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Building A Better Future: A Deeper Look into Slow Fashion

By Ryan Backus

Fast fashion has been an issue within the fashion industry for years, though it has gained an increase in awareness in recent years. This is largely due to the trend cycle being fast-tracked through social media. As more and more trends become popular, more and more clothes are produced. It seems fast fashion issues are frequently investigated, but there are not many answers to fix this issue.

Slow fashion is the direct alternative to fast fashion. It promotes a slower, more sustainable approach to shopping. Slow fashion is an aspect of sustainable fashion and a concept describing the opposite of fast fashion. Part of the "slow movement" advocates for clothing and apparel manufacturing with respect to people, the environment, and animals.

This new eco-friendly approach to fashion focuses on sustainability. It supports acquiring second-hand/vintage clothes, redesigning old clothes, shopping from smaller producers, and encourages the idea of buying better quality garments that will last longer. All the while making sure their manufacturing processes are fair and ethical.

The slow fashion movement was a reaction to the rapid expansion of the fast fashion industry. People began noticing the instability of the fast fashion mode, whether it was from the exploitation of garment workers to pollution from materials. Fashion wasn't always like this, and slow fashion aims to take us back to where it began, before the Industrial Revolution.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the fashion industry was small and very slow. Clothes were made at home, in small fashion houses, or in local tailor shops. The sourcing of materials, fabric weaving, garment cutting, and sewing took a lot of time and effort. Many people created their clothes in small quantities and wore them for a very long time. New clothing took much longer to create. Additionally, the materials used were much safer for the environment because they were organic fibers such as linen, flax, wool, or cotton fibers.

Today, fashion accounts for up to 10% of global carbon dioxide output, more than international flights and shipping combined, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. It also accounts for a fifth of the 300 million tons of plastic produced globally each year. More clothing is being made now than ever before, due to the rapidness of the trend cycle within recent years.

The fashion industry may never go back to its pre-industrial revolution practices. However, there are ways it can adapt to become more sustainable in today’s world. Manufacturers must invest in more renewable energy sources for the production of clothes. Fossil fuel emissions are largely responsible for the industry’s large carbon footprint. The fashion industry must also focus on creating sustainable and organic fibers, and launch chemical management programs to ensure the capture of these pollutants before they are released into the environment.

While the fashion industry should be held accountable, self-regulation is not always effective. Thus, government intervention is needed to properly address the issue. Regulations are needed to ensure the fashion industry is practicing ethical production processes. Incentives could be used to promote more ethical actions in the industry.

Currently in the works is the FABRIC Act which hopes to protect America's 95,000 garment workers who often face wage theft and address unfair competition among apparel manufacturers. The FABRIC Act will level the playing field for responsible business, ensure garment workers are paid fair wages, and promote much needed job growth. This is essential to provide safe working conditions for the garment workers.

There is not currently a regulation for monitoring the environmental impacts of the fashion industry. It is essential for regulations to be placed on the industry to limit the allowed levels of pollution. Subsidies for those companies that do not exceed the maximum pollution requirement will encourage fashion brands to abide by them.

On an individual level, slow fashion focuses on buying less, making better choices, making the garments last, and finding your community to help you learn. Working to reduce your personal ecological footprint is at the forefront of slow fashion. While that t-shirt may only cost five dollars, what are the ethical and environmental costs of it?

With the ability to buy anything with the click of a button, overconsumption is more rampant than ever. Before ordering, contemplating whether it is an ethical purchase can help reduce personal overconsumption.

A focus on quality and durability is considered a slow fashion practice. When clothes last longer, they contribute to the fashion cycle much slower than pieces that are not designed to last. Often brands that are designed to last have a focus on sustainability as well. Gigi Hadid recently created a brand, Guest in Residence, a cashmere knitwear brand that sells stable garments and be passed down to other generations. Buying less saves money in the long run as well.

Mending your own clothes also is considered a slow fashion. Rather than buying new, it requires repairing what you already have. Instead of discarding those trousers with a rip in the crotch seam, take them to the tailor. Taking clothes to a tailor not only mends clothing, but helps them fit more to your own body shape. Patagonia has a “Worn-Wear” micro-company that repairs any of their ripped or broken gear. Supporting these brands instead of fast fashion brands can help change the demand in the market, in turn changing the fashion industry.

Finding your own personal style and not following trends is another way to become a slow fashionista. Opting for more timeless pieces that reflect your lifestyle, instead of what the media wants you to wear is important. Investing in pieces that are timeless and reflect your personal style allows you to keep them well past the season you bought them.

A good way to help find your personal style is by experimenting at second-hand, vintage and thrift stores. These clothes are already post-production, meaning they have less of a carbon footprint. Thrifting keeps clothes out of landfills, reduces carbon and chemical pollution caused by clothing production, and lowers water consumption. Most thrift shops also support local charities, some of which focus on environmental causes.

Becoming part of the slow fashion evolution requires consistently analyzing the ethics of your purchases. The industry does not currently have regulations in place to reduce unethical practices, thus the responsibility is on you, the consumer. Next time you go to buy that five dollar t-shirt, make sure to ask yourself what is the real cost of this shirt?

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