You might think your new pair of jeans or trendy new top has little impact on your carbon footprint, but the fast fashion industry has one of today’s most destructive environmental impacts.
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The clothing industry makes up a more significant portion of global carbon emissions than the airline industry and maritime shipping combined. The heavy impact of fashion means that your new affordable, on-trend clothing comes with a more extensive environmental price tag. And more than a few unsustainable consequences.
But the impact of fast fashion isn’t just related to its adverse environmental effects. To bring consumers high quantities of fashion pieces, many brands turn to incredibly unethical labor practices, outsourcing their production to countries that will help them cut costs when it comes to labor.
Slow fashion, or mindfully made, ethically-sourced clothing, is the industry’s solution to this unsustainable industry. It centers around creating a considerate approach to clothing manufacturing that aims to respect people, animals, and our planet.
Slow fashion items are thoughtfully designed to develop high-quality, curated collections rather than pumping out large quantities of trendy clothing.
Below, we’ll go over the differences in manufacturing and environmental impact on fast and slow fashion so that you can create more mindful clothing purchases.
How Does The Environmental Impact of Fast and Slow Fashion Vary?
The fast fashion industry has numerous damaging environmental impacts. It falls on us, the consumers, to learn about brands so we know which harmful practices to avoid. Below, we’ll outline some of the fast fashion industry’s most notorious environmental impacts and how it differs from the slow fashion approach.
The fashion industry consumes nearly one-tenth of our water to run factories and clean products. That footprint contributes to an incredible amount of wastewater, and companies often look to countries without strict environmental regulations to save money on waste disposal.
Many fast fashion brands also use harmful synthetic materials in their clothing production process, unlike slow fashion, which typically uses recycled materials or organic cotton. Clothing made of polyester, a common material used by fast fashion companies, releases much more carbon emissions than cotton. They’re also slow to degrade—meaning the harmful impact of their fabric usage can affect ecosystems and our health for decades.
Did you know that nearly 57% of discarded clothing is in a landfill? Fast fashion companies attempt to create high quantities of trending styles that might quickly fall out of fashion. When the landfills pile up, the waste is then moved to an area to be incinerated, which poses multiple public health and environmental dangers.
Slow fashion companies who create fashion designer clothing, on the other hand, work to create long-lasting clothing items that can be recycled at the end of their life cycle, if it comes at all.
Viscose is a cheaper alternative to cotton for clothing production. You may know it as rayon, but you might not know that it’s incredibly detrimental to our planet. To create viscose, you need to source harmful chemicals (which may end up in our water sources), and these chemicals often pose risks to laborers, too.
Slow fashion brands use much more sustainable fibers to create their designer clothes. These materials range from natural fibers like cotton and linen to cellulose-based fabrics from creative sources like oranges, milk, coffee, and even wood fibers.
Fast and slow fashion companies also take radically different approaches to their manufacturing processes, leading to crushing disparities in both the quality of their garments and the treatment of their workers. WeWe’lliscuss some of the variances in these industries’ production processes below.
Fast fashion is associated with unsafe workplaces, declining domestic manufacturing, and decreasing quality. While you might enjoy its cheap price tags, fast fashion comes with a heavy price for its workers, and they are often underpaid, overworked, and put in haharm’say.
Slow fashion, on the other hand, prioritizes workplace safety and often works toward domestic production. Look for a Fair Trade certification—an initiative to pay workers a fair wage and subject them to ethical working conditions.
Fast fashion is made with cheap materials, put together in mere minutes, and designed to be trending and, consequently, out of style by next season.
Instead, slow fashion creates items made for a “capsule wardrobe.” That means you can wear it over and over again. Slow fashionistas pride themselves on carefully sourcing materials for a classic, timeless look. By prioritizing a high-quality, slow approach to fashion design, you can maximize your outfits within many clothing niches, like sustainable lingerie, workwear, and more.
The short answer: Yes.
Of course, various limiting factors might dissuade consumers from purchasing slow, sustainable fashion items—one being a higher price tag.
However, it’s important to note that higher price tags often signify a longer product lifespan, plus many other environmental and social benefits.
You can find slow fashion almost anywhere, but the internet is a great place to start when it comes to finding sustainably-made, timeless clothing. Whatever slow fashion brand you choose, explore their mission and values to ensure they stand behind what they say.
Together, we can make a difference. By making mindful choices and consciously choosing articles of clothing made with our planet and people in mind, we can show brands that quality, sustainability, and ethical production should be paramount—not an advertising gimmick.