We all know what fast fashion is, but what is slow fashion, exactly — and can it help fix the fashion industry’s biggest challenges?
Let’s not beat around the bush: fast fashion is bad news for everyone. While purchases from brands like Shein, Boohoo, and Cider seem like they’re making us happy — they’re quick and cheap, and they give us a dopamine hit when we select add to cart — this way of buying clothes is harmful to us, to the planet, and to the people that make them in the first place. But there is a way we can enjoy clothing without this impact: embracing slow fashion.
The detrimental impact of fast fashion
Fast fashion brands thrive on creating addiction — and they do it really well. Studies have found that our brains really, really like finding a great deal on a product we love. No, really, it’s science.
Per The Atlantic, research suggests that when we find a piece of clothing we like, the pleasure center of our brain lights up. When we consider the price, the part that processes pain weighs in. Essentially, we’re thinking: is the item worth the pain of parting with hard-earned cash? Fast fashion makes this part really easy — because, for most people, there really isn’t much immediate pain involved when the amount you’re parting with is about $5.
But there is pain behind these purchases. For one, all of those small amounts add up, and buy now, pay later (BNPL) services like Klarna, which often partner with fast fashion companies, are putting people in debt. In fact, according to StepChange, a debt charity, one in eight young people in the U.K. have now been chased by debt collectors over BNPL.
Fast fashion also hurts the planet in many ways. It gobbles up resources (just one pair of blue jeans requires around 1,500 gallons of water) and drives up greenhouse gas emissions (fashion as a whole is the second-largest industrial polluter in the world). All of this is for garments that, on average, will only be worn a handful of times before they end up in the landfill, where most items don’t biodegrade.
And then there’s the pain of the workers who make fast fashion. Shein, for example, has been the subject of multiple investigations into factory worker exploitation. In 2021, one report by Public Eye, a Swiss advocacy group, alleged that many workers were making clothes for 75 hours a week, with only one day off a month.
What is slow fashion?
Slow fashion is everything that fast fashion is not. While many fast fashion brands add thousands upon thousands of new styles to their platforms every day, most made with pollutive synthetic fibers like polyester, slow fashion brands take things, well, much more slowly.
The idea is that by slowing the entire supply chain down, fashion’s impact on the planet and people can be improved considerably. Often, brands will use sustainable materials to make things in small batches, or even to order, in a bid to reduce waste. Small factories are often used, too, and most brands proudly announce they pay all of their workers a living wage, too.
The price of slow fashion is higher per garment than fast fashion, there’s no doubt. But the idea is you buy less frequently and the purchases are considered, resulting in a more gratifying, rewarding shopping process that benefits everyone.
This way of shopping is taking off. Last year, one study by Momentive suggested that more than 70 percent of Americans of all ages want their clothes to be ethically and sustainably made. If you’re among those looking for a better way to find garments you love, check out our top slow fashion brands below.
Slow fashion brands to shop
Designed by Dani Dazey, all of Dazey LA’s bold, bright, maximal, size-inclusive styles are handmade to order in Los Angeles with materials like organic cotton. Its production process is low-waste and ethical, and all of its garment workers are paid a living wage.
Whimsy + Row
Whimsy + Row’s chic and stylish jumpsuits, dresses, and more are handcrafted in Los Angeles in limited-run batches, using upcycled and low-impact materials, just a few miles from its head office. The brand conducts weekly visits to its factories to ensure its workers are treated and paid fairly.
Seattle-based The Waight specializes in ceramics, but it also offers comfortable, stylish loungewear, too. Made with organic cotton, the garments are initially made in small batches, before they are carefully hand-dyed according to each order.
Lovanie specializes in made-to-order feminine fashion for petite women, using durable, biodegradable linens and deadstock cotton. The brand doesn’t even begin cutting and sewing until the order has been placed, which helps to cut down significantly on waste and inventory.
Hackwith Design House
Everything from Hackwith Design House is made in the brand’s Minnesota studio, and most aren’t made until the order has been placed. Its low-waste, size-inclusive styles are simple, stylish, and versatile.