In recent years, we’ve seen fast fashion brands become the dogma of the industry with their insanely cheap and up-to-date pieces. However, behind the cover of seemingly innocent clothes that anyone can buy, a much more sinister story reveals itself.
Companies hire workers in other countries, paying them poverty wages and making them work in poor conditions. Yet, they may even try to give a false impression that they are sustainable. So, what should we, as consumers, purchase and support?
We believe that occasionally splurging on clothes that “do minimal harm” is better than consuming fast fashion pieces that maximize this damage. After all, there are a myriad of sustainable fashion benefits that you should take advantage of, and in this guide, we’ll break down them for you.
1. Sustainable Fashion Minimizes the Environmental Impact of the Industry
It is no secret that overproduction and overconsumption contribute to the climate change. However, did you know that their impact is irreversible?
Retailers burden the planet with 92 million tons of textile waste every year – in the form of manufacturing remains, non-recyclable discarded clothing, and excess unsold inventory. What’s more, this waste can’t biodegrade, as they’re made of synthetic fabrics that often contain dangerous toxins.
How Does Sustainable Fashion Impact the Planet?
Using petroleum-based materials like acetate or polyethylene is definitely not the right road to sustainability – yet, fashion retailers use them regularly since they’re cheap and accessible.
Sustainable fashion strives to reverse water, air, and soil degradation, caused by man-made fabrics. To do so, it incorporates natural materials, such as organic cotton, linen, and silk, as well as natural dyes.
Pro Tip: Digging into what materials brands use and checking clothing labels are beneficial. After all, you’ll know what you are buying and wearing, and whether it will harm the environment.
2. Sustainable Fashion Combats Overconsumption
One of the biggest sustainable fashion benefits lies in its rejection of fleeting trends. Many brands have adopted a seasonless calendar, meaning they only sell clothes that can be worn all year long. These brands discourage mindless shopping, crafting garments from non-toxic, natural fabrics and ultimately, minimizing textile waste.
This revolutionizes the way we shop nowadays. Sustainable brands refuse to attract consumers through trends, FOMO (“fear of missing out”), and last-minute sales. Instead, they urge shoppers to buy clothes only when they need them.
Encouraging Conscious Consumption
Luckily, more and more consumers express their interest in rental, as well as pre-loved clothing. This is especially true, when it comes to the Gen Z consumer who seeks to protect the planet through renting. To meet the demand, sustainable fashion introduces clothing subscription, secondhand, and upcycling clothing platforms, which counter today’s trend-focused fast fashion system.
Moreover, the anti-trend ethos of sustainable fashion reveals itself in timeless designs. Focusing on minimalist sophistication, ethical brands allow the consumer to put their own stamp on their wardrobes. By this, they urge the wearer to revamp clothes through unique styling choices and accessories, rather than unnecessary purchases.
After all, timeless pieces can always be dressed up or down while trends expire in a blink of an eye.
Sustainable Fashion is Circular
Let’s highlight one of the biggest sustainable fashion benefits – circularity. Many sustainable brands adopt a “closed loop” system, which extends the lifecycle of their products. Well, what does this mean? “Closed loop” refers to a circular fashion model, in which brands recycle, restyle, and resell clothes back into production – over and over again.
Imagine purchasing a dress from a store and reselling it after a few months to the very same brand – similar to renting yet more long-term. This would not only keep clothes out of landfills but also make fashion more fun!
Circularity doesn’t stop here, however. It also embeds a more holistic approach to all stages of clothing production, whether it’s design, material sourcing, or recycling.
How Fast Fashion Falls Short of Recycling Initiatives
Nowadays, fast fashion brands refuse to launch their own recycling or upcycling programs that would let customers circulate their clothes in the system. Instead, they promote the buy-discard cycle, which releases 12.8 million tons of clothes to landfills in the U.S. every year.
Slow fashion brands, on the other hand, ingrain the concept of circularity in the very creation of their garments. Their items usually do not need to be recycled as often as fast fashion clothing, as they’re sturdy, timeless, and high-quality. Yet, these brands still go an extra mile by incorporating buy-back or resale programs.
Pro Tip: make use of alternative platforms that offer affordable, second-hand pieces, such as The Real Real, Vinted, Fwrd, or even Ebay, to keep clothes out of landfills.
3. Sustainable Fashion Upholds Ethical Working Conditions
The fashion industry not only depletes natural resources but also perpetuates human exploitation and even child slavery. It has spawned the notorious sweatshops, massive factories, and other worker facilities that are beyond terrifying to picture.
Garment workers tackle violence, harassment, and extreme poverty on a daily basis. The industry, however, keeps reaching new heights – as most shoppers remain oblivious to who makes their clothes and where.
Given that, one of the many reasons why slow fashion is better than its fast counterpart lies in fair labor. Sustainable brands never source their clothes from unethical factories. This is due to the fact that they refuse to keep up with fast-paced customer demands, allowing them to prioritize ethics over profit.
Ethical Fashion Rejects Offshoring
Sustainable brands source their clothes in humane conditions, predominantly from countries where labor is expensive, such as Japan, Germany, France. By this, they oppose the practice of offshoring, which involves outsourcing dressmaking to overseas factories, where exploitation roams free into every stage of clothing production.
Offshoring is all about transferring operations to less developed countries. It introduces new margins of profits for retailers. Yet, it perpetuates the cycle of poverty wages for garment workers – who are mostly female and sometimes, underage.
One of the greatest sustainable fashion benefits is the utilization of local materials. Slow fashion brands seek to re-shore clothing production to nearby communities, upholding the highest labor standards. Essentially, they relocate production to home countries, which not only minimizes their environmental impact but also supports greater transparency.
4. Sustainable Fashion Rejects Overproduction
It takes immense ecological burden to create a ready-to-sell piece of clothing from scratch. A single shirt requires about 2700 liters to create. While this may sound insignificant, repeating the process a thousand times a day exacerbates the problem.
Fast fashion ignores the issue of resource depletion, rather than trying to solve it. Changing up collections every week not only drives up the supply chain but also pollutes the environment. This also leads us to yet another problem – overproduction.
Fast Fashion Uses Consumer Demand as an Excuse
Brands like Zara, H&M, Urban Outfitters, or Primark only operate thanks to the demand from the consumers for their cheap, toxic clothes. Every collection of every brand get sold out, creating waste that either gets sent into the landfill or is scarcely donated to thrift shops.
While it is hard, if not impossible, to create fashion pieces without waste, fast fashion brands maximize the amount there is to throw away. They claim to serve the wishes of their consumers who buy up garments at lightning speed. However, in fact, they inflate the demand themselves – via influencer marketing, last-minute discounts, and the feeling of #FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
How Sustainable Fashion Minimizes Production
Slow fashion brands produce clothing in small batches. Selling one of a kind clothes, they curate unique, rather than mass-produced collections. With enhanced customization, small-scale retailers may also add a personal touch to garments and bolster their relationships with their customer base.
In certain cases, they may also employ on-demand production, in which they create only the goods that have been ordered by consumers. This means that they don’t hold excess inventory, nor depend on trend forecasting.
A downside of this is that the lead time becomes bigger, so consumers have to wait for longer before they receive the order. However, this time frame allows for more mindfulness, reversing the mindset of consuming everything instantly.
5. Protecting the Health of Both Shoppers and Workers
Every step of clothing production involves chemicals of some sort. Dyeing, washing, and even preparing materials for cleaning undergo chemical-intensive processing. Hence, most synthetic fabrics end up containing health hazards – in the form of azo dyes, heavy metals, PFAS, formaldehyde, and more.
Tying overproduction with the toxicity of synthetic fabrics, it all creates a major safety concern. Residue chemicals from discarded clothes sometimes end up in rivers and water bodies, inevitably polluting communities overseas. However, most importantly, they harm us, the consumers, as toxic chemicals bioaccumulate in our bodies.
Toxic clothes, therefore, are a two-way street – they not only affect consumers but also garment workers who breathe in all the toxins at factories.
Slow fashion brands utilize natural fabrics
Our skin is the biggest and only external organ in our body. Its porous texture makes it absorb, on average, around 64% of all the contamination we come in contact with. The 8000 different chemicals used in clothing production, in tandem with petroleum-based fabrics, create toxic synergistic effects – ultimately, harming our health.
With that said, one of the biggest sustainable fashion benefits lies in its rejection of synthetic fabrics. Minimizing toxins, slow fashion brands employ organic textiles, such as cotton, hemp, linen, and wool, which are backed by GOTS, OEKO-TEX, and other certifications, ensuring their organic status.