What if we started by slowing down and not consuming so much stuff, just because it’s there and cheap and available? It’s amazing how that process makes sense financially, it makes sense ethically, it makes sense environmentally.
If you’ve read my post on why you should stop buying fast fashion, then you’ll know all about shady supply chains that exploit vulnerable garment workers, the heavy environmental impact on our planet, the hidden suffering of billions of animals, as well as understanding on a personal level that despite a lot of lucrative marketing promises… buying more clothes doesn’t actually make you any happier!
So when you know all of this on a rational level, why can it still feel so hard to quit fast fashion? And what are the alternatives? Are you honestly just supposed to never buy any new clothes ever again?! Because that doesn’t sound very realistic! And… what exactly is slow fashion anyway?
In this post, I’m going to unpack these questions so that your new relationship with fashion is sustainable (in every sense of the word!). Not only will you feel more confident considering the impact of your buying habits and supporting ethical brands, but you’ll be able to do so in a way which you can commit to for the long term.
It’s telling that in a recent survey by British Wool, 81% of people admitted they’d like to change their shopping habits but didn’t know where to start.
Firstly, it’s important to know your ‘why’. Educating yourself and learning more about the reasons this industry doesn’t align with your core values will keep you accountable. But it’s also helpful to understand what you’ll struggle with and why during the initial transition period, as well as the ways in which you can develop newer, healthier habits moving forwards.
What Is Circular Fashion?
Circular fashion demands greater transparency over where our garments come from, a more sustainable approach to the materials they’re made from, as well as accountability for the long-term lifecycle of our clothes, rather than a sole focus on immediate profit.
Most fast fashion brands take a linear view. This means that they focus on manufacturing via the quickest and cheapest means possible, producing huge quantities of poor-quality, synthetic clothes that are mostly destined for landfill.
This linear model has come under scrutiny in the last decade, in particular since the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013. This finally forced uncomfortable conversations within the industry to establish change and reform.
Ultimately, a shift towards circular fashion means a more mindful and holistic stance, where the responsible manufacture of a product is just as important as the garment’s journey at the end of its lifespan. It is a system which aims to reduce waste, with thought put into the longevity of the garment and materials used, as well as ways in which it can eventually be repurposed into something new.
Brands have a Corporate Social Responsibility to move towards more circular models, which by definition are more ethical and sustainable. For example, working to remove non-biodegradable and harmful materials from the manufacturing process, or pioneering in-store recycling schemes.
However, as a consumer, you also have an individual responsibility to be more circular in your approach to your wardrobe. Brands are incredibly sensitive to consumer demand, so you have the power to drive change.
Read on to understand your part in creating a more circular, sustainable world of fashion.
7 Reasons It’s Hard to Quit Fast Fashion (+ How To Do It!)
The fashion industry has trained us, in a sense, how to approach shopping. So like with any habitual behaviour, quitting fast fashion may not come completely naturally to you at first. And there are several reasons why:
1. Psychological manipulation
The typical person saw over 5,000 ads yesterday telling them to buy something new. Here’s one with the opposite message: Buy less.
‘Buy now!’ ‘Limited time offer!’ ‘Last chance extra 10% off!’
Fast fashion brands have mastered the art of urgency in their marketing campaigns, leaving you stressed and anxious about missing out on a good deal. Whether it’s a time limit on a special offer or a discount code you just don’t feel you can pass up, brands know how to psychologically market to you. Basically, they know how to get you to impulse buy.
To guard against this, the best thing you can do is to become uncontactable. Control your environmental cues by taking a digital detox. Unfollow and unsubscribe from the fast fashion brands you know you have a particular weakness for. This will help to set you up for success and keep you accountable towards your slow fashion journey.
Fast Fashion has turned us into passive consumers who are constantly chasing the fantasy that buying more clothes will make us happy.
Shopping is addictive. It activates pleasure sensors in the brain and gives you a dopamine hit when you buy new things. Whilst it may not appear to be a problem in the eyes of society compared to gambling or smoking, mindless consumerism can be a serious addiction that helps to suppress, mask or avoid negative emotions.
This can lead to negative feelings of boredom and unfulfillment, as I discuss in my post here. Move away from the short-term pleasure of passive consumption to a more fulfilled life of active creation.
Like eating meat, when something is normalised on a cultural and societal level, it can be a difficult mental block to get past.
When all your friends see shopping as necessary retail therapy, they’re the recognisable brands you see on the high street, and you probably haven’t even heard of most sustainable brands… it’s hard. YouTube fashion hauls, celebrity influencers and constant adverts even go as far as to celebrate the consumption of fast fashion.
So to make something that was once normal to you abnormal requires rewiring previously unquestioned belief systems you once held. These will have been built up over a long period of time, meaning it’s not an overnight process.
But you can educate yourself, start to consume new content and find like-minded people to help with this transition.
4. Out of sight
As with factory farming, the troubling aspects of the fast fashion industry are deliberately hidden from sight. When something is beautifully packaged from a brand you aspire to, you rarely stop to think about the journey that garment has undertaken to make it onto the shop hanger.
When workers’ rights, polluted ecosystems and animal cruelty are outsourced halfway across the world, they’re out of sight, out of mind.
To combat this, you can watch insightful documentaries like Udita, The Machinists or Unravel that are narrated from the perspective of garment workers themselves.
5. Feelings of powerlessness
‘I’m just one person!’ I hear you say, ‘What possible difference can I make?’
With such a huge fashion system and no obvious alternatives, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and defeated before you’ve even started. But I encourage you to be the change you want to see in the world! As consumers, we have more power than we realise, so don’t worry about anything that’s beyond your control.
Just make the best choices that you can personally make today.
6. Creativity, self-expression & status
It’s worth pausing to acknowledge that there are good things about fashion that we should celebrate!
Clothes express our creativity and unique personalities. They communicate something to the world about who we are, and have always been a visual symbol of status and power throughout history. A high turnover of trends means that you can try out different styles and even personas in a fun and safe way.
In other words, like a vegan doesn’t want to compromise on taste, you don’t want to compromise on style!
I would argue that when you embrace slow fashion, you can be just as creative, if not more so when defining your own sense of personal style. Through vintage shopping or repurposing your own wardrobe, there are certainly ways that you can retain all the benefits that fashion brings, whilst being more mindful of your impact.
7. External validation
On the flip side of individuality and self-expression comes the more damaging side of keeping up with the latest fashion trends. It’s natural to want to be accepted and liked by your peers, so fashion can be a harmful way of validating yourself in society’s eyes.
‘Am I attractive?’ ‘Do I look okay?’ ‘Am I enough?’
When you embrace slow fashion, this can be a powerful way to take back your individual power, prioritising your own likes and dislikes, and developing your own sense of style.
7 Ways to Embrace Slow Fashion
Now that we’ve discussed why it’s difficult to quit fast fashion and how you can overcome some of these pain points, let’s move on to the exciting part: how to have a positive impact by joining the slow fashion movement! To save money, care for the environment and curb impulse buys, here are my top tips.
1. Review your wardrobe
The first thing to do is to have a look at the wardrobe full of clothes you already own with fresh eyes. Despite frequent lamenting that you have nothing to wear, I’m positive there are some forgotten gems in there! Remind yourself why you fell in love with these pieces in the first place. The most sustainable option is to wear what you already have.
Remake encourages you to take the pledge #nonewclothes for 3 months. Or, in extreme cases, some people may even suggest you go a year with a self-imposed ‘shopping ban’. But be careful with this kind of restrictive language. It’s better to think of it as reassessing the clothing you already own, so that you can get creative in putting together new outfit combinations you haven’t tried before.
Take steps to declutter and build a minimalist capsule wardrobe that makes you feel great.
2. Look after your clothes
Hands up if your clothes get lumped together in a general wash before being shoved back into your wardrobe? Yep, guilty as charged!
Taking proper care of your textiles means extending their lifespan. For example, washing delicates to the recommended guidelines, folding heavier pieces or lint rolling to maintain the perfect finish.
Laundering your clothes is also an area in which you can watch your carbon footprint. Try to wash your clothes less frequently (for example, you’re probably washing your denim far too often!). If your clothes just need freshening up, use a cool wash with an eco-friendly detergent. You may also want to consider a microfibre filter if you’re washing synthetic materials, to catch any tiny plastic pieces that are shed.
3. Mend & upcycle
My nan is so handy with a needle and thread, and my mum is a whizz on a sewing machine! I think it’s a great shame that as a generation, we seem to have forgotten the art of repairing our clothes. The more affordable clothes have become, the more disposable we have come to view them. And as such, we’ve lost an important sense of attachment and relationship with the clothes we wear.
If you’re crafty then try to make more of an effort to mend your clothes. For example, if a button falls off or the stitching at a seam comes loose. If Textiles was never your thing at school (I can definitely relate!) then this might be a new skill to develop. Alternatively, seek out a local haberdasher, who will be able to help you breathe new life into your old clothes.
Upcycling can also be a fun project. If you have old jeans you never wear anymore, try cutting the legs off to create some frayed denim hotpants!
4. Borrow or swap
Do you ever look at your friends and wish you had their wardrobe? Well, they’re probably thinking the same about you!
When it comes to fashion, we crave novelty. So if you have a friend that’s a similar dress size to you, why not suggest swapping some pieces in your wardrobes? You’ll both get that new clothing buzz, without having to spend any money whatsoever!
There are also now plenty of apps that enable you to swap clothing with people all across the UK. Mix up your wardrobe guilt-free by trying a clothing swap service like The Nu Wardrobe.
5. Use a rental service
If you’re going to a wedding or a formal event where you’ll likely only wear that new dress once, then it’s probably worth considering a hire service (you could even check out a subscription service like The Devout).
In Redressing the Future, fast fashion activist Mikaela Loach visits a leading rental facility in Scotland. The whole production line is set up to be low impact, with no chemicals and only a small amount of water used. Microplastics are captured so they don’t enter the ocean, and all items are fully sanitised between uses.
So if you have a perception about second-hand items being dirty – think again! Supporting rental services means you don’t have to invest in that expensive piece you’ll never wear again, plus its planet-friendly! Win-win.
6. Buy secondhand
When you wear vintage, you never have to worry about showing up in the same dress as someone else.
When there is already so much perfectly good clothing out there… do you really need to shop new?
Charity shops and vintage clothing stores can be a fantastic way to pick up unique pieces on a budget and develop your own sense of style. The real beauty of shopping in this way is that no one is going to be able to copy your look!
So unless it’s socks or underwear (I get it, you probably want to shop new in this case!), get creative!
If shopping on the high street isn’t your thing, then you could try shopping second-hand online. Browse a website like Vinted, where you can upload your own clothes, as well as shop for other people’s recycled pieces. You might even make some money in the process!
7. Shop sustainable fashion brands
My final piece of advice to embrace slow fashion is to make sure that when you do purchase new clothes, you think carefully about the brands you are supporting. Invest in fewer, quality pieces with a visible supply chain.
My go-to app is Good On You, which rates pretty much every brand you could ever think of under three pillars: People, Planet and Animals. This saves you so much time because the labour-intensive research has been done for you! You can then make more informed decisions as to where you shop.
For a comprehensive list of the best ethical fashion brands in the UK, take a look at my post here for further guidance.
Demand Change From the Fashion Industry
Slow clothing is a philosophy. It is a way of thinking about, choosing, and wearing clothes to ensure they bring meaning, value, and joy to every day.
So when you’re being lured in by a new customer discount, or you feel that you simply have to purchase before that flash sale finishes… Take a breath and have another read at this post for renewed willpower!
Slow fashion may be counter-cultural and you may experience inner resistance at first, but I promise that the rewards of living by your values are worth it. You will experience greater fulfilment in the long term over instant gratification in the moment from new, throwaway items of clothing.
As well as all the actionable tips and advice in this post, remember that there are literally so many things to do outside of clothes shopping! For example, take a look at my list of 100 things to do instead. And don’t forget to check out my step-by-step guide on how to stop buying so much stuff or these practical ways to simplify your life in all areas! You’ve got this!