Chapter 3: Responsible Fashion: The key to slow down Fast Fashion


“When I shop, the world gets better, and the world is better, but then it’s not, and I need to do it again. ” – Rebecca Bloomwood (Confessions of a Shopaholic)

Ever since the rise of Fast Fashion, the essence of consuming an outfit to its maximum capacity has been lost. It has altered our view of how we devour fashion, in vast numbers for shorter period of time. The extensive use of resources required for producing, manufacturing and transporting these garments is not just depleting our resources but also polluting it. In my previous article – Fast Fashion: why are we still wearing it? I have listed down in detail the impact our fast fashion choices are having on our planet and its habitat.

As eye opening as the reality is and as harmful as the effect of Fast Fashion is, there is still hope to escape the disaster the fast fashion movement is causing. If each one of us learns to be responsible with our fashion choices, the ripple effect of these small measures by millions of people will create a larger positive impact. Responsible Fashion is the answer to years of Fast Fashion inducing harm on our environment in the pretext of styles and trends.

According to a WRAP report in the U.K., designing for durability or longevity is the single largest opportunity to reduce the carbon, water and waste footprints our clothing requires.

There is no definitive rule book on how one can adapt to a sustainable lifestyle however the revolution can always start small. Wearing our clothes for longer is one of the easiest ways of incorporating a sustainable habit in our life. Air Drying your clothes naturally just 6 months a year can save 700 pounds of carbon dioxide.

According to WRAP’s ‘Valuing our clothes’ report (2017), “Extending the active life of 50% of UK clothing by nine months would save: 8% carbon, 10% water, 4% waste per metric ton of clothing.

“The most sustainable garment is the one already in your wardrobe.” – Orsola de Castro (Co-founder, Fashion Revolution)

The fashion we need to survive the fast fashion culture has long existed in form of different movements and lifestyle changes. These movements are working towards a better future for our planet and its beings. They are focused on all aspects of the fashion industry including the ecological, social, ethical and economical aspects.

According to Women’s Wear Daily, “consumers spent more than seven billion hours online searching for sustainable, ethical, fair trade, and eco-friendly items in 2020.”

Sustainable Fashion

The World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987 published the Brundtland Report which defines Sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Sustainable fashion means creating clothing, accessories and other textiles in the most sustainable way possible. It takes into account the environmental, social and economic implications of the process. It brings change to all aspects of the fashion industry from sourcing organic raw materials, sustainable design, ethical production, storage, transport, to final consumption.

Sustainable Fashion creates an industry that is environmentally friendly while also educating individuals to opt for a fashion lifestyle that is inclusive of sustainable practices for a better future.

Slow Fashion

The phrase ‘Slow fashion’ first appeared in an article in 2007 by journalist Kate Fletcher. She references Slow Fashion to Slow food movement that talks about it in relation to awareness and responsibility. She explains,

“Slow fashion is about designing, producing, consuming and living better. Slow fashion is not time-based but quality-based. Slow fashion is about choice, information, cultural diversity and identity.”

Slow fashion is manifesting a change through society and individuals. Creating an awareness about investing in high quality clothing, shoes and accessories. At the same time, it encourages brands to design and create fashion that is healthy, meaningful and has influence in its approach to people and their surroundings.

Ethical Fashion

The term is vaguely derived from the word ‘Ethics’ that means having morals and principles. Ethical Fashion is about creating fashion that is fair to the people involved in the process of producing the garments, shoes and accessories. Until the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, most brands and individuals were a blind eye to the cruelty of the fashion industry.

Ethical Fashion empowers everyone involved in the supply chain of garment production. It includes issues and questions such as –

  • Who is making this garment?
  • What working conditions do they work under?
  • Are they exploited?
  • Is any form of slavery involved during any process of making of this garment?
  • Are the workers paid livable salary?
  • Is child labor a part of the process?
  • What measures are brands taking to secure the lives of their garment workers?
  • Are any animals harmed for the production of the garment?
  • Is the fabric derived from animals?

In Ethical Fashion movement no animals are harmed to produce any fashion product. Thus, Vegan fashion is a part of the movement. Fabrics like leather, wool, silk can easily be substituted with vegan leather, Tencel, bamboo, linen and many more.

These are just a few of the numerous movements trying to transform the fashion industry. It may be overwhelming to learn about them all and change one’s fast fashion lifestyle at once. However, one can take small and meaningful steps to bring the desired change in their lives.

Here’s how you can incorporate responsible fashion in your lives:

  • Mindful shopping

One of the factors that will help slow down fast fashion is when we learn to consume as per our needs and not our wants. This phenomenon of owning everything our heart desires (without addressing the practicality of the purchase) is the reason brands are producing in excess. It is also the reason why we end up consuming more than the space in our wardrobe.

According to research conducted by sociologist Sophie Woodward at the University of Manchester, on average 12% of clothes in the wardrobes of women she studied could be considered “inactive”.

To avoid over consumption, it is important to understand the concept of mindful shopping. The basic idea is to only shop for as much as we need. We are surrounded by so many fast fashion brands that it is difficult to abort them out of our shopping experiences. However, we can always be cautious of what we are purchasing or how much we end up spending on items that may not have lasting quality. To keep our shopping habits in check we can ask ourselves questions that will help us understand if investing in this outfit is worth it.

Most unworn outfits end up at the back of the closet never see the light of the day. Wouldn’t it be better if the money was spent on fashion that you would consume more and would also add meaning to your life?

Incorporating mindful shopping keeps our wardrobes in check and avoids it from becoming over crowded. We are offered new designs every week but the style we create for ourselves stays.

‘Buy less, choose well, make it last.’ – Vivienne Westwood

  • Adapting natural and organic fabrics in our lives

Most fabrics produced these days are synthetics that are made from fossil fuels. These fabrics (polyester, acrylic, nylon) take up to 200 years to decompose. Even natural fabrics that have some part of synthetics like elastane or chemicals involved in them make their decomposition delayed.

Sustainable fabrics are sourced and produced carefully keeping ecological effects in mind. These fabrics are naturally produced and are free of toxic chemicals that are used in the manufacturing process. It only takes organic cotton 5 months to decompose. Organic fabrics thus decompose faster.

Large number of sustainable clothing brands are offering us garments that are just as stylist, high in quality and comfortable. They may cost slightly more than your fast fashion outfit but they are high quality fabrics that last

  •  The 3 R’s – Reuse, Recycle, Repair and Upcycle

According to Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2017) report, more than $500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing underutilization and the lack of recycling.

Don’t just recycle your clothes but invest in recycled fabrics (cotton, synthetics including polyester). These fabrics are a good substitute to the original fabric. Increase in purchase of recycled fabrics and clothing will reduce the burden on production of new fabrics. This will over a period of time preserve the depleting resources required to produce new garments.

Reusing an item in multiple ways allows it to live its full life and prevent unnecessary shopping. We will not just be reducing our consumption but also saving money.

If you are bored of an outfit? Or an outfit just had a mishap? Instead of throwing it away, you can upcycle it, repair it, mend it in different ways. The buttons on your shirt, zip from your pair of jeans can all be preserved and used in production of a new outfit. Take cue from sustainability advocates and designers on social media who are sharing creative ways of mending an outfit and creating new styles. You get a new outfit without digging a hole in your pocket or the earth. If there is something you really do not want to repair, donate it to someone who could still utilize it.

To reduce clothing waste on our own we need to utilize an outfit to its maximum capacity.

  • Support locally produced fashion and help small businesses grow

Fashion will always be a big part of our lives. It is time to shift from global to local. Globally known brands are only offering clothing that makes profits. A lot of our heritage, our ancient crafts, artisans, garment workers are all suffering because of fast fashion. Fast fashion brands are known to copy designs. Why not support and shop original instead?

According to ThredUp Resale Report, “45% of millennials and Gen Z say they refuse to buy from non-sustainable brands and retailers.”

Small businesses and locally produced fashion are transparent, ethical and sustainable. Their approach towards fashion has significance. Locally produced fashion is slow and sustainable. It is chemical free natural fabrics. The dyes used are natural, vegetable and herbal dyes. A lot of locally produced fashion is honoring our ancient craft and providing a source of income to those craftsmen. Small businesses empower their garment workers. Supporting them is not just about helping them grow but a shift in the narrative of our way of living.

“If you pay a little more, we can live a little better.” – Sharti Atka, garment worker from Bangladesh

  • Rent, thrift and Swap

“One in three young women, the biggest segment of consumers, consider garments worn once or twice to be old” (The Guardian, 2019)

Renting is a clever way of saving money that also offers the opportunity of wearing trendy styles. Renting clothing is like having an access to an endless closet you can pick anything from.

High end fashion, designer wear everything can be rented nowadays. Wouldn’t you like the chance of wearing a new outfit each time without having to spend a lot? It also gives the social media enthusiast in you the chance of sharing pictures in different stylish outfits often.

Thrifting is another great opportunity of reducing the production of new clothes. You can find gently used clothes, factory outlet clothes or even vintage one of its kind clothing via thrifting. You can thrift from a flea market, an online thrift store or a garage sale. Second hand clothing has become the first choice of several people. It is the opportunity to give clothes a second life and slow down fashion impact.

According to WRAP report, “An increase of 10% in second hand sales could save: 3% Carbon 4% Water 1% Waste per tonne of clothing”

Second-hand Market is projected to double in the next 5 Years, reaching $77B – ThredUp Resale report

The same report suggested that 33 million consumers bought second-hand apparel for the first time in 2020. 76% of those first-time buyers plan to increase their spend on second-hand in the next 5 years.

Much like renting, swapping clothes and wardrobes opens up new styles and collection. It is easy to swap with friends and family. Business models that provide longevity both through renting and swapping aim to reduce rapid clothing consumption. It’s easy access to large number of styles is slowly becoming a crowd favorite. Why spend on new garments when the option to access someone else’s wardrobe is available? So, what are you waiting for? Go rent, thrift or swap!

These are just few measures one can take at a personal level to help slow down fast fashion. We live in an age where it is easy to follow celebrities and get influenced by fashion influencers. We see trends change every day and in order to keep up, we end up with piles of cheap clothing. Whereas we could perfectly have a wardrobe dedicated to our sense of style instead. The choice is ours to make.

“Fashion is what you’re offered four times a year by designers. Style is what you choose.” – Lauren Hutton

While large corporations are still the major factor causing the climate crisis, as shoppers it is our actions that will determine the need for change. If we stop purchasing fashion that isn’t responsible, brands will have to follow the rise in demand for sustainability. How we invest in our clothing also speaks about the kind of lifestyle we want to lead and the earth we wish to leave behind for future generation.

Climate change is real and it is happening every millisecond. As individuals it is our responsibility to help save the planet. Every choice we make has an impact. Every purchase determines whether our planet lives on or dies further. It is only when we become responsible with our Fashion choices will we able to make a difference.

Fashion that is explored responsibly has power to change not just your life but also preserve our Earth!

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