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January 25, 2024
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Slow Fashion

What Is Slow Fashion? Why It’s Important And Everything You Need to Get Started

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onventional fashion thrives off quick changes and trends. One minute, skinny jeans are in. The next, it’s all about the baggy cargo pants. Besides giving us fashion whiplash, it also has us rushing to shop for new items far more frequently than we need to. Slow fashion is a movement trying to slow this very cycle down, from reducing how quickly new styles are brought to market, to changing how they’re made in the first place and how long they last.

Putting the brakes on a decades-old system isn’t easy, but with collective effort, it's not as hard as it might seem. That’s why we’ve put together this in-depth guide on everything slow fashion. We’ll explore what slow fashion is, how it all started, the slow clothing movement,  why it matters, and simple tips on how to incorporate it into your life. Lastly, we'll also share some of our favorite brands that are trying to slow the traditional fashion cycle and the industry’s impact on our planet.

US citizens send an average of 112 pounds of textile waste annually to landfills. The fashion industry’s carbon emissions are projected to reach 1.266 gigatons in 2030. There’s a lot we need to change and thankfully, slow fashion is here to give it a go …

Table of  Contents

What is Slow Fashion?

Before we start, let’s take a moment for a slow fashion definition so we’re all on the same page: Slow fashion is a movement and strategy that aims to re-think all parts of the industry – from how fabrics are made, and clothes produced, to the marketing of those items and where they eventually end-up.

It’s an approach that considers all aspects of fashion’s lifecycle, with the ultimate goal of slowing things down so that fashion’s most harmful aspects are limited. This includes issues that directly affect our planet such as landfill waste, pollution, carbon emissions, etc., as well as labor rights.

If you’re still asking, “What does slow fashion mean?”, here are some of the practical it comes into action:

  • The use of organic and sustainably sourced materials that use less water and chemicals to grow and turn into textiles.
  • Small batch production to limit waste and deadstock.
  • Prioritizing classic, high-quality clothing items, rather than an endless parade of trend pieces.
  • Considerations for the end stages of a clothing item through initiatives such as pre-owned markets, recycling, and upcycling.

In a world where quantity is often valued over quality, slow fashion is all about shifting things back a step and championing slower, more considered production measures that are better for us and the planet. 

How Did the Slow Fashion Movement Start?

One of the first times the phrase “slow fashion” was used was in a 2007 blog post on The Ecologist, written by Kate Fletcher. She presented it as the opposite of fast fashion and argued that by slowing the making, selling, and buying of clothing, we might be able to reduce its impact on the planet.

In recent years, fast fashion has come under intense scrutiny. In 2023 alone, we saw major investigations exposing Shein’s unsustainable production methods and H&M caught in a greenwashing scandal. With each of these news pieces and exposés on fast fashion’s impact, the interest in slow fashion has grown. Though the idea came into public view for the first time in 2007 already, we’d argue that the slow fashion movement is just gaining momentum.

Is Slow Fashion Eco-Friendly?

Fashion will never be perfectly eco-friendly. That’s just the reality. Any level of consumption comes with a cost but certainly, slow fashion is a highly effective approach for lowering that cost for our planet and for vulnerable factory workers.

By slowing production and diverging from the extreme consumption tactics that fast fashion brands employ with their daily “new in” drops and constant sales, slow fashion can address some key eco issues, such as:

  • Waste: Slow fashion actively helps reduce the creation of deadstock and clothes that end up in landfills.
  • Pollution: Less waste also means less pollution, but many slow fashion brands have also been creative in using fewer chemicals at all ends of production to help with problems such as water pollution.
  • Water and Energy Usage: More thoughtful production methods often involve water and energy-saving methods.

Because slow fashion is such a widely used and applied term, how eco-friendly it is in practice diverges hugely between brands. Nonetheless, anything anti-fast fashion is a step forward as far as we’re concerned.

What is the Difference between Slow Fashion and Sustainable Fashion?

The difference between slow fashion and sustainable fashion can get quite confusing because of how much overlap there is between the two. Slow fashion often employs many sustainable fashion approaches through how fabric is sourced or how factory workers are treated, but its distinguishing feature is that it is ultimately about reducing extreme consumption habits, more than anything else.

Sustainable fashion can sometimes be sustainable for the sake of it, without necessarily altering how things like markdowns or new launches are approached. For example, Madewell is a brand that uses sustainable fabrics for many pieces and is even Fair Trade USA certified, but its frequent launches and speedy production times are some of the reasons it does not yet qualify as a slow fashion brand.

The Frustrations of Slow Fashion

If slow fashion is so much better for the planet, why aren’t more brands and shoppers supporting it? These are some of the key frustrations that slow fashion raises:

  • No more instant gratification: Most of us get frustrated when a Google page takes longer than a second to download so it’s no wonder that many are put off by the lengthened wait times that slow fashion brands can have thanks to slow and small batch production methods.
  • So last season: With fast fashion brands such as ZARA and H&M bringing runway copies to stores within weeks of them first appearing, many find the pace of slow fashion frustrating. You won’t get quick access to trend items the same way.
  • It’s more expensive: This is a big one. Slow fashion is never going to be as affordable as fast fashion. It’s more expensive for businesses as it usually involves more careful, innovative approaches and as a result, is priced higher. Shein, Boohoo, and others have shaped their entire production strategies toward making the cheapest clothes possible. As many countries struggle with a cost-of-living crisis, we can understand why so many consumers have come to rely on the affordability of these brands.
  • Not as Size Inclusive: Size inclusivity is an issue across the fashion industry but certainly, plus-sized pieces are far harder to find with slow fashion labels than with fast. This is down to many factors but as we’ll show later on, is something many brands are working hard to change.

The Benefits of Slow Fashion

Beyond the pricing issues, or the longer wait times, slow fashion has one big benefit that outweighs so much else: it’s helping to slow fashion’s negative impact on our planet.

2023 was the warmest year since global temperatures were first recorded in 1850. As we try to slow the effects of global warming, we have to slow our consumption habits and the way we approach production. That, above all else, is why slow fashion matters.

There are also a few bonus benefits of slow fashion, such as:

  • Prioritizing clothes that last. This means you get to buy less and hold on to the pieces you love for longer.
  • Puts focus on style rather than trends. 
  • Gives you a clearer conscience and can help cut out-of-control shopping habits.
  • Allows you to support brands with a real purpose to them.

9 Tips on How to Start Your Slow Fashion Journey

We’ve spoken a lot about what slow fashion is in terms of brands and production approaches, but engaging with the movement is about so much more than that. Here are 9 simple tips on how to start your slow fashion journey:

1. Take Note of Your Shopping Triggers and Habits

One of the big priorities of the slow clothing movement is to get us to buy less. That’s pretty hard when brands are uploading new items every day and, like Marie Antoinette in Sofia Coppela’s 2006 film, most of us don’t even have to leave our beds anymore to shop …

Cutting the dopamine cycle of online shopping and overconsumption isn’t easy but start by tracking what it is you’re doing now:

  • How much are you buying?
  • What usually triggers a purchase?
  • How often are you buying something because it fills a practical gap in your wardrobe vs. just because it looked cool on someone on Instagram?
  • What do you get the most wear out of in terms of style and brands?

Answering these questions can allow you to build a sense of mindfulness around your fashion habits and see where it is you need to curb things. That can look like muting certain people on socials or unsubscribing from newsletters. It can even be as simple as getting in the habit of allowing at least 12 hours between adding something to the cart and purchasing it.

Simply paying more attention and slowing your habits is a way to interrupt the hamster wheel that fast fashion has so many of us on. 

2. Cultivate a Capsule Wardrobe

A woman building a capsule wardrobe with a clothing rack with limited but quality items on a clothing rack behind her.

Another way to take an anti-fast fashion stance with your shopping is to build a capsule wardrobe. In other words, a collection of quality items that can be easily styled together throughout the seasons.

3. Hold a Clothing Swap with Friends

A clothing swap party with all clothing that is being swapped is presented in an attractive and neat manner.

Sometimes we just get sick of the things in our closet, and there’s little to be done about it. If you’re craving a wardrobe refresh, consider holding a swap session with friends. It’s a great way to give old pieces new life, have a fun night with friends, and share the slow fashion love.

4. Support Vintage, Second-Hand, and Rentals

A stack of second hand, or vintage jeans with the words 'second hand' printed in front.

Often a new purchase is unavoidable. Whatever the reason, consider supporting rental studios or vintage and second-hand retailers like Plato’s Closet

Going the route of vintage, secondhand, and clothing rental services isn’t just a great anti-fast fashion move, it also means you get to find more interesting pieces and savings. 

Slow fashion isn’t always about sticking to simple basics, but about finding creative routes around fast fashion’s dominance. With rental services, you can still experience flare and a variety of occasional pieces that are not your usual go-to's while reducing overconsumption and textile waste. 

5. Invest in Pieces that Last

An assortment of high quality clothing that lasts with a sign delivering the message 'Quality Not Quantity'

Material. Style. Fit. These are the three things that most determine whether something in our wardrobe can stand the test of time, both in terms of wear and our evolving tastes.

Whenever you can, invest in good quality clothing items that you can see yourself getting multiple wears from over the seasons. It lessens how much ends up in landfills and the burden on your wallet.

6. Better Clothing Care

A close-up of someone checking the care label on their clothing.

When clothes fall apart, it’s not always the quality that’s the problem. Sometimes it’s how we’ve washed and handled them. For all the best tips on how to care for your clothes, click here. It’s incredible how effective a few small changes can be in extending the lifespan of your items.

7. Lean into Upcycling and Alterations.

Upcycling and altering what you already have can be as simple as cutting up threadbare t-shirts to be used as rags or going all out like this Fashion and DIY YouTube creator did:

When it’s too late for clothing care, or something no longer fits the way you’d like, upcycling and alterations are your best bet. If we consider that the slow clothing movement is all about slowing down and paying extra care to the lifecycle of a garment, before you throw something out, consider a simple mending or upcycling project.

8. Shop Slow Fashion Brands

A example of slow fashion garments and shoes displayed on a shelf with a sign conveying the message 'Slow Fashion Doesn't Go With My Outfit'

As you can probably tell, shopping slow fashion brands is just one of many ways to support the movement. Supporting brands’ efforts to chill out fashion’s impact is very meaningful though as it helps place pressure on the entire industry to shift their approach.

9. Re-Style

A woman evaluating a red dress from her closet for re-styling purposes.

The legendary fashion designer and eco-warrior, Vivienne Westwood, ran a series of ads with this sage advice: buy less, dress up. Sometimes you don’t need a new pair of shoes or a fresh shirt, you just need to re-style what you have.

Take some time once a month to just play with your clothes. Get some friends over, pour a glass of wine, and play around with your styling. There’s probably a brand-new outfit hidden among clothes you’ve had for years.

Shopping For Slow Fashion: What You Need to Know

Many brands have taken the concept of slow fashion and marketed the heck out of it, without necessarily having the receipts, proof, and timeline, to back up their claims. Here’s how to spot the real from the fake:

Slow Vs. Fast Fashion (And How to Spot the Difference)

The best way to distinguish a fast fashion brand from a slow clothing approach is to pay attention to these two factors:

  • How frequently new styles are being uploaded to a brand’s site?
  • How often things are being marked down?

If stock seems to be flying in and out at a rapid rate, and you’re mostly seeing trend-driven items that barely last a season, it’s not slow fashion. It may claim to have sustainable features such as organic cotton or recycled packaging, but a slower approach to fashion consumption isn’t one of them.

How Do You Know a Brand is Slow Fashion?

The same factors listed above can also be applied to this question. Many brands list themselves as “slow fashion” but it’s worth noting how they do things before taking that as gospel.

Brands that are inherently part of the slow clothing movement are ones that:

  • Limit production to small batches and don’t engage in large-scale manufacturing. Local, and smaller Etsy creators easily fall into this category.
  • Brands that upcycle, use recycled material, and provide ways to recycle your items once they’ve been worn through.
  • Those who actively steer clear of holidays like Black Friday, or the culture of extreme discounts and consumption.
  • Brands that make clothes to see you through more than one trend or season.

9 Slow Fashion Brands and Retailers We Recommend

We can promise you this: going the route of the slow clothing movement does not mean you need to give up great style. If anything, it expands your options. You get to engage with brands implementing new, innovative approaches and invest in items that will be around to love and wear for years. Here are some of our favorites: 

1. Grammar NYC

Model wearing slow fashion trench coat, shirt and pants by Grammar NYC brand.

We’re starting strong with Grammar NYC – a non-fast fashion brand focused on “elegant essentials”. One of our favorites from them is The Portmanteau Trench which acts as a coat, cropped jacket, and vest/dress all in one.

Product Range: Womenswear.

Sizing: XS - L

Ships To: United States, Canada, Australia, Europe, and Asia.

Sustainability Stats:

  • Organic and sustainably sourced fabrics.
  • GOTS certified which means that fabrics are produced in a way that reduces chemical and water usage, as well as carbon emissions.
  • Small batch production.
  • Recycled packaging materials.

2. Slowear

A close-up of the slow fashion retailers brand known as Slowear sewn on high-quality fabric.

The name of this Italian retail outlet was inspired by the slow fashion movement. Stocking clothes from multiple Italian, luxury, sustainable brands, that focus on durability and timelessness, Slowear is certainly living up to their name (and the hype around them).

Product Range: Menswear.

Sizing: EU 36 – 44

Ships To: Worldwide.

Sustainability Stats: (Applies to most items listed on the site)

  • Sustainable materials.
  • Transparent production methods.
  • Slow, innovative manufacturing approaches.
  • Emphasis on great tailoring and fabric quality to enhance durability.

3. The Slow Label

Woman wearing elegant skirt and top by slow fashion brand known as The Slow Label.

The pricing of this Austrian brand is high-end but the pieces themselves don’t look like anything special … until you look closely at the exquisite quality. The Slow Label specializes in elevated basics like the perfect pair of black trousers, or white t-shirt.

Product Range: Womenswear.

Sizing: XS-XL

Ships To: Europe and the UK.

Sustainability Stats:

  • Sustainable and organic fabrics.
  • Transparent supply chains and pricing.
  • Produce small, capsule collections with timeless, versatile pieces.

4. Opera Campi

Man in sunglasses modeling a high-quality shirt made out of natural fabrics by Opera Campi brand.

This brand began with curiosity toward the uniquely soft, hundreds-of-years-old Italian hemp that was once produced in Parma. Since then, Opera ( translates to lyric opera or art) Campi (fields and lands) has made it their mission to combine sustainable, natural fibers with the beauty of a well-designed garment. Their prices are high-end, but so are their standards.

Product Range: Women’s and menswear.

Sizing: XXS – 3XL or made-to-measure

Ships To: Worldwide

Sustainability Stats:

  • Only uses hemp – a textile that acts as a carbon sink when farmed. It also uses less water and creates less emissions than cotton.
  • All products are made to order.
  • Recyclable and compostable packaging.
  • They plant 2 trees per product ordered.

5. Mara Hoffman

Woman wearing classic black dress by the Mara Hoffman Brand.

Mara Hoffman is a CFDA-winning designer who has gained global attention for her sustainable, highly wearable styles and commitment to clothes that last.

Product Range: Womenswear.

Sizing: 00-12

Ships To: Worldwide.

Sustainability Stats:

  • The brand runs a take-back system for garments customers no longer want and has a highly informative clothing care page.
  • Uses organic and recycled materials, and all wool is certified Climate Beneficial ™
  • Re-purposes deadstock fabrics.
  • Tests materials against Restricted Substances List (RSL) based on the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals List.
  • Minimal, recyclable packaging.

6. BAACAL

Woman modeling versatile and elegant shirt and pants by the brand BAACAL.

Inclusive sizing is an issue throughout the fashion industry, but especially amongst slow clothing brands. BAACAL is changing that narrative with a clothing range sized to the “true majority of women” (sizes 10-28) that are designed to fit perfectly so that women keep and wear their clothes with joy. 

Product Range: Womenswear.

Sizing: 10-28

Ships To: Worldwide.

Sustainability Stats:

  • Recycled and deadstock materials.
  • A dedicated sustainable collection.
  • Seasonless, slow-made clothing with free fit consulting to ensure that clothes work for customers and don’t end up being thrown out.

7. Asket

Man modeling full sweater and jean outfit by slow fashion brand Asket.

What if every time we ordered a new piece of clothing, it didn’t just come with a receipt showing the money it cost, but the environmental cost too? That’s something that Asket does with a slip that shows the water, energy, and CO2 used to produce each garment. It’s a whole new approach aiming to bring more transparency to fashion and to slow consumers down so that they can see exactly what goes into making their clothes.

Product Range: Men’s and womenswear.

Sizing: XXS–XXL 

Ships To: Worldwide.

Sustainability Stats:

  • Stocks a permanent collection of basics, rather than a revolving door of trend items.
  • Provides care and repair support and buys back unwanted ASKET items for recycling and resale.
  • Transparency slips are included with each item to show environmental costs.

8. TALA Activewear

Two woman leaning against one another while modeling dresses and shape-wear by TALA Activewear.

TALA was started by a social media star, Grace Beverly, and the brand’s most popular line is its sustainable activewear. With a range of multi-functional, classic pieces in their range, it may not be an overtly “slow fashion” brand, but it is certainly taking steps to slow unnecessary consumption and fill women’s wardrobes with items they can wear year after year.

Product Range: Women's activewear.

Sizing: XXS – 4XL

Ships To: Worldwide.

Sustainability Stats:

  • Limited production runs.
  • Transparent manufacturing.
  • Recycled, organic, and naturally sourced materials.
  • Specializes in multi-functional items.

9. MATE

Man modeling black sweatshirt and sweatpants made with organic materials by the brand MATE.

Easy, everyday neutrals are this brand’s bread and butter. Looking for great sweats and t-shirts that you don’t have to replace every year? Mate is the place to shop. We also love that you can buy sets to match with your partner and kids.

Product Range: Women’s, men’s, and kid’s clothing, including intimates and pajamas.

Sizing: XS – XXL

Ships To: U.S.

Sustainability Stats:

  • Certified B Corp.
  • Climate-neutral certified.
  • GOTS certified.
  • Non-toxic, organic materials and dyes.
  • Plastic-free.
  • Recycling program.

Slowly Does It

Whether you choose to shop at slow fashion brands for some of your everyday basics, embrace the thrifting life, or simply lessen how much you buy, any step to slow consumption and reduce support for fast fashion is a positive one.

Before you start your slow fashion journey, here are some answers to any last-minute FAQs you might have:

Slow Fashion FAQ’s

What are the principles of slow fashion?

The basic principles of slow fashion are to slow down both how clothes are made, and how they’re marketed. It’s an anti-fast fashion movement that takes a stand against the daily bombardment of cheap clothing we’re being encouraged to buy, even as landfills and carbon emissions rise. Slow fashion, instead, is all about making less, and doing it better so that the industry’s negative impact on both human and environmental wellbeing is reduced.

What is slow-made fashion?

Slow-made fashion usually refers to clothes that are made in small batches or made to order, as opposed to the huge numbers manufactured for fast fashion. It helps limit the creation of deadstock as only what’s needed is manufactured.

What are the disadvantages of slow fashion?

The disadvantages of slow fashion are that it can be less affordable, less size-inclusive, and not as trend-driven or quick with deliveries.

Does slow fashion include thrifting?

Yes, slow fashion includes thrifting! Buying vintage and secondhand means less going to landfills and is a great way to add new things to your wardrobe without having to support fast fashion labels.

Is slow fashion really sustainable?

Slow fashion is sustainable. This is true not only because it often involves the use of sustainably sourced materials, etc., but because it’s making big strides to slow the whole industry down so that it can be more sustainable long-term.

Is slow fashion the new luxury?

In some ways, yes, slow fashion can be considered the “new luxury” thanks to their higher price points. The increased focus on quality materials and innovative manufacturing all add up but high-end and luxury labels aren’t the only entry-point into slow fashion. Some brands are doing it with more affordability and things like thrifting and clothing swaps can be adapted to any budget.

Is slow fashion better quality?

Ideally, slow fashion is of better quality than fast fashion counterparts. The more considered production methods and fabric sourcing of slow fashion generally make for longer-lasting clothes.