast fashion brands rapidly produce and release sub-par clothing constantly throughout the year instead of seasonally. Quality is low and the items are cheap. Whereas, slow fashion brands aim to be eco-friendly, practice transparent manufacturing, and create clothing of higher quality. Items are more expensive due to better materials and fair wages.
How Fast Fashion Became So Appealing
According to the book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline, Zara, and H&M were the first brands to stray from seasonal collections and start rapidly producing and releasing new collections more frequently. Zara is known for its constant offering of the latest trends at a low price and surprisingly delivers new lines twice a week.
This trend started about 20 years ago and it didn’t take very long for other retailers such as Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, Gap, and Uniqlo (just to name a few) to follow suit.
Fast fashion brands bank on the fact that when we pay less than $30 for a garment, we are less likely to return it. They figure it will sit in our closet and that we’ll only wear it a few times. They also factor in that we most likely won’t take good care of it. They know we’re more likely to toss it out versus take the time to mend it or get it repaired.
These brands advertise and give the illusion that they sell quality clothing, but they measure the quality by how many times we can wash something without it falling apart. They intentionally manufacture clothing they know will only last through a handful of wears and washes.
For most of us the appeal of fast fashion is the ability to regularly update our wardrobe and purchase newer items. It’s difficult to pass up looking at the new styles that flood our inbox. And how many of us haven’t indulged in a clothing-haul video once or twice on YouTube? It can be exciting to see the latest finds from our favorite fashion vloggers.
However, it is important that we remember to ask ourselves – what happens to all these clothes when they are discarded?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans reportedly throw away 12.7 million tons of clothing per year. That is a staggering number considering they also estimate that only about 1.6 million tons of it could be recycled or reused.
However, even the number of what can be recycled is dwindling. Every fabric, even natural organic ones, have an ecological footprint. About half of fast fashion is made of plastic in the form of polyester.
And textile blends like polyester-viscose, wool-nylon-acetate, and other blends, make them pretty much impossible to recycle. These blends are referred to as Frankenfabrics in Cline’s book. Garments made from single materials like 100% polyester or 100% cotton are much easier to recycle.
The process of making fast fashion is far from green and the more and more fast fashion that is produced, the more Frankenfabrics there are and the more difficult it becomes for textile recyclers.
Slow Fashion Roots and Looking Forward
Kate Fletcher of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion first started using the term “slow fashion” following the popularity of the slow food movement. The focus of the slow food movement is on slowing the production of food, obtaining it locally when possible and using organic, whole ingredients. Fletcher saw the parallel with fashion and a need for slowing down the production of clothing just the same.
Slow Fashion aims to be the opposite of fast fashion. Slow fashion designers and brands are striving to surpass what’s available from fast fashion brands in terms of creativity, individuality, and most importantly – quality and sustainability.
Slow fashion brands aim to produce quality clothing in smaller quantities, be open and transparent about their production processes, provide better working conditions, and pay a living wage.
Fashion schools have started to teach sustainable design approaches and the price and sustainable textiles is starting to come down.
Studies have estimated that if Americans spent just 1% more on on US goods it would produce 200,000 jobs.
When you join the slow clothing movement you are vowing to view clothes as investments instead of trendy throw away items.
No matter where you purchase your clothes, or how much money you have to spend on them, you can work towards building slow closet.
9 Tips for Slow Closet
Change Your Fashion Mindset
I love any advice having to do with a good mindset shift and this first tip comes Michelle over at The Classy Simple Life. She says that before we can successfully take action on curating a slow closet, we must first pivot our mindset around our shopping habits. Here are some of the mindsets that she broke (including a few of my own added to the list):
- the incessant need to search for a deal
- the “throw away” mindset
- having to own the latest trend
- buying without having a purpose for the item
- buying only because it is cheap and it fits
She suggests aligning your shopping with your personal beliefs. Once you know the mindsets you need to break, practice flipping them to the behavior you want. For example the mindsets might become:
- I am satisfied with what I have and can pass on this deal.
- I buy items that are made well that I know will last.
- I’m creating my own individual style and don’t need to follow trends.
- I only buy items that I have a purpose for.
- An item must pass my test for both need, quality, and fit before I buy it.
Curate What You Have
After making the decision to move to slow fashion it can be tempting to do a major purge, get rid of most everything and start over. However, the most sustainable approach to transitioning to a slow closet is to wear what you have.
Evaluate everything in your wardrobe for fit, condition, and style. Have some fun trying combinations you haven’t tried and experimenting with different looks.
Once you complete this process, if you find items that no longer fit, are damaged beyond repair, or don’t go with anything else in your closet, at that point give yourself permission to let them go.
Buy Used and Vintage
Buying used and vintage is the second best way to make your closet more slow. When you buy used or vintage you are not only extending the life of an item I believe you are also exerting and further developing your personal style.
It immediately takes the new and trendy factor out of the equation and requires you to evaluate an item based on quality, fit, and personal style alone. Also, it can be incredibly kind on your pocketbook. Some of the nicest, highest quality pieces in my wardrobe where purchased secondhand for a mere few dollars.
Shop Sustainable Brands
Not too long ago the choice of sustainable brands was limited, if you required a size beyond that of a twig or wanted something not boxy. However, that has recently changed and now there are many great stylish options for all shapes and sizes.
To get you started, check out 100 Affordable Ethical Fashion Brands from Wonder Wardrobe created by Daria. This is just one of her sustainable brand guides but she has one of the most extensive collections of sustainable fashion brand guides I’ve seen anywhere. Be sure to check it out.
Adjust How You Think About Spending on Clothes
So many of us save and splurge on pieces of clothing for special occasions, or bags or shoes that we only use for special events. However, what if you flipped your thinking and instead saved and invested on the clothes you wear every day? Eventually, after a few seasons, you’d have a wardrobe full of high quality sustainable clothes.
If you have a hard time justifying spending more money on a pair of jeans or a cashmere sweater, count the number of times you know you’ll wear the item and divide that by its cost. This is called its cost-per-wear.
For example, if you purchase a pair of pants that cost $200 that you’ll wear at least once every two weeks (26 times a year) and the quality is such that the pants should last you 10 years:
- 26 x 10 divided by $200 = $1.30 cost-per-wear
Another example is, say you buy a cheap blouse from a discount retailer that cost $15. You are able to wear it twice before you wash it and it shrinks and becomes misshapen and unwearable:
- 2 divided by $15 = $7.50 cost-per-wear
The benefit of buying higher quality becomes more and more apparent when you consider the cost-per-wear.
Try the #30Wears Test
Created by Livia Firth, the founder of Eco Age (a company which certifies brands for their sustainability), the #30Wears challenge asks us to only buy items that we know we’ll wear.
Before making a purchase ask yourself honestly, “Will I wear this item at least 30 times?” If the answer is no, or if you’re unsure – say no to the purchase.
Buy With the End in Mind
Consider the fabric of any item you bring into your wardrobe and where the clothing item will go when it leaves its service to you. Is it made of a fabric that can be easily recycled? It is something that has the ability to be mended and repaired? Is the craftsmanship or quality so low it most likely suffer holes, become misshapen, or have seams come loose after just a few wears?
You’ll find that the way you evaluate and think about your clothing will drastically change. You’ll naturally begin to be a lot more careful when choosing new items for your wardrobe.
Transitioning to a slow closet is not going to happen overnight and I’m not going to lie – it’s going to take work.
However, what you’re going to discover in the process is your personal style, a deeper connection to the clothes that you own and an appreciation for quality over quantity. You’ll have the rewarding satisfaction that you’re doing something good for yourself and for the planet.