Slow fashion is on the rise on the Internet as the harms of fast fashion are increasingly recognized. Unfortunately, I still find that fast fashion is very popular as a tool for Internet fame and this tactic can have very harmful consequences.
I’m sure you’ve seen a title for a video on YouTube that looks something like this:
$1000 SHEIN HAUL | *SHOCKING*
Huge clothing hauls from SheIn and other brands like Zaful are all over the Internet. $1000 is an INSANE amount of money to spend all at once on cheap clothes. I have a hard time rationalizing buying even one small item unless I actually really need it. What rubs me the wrong way about these hauls the most, though, is that these wealthy and successful creators are spending an unthinkable amount of money on clothes that they’ll probably only wear for a season (if at all).
While I can’t make assumptions about how exactly these creators will use these clothes, I have a suspicion that they spend this money for views. Clothing hauls are some of the most popular videos on YouTube, and spending a large amount of money makes for some great clickbait. Especially if you’re buying from a brand with trendy clothes for cheap.
These videos have a larger impact than these YouTubers might think. I see many regular people on TikTok and Instagram dumping large amounts of money towards these brands to purchase 20-30 items of clothing all at once. That’s an entire new wardrobe.
And who wouldn’t want cheap, cute clothes? It honestly sounds like a great situation. Why invest in clothing that you’ll only wear for a few months? SheIn, among other similar brands, provides a great solution.
Or so you may think.
I’ve started to see sustainable fashion slowly creep into view on social media. However, sometimes these bits and pieces of content lack substantial information. The only gist that I get tend to get out of these posts is “Fast fashion bad. Sustainable fashion good so buy sustainable.”
But they don’t dive into why. And I truly believe that’s why fast fashion hauls like the one’s I mentioned before are still incredibly popular. It’s hard to stop a bad habit when you can’t see the damage.
I want to pause here to point out a very important reminder:
Sustainable fashion is pricey. I struggle to opt for sustainable options myself. I know that only a very small group of people have sustainable fashion readily available for them if they want to buy it. Which is why I have such beef with these successful Internet personalities spending $1000 on clothing they’ll likely toss out. They clearly have the ability to seek out and afford trendy items that are sustainable or ethical. And yet, they choose to perpetuate a culture of constant consumerism for views. These choices have incredibly harmful consequences. Their fans see their role models spending their money in this way, and as a result they too buy into fast fashion.
Ultimately what I’m try to say is: If you have the money, try to divert your spending towards sustainable and ethical brands when shopping, but don’t feel guilty if you can’t.
Problems With Fast Fashion
Fast fashion is most widely known as an environmental issue, but it’s consequences afflict people too. It’s a feminist and racial issue as well.
Fast fashion’s counterpart, slow fashion, eliminates many of these problems. In general, slow fashion refers to an approach that values sustainable materials with an eye for fair treatment of garment workers, animals, and the planet.
In this post, I want to break all of these problems down as a source for education about fast fashion and the solutions that slow fashion provides. I will provide a list of sustainable brands to give you a place to start as well.
60% of our clothing is now made with synthetic fabrics like polyester. Synthetic fabrics are made from fossil fuels, and thus polyester is similar to plastic in the sense that when we throw our clothes away, they will never break down completely. As we get rid of more and more clothes, the amount of microplastics from these pieces will flow from landfills, through water systems, and eventually into our oceans. So, if you really want to save the turtles, forget the reusable straw and ditch polyester instead.
Additionally, textile production requires a HUGE amount of water. One ton of fabric often requires TWO HUNDRED tons of water. Cotton is an especially water-reliant material, creating a strain in countries struggling to find water for their citizens. Additionally, in countries where most textiles are produced, water waste is dumped directly into rivers. This waste contains toxic chemicals like arsenic and lead, which are devastating for aquatic life and people who drink that water as well.
Slow Fashion Environmental Solutions
Choosing natural or semi-synthetic fibers like TENCEL, linen, hemp, and organic cotton are great ways to help these environmental issues that fast fashion creates. They avoid the use of fossil fuels directly in your clothing and help reduce microplastic waste in our waterways. Washing your clothing only when absolutely necessary helps with microplastics as well. Natural and recycled fabrics also require less water for production. Finally, they help with fashion’s waste problem, as they are more likely to break down once inside a landfill. The best way to reduce waste, however, is to restrict buying new and recycling your clothing.
Here is where fast fashion extends beyond an environmental issue and into a human rights issue. The issues that fast fashion poses for women around the world directly intersects with its racial issues.
Let’s use Bangladesh as a sort of case study. They are the second largest exporter of textiles in the world, and 85% of their garment workers are female (the global average is 80%). In fact, working in textile factories are one of very few employment options available for women due to the systems of female oppression in these countries. Their minimum wage is equivalent to roughly $70 a MONTH even when a living wage in Bangladesh is around $117 per month. These workers, who are majority women, are living well below the poverty line. To add flame to fire, many of these women work up to 140 HOURS of overtime per week only to be cheated out of their overtime pay.
Having an opportunity for employment when women were historically barred from working might seem like a mode of empowerment rather than exploitation. However, their only opportunity for employment is working in these inhumane factories where their 140 hours of overtime per week often goes unpaid. Even when it is paid, it’s far from what they really need. By contrast, men in these countries have a much longer list of employment options with higher wages. The system uses their history of oppression to further silence these women from demanding better pay out of fear of being fired. Unfortunately, this reality is very similar for garment workers everywhere, even in America.
Most retailers in America outsource their production to countries like Bangladesh for the very reason of cheaper labor to make a higher profit. Brands that choose to outsource their labor to places where workers are cheated from a livable wage are directly participating in this system of female oppression.
Slow Fashion’s Feminist Solutions
Great slow fashion alternatives to shopping from brands that outsource their labor is to shop local. Check out local boutiques or online retailers that only produce made-to-order pieces.
Re/make is an amazing non-profit organization pushing for garment worker rights around the world and they have a “donate” button right on the home screen of their site so that you can help the cause! They also have a great list of brands on their website that they have confirmed use ethical labor in production.
The fashion industry as a whole, fast or slow, is infiltrated with racism everywhere. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent surge of the Black Lives Matter movement, discrimination practices have been exposed in many brands, including popular sustainable fashion brand Reformation. While racist employment methods in every facet of the fashion industry are rampant in the U.S., garment workers around the world face the most brutal form.
Remember how 80% of garment workers are women? All of those women are of color. All of the issues regarding female oppression that I just talked about intersect right here with issues of race which deepen the effects of both. The mistreatment of these women started way back in the 1500s with the beginnings of European colonialism where white colonists invaded countries of POC to exploit their people and their resources. Colonialism was built upon the idea of white supremacy and superiority over black and brown people. The use of underpaid and abused overseas labor by American and European brands is just a modern iteration of the exact same colonialism of the past.
The Covid-19 pandemic has only deepened these abuses of garment workers. Before the pandemic was a global emergency, many brands had orders placed for the manufacturing of their clothes. As the pandemic spread, the demand for these clothes suddenly dropped and these brands cancelled the orders and refused to pay for them. Now, these factories across the globe have piles of unwanted and unpaid clothing and the workers were not compensated for their labor. Hundreds of thousands of these women will lose their jobs because these American and European brands refused to pay up.
At the end of the day, brands need to pay their workers a living wage. These brands have the money to do so, but because they outsource their labor they take the “out of sight, out of mind” approach. But they know that the people making their clothing are WOC and they know that these women are underpaid and overworked. But just because the factory doesn’t say “Urban Outfitters” or “H&M” on the front doesn’t mean they aren’t responsible.
Slow Fashion’s Solutions
Slow fashion alternatives to combat the racism involved in clothing production are very similar to the alternatives for feminist issues. Try to shop local/seek brands that are vocal about their fair wage practices.
To actively combat racism in the retail part of fashion, seek out BIPOC owned and run brands. By investing in their business, you show other brands that exclude BIPOC from fashion that the consumer values their work. Hopefully, these actions will send a message to racist brands about their consumers priorities in order to generate change.
Where to Buy Slow Fashion
Below are just a few brands with some slow fashion ideals in mind! Some are better than others just as some are more affordable than others, but they are great places to start looking for clothes before you hit up a $1000 order on SheIn.
- FTLA Apparel
- GARY MASH
- MUD Jeans
- No Nasties
- People Tree
- Space Between
- One Vintage
- Elizabeth Suzann
For more resources on where to find slow fashion and sustainable brands, Good On You and Re/make have lists on their sites! Also, if you are curious about a brand you already love, Good On You has given evaluations to thousands of brands and it’s very interesting to see what they think of brands that are presented as ethical/sustainable. For example, I was very surprised about their thoughts on Everlane and Aritzia: two brands known for their seemingly sustainable practices.
Once again, I know that it can be hard to find a brand that’s affordable, trendy, and sustainable all at once. These brands are great for basics, but I know that having a few stand out pieces in one’s wardrobe is always nice. Look to buy those second hand before you buy them new. Online thrift stores like Poshmark, Curtsy (specifically for college gals!), and ThredUp have thousands of items on their sites so you are bound to find some great clothes there. I’m not here to shame anyone for their shopping habits, I just want to be a source of information for those looking for it. If you liked this post, check out my latest on general sustainable living for more ideas on making your life more eco-friendly 🙂
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