Clothing used to be worn until it fell to pieces and became unusable. If a piece developed a hole or other flaw, it would be patched. Hand-me-downs were common, and many would wear clothes that had gone through familial generations of use. Sewing used to be a necessary life skill needed to patch and repair textiles.
This is no longer the case. The above example should not be romanticized: It came about from a need for frugality and not a love of sustainable living. Modern frugality and modern laxness express themselves through fast fashion production and purchases.
Fast fashion brands are affordable to mid-range fashion companies that provide cheap pieces to cut corners. This can span from the quality and durability of individual pieces to ethical shortcuts en route to your closet.
There is a solution to fast fashion, however. Slow fashion takes aim at the negative aspects of fast fashion and seeks to create sustainable creations. “Sustainable fashion” and “slow fashion” are both terms used interchangeably, as they are closely related.
Despite this, the two have slightly different meanings:
What Is Slow Fashion?
Slow fashions inverts the present, prevailing model of the fashion industry. This fast fashion model promotes consumerism and waste, with a massive environmental toll and huge carbon footprint.
It's not just the manufacturing process that is a threat to global ecosystems. The U.S. alone produces 11 million tons of clothing and textile waste annually. These rarely break down easily, resulting in stuffed landfills and toxic chemicals leaking into the water supply.
Slow fashion principles aim in one part to reduce the environmental impact that companies have on the world around them. It also seeks to make the creation process of new clothes more environmentally friendly and humanly equitable.
Many fast fashion brands outsource production to nations with weaker labor laws to cut costs. This saddles local artisans and workers from countries like Bangladesh with economic inequality. Additionally, these practices flood their environments with pollution from factories.
Water pollution and other toxic byproducts of the fashion industry are well-documented. Premium slow and ethical fashion seeks to make the process safer and make companies accountable for how they operate.
Slow fashion challenges other companies. It suggests foregoing an increasingly corporatized retail environment in favor of smaller designers.
Smaller can mean local artisans or founder-led organizations with concrete stories and influences backing them. Fast fashion giants tend to have a vague sense of image with generically or uniformly styled clothing rather than personal detail.
Change on the Horizon
The fast fashion model also actively encourages low-quality clothing and impulse buying. If people’s clothing doesn’t wear out and requires re-purchasing every season, then the brand won't make as much money.
This aspect is expressed through a lack of quality in materials and shoddy seamwork. A close examination of any piece will reveal where its standards lie.
Slow fashion is about a shift to making better clothing in better ways. The end goal is for fewer individual garments to need to be sold, reducing waste and improving standards across the board. In this way, it intersects with sustainable fashion and sustainability — quality over quantity.
Slow vs. Sustainable Fashion
Slow fashion is concerned with fashion's overall quality and consumption. It is a designer-initiated movement. On the other hand, sustainable fashion is more concerned with the broader impacts that clothing has.
Take a fashion brand that sources materials ethically, pays workers fair wages, and creates high-quality clothing that is meant to last. Based on these definitions, it could be considered both slow and sustainable fashion. Slow fashion is more concerned with the overall quality and style of the garment, whereas sustainable fashion is concerned with impact.
Sustainable fashion is also concerned with style outside of the traditional retail market. Repeatedly patching clothing and other DIY efforts to avoid material waste would be considered sustainable fashion.
Thrift and vintage clothes sellers and other equivalent resellers concerned with extending a garment lifespan can also be considered sustainable.
There is no question of one being “better” than the other. Both are essential in changing the face of the fashion world. Slow fashion is sustainable and sustainable fashion is slow. The two are closely related but assuredly not interchangeable.
How Does Slow Fashion Impact the Fashion Industry?
Slow fashion is on track to completely upend the fashion industry for the better. It pushes back against a trend for disposable, in favor of something more permanent. There is plenty for brands to take from the slow fashion movement for the better.
The first is the virtue of superior production. Ethical production means ensuring you collaborate with safe business practices and pay workers equitably all along the chain.
Fabrics Production and Consumption
Ethical sourcing of products is essential, as all materials have their downsides. Cotton is a water-hungry crop, with denim fabric, in particular, being a notoriously costly product to make, from water consumption to excessive dyes.
Some wool comes from unsafe domestic practices, which have been positively influenced and presently updated thanks to decades of animal rights activism.
Synthetic fabrics can cause chemical byproducts, which require safe business practices in handling and disposal. Stories of workers suffering long-term injuries from dealing with toxic or, historically, radioactive materials are too numerous to count.
Local Production and Ethical Practices
This precision ultimately leads to higher quality products. Local production, or precision production, gives designers better control over the ultimate outcome of a piece.
Better materials feel, function, and look better than their cheap, mass-produced counterparts. This holds true for absorbent cottons, moisture-wicking synthetics, and wool that’s soft and temperate enough to wear in any weather.
Slow fashion brands aren't just appealing to ethical buyers; this is a way of life. This is innate as part of their ultimate goal. Slow fashion slows down the rate at which we need to consume clothing. This can only be achieved through designs that embrace quality in every aspect.
What Can Quality Brands Take From the Slow Fashion Mindset?
A brand doesn’t have to proclaim itself as slow fashion or set out to embrace the movement’s principles. Often, the fundamentals underlying quality brands are values shared with the slow fashion movement. Every business should conduct itself ethically through the entire supply chain process. This is a core tenant of any good business.
Slow fashion also takes the pressure off to constantly create new clothing lines without care placed into them. With a constant deluge of “content” in every sphere of life imaginable, taking time for precision becomes a radical act. When designers, artisans, and seamstresses work at their own pace to create meaningful clothing, excellence occurs.
Quality takes time. Olivers sources fabric internationally to present travelers and adventurers the best the world can offer. Japanese supima cotton brings a subtle stretch and unparalleled softness to a wardrobe.
Australian merino wool provides a radically thermal, allergen-friendly answer to performance organic fabrics. Our own All Over Stretch Weave fuses nylon and spandex and adds water protection for a comfortable, stretchy, moisture-resistant line.
It’s time for the fashion industry to sit up and take notice of the changing tides. A clear-cut, authentic garment that is meant to last for years takes time to create. Only the best materials can be used. There is no reason to take shortcuts when thinking about the long game.
What Olivers Takes From Slow Fashion: Threads of Change
We’ve slowly reached the height of performance through new evolutions in fabric and construction. The next step is to look towards how that height is reached.
Olivers is proud to constantly ourselves so that others can challenge themselves. The end result is clothing that lasts longer, works better, and ensures your wardrobe, and you, go the extra mile. With slow fashion, everyone wins.