I’ve been a bit of a fashionista since high school. I love dressing up, I love taking risks with my style, and I love finding pieces that start a conversation. After an international move forced me to consolidate my not-that-carefully curated wardrobe into two suitcases, I realized how much of my wardrobe consisted of cheap items that I wasn’t exactly psyched about.
Over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly aware of how the fashion industry contributes to pollution, climate change, and unfair labor practices. I’ve gradually started moving my wardrobe in a more sustainable direction and learned a bit along the way. Today, I’ve compiled my slow fashion and sustainable fashion tips for anyone looking to create a more environmentally-friendly (and life-friendly!) wardrobe.
What is slow fashion?
The term “slow fashion” was coined as an alternative to fast fashion. Rather than buying new, cheaply made clothes to keep up with the ever-changing trends, slow fashion embraces the idea that clothes should be loved and kept, and that there are ways to still be fashionable without the constant cycle of buying things and tossing them only a season or two later once that item is out of style.
Brands that have embraced slow fashion tend to release only a few collections a year and prioritize using ethically sourced materials and fair labor. It is excellent to see brands doing these things, but slow fashion is equally (if not more) valuable as a personal philosophy.
What are the problems with fast fashion?
Before I get into some facts about the problems with fast fashion, I want to first mention that I fully understand why people purchase from fast fashion brands and why they are so popular. When I was in high school and college, I went to fast fashion brands because they made sense for my lifestyle. I wasn’t making a lot of money, my size was changing, and I wanted to dress in a way that made me feel good. Fast fashion makes new and trendy items accessible to people at a lower price point.
There’s a lot of classism (and white-saviorism) involved in the sustainable fashion fashion world. Judging people for not “prioritizing” sustainable fashion or acting as if it is our job as the mighty consumer to “save” Black and Brown people in developing countries from unfair labor practices is a problem sustainable fashion needs to fix.
However, the reality of the situation is that we all inhabit this world and are all impacted by changes to the environment and unethical labor practices. Our choices as consumers do play a large part in the drive to continue to produce fast fashion.
Just a few of the problems with fast fashion:
- 20% of waste in landfills is from textiles, some of which can take up to 200 years to decompose.
- 93% of garment workers worldwide are not being paid a living wage.
- 20% of industrial water pollution is the result of garment processing and dyeing.
- Textile production contributes more to industrial pollution than both international aviation and shipping COMBINED.
- Fast fashion brands are notorious for stealing from smaller brands and independent designers, whether it’s swimwear, dresses, shoes, or jewelry. This is legal due to the copyright laws in the US, but detracts from the hard work of smaller brands.
Sustainable Fashion Tips
1) Wash things less often, wash them by hand, and air dry when possible.
Washing clothes by hand is fairly easy, and will help prolong the life of your clothes by saving them from the harsh machine cycles. Plus, if you’re like me and spill literally everything, hand washing quickly will ensure that stains don’t have time to set in, keeping clothes out of the landfill.
2) Use a clothes shaver to renew knits and pilled fabrics.
This thing is a game changer— it brought to life leggings, sweaters, and shirts that I had thought were a bit too worn out to wear. I use an electric model, which runs on batteries and is super easy to clean. If you don’t want an electric one, this handheld one from The Laundress is an excellent option.
3) Learn to sew (at least a little)
Listen, I’m not exactly a crafty person. But learning how to sew a little bit has saved so many of my favorite items from the edge, and helped me adjust thrift-store finds so that they work well for me.
I have a mini sewing kit like this one, but I’ve recently bought a used sewing machine off of E-Bay so I can try my hand at repurposing more items and save my hand from the trouble of hand-stitching.
4) Think of new ways to repurpose items in your closet.
Before you get rid of something, ask yourself if there’s anything else you can do with it. There are so many amazing tutorials on YouTube that show different ways to tie a shirt or a scarf. Re-styling an item or trying it in a new way may give it life that keeps it out of the donation bin.
5) Don’t throw fabric out.
I have a stash in my hall closet of old, gross t-shirts. I use them as rags, Swiffer covers, headbands, and bags for laundry when I’m traveling.
There are so many uses, I could probably write an entire article on this alone, but I won’t get too carried away. One more suggestion though— If you have wavy or curly hair, use an old shirt to dry it. Towels are not doing you ANY good.
6) Don’t get rid of things from fast-fashion companies.
I can’t believe I need to say this, but in weird sustainability spaces on the internet, there seems to be this undercurrent about how EVERYTHING you own needs to be from a sustainable, ethical brand. In my opinion, anyone who feels this way is probably missing the point of slow fashion.
A lot of sustainable companies are (justifiably) expensive, and while slow fashion may be cool and trendy right now, a lot of it is grounded in the exact same practices that people with fewer resources have been doing forever. Making “sustainability” inaccessible to those who championed sustainability because they didn’t have other options is not it.
While some fast-fashion items are admittedly made like crap and might not last you beyond a few wears, other items stand the test of time. My absolute favorite pair of jeans is a 100% cotton Mango pair I’ve had for years, and my go-to “going-out” top is one I bought at H&M in college.
7) Know your measurements.
In talking with a friend who owns a swimwear company, I was shocked when she told me that up to HALF of all clothes purchased online get returned.
Anyone who has bought women’s clothes can attest to the fact that our number or letter size means very little. A size 4 in one brand may be the same as a size 12 in another— and don’t even get me started on the very vague sizing for letter sizes.
While stores don’t always have perfect size charts, it’s always best to check them out and read reviews (if available) to help gauge whether or not a particular size will be right for you. This reduces waste in shipping and reduces the chances that you buy something and never wear it because it fits poorly.
8) Use online thrift stores or search for specific items used on resale websites.
I’m sure we’ve all fallen in LOVE with something online only to find out that it was too expensive, not in our size, or from a company we had our doubts about.
This is where the online marketplace comes in handy. I will continue to sing the praises of ThredUp, just because they have such a wide selection and you can sort by fabric type, pattern, etc. to find what you really want.
If you want to take a little more time searching, I’ve had success with Depop, Poshmark, and Mercari. I bought a $450 ski suit on Mercari this year for $150, and it was practically brand new! Not only did I get a killer outfit, I was able to buy from a brand that I knew would keep me warm rather than buying a similar priced item from a fast fashion company whose ski suits are really only well suited for a run or two.
As a general rule, I don’t purchase bras or swimwear used, but on some resale sites, you can find items that are new with tags or new without tags. If you’re comfortable with this, it can be not only a great money-saving option, but also a great way to prevent something from never getting worn.
The journey towards sustainable fashion and slow fashion
Remember that these sustainable fashion tips are only meant to serve as a place to get started, and is by no means exhaustive.
If you’re interested in slow fashion and more sustainable living, it is likely that it will be a process, and that it will be tough to adhere to a 100% sustainable way of living. I’m by no means claiming to be an expert, I’m just a recovering fashionista trying to be more thoughtful about how my choices impact others and the planet. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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