What is the Difference Between Fast Fashion and Slow Fashion
by Arctic Meta,
We are living in an interesting time. It’s a time where you can order an entire season’s worth of clothing online and the wardrobe to store it in. It can arrive at your door tomorrow, and you can even use an app to hire someone to put it all together and organise it for you.
Things are fast now, very fast, but is it better?
At a time where we are marvelling at all the things that make our lives more convenient, we are also looking at these same things through a critical eye and asking, ‘What is the true cost of this convenience?’
Sure that shirt you got on sale fits fine and costs less than a cup of coffee, but who made it? What is it made of? How long will it last? The answers to these questions might surprise and shock you.
Fast fashion has been the primary source of our wardrobe items for a while now, but is there another option? What even is fast fashion? How is it different from slow fashion?
So many questions, I know, but if you read on, I will answer all these and more.
What is Fast Fashion?
Without even going into a detailed explanation of what fast fashion is, it’s pretty safe to say that you probably have it in your wardrobe. It’s inexpensive and mass-produced.
If you’ve ever heard of ‘fashion cycles,’ this normally refers to the passing down of fashion concepts from catwalks to the everyday person; nine times out of ten, this is done via the fast fashion model.
If you own a clothing label or manufacturing company, fast fashion makes sense as a business model. You find the clothing people want to wear, then work out how to reproduce it in your own way.
You then produce it as fast as you can so that you can get ahead of your competition. You also don’t need to focus on making sure the garments have a long life because you need your customers to come back and buy more fast fashion items from you.
The fast-fashion model has dominated the consumer clothing market for decades.
With this dominance, there has also been a need to keep up with customer demand. Companies will do whatever it takes to offer the same look for less in a ‘race to the bottom of prices’ to gain loyalty from customers and assert brand dominance.
For legal reasons, I won’t name any companies that are involved in the fast fashion model of clothing retail, but you can figure it out based on the information you’ve already read.
Most of the clothing stores you visit in a mall or outlet centre are participating in fast fashion.
Fast fashion is all about clothing that’s produced incredibly quickly; sometimes, the fast fashion cycle is so fast that items are out of fashion by the time they hit the stores. This sentence is baffling on ‘chicken vs egg’ levels, but it’s true.
What Are the Problems With Fast Fashion?
The fast-fashion model has worked for a reasonably large amount of time, but in the past decade or so, we have begun to realise that there are some problems with this method of producing clothing that can have some lasting and devastating effects if not kept in check.
These negative effects cover a broad range of sectors.
The environment is a hot topic at the moment; the world is getting hotter, resources are running out, and a number of animal species are regularly threatened by the fact that we just want more things.
The interesting thing about the environmental issues facing us is that we tend to think more about planes, gas, forestry and mining as the major culprits; however, fast fashion should be included in this list.
A large portion of the materials used in fast fashion are unnatural and produced using some pretty nasty agricultural practices.
In fact, when it comes to polluting the clean water sources of the world, the fashion industry ranks number 2.
A lot of the chemicals used in the dying process of garments are toxic; the same goes for the process of waterproofing clothing like parkas and shoes.
Due to the fast nature of turnaround for these products, some of these chemicals leak into the general water supply, and much like microplastics, they end up in the food chain, killing marine life and eventually making their way into other animals including humans.
Some may think that manufacturing synthetic fibres will help with the whole resources issue when it comes to fast fashion, but there are some significant environmental factors that come with them too.
The most commonly used synthetic fibre in clothing is polyester. This revolutionised the textile industry when it was discovered in a lab in the 1930s. It has since gone on to bring us the leisure suits of the 70s and the durable fabrics we use today (that you should never put in a tumble dryer).
The problem with polyester is that it’s a by-product of crude oil. It’s also plastic, and like most plastics in circulation today, it pollutes and is really hard to get rid of.
Even when clothing is made from natural resources like cotton, there are still environmental issues.
The demand of the fast fashion industry is so strong that the mass farming of crops is leading to long-term environmental damage.
The concept of sustainable development is often overlooked when you’re a cotton farmer trying to meet the high demands of a massive corporation that needs to get some sequinned tops out by next week before the trend is over.
The human element of the fashion industry is often one that people are uncomfortable with.
The truth is that if you knew exactly who made the shirt you bought for $5 in a bargain bin, you might wear it for a bit longer before leaving it at a friend’s house after a pool party and never bothering to get it back.
In this interconnected age, we’re all aware that the demands on a supply chain will often result in horrible treatment for workers on the ground floor, but the true cost of the shirt on your back goes much deeper than this sentence.
Many of the world’s leading textile manufacturing plants are in the developing world, places where the pay is low, and the concept of workers rights is sometimes still just a concept.
The people hired to manufacture clothing face dangerous working conditions and little human rights. Companies often turn a blind eye to these injustices, all in the name of saving a buck to pass it onto the consumer.
It’s not just the cheap labour that attracts a lot of companies to places like this. Often to keep up with production, workers will extend their hours to keep ahead; this will sometimes even result in child or slave labour.
You might think, ‘I’m pretty sure a worldwide company would make sure they steer clear of this kind of abuse.’ Well, yes, they would be wise to do so, but they also don’t have to know it’s happening if they’re outsourcing part of their operations to a third party.
The human element to fashion is what kicked off the slow fashion movement years ago, more on that later.
Reduced Quality of Garments
One passenger that unfortunately takes a considerable back seat in the fast fashion model is quality. This is kind of obvious when you think about it.
To get the garments out there quickly and cheaply, they are made from sub-par textiles that won’t last very long. The construction of the clothing often cuts corners that would normally extend its lifespan.
Eventually, shirts develop holes, skirts get loose seams, and jeans look like they’ve lost a battle with a lawnmower (which still occasionally has its moment in fashion cycles).
When this happens, people tend to do one of two things; throw the clothes away or donate them to charity.
The problem with throwing the clothing away is that most of it ends up in landfill, and in the world of fast fashion, a large percentage of the materials used in construction are man-made, so they don’t decompose.
In fact, it’s possible that there are pieces of polyester stockings from the 1930s still sitting in a dump somewhere.
You might think, ‘Well, not all of these clothes are thrown away; some of them go to goodwill.’ This is true, and there are many people in need who do, in fact, benefit from clothing that has been donated to charity.
However, the amount of clothing that is donated every year compared to the amount of people who actually need it is very disproportional. There’s too much clothing waste to keep up with, so if a charity can’t find feet for those shoes or a body to be kept warm by that coat, a lot of it also ends up as landfill.
What is Slow Fashion?
The slow fashion movement has been around for close to 20 years, but the first time it was actually called ‘Slow Fashion’ was in 2007.
Slow fashion is all about being more aware of the choices we are making when it comes to manufacturing and buying clothing. It involves being conscious of the environmental, social and quality issues and impacts.
For designers and brands, slow fashion involves making sure that clothing is created to last a long time.
The business model of a slow fashion brand is very different from a fast fashion one. Instead of aiming to get as much produced as quickly as possible, a slow fashion brand aims to produce garments that will last and might even become heirlooms.
The principles of slow fashion also relate to working conditions and environmental impact.
Slow fashion brands use resources that are sustainable and have a minimal environmental impact. They also develop business relationships with traders and textile manufacturers that adhere to fair working conditions and don’t abuse human rights.
What Are the Benefits of Slow Fashion?
As the slow fashion movement has gained popularity, more and more consumers and creators have changed the way they approach the industry.
People are beginning to see how the choices they make in a clothing store can have huge knock-on effects, and there are some incredible benefits to slow fashion.
Helping the Environment
Slow fashion aims to reduce unnecessary consumption and lessen the carbon footprint an item of clothing can have. It also looks to use methods of production that can even help regenerate parts of the environment.
Slow fashion opts for natural materials and sustainable growth. This has better long term effects on the environment than the traditional practice of producing man-made textiles and consuming resources at an alarming rate.
The potential for water pollutants and chemicals leaking into the environment is also reduced with slow fashion; toxic chemicals are forbidden in this method of production.
Slow Fashion Increases Clothing Quality
Quality is one of the most important elements to slow fashion.
Clothing needs to last longer if people are going to keep wearing it, reusing it and handing it down. This reduces consumption and, in turn, reduces waste.
When clothing creators pay a bit extra to make sure the materials they use are high-quality, it makes them last longer and also increases their value.
Sourcing materials like this and also taking time to make sure the garments are strong and durable greatly increases their quality and keeps them out of landfill.
It might mean that the end product is a little more expensive for the customer than a piece of fast fashion, but they could buy that fast fashion item five to ten times before the slow fashion one even breaks a sweat.
Maintaining Social Responsibilities
Slow fashion is also about being socially conscious. It involves knowing who is involved in the production of the garments and how their involvement impacts them.
Designers and manufacturers have a responsibility to the people who make their products possible; this goes for farmers, factory workers and even those in retail stores. The fair treatment of workers is at the forefront of the slow fashion movement.
This is another reason why you might notice that slow fashion is a bit more expensive than fast fashion.
It’s not cheap to pay people a living wage; that’s not a complaint; it’s simply a fact. When you start delving into the ethics of fashion, you realise it’s hard to believe workers are respected and paid appropriately for a t-shirt that only costs $3.
Why You Need to Focus Your Spend on Slow Fashion Products
If you’ve made it this far in the blog post, you clearly are interested in making positive social and environmental changes in the world.
We all see news stories every day about climate change and natural disasters and wonder what exactly we can do to help. The simplest answer is to start with the things you have some control over.
If you start making more conscious decisions about the products you buy, you will be making a better impact on the world around you.
By now, you know that fast fashion and slow fashion are pretty much polar opposites. They are two completely different sides of an economic coin; one can be sustained in the long term, the other not so much.
By choosing to buy slow fashion instead of fast fashion, you will save money in the long run, but you will also be showing the fashion industry where your preferences lie.
The more people choose slow fashion and ethical and sustainable practices, the closer we will get to making an industry-wide change that will benefit everyone.
How As We Grow Supports Slow Fashion
As We Grow was born out of a need for change and also Icelandic tradition.
For a long time, fast fashion wasn’t really a thing Icelanders had access to. For the people on this little volcanic rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the clothing you had needed to last as long as possible.
One particular thing that is very traditional here is the hand-knitted Icelandic sweater. Every Icelander has at least one sweater (lopapeysa) that was handed down through generations. They’re made from raw, natural and sustainable materials and are super warm during those cold Icelandic winters.
Without knowing it, through this sweater, most Icelanders have been participating in slow fashion.
Often the sweater is given to a child, then when they outgrow it, it goes to their younger sibling, then maybe a cousin. The point is that the sweater has an incredibly long life that connects many generations.
This kind of relationship to clothing is what inspired the team behind As We Grow.
As a company, As We Grow supports slow fashion by emphasising conservation, sustainable natural resources, and quality in our products.
As We Grow offers clothing for all, from babies right through to grown-ups. The main aim of As We Grow is to encourage people to buy better and buy less so that we can all enjoy the amazing things this planet has to offer for generations to come.
Overconsumption has led us to the point where we’re starting to think carefully about the choices we make on a daily basis.
There are so many things we can do on a daily basis that will not only help to protect the environment for years to come it will also benefit thousands of people in the process.
Using slow fashion is just one of those things. Not only will it help you to know you’re making a difference, but it will also save you money.