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What's the Rush?

10 minute read: Why slow fashion wins the race.
Robyn Smith

It was a term coined by the New York Times in the 1990s. Fast fashion. It described Zara’s mission for a garment to go from design to shelves in just two weeks, and refers to cheap clothing produced rapidly in response to the latest trends. Today, nearly three decades on, fast fashion seems almost tame, as the speed of production continues to accelerate. 

The past decade has birthed throwaway culture and the once shameful, cheap aesthetic of polyester has now been put on a pedestal. But the price to pay is far more than that on the tag. As demand has grown, so has the exploitation of both people and the planet, with the fashion industry fuelling extreme carbon emissions, water pollution and wastage, foul treatment of workers and social inequality.

The most sustainable outfit is the one you already own.

Although we understand some of its impact on the world, the frivolous nature of fashion often masks the toxicity of the industry, hiding behind it’s teammates; consumers pointing one finger at fuel companies and the other Apple-Paying at the Boohoo checkout. As the climate crisis increases in severity, and the world shows hopeful signs of turning to more conscious consumerism in response to the pandemic, it’s high time that we re-evaluate our wardrobes. So how can you take your first steps into the world of slow fashion?

In this digital age, the serpents of social media dangle the forbidden fruit of fast fashion. Social media has become the hub of fashion and style inspiration and influencers are reigning supreme. With surveys reporting that 73% of Gen Z’s believe the rise in fast fashion can be attributed to social media influencers, the unfollow button will be your greatest friend when it comes to cutting down consumption. Whilst you’re at it, go ahead and delete any shopping apps you have on your phone… What you don’t know, you won’t miss, it’s as simple as that! 

The serpents of social media dangle the forbidden fruit of fast fashion.

A little imagination can also go a long way. The most sustainable outfit is the one you already own and through merely doubling the amount of time we keep our clothes for, we could cut fashion carbon emissions by a staggering 44%. Social media is home to the unwritten rule that outfit repeating is a social catastrophe. We must step back, gain some perspective and give our garments the love they deserve. That dress in your wardrobe that was painfully produced by underpaid factory workers in gruelling conditions, to be shipped from the other side of the world, deserves a lot more than to be worn once (if at all) and thrown to the back of your wardrobe, never to see the light of day, or Instagram, again. Put on your innovation goggles and look at your wardrobe in a new light, play around with styling items in different ways or even upcycle your clothes into something completely new and one of a kind. Also, remember to care for your garments, wash them appropriately and sparingly and make the effort to mend them. Remember, if you wouldn’t go to the effort of mending a garment, you shouldn’t have bought it in the first place.

However, it must be remembered that frequent consumption is a habit and, for some, even an addiction, so going cold turkey doesn’t work for everyone. It’s a weaning process and the withdrawal is real. It’s all about moderation, but there are still better ways to buy. The second-hand market is booming and is speculated to overtake the fast fashion industry within a decade. In the past, second-hand has been victim to stigma and it’s encouraging to see attitudes somersault, with re-commerce not only mainstream, but on-trend. In other words, if you don’t know, get to know. There truly is a second-hand platform for everyone. If you still seek the trends of fast fashion, chances are the product you’re about to buy is already on Depop for a lower price. If vintage or general low-cost fashion is your thing, Depop is also great, but eBay and Vinted are your best bets for bargains. For those who prefer to invest in luxury, Vestiaire is your new little slice of heaven, but also bear in mind growing platforms such as Hurr Collective, By Rotation and Rotaro that offer fashion rental services for just a snippet of the price tag (proving ideal for special occasions).

If all else fails and you still find yourself under the spell of Zara’s new-in page, there’s one last trick in the slow fashion book. Ask yourself the important questions. Make sure you’re buying for the right reason (out of necessity, and not as a go-to mood booster) and that you’re content with the lifecycle of that garment and the business you’re investing in. A further fool-proof decision maker is the 30 wear challenge. The idea is that you need to wear a garment at least 30 times to be able to even partly justify the carbon emissions it’s accountable for, so if you don’t see yourself wearing it in a few months time, back well away.

But above all, the key to slowing down your fashion consumption is education. Arguably what lies at the heart of unsustainable behaviours is an ‘ignorance is bliss’ approach. To stay committed to the cause, you must constantly remind yourself of your purpose. With the curriculum still falling behind in terms of environmental education, it’s up to individuals to put in the work to educate themselves. There’s a whole host of ways to get educated at your fingertips, including podcasts, social media, books and free online courses, so no excuses please. Some particularly recommended resources include the Wardrobe Crisis podcast, How to Break Up with Fast Fashion by Lauren Bravo, slow fashion influencers such as @venetialamanna and @ajabarber and the revolutionary documentary ‘The True Cost’.

Make sure you're buying for the right reason (out of necessity, and not as a go-to mood booster).

It must be noted, however, that the road to sustainability should be treated with caution. It’s easy to be swept up in a storm of eco-anxiety and guilt if you constantly strive for perfection on this journey. Individual action can only go so far in the face of governmental policies and powerful corporations that stand in the way of true, monumental progress and inclusivity within the sustainability movement, so don’t self-loathe because you’ve forgotten your reusable coffee cup.

However, there is strength in numbers. As the number of people supporting the cause increases, so does demand. At present, fast fashion brands are feeding the population's hunger for cheap, on-trend fashion and until consumers show demand and invest elsewhere, businesses will continue to exploit people and the environment for monetary gain. So, do your best and that’s all anyone can ask of you.