When I was living in Dubai, I was just a stone’s throw away from Mall of the Emirates. As a 21-year-old, you would often find me chilling at… surprise, surprise… Forever 21. Shopping in the Middle East isn’t always need-based - it’s often carried out as a recreational activity. When I look back now, I shudder at the mindless purchases I made while strolling the mall. I had the privilege of buying clothes I didn’t need, and I used this privilege without thought.
Thankfully, I’ve come a long way since then. Knowing what I know now about the fast fashion industry – the waste, the human rights violations, the pollution – I couldn’t in good faith continue with my thoughtless shopping. But quitting fast fashion completely is also harder than it sounds. And so, started my gradual journey into slow fashion.
What is slow fashion?
As you might have guessed, slow fashion is the antithesis to fast fashion. It is a sustainable fashion movement that aims to encourage responsible clothing consumption. Essentially it means to think before you buy clothes. It’s what my 21-year-old self was oblivious to, but my current self has tried to embrace.
How can you join this slow fashion movement?
Even shoppers with the best intentions can get overwhelmed with how to shop sustainably. We’ve rounded up 6 tips to help you get started.
- Less is More
First and foremost is to rethink your relationship with clothes. Do you really love everything you buy? Do you need it? Slow fashion asks you to be mindful of your shopping. Slow down the number of purchases you make every year. And go for quality over quantity. A good question to ask oneself before buying a piece is, “Can I see myself wearing it at least 30 times?” When you start looking at clothes as a long-term investment rather than a short-term tool, you learn to avoid wasteful consumption patterns. And you start valuing quality over quantity. Buying 10 quality, timeless pieces instead of 25 cheaper ones will dramatically reduce your carbon footprint. Being more thoughtful and strategic in your purchases is the ultimate goal of slow fashion.
- Make it Last Longer
Try to get good use out of the clothes you already own. Taking care of your clothes can increase their lifetime, and help you wear them longer. This sounds simple enough but it’s so important. With social media and its pressure to rotate outfits, it’s tempting to give in to the high turnover in fashion. Resist bending to this pressure! Learn to mend or do basic repairs to your current outfits so that you can get more use out of them. Button fell off? Stitch one back on. Those old jeans you’re not sure what to do with? Cut them into capris. Bored of your plain white shirt? Get creative with the ways you style it. Wearing your clothes longer is one of the easiest ways to reduce their environmental impact.
- Shop Sustainably
Where you can, try to support brands that opt for a more sustainable approach to making clothes. Those clothes are generally made with high quality organic fabrics that will last. Hence, they’ll generally have more classic and versatile designs, rather than trendy ones. Invest in these timeless pieces. They may be heavier on the pocket, but once you factor in the durability that comes from the higher quality, you’ll realize it pays off in terms of the number of wears. And you may even find yourself saving money in the long run. Growing up, I would often hear my mom say “Mehenga roye ek baar, sasta roye baar baar”(Something expensive will make you cry once, but something cheap will make you cry over and over). Basically, the South Asian version of “You get what you pay for”. Even though I suspect this was my mom’s way of justifying her extravagant purchases to my dad, I do think she was on to something. While sustainable clothes might have a higher upfront cost compared to the fast fashion ones, their cost-per-wear will be lower. And you’ll get to enjoy it for years to come.
It is also important to be aware of “greenwashing” – this is when brands show themselves to be more green than they actually are. Do your due diligence on the company, and be a well-informed, conscious consumer.
Sustainable fashion can be costly. We get it. Despite your best intentions, sometimes your bank account just won’t allow you to fork out the extra cash for a sustainable fashion brand. This is where your local thrift stores and second-hand stores come in. They have clothes that have been ‘loved’ by a previous owner, but are usually in good condition, with enough life left in them to be used by someone else. Thrift stores are a recent favorite of mine. They are not only economical but oodles of fun. The excitement of walking in, not knowing what you’ll find; the thrill of not knowing what treasure you’ll eventually walk out with. My friend once stumbled upon a practically new Patagonia jacket while thrifting. Re-using clothes this way helps reduce textile waste drastically - its a simple way to go green!
- Swap Parties
If you have clothes in your closet that are in good condition, but you’re ready to change them out for something different, then this might be the thing for you. Gather your friends and organize a swap party. The idea is to bring out excess stuff from your closet and trade. Turn in the clothes that haven’t been getting much love from you, into new items that you can happily use. You may have a size that doesn’t fit you anymore but is perfect for your friend. A swap party is an eco-friendly way to spruce up your wardrobe - without spending a penny. And there’s a good chance of finding something that is not available in stores anymore. I went to my first swap 4 years ago, and became an instant fan of the concept! An environmentally-friendly way to get new clothes, while hanging out with my friends? Definite win-win.
Don’t forget to set clear rules on what is swap-worthy (gently used clothing, freshly washed, minimum number of items to bring, items that are not accepted etc.) If things go well, everyone walks away with something new for their closet, and without any retail guilt.
- Rent It
Here is an idea that’s slowly gaining traction: Renting your clothes. It’s the perfect mix of minimalism and sustainable fashion. In the US, more and more traditional retailers are now offering rental options. It won’t be long before Canada and other countries follow suit. Fashion rental companies, that work on monthly subscriptions, are already on the rise here. Renting clothes allows you to try on a variety of clothes and explore different styles, while keeping a sustainable footprint. It is especially useful for special events – you can wear a fancy outfit without the hefty price tag. I see this as the future of the fashion industry. Check your local area for fashion rental companies.
So there you have it. 6 ways to respond to the environmental and social issues in the fashion industry. These mindful practices are positive steps towards ensuring that we leave this planet in a good place for the generations to come. In the golden words of the iconic designer, Vivienne Wetswood, “Buy less, Choose Well, Make it Last!” That’s the mantra of slow fashion. Be sure to repeat it the next time you have an urge to splurge.