You may have heard of 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 do 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, they require a significant amount of energy to transport via air flight to you. Even if a product is "green" or "eco-friendly", it may not be "sustainable" as you might think. The best is to buy secondhand clothing, or locally sourced and produced clothing if possible, because of its lower environmental impact.
The majority of today's fashion is fast fashion, which is far from being sustainable. Many fast fashion companies churn out new collections every few weeks, 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 (25x) 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 as severe at this point. However, the ones who will suffer will be the future generations.
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 can also be vegan-friendly.
Supply chain transparency is important to assess the workers’ rights and ethical business practices. However, because of long, complex supply chains involving many subcontractors, it’s difficult to trace where the garment production takes place. Fast fashion companies are notorious in that they get away with exploiting and underpaying their workers, which explains why their clothes are incredibly affordable. Consumers lack any information about the locations of their garment production. “Made in China” tells us nothing about the factories manufacturing the clothes.
If brands are willing to invest the time and effort to investigate factories and other businesses they work with to adopt better supply chain transparency, ethical fashion 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, focusing on quality rather than quantity or obsessing over trends. Do you really need to buy something new? Would this piece of clothing bring you more joy, a temporary distraction, or a means to signal to others that you’re fashionable? It encourages us to be more thoughtful and conscious about what we buy, enabling us to curate a more timeless wardrobe that can be worn for any occasion instead.
With these three concepts in mind, these 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. Think of them as a long-term investment that you can keep wearing for the years to come.
It's understandable that not everyone can afford them, so they may not have the choice but to buy fast fashion. Personally, I believe it 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, try reconsidering your choices and the relationship you have with fashion first.