A beginner’s guide to slow fashion

Repair, reuse, recycle

Harper's Bazaar India

If someone ever asks me what my ideal Sunday afternoon entails, my answer would most certainly be shopping with girlfriends—walking around from store to store with a Starbucks in one hand and bags in the other. If you can relate, then you know that in that moment your primary focus is the coffee your bestie is spilling and the cute top you just picked up from the little boutique she dragged you to. The last thing on your mind is how you piling up the shelves of your wardrobe with outfits that you’ll wear, maybe, twice a month will affect the environment. But the hard truth is that it does. Today, we’re going to get to the bottom of why that is and how we, as consumers, can take small steps to reduce the impact our adorable yet mass-produced outfits have on Mother Nature.

You’ve probably heard terms like circular fashion, eco-friendly fashion or slow fashion just being thrown around in brand bios and on social media. All these terms vary very slightly in definition but they all have a singular mission—reduce the load the industry has on the environment by striving to find a balance. It forces us to ask the question—how many clothes are too many? Let’s start with the basics.

What is slow fashion?

We spoke to Udita Bansal, founder of trueBrowns, a slow fashion label, who explained that it is a widespread response to fast fashion and it serves as a justification to put a stop to excessive manufacturing, complicated supply chains and mindless consumption. She said, “Slow fashion is more quality-based than time-based. It encourages mindful production, aligns sustainability with ethics and consequently encourages buyers to spend money on quality, long-lasting clothing. The movement strives to establish a sector of the economy that helps both the environment and the people.” 

For too long people have been supporting the unsustainable model of fast fashion. Think of it like fast food. Sure, it’s bad for us but it’s worse for the environment. For instance, the red pants you bought on a whim and then decided they are a little too loud for you will live in a ball in a murky corner of your closet until one day you find them and decide to donate them. Where do you think the journey of those pants end? In a landfill somewhere.

On the other hand, slow fashion offers a more holistic and ethical approach. Not only does it force us to reconsider our relationship with clothes but also brings into question the policies of the brand’s practices and our shopping habits. Isha Borah, a fashion content creator, says that the best way to make a good choice while shopping is by “investing in timeless pieces that you can re-wear/restyle in different ways”.

Quality over quantity

While the problematic fast fashion philosophy is based on greed, slow fashion is based on durability and conscious living. Sure, it’s exciting when brands put out bright, new collections every week but according to a study done by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, less than 1 per cent of all clothing materials are recycled into new garments. And you don’t want us to tell you why that’s making a bad environmental situation worse. Slow fashion flips this rubbish practice on its head. With slower production schedules, smaller collections and designs that minimise waste, it treats fashion like a marathon and not a sprint. It brings possibilities like layering outfits and deconstructed silhouettes to the forefront. 

However, it’s not so easy for slow fashion pret brands to hold their own before brands that produce clothes by the truckload. Borah says, “It may at times feel difficult for pret wear labels to compete directly with fast fashion brands in terms of their scale and cost. The main differentiation factor that helps pret wear labels is their design.” But the good news is that consumers in India, especially in tier 1 and tier 2 cities are now moving away from fast fashion due to its impact on the environment.

Now that we’ve understood what slow fashion is and how it impacts us all, let’s look at what each of us as individuals can do. Don’t worry, we won’t recommend you to throw out your entire wardrobe and only shop from certain brands. That would negate the point.

How you can hop onto the slow fashion wagon

Pay attention to fabrics

Borah says, “In today’s time, we have a lot of options in terms of fabric types, styles and colours. All of these can have a direct impact on the environment in the way the garment is produced. For instance, cotton consumes a lot of water while manufacturing, whereas nylon or polyester, which is used in most of the athleisure, comes from plastic. Dyeing of these fabrics includes a lot of toxic chemicals as well.”

So, the next time you discover a brand that claims to follow the slow-fashion model make sure you poke around a little bit. Look at the specifics. Ask questions like—What fabrics are used? What happens to the leftovers? Is the production slow and sustainable for everyone involved? Once you start paying attention to the finer details, you’ll start making a larger contribution than you realise. 

Repair, don’t throw

You know that dress that you don’t wear anymore because it has a small tear? Or the top that turned pink from white because you forgot to separate your colours while washing? Don’t throw them out. It’ll take one stitch or one trip to the dyer for you to able to wear those again. And if you’re thinking how you’ll be able to find your personal style if you keep wearing the same clothes over and over again, fret not. Turn your old clothes into new stylish pieces by revamping them instead of reinvesting in something you aren’t going to see after the second wear.

Bohra says, “There are a lot of reference videos, blogs or images available on various platforms for the newbies. They should start with the colour and clothing of their choice which makes them comfortable and confident. Someone new to the fashion world can experiment with different accessories and garment styles. The best thing about creating your own signature style is that you don’t need to spend a fortune to buy luxury products. The right outfit, when worn with confidence, speaks all.”

Shop mindfully

With the boom of online platforms, it has become increasingly easy to give into ‘confessions of a shopoholic’ kind of temptations. No, you don’t need to start your own anonymous blog (if you don’t want to). Just think three times and maybe phone a friend before impulsively purchasing something that doesn’t have the potential to last in your wardrobe. 

It’s like Bansal says, “Consumerism has risen to dangerous levels. The Earth cannot support our consumption at the current rate of production. In essence, we are depleting our natural resources and changing our environment as a result. If we exhaust the resources on our planet, we have no hope. Thus, slow fashion and sustainability is a culture and a way of living.”

Just some food for thought…