In an age of hashtags and buzz words, two terms have recently seemed to gain a lot of traction within both the eco and fashion community – Fast Fashion and Slow Fashion.

Read on as we explain what these two terms mean, and why it’s so important to know and appreciate the difference. We also show you how, by choosing to participate in the Slow Fashion movement, instead of opting for cheap, mass produced Fast Fashion, you can save money, improve someone’s life, protect our environment, and contribute to a sustainable, circular economy.

What is Fast Fashion?

In many ways, Fast Fashion is the antithesis of Slow Fashion. It’s all about rapidly creating trend driven, inexpensive, mass produced fashion that is available at mass market retailers. Straight from the catwalk, into the stores, purchased cheaply then briefly worn (or sometimes, not even worn once!) and then thrown away. There are so many negative impacts associated with fashion produced in this way, ranging from the environmental effects of dying with toxic and harmful chemicals, to the exploitation of garment workers.

What are the Environmental & Social Costs of Fast Fashion?

Cheap garments often use cheap material, such as synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon and acrylic. These fabrics aren’t biodegradable and instead can last up to 200 years. They are also one of the main contributors of micro plastics to the ocean. Each time a synthetic garment is washed, thousands of tiny plastic particles are distributed into the sea and cause havoc for marine life.

The impacts of Fast Fashion also greatly affect the people who make the clothes. In 2013, more than 1,100 garment workers were killed in the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It is known that the workers had previously pointed out cracks in the building but were ignored and directed back to work inside. Fashion Revolution Week was created in response to this tragic event and aims to create more transparency within the industry. More recently, Zara customers have discovered hand written notes sewn into clothes from garment workers stating they hadn’t been paid for their labour.

Fast Fashion is about:

  • trend driven, inexpensive, poor quality, mass produced styles;
  • dangerous working conditions for workers making the clothes;
  • some workers not being paid for their work at all;
  • cheap, synthetic, non-biodegradable fabrics that do significant harm to the environmental;
  • brands that are not transparent in their processes.

Supporting brands who are transparent about their manufacturing and labour processes is one of the best ways to ensure you aren’t supporting a label who is exploiting people. If a brand is being unclear or vague, ask them directly “who made my clothes?”.

What is Slow Fashion?

Slow Fashion is an umbrella term that refers to a cultural movement around the slower production and consumption of clothing and accessories. It often refers to products that have been created consciously, with ethical practices and sustainability at the forefront of the design process.

In simpler terms, Slow Fashion is all about slowing down the way we make and buy clothing. It encourages consumers to know and appreciate not just the people making their clothing, but the garments themselves.

Slow Fashion champions:

  • outfit repeating;
  • mending;
  • upcycling;
  • thrift shopping;
  • swapping;
  • sharing;
  • minimalism;
  • making clothes by hand.

Due to what Slow Fashion champions as a concept – outfit repeating, mending, thrift shopping, swapping, sharing, making clothes yourself, etc. – spending a lot of money to take part in the movement is not necessary.

But if you do decide to buy Slow Fashion garment, you can purchase it knowing that the person who made your clothes was paid a fair, living wage, did not have to work in unsafe conditions, and that the materials used did not or will not cause significant environmental harm.

How to be more sustainable

  • The 30 wears test

The Slow Fashion movement is about making the most out of your wardrobe and wearing your clothes in a number of different ways, time and time again. One easy way to adapt to this way of thinking is to do the ’30 wears test’. The #30wears campaign was launched by Livia Firth (Colin Firth’s wife), and proposes that when considering buying something new, you ask yourself “Will I wear this at least 30 times?”.

The campaign wasn’t launched to stop us from buying new clothes, isn’t about giving up buying new clothes altogether, it’s simply about changing our approach; viewing clothes as an investment rather than something disposable. By doing this, we can reduce landfill waste and improve our carbon footprint.

  • Be more informed

One of the most difficult things about trying to be more sustainable is knowing where to start – and more importantly, where to shop. In this day and age, however, it is much easier than it once was as there are so many brands that are run with a sustainable focus in mind.

  • Shop vintage

Vintage clothes are super stylish, affordable – not to mention a lot of fun. If you want to become a more sustainable shopper, head to your local vintage store and see what gems you can find from years gone by.

  • Buy the right materials

If you’re confused about which materials to buy, an easy rule to follow is to only buy items cut from natural fabrics you’ve heard of like wool, silk and linen. Fabrics that are made from unnatural fibres are created in labs synthetically, using chemicals like petroleum. These fabrics aren’t biodegradable and, just like polyester, shed microfibres every time they’re washed, inevitably polluting out our waterways.

  • Donate your unwanted clothes to family and friends

They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and this rings true for clothes, too. By donating clothes to either family, friends, or your local charity shop, you’re helping others be more sustainable. It stops people from buying new, without taking away the high we get from getting a lovely new item for our wardrobe.

A great way to do this is to have a one-in, one-out policy – live by the mantra that every time you buy something, you’ll donate something else in your wardrobe.

  • Look after your clothes so they last longer

If you buy something from a Slow Fashion brand, it’s likely to cost a little bit more, and you’re way more likely to respect it. It’s also going to be high-quality, made from sustainable fabric in a workplace where employees are well treated and cared for.

The way you treat your clothes impacts their longevity, so if you care for them and treat them well, they’ll last for decades and you won’t have to replace them.

  • Learn how to repair clothing yourself (or find a good tailor)

When something rips or a heel breaks, you don’t necessarily have to throw it away. Learn how to repair your clothes and accessories – or, even easier, pay a professional to do it. Think twice before using it as an excuse for something new.

  • Go for quality over quantity

It’s all about planning. Buying better quality, more sustainable pieces is likely to cost you more money than buying a cheap high-street product that doesn’t tick the right boxes. However, it’s all about changing your mindset. Yes this costs more, but I am only going to buy one. Buying 10-30 high-quality items a year, rather than 60 cheaper, less eco-friendly pieces will dramatically reduce your carbon footprint. Basically, save up, invest and buy less.

  • Adjust how you spend your money

Change what you splurge on. Instead of spending your savings on a dress for a wedding or a pair of shoes you will only wear for special occasions, spend your ‘investment’ cash on the things you wear every day. Stop thinking, ‘I would never spend that much on a pair of jeans,’ consider that you are only going to buy one pair of jeans this year, or one item this month – and make it this. After a few seasons, you will have a high-quality, sustainable wardrobe to be proud of.