Sustainable, slow, ethical fashion — What they are and how they differ from fast fashion
One thing is certain that fast fashion is far from these concepts. But how can you tell them apart from each other?
This November, I’m challenging myself to write every day. You can read them all under the “Shorts” category, where each post should be around 500–1k words. Think of them as “less polished” than my usual longer blog posts. This is Day 23.
You may have heard the terms "sustainable fashion", "slow fashion", and "ethical fashion" thrown around a lot. Despite having their own definitions, they can be used interchangeably because they are intricately linked and have many similarities. As a result, it can be hard to distinguish between them. One thing is for sure that fast fashion is far from any of the three concepts. So, how can you tell them apart from each other?
According to Cambridge Dictionary, it defines "sustainability" as:
the quality of causing little or no damage to the environment and therefore able to continue for a long time.
In simple terms, sustainable fashion is concerned with the environmental impact of fashion production. It maintains the ecological balance of the environment without jeopardising the well-being of future generations. If you're looking for sustainable clothing, it's best to look for natural materials such as recycled cotton and organic hemp. However if you're considering overseas purchases, it will require a significant amount of energy to transport via air flight to you. As a result, even if a product is "green" or "eco-friendly", it may not mean it's "sustainable". The best is to buy secondhand clothing, or locally sourced and produced clothing if possible, because it has a lower environmental impact. The majority of today's fashion is fast fashion, which is far from being sustainable. Fast fashion churns out new collections every few months (or even more), depleting natural resources at an alarming rate. Meanwhile, unsold clothes are dumped into wastelands, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere. How? Textile clothing can take hundreds of years to decompose, and this process emits methane gas, a more harmful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This in turn traps more heat on Earth, causing the average temperature to rise every year. We've been at it for decades, so the consequences might not look so severe at this point. However, the ones who will suffer will be our children's generation.
Ethical fashion focuses on the working conditions of those who make clothes and other products throughout the supply chain. It's making sure that workers are provided with safe and fair working conditions, including fair wages and treatment. In short, its emphasis is placed on human rights, eliminating child and slave labour. It also considers the welfare of animals, so ethical fashion is also vegan-friendly. Ethical fashion and sustainable fashion go almost hand in hand, because material production is required to make the clothing, which could be harmful to both the environment and the workers if not careful. Fast fashion companies are notorious for exploiting and underpaying their workers, which explains why fast fashion clothing is so cheap. Someone else is being exploited as a result of it. Because of long and complex supply chains, they can make it difficult to trace where exactly the garment production takes place. If brands are willing to invest the time and effort to investigate factories and other businesses they work with, ethical supply chains can be achieved.
You guessed it — slow fashion is the polar opposite of fast fashion. It's a more thoughtful and intentional approach to fashion, but what does that mean? It is intertwined with sustainable and ethical fashion, but at its core, it's about rethinking our relationship with fashion. The movement is more of a way of life than anything else. Slow fashion embraces lesser consumption and production, approaching the entire product lifestyle in a more holistic manner to focus more on quality rather than quantity and obsessing over trends. Do you really need to buy something new? Would this piece of clothing actually bring you more joy or a temporary distraction from something else? It encourages us to be more thoughtful and conscious of what we buy, which may result in a more timeless wardrobe that can be worn for any occasion.
With these three concepts in mind, the clothes may be more expensive but they focus on producing long-lasting and timeless pieces, as opposed to its counterpart of producing cheap and easily disposable clothing. It's understandable that not everyone can afford them, so they may not have the choice but to buy fast fashion. Personally, I believe this is acceptable as long as you are aware and conscious of what you're buying, instead of acting on impulse. Ask yourself — do you really need it and do you intend to use it for the long run? If both answers are no, you should try reconsidering your choice and the relationship you have with fashion.