It’s hard to keep up with the various types of fashion production within the garment industry. It’s even harder to discern the ethical implications of the clothing you buy given the lack of transparency about manufacturing processes. To ethical fashion advocates like me, it’s important to get it right. More often than not, the ethical distinctions split across the umbrella terms of “slow fashion” and “fast fashion.” Generally, clothing that falls under the term “slow fashion” is produced in a socially responsible and environmentally-friendly way and sometimes both. In this post, I’m going to walk through some of the differences between slow fashion and fast fashion.
Slow fashion defines timeless, high-quality clothing that is intended to last, whereas fast fashion defines lower-quality, on-trend clothing. They differ on dimensions of seasonality, production, materials, environmental effect, and aesthetic. Slow fashion tends to be more socially responsible and sustainable than fast fashion, which is geared toward churning out disposable clothing.
The first major distinction between these two types of fashion is their seasonality. Traditionally, the fashion cycle follows the seasonal calendar, spring/summer, and autumn/winter. This cycle includes material sourcing, designing, making the garments, and getting them into stores. Slow fashion brands tend to follow this timeline, or even slower. Fast fashion brands, on the other hand, have compressed these cycles into short periods of 4-6 weeks, sometimes fewer. The development of fast fashion in the late 90’s has resulted in a clear product quality divide between these two types of clothing. Slow fashion garments usually last about 30 wears or up to several years. On average, fast fashion garments last only five weeks before being discarded. Many consumers tend to be willing to pay a premium for longer-lasting attire, which is why slow fashion is generally more expensive.
Another key difference is that slow fashion brands tend to place greater emphasis on ethical production. Slow fashion brands only work with factories that pay their workers a fair wage. They also support training initiatives that raise awareness of the circumstances that some factory workers are subjected to. Fast fashion brands need such a quick turnaround that they tend to use factories that pay their workers poorly and some even use child labor. At worst, workers at these factories can be subject to abuse, violence and forced to work in cramped unhygienic working conditions. In stark contrast, slow fashion designers will spend months searching for ethical factories around the world, building relationships with the factory owners to ensure the factories’ integrity.
The materials used in slow and fast fashion area also key differentiators. In general, slow fashion manufacturers use more ethically-responsible textiles. Slow fashion companies will sometimes utilize old fabrics, either by recycling or repurposing discarded garments. If they need a new material, they may use natural biodegradable fabrics such as tencel or bamboo. Slow fashion brands generally shy away from cotton as it’s deemed “the world’s dirtiest crop” due to its heavy use of insecticides. In contrast, fast fashion companies tend to use cotton as well as blended fabrics (e.g. polycotton blends) whose use make the garment non-biodegradable. Also of significance, is the heavy emphasis slow fashion brands put on animal welfare. There have been huge developments in the number of vegan “leathers” on the market due to slow fashion brands pioneering this research. Fast fashion manufacturers, on the other hand, use cruelly-sourced animal skins.
In addition to the ethics of the raw materials themselves, the manufacturing processes of slow and fast fashion have markedly different environmental effects. Fast fashion brands use manufacturing processes that introduce toxic pollutants and hazardous chemicals, including lead, to soften and dye the fabric. A fast fashion mill can go through an astonishing 200 tons of water for every ton of fabric dyed, which will then pollute the local rivers with untreated toxic dyes. In contrast, slow fashion brands utilize safer, traditional methods that are better for the environment. They use natural dyes, minimize water usage, address the amount of waste they are creating, and ensure they are as energy efficient as possible.
Finally, the aesthetic differs between slow and fast fashion. Slow fashion companies create “collections” just as they do in the fast fashion industry. However, creators and consumers of slow fashion aren’t as interested in what the latest trends are. Slow fashion collections are based on timeless pieces rather than what’s currently trending. Fast fashion collections, on the other hand, are based on the most recent catwalk trends and what’s “hot” now. It is this need to have rapid production cycles that perpetuate the throwaway fashion cycle and less ethical choices on the part of manufacturers.
As the world grows more ethically conscious and consumers look to understand the ecological and human footprint of their clothing, this movement for timeless, higher-quality clothing will only grow, which I’m really excited about. When looking at a garment by a company I’ve not heard, it’ll usually take me some time to figure out whether it comes under the slow fashion term. For example, I’ve been looking for a pair of sustainable socks for a while now and I’ve spent a lot of time researching each company to learn about their ethical policy. I feel that as I try to live more consciously, my knowledge constantly grows but I still have a lot to learn. I recommend using Ethical Consumer’s rating page to look up brands and Project Just offer a guide for responsible and ethical fashion.
I will continue to highlight some of these slow fashion brands that are pioneering the way and if you have any recommendations I would love to hear from you!
Dress: The “Liza” long sleeve slit dress by LA Relaxed a sustainable, ethically responsible LA based company. My dress and all their other garments are made in the US.
Photography: Dissident Dreamer
Great read my gal. I try to not to give into fast fashion but with all these companies just constantly releasing new things every 2 weeks I find myself shopping unnecessarily. But i’m trying to make a conscious effort to remember!!
I agree that it can be hard. Especially when they spam your email everyday. I wandered into H&M yesterday while Christmas shopping yesterday and they had a sale on. There were so many pretty tops and skirts for $5-$10! Crazy! I had to run out of there!
Great post, dear! ? As a fellow fashion blogger, I am always interested in looking for brands that are finding ways to become more ecofriendly and ethically conscious! I hope to learn more about brands like LA Relaxed!
Yay, thanks so much for checking it out Ressa! I knew you would approve of such a post and am looking forward to sharing other companies like LA Relaxed too 🙂
Great read and photos.
Jasmine has been wearing a shirt I bought 38 years ago.
Love you pops.
Thank you Pop! Much appreciated 🙂
Which shirt do you mean? The Popeye one?
A super interesting read! You really inspire me to be more ethically and environmentally aware of the products I buy. And you look stunning girl! X
Thank you so much on both counts! That makes me really happy to hear. As cliche as it sounds, can’t help but think of good ol’ Tesco’s saying “Every little helps!” xox
Really great blog post on slow and fast fashion. I love looking for classic and timeless pieces when I go shopping. 🙂
Thank you so much! Funnily enough my dad and I were just talking about classic and timeless pieces this afternoon! ☺
Stunning dress!! <3
Thank you Merel! x
i really have to thank you for putting all this info together! slowly beginning to make slow fashion a reality in my life! and i so love ur hair in these waves my beautiful friend!
Thank you so much for checking it out! I’m happy that it was useful to you and even happier that slow fashion is becoming a reality in your life ? As for my hair, you can’t beat some plaits that you sleep in for some waves! That’s about as adventurous as I get. Haha!
Thanks for explaining to us slow and fast fashion. I think slow fashion will become more important in the future. At least I hope so, although I saw on German TV recently that fast fashion will have more consumers since poverty is growing.xoxo
Thank you for reading my post about it! I think slow fashion is becoming more important and will become more and more prevalent 🙂
Very insightful Jessica, thank you for sharing these important information! Recently I had a chance to get to know more about ‘ethical fashion’, and I think it’s great to share the messages around:
Thank you Vivienne! I agree, we should share this kind of information as much as we can 🙂 Happy 2017! I hope this year brings you much joy and success xx
Great post Jessica. I’m all for finding timeless pieces for my wardrobe. Sometimes that can be a bit challenging, based on what’s available in my location, but reading and understanding the differences between slow and fast fashions, defintely inspires me to do so. And you look gorgeous by the way! xox
Thank you for checking it out! I’m so happy to have been able to inspire you! I know what you mean about selection in your area though, I think my home town is probably similar to where you live so would imagine you have to shop online a lot in order to be able to support sustainable and ethical brands. I do love getting snail mail though… 🙂 xx
Lovely dress Jessica. I would definitely be a slow fashion person – I bought a shirt from H&M just for something basic to wear to the gym and after four washes there are holes in it!
Caitlin, Beauty & Colour
Thanks Caitlin! I think slow fashion fits in with your amazing vegan lifestyle so I am so happy you visited and read this post 🙂 I hope the new year is treating you well and we can hang soon xx
THANK YOU so much for your sweet words on my recap of 2016! I find it so important to raise more attention toward slow fashion so I LOVE this post. So many people, and especially bloggers, just buy pieces to wear them once and never again. Without even thinking about who made the clothes and under what conditions. Thank you so much for raising some awareness and sharing this post 🙂
Rosa Larissa Klara
conscious lifestyle of mine
More than welcome! It was a great post, I enjoyed reading it 🙂 Aw thank you, I am so happy that you popped over had a read of this one. Yes, I’ve heard of that happening. I know that some bloggers sell them on places like Poshmark which is better than throwing them away at least xx
This is such a nice read dear! And I loved the look as well! have a lovely day!!
Thank you very much! I hope you have a lovely weekend 🙂
Thank you so much for this! It is so important to make these distinctions. I have noticed that with the move away from “dirty crops” like cotton (which could be made cleaner by using organic cotton), there has been a huge increase in the use of non-biodegradable textiles like 100% polyester. I would really love to see more of a switch to organic and natural fibers.
Thank you for visiting! Agreed – organic and natural fibers should be used more rather than 100% non-biodegradable ones. I think a lot of companies are starting to realise that also.