There are an absurd number of terms in the sustainable fashion world. It is hard to understand the differences between slow fashion and sustainable fashion because of the intense overlap, however there are differences. But what even is slow fashion and where did it come from?

This article will explain:

  • What is slow fashion?
  • Why do we need slow and sustainable fashion?
  • What is the difference between slow and sustainable fashion?
  • How does one start engaging with the slow fashion lifestyle?
Woman poses in a fashionable outfit.
Slow fashion involves investing in a few, high quality pieces to last as long as possible.

What is slow fashion?

To put it as bluntly as possible, slow fashion is the exact opposite of fast fashion. As of now, we have 52 micro-seasons of clothes. This means that every week, brands are coming out with a new collection of cheap and unethically made clothing. Companies produce more, at cheap costs for us to buy, so that we buy more.

Slow fashion is about an awareness of the dangers of fast fashion, and choosing fewer, high quality pieces to last a lifetime. The goals of slow fashion can range from environmental goals like contributing less to greenhouse emissions, saving money by buying less, and feeling better without as many belongings.

Slow fashion encourages us to not only buy less, but to better utilize the pieces we already own. This means not wearing one dress to one event and getting rid of it. Instead, we can rewear, repair, and resell our belongings that are no longer serving us the way we need.

Woman holding a pair of jeans, standing before a massive pile of discarded clothes.
Fast fashion takes a massive toll on the environment– 39,000 tons of discarded clothes pollute Chilean deserts each year. Image courtesy of Insider.

Why do we need slow fashion?

To put it briefly, fast fashion is way too much. It’s too much mentally, environmentally, and in the long run, financially.

Slow fashion helps us save money in the long run, from not buying new pieces each season. Buying less lowers your environmental footprint and participation in unethical fast fashion practices. Additionally, fast fashion goes out of style so quickly. It is mentally draining, owning so many clothes, knowing that the trend cycle is shorter than ever.

Slow fashion helps us be mindful and aware of the clothes we own.

What is the difference between slow fashion and sustainable fashion?

If slow fashion and sustainable fashion were a Venn diagram, the middle section would certainly be the largest. Both involve respecting our clothing, buying less, and using pieces as long as possible. However, they start to differ in where the clothes come from.

Sustainable fashion involves purchasing from environmentally friendly brands that minimize greenhouse gas emissions. For slow fashion, the idea of preserving clothes and treating them with respect is far more important. While it is ideal to purchase from local boutiques and sustainable brands, the principle of using what you already have outweighs buying something new.

Another difference is in the quantity of clothes. Purchasing from thrift stores is an excellent way to get (somewhat) sustainable, reasonably priced clothes. However, the good price means nothing if it is an impulse buy that you won’t really wear.

In short, sustainable fashion is about buying ethically and environmentally friendly clothes, whereas slow fashion is about buying intentionally and using what you already own.

Woman in a colorful outfit, poses in front of a colorful building.
To make sure you are only purchasing what you need, create a wishlist and avoid impulse purchases.

Tips for slow fashion baddies

It can feel daunting to stop buying new clothes completely. Especially since your wardrobe may be filled with cheap, unusable pieces. But here are some ways to utilize slow fashion principles with your closet.

Avoid Temptation

Shopping has become a hobby for many of us, especially during the pandemic. Whether your shop of choice is Gucci, H&M, or Goodwill, we are buying more clothes than we need. If shopping is a hobby, a coping mechanism, it would be best to remove the temptation that inspires you to shop.

Perhaps you go to the mall and window shop, but always seem to leave with a few pieces you weren’t planning on. Maybe sad emotions inspire you to go online and order heaps of Shein dresses because they’re cheap. Habits can be challenging to break, so make it easier on yourself. Instead of going to the mall, try a farmer’s market so you leave with tasty food you will enjoy, not extra clothes to your already overfilled closet. Find other coping mechanisms so you’re not inclined to retail therapy when feeling down.

Wish Lists

You may not be a child flipping through magazines, deciding what you want for the holidays, but wish lists are a great way to be more intentional with your purchases. What exactly is it that you want/need to add to your wardrobe? Write it down and keep track of it. Chrome extensions like Karma allow you to create digital wish lists and notifies you about sales or price decreases. Once you have a list of what you need, stick to buying what’s on the list.

If you have a list of the exact style or garment you’re looking for, the purchase has more thought put into it. This means you are more likely to get use out of the item (because you know it is something that is missing from your closet), certainly more than an impulse buy.

Clothes hanging from a line, drying in the sun.
Air drying clothes limits friction, helping your clothes last longer.

Proper Care and Upkeep

Once the clothes are in your possession, make sure that you are treating your belongings well. Not to sound like anyone’s mother here, but washing your clothes properly is the best way to get them to last longer.

In general, clothes will last longer if washed in cold water and air dried. It can take longer, but it’s called slow fashion for a reason. To keep graphics and colors from fading, turn the shirt or jeans inside out before tossing them in the machine. Fold sweaters instead of hanging them so the shape doesn’t get warped. Invest in a pill remover (or use a razor for a hack). Air dry dresses and denim to prevent shrinkage.

Look for the care details on each piece. You spend money on clothes, wear them everyday, and love them. Why shouldn’t you put a bit of effort into making them last?

Mending, Embroidery, Upcycling

Sometimes, time takes its toll and you end up with some holes in your sweaters or boredom with your pieces. Knowing how to repair and upcycle clothes is the best way to save them, physically and from your own eventual disinterest.

Mending can fix holes in socks, jeans, or any article of clothing. If you’re feeling completely uninspired, embroider some flowers, dinosaurs, or quotes onto your pieces.  Knowing how to sew a dart or loosen a garment will help you keep your favorite pieces for longer. If you don’t feel like learning to sew, cut off sleeves to make a tank top, or tear apart the garment entirely for a whole new look. If it’s the color that’s boring you, pick up some dye or vegetable scraps and dye it the color of your dreams.

The goal is to get as much wear out of your clothes as possible.

Composite image. On the left, hands embroider a wave to a cuff. On the right shows a pair of Eans adorned with patches.
Make your clothes last longer by embroidering and upcycling whenever you feel bored of them. Image courtesy of Charles and Elin and MyQueen’sWish on Etsy.

Shop your Closet

Imagine you are a shopkeeper, setting up your wardrobe. Can you see everything inside of it? Make sure there are no stragglers. If you can see everything you own, you won’t forget any of your pieces and buy unnecessary duplicates.

After that, take inspiration from Pinterest and the people around you and use your existing pieces to make new outfits. Buying exact copies of the cool items you like is easy. Get creative and find what aspects of the outfit you like, then recreate it with your own closet. It’s more challenging, but far more rewarding.

Think of the Cost

There are numerous costs with every single purchase, not just the price tag. After you pay the money, the item costs you energy, time, and space.

It takes up real estate in your brain, knowing that it’s there, feeling stressed about not wearing it, getting your money’s worth, etc. It also takes up physical space. Will you even be able to see it once you purchase it? Will it push another item to the back of your closet? Environmentally, the cost is ridiculous. It costs 1,800 gallons of water to make a singular pair of jeans and 400 to make a single tee shirt.

The goal is not to intimidate you or say that buying new clothes is a terrible decision. Simply that waiting out the impulse and only purchasing what you completely love will help prevent buyer’s remorse.

That’s an overview of Slow Fashion!

I know I just wrote an entire article, but slow fashion is really quite simple: buy pieces that you love and make them last forever. You can complicate it by exclusively shopping from sustainable stores or upcycling pieces with fancy techniques, but the core is buying less to enjoy your wardrobe more.