Fast fashion brands don’t just dominate mainstream fashion, they are mainstream fashion. As the name suggests, fast fashion is all about speed. Designs move quickly from catwalks to shops to customers and then to landfill.
When I learnt the extent of this, it was an uncomfortable truth to swallow.
Clothes aren’t built to last and there are numerous fashion “seasons” in per year, encouraging customers to repurchase often and stay on top of the latest trends. Fashion brands use unethical and inhumane labour to churn out constant cheap clothing. Then there’s the environmental cost. The fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world, just behind the oil industry.
But things can change. Slow fashion is a movement towards more ethical and sustainable fashion. It involves reducing what we buy, reusing clothes and recycling what can no longer be worn. Chances are you already engage with slow fashion without realising, whether you like charity shopping or you borrow outfits from friends or family members.
Here are a few ways I have started to look beyond fast fashion brands over the last few years. (Please excuse the photos to come, I’m not a fashion blogger.)
Shop your wardrobe. Ever retrieved an item from the back of your wardrobe that you forgot you owned? Same. “Shopping your wardrobe” is essentially that. When you get an urge to buy new clothes, you instead try to find a new way to wear what you already own.
I find “shopping my wardrobe” fun. I enjoy pairing different items together or accessorising to bring an old outfit to life.
The average lifetime for a garment in the UK is just 2.2 year. The Guardian.
Reusing and recycling unwanted clothes. Did you know 350,000 tonnes of clothing goes into UK landfill each year? This is horrifying. I’ve always donated unwanted clothes to charity shops, but now I also make sure to take any unwearable clothes to textile recycling centres rather than chucking holey socks in the bin. These add up!
I’ve also got a pile of clothes that I need to fix and/or take to a tailor to be adjusted – we’ll see if 2020 can be the year I actually sort through these.
Buying second hand. Buying from charity shops, vintage shops or on eBay or Depop* are great alternatives to buying new, as they extend the lives of clothes and save you some money too.
You can find some gems shopping second hand that you’re unlikely to find in high street shops, which always bend to the season/current fashions. Clothes swaps are another great way to get hold of some new items, though I’ve not managed to get to one of these yet.
Avoiding impulse buying. For me, the urge to buy new clothes usually coincides with a big life event or social occasion. When I’m nervous about an event or just really want to look good for it, the ‘need’ for something new intensifies. On some level we have all internalised that buying something will solve our problems, right?
Unfortunately, the “if I regret this, I’ll just return it” doesn’t work out for the environment either, as returned online purchases often end up in landfill.
I’ve been trying to pause before deciding to go shopping, whether online or in person. I also try to stay away from those “only while stocks last” sales and online shopping basket timeouts, which are designed to make us panic. I also always take a minute to read labels, inspect the quality of items and decide whether I’ll wear it for years to come.
This is not an exhaustive list. A few things I’m yet to do are buy a laundry bag to catch microplastics, actually fix my broken clothes and find alternatives to buying new shoes. I’ve also failed to 100% boycott high street shops. Seduced by greenwashing, “organic cottons” and (if I’m honest) pretty fabrics, I’ve bought a few things from fast fashion brands this year. But I also don’t believe you need to be “perfect” to move towards slow fashion.
I also want to acknowledge that not everyone has the time, energy or resources to take the steps I have done. I am able-bodied and straight size (meaning not plus size) so finding second-hand clothes that work for me is relatively easy. I also have enough time to source alternatives to fast fashion brands. So I appreciate everyone’s circumstances are different.
This blog has actually been in the works for months. I was hesitant to come across as preachy (particularly as I am far from perfect). Hopefully, this blog is useful, informative or at least gets you thinking about fashion consumerism.
If you have any slow fashion tips or suggestions, please share them in a comment below!
*I have reservations about Depop though, as I notice that a lot of people sell a *lot* of brand new items on there. This suggests to me that they are buying a lot of new items just to make a profit by selling on Depop. However, I’m sure there are genuine second-hand sellers on there too.