What does slow fashion look like?
‘Buy once’ clothing isn’t always as straightforward as we’d like it to be.
We find garments that are made to last: with quality materials, robust construction and even carrying repair guarantees. But the fashion industry operates on dissatisfaction. When it comes to clothes shopping, even with a buy-for-life mindset, it can be difficult to separate what you want from what you need.
With trend cycles getting shorter and cheap garments widely available, clothes are becoming disposable items. Fast fashion is pushing our overconsumption habit to the extreme, and the human and environmental costs are no longer a secret.
About 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the fashion industry. Retailers such as H&M and Burberry have been caught burning tonnes of unsold product, and factory workers are subjected to exploitation and unsafe working conditions worldwide - even here in the UK.
For the industry to change, we need to do more than make T-shirts from plastic bottles. We need to tackle overconsumption at its core, and place more value on the items we already own.
The philosophy of buying once is about having more meaningful relationships with our possessions. That’s why we’re advocates for slow fashion.
Slow fashion innovators Riley Studio make gender-neutral garments from quality sustainable fabrics. All their supply chains are fully traceable, and their clothing has a lifetime repair guarantee.
What does slow fashion mean?
Slow fashion, put simply, is the opposite of fast fashion. This means only buying what we need, buying better-quality garments that will last longer, and choosing brands that respect both people and the planet.
Slow fashion isn’t a set of rules, but is an awareness of the resources required to make clothing - and the application of that awareness. It means giving clothes value, because we understand the human and environmental cost of making them.
Slow fashion encourages consumers to:
- Consider whether you really need something before you buy it
- ‘Shop your wardrobe’ by styling your existing pieces in a new way, instead of buying more
- Repair your garments instead of discarding them
- Buy less, buy better - purchase fewer, higher-quality pieces that will serve you for longer
- Look for second-hand options before buying new
- When buying new, take the time to research the companies you buy from - are their products made sustainably, by people paid a living wage?
At its core, slow fashion is about making more considered choices. That means first cutting the amount of purchases we make before we seek out sustainable brands.
Blackhorse Lane Ateliers are London’s only craft jeans maker. They use the best raw denim to make jeans that will get better and better with age, covered by a lifetime repair guarantee.
Qualities of a slow fashion brand
Clothing brands who operate by a slow fashion ethos were once a rarity. But with an increase in consumers demanding higher sustainability and ethical standards, there is a growing demand for labels who operate with transparency.
A slow fashion brand might have many or all of the following characteristics:
- Made to last, from high-quality, sustainable materials
- Instead of following trends, designs have a timeless appeal
- A local approach to sourcing materials, producing clothing and selling products
- Small collections released two or three times per year, or a permanent seasonless collection
- Helps customers keep their clothes for longer by offering repair services
- Products might be made to order, to reduce unnecessary production
Rozenbroek garments are all made to order in their solar-powered Yorkshire factory. They operate with a zero waste approach, using sustainable materials and offering impressive repair guarantees.
Seeing through greenwashing
Finding slow fashion brands isn’t always easy. As consumers become increasingly aware of the climate crisis, fast fashion giants have realised that sustainability is a highly effective marketing strategy. But to keep prices competitive and new collections coming weekly, this is rarely accompanied by any real departure from wasteful, harmful business practices.
The past decade has seen more and more fashion retailers use misleading language to facilitate ‘guilt-free’ purchases. A 2021 report examining fashion giants’ sustainability messaging found that 60% of claims could be classified as ‘unsubstantiated’ or ‘misleading’.
Murky supply chains and a lack of accountability mean that these claims can go unchecked. What’s more, terms such as ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘ethical’ actually have no legal significance.
Identifying greenwashing can be exceedingly difficult, even for the well-informed. But a rule of thumb is to find out whether a brand is promoting sustainability as an add-on, rather than fundamental to its business model.
Seek out figures and stats, instead of vague words - is the brand making a quantifiable difference? Look out also for various certifications like the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), OEKO-TEX, Cradle to Cradle Certified and the Fair Trade Textiles Standard. These seek to set an approved standard for responsible supply chains.
Kaely Russell garments are crafted in South Devon from OEKO-TEX certified linens and waste fabrics. Her seasonless clothing collections all have a free repairs guarantee.
Fundamentally, the slow fashion movement has arisen in response to a deeply problematic change in our clothing consumption. Changing mindsets doesn’t happen overnight, but consumers need to know the true cost of fast fashion.
All clothes are handmade - they’re not produced by machines. Even the cheapest garments were made by a person somewhere in the world. A slow fashion mindset acknowledges the craftsmanship of garment making, and asks us not to treat clothes as disposable.
With a ‘buy less, buy better’ approach, we can start to fix our shopping habits. That’s what buy-for-life clothing truly means to us.