Did you know that a single cotton shirt requires around 3,000 liters of water to produce? If you were to Google a picture of a 3,000-gallon tank of water right now, you’d be astounded by how much water that really is. On top of that, the process of textile dyeing used by large clothing manufacturers involves toxic chemicals that end up in the oceans. This process accounts for approximately 20% of the wastewater across the globe. And, while the EPA has restrictions against dumping this wastewater into the oceans, 97% of clothing purchased in the U.S. is currently produced abroad, mostly in countries where such regulations do not exist.
If you’re up to date on the blooming conversation on fast fashion’s environmental impact, then you probably know that there’s one brand that’s quickly becoming the poster child for unsound environmental practices: Shein. Started in 2008 as a wedding dress retailer, the company has quickly exploded in popularity and now releases between 700 and 1,000 new products per day (which includes far more than just wedding dresses), according to CEO Molly Miao. The company has been exposed for its horrendous environmental impact and for paying its workers unlivable wages and forcing them to work in harsh conditions. And yet, people continue to support Shein by purchasing their products by the truckful.
And irresponsibly produced clothing pumped out by Shein and companies like it is currently being consumed at unprecedented levels. In 2021 alone, an estimated 168.4 billion items of clothing were consumed, according to Statista.com. And, on top of that, over 50% of discarded clothing ends up in a landfill.
As you can probably tell, the fast fashion industry has gotten out of control and its environmental impact is devastating. Luckily, there are artists, designers, celebrities, and businesspeople out there working to combat the fast fashion industry by turning to more environmentally friendly practices. This movement is aptly named the “slow fashion” movement and it’s on the rise.
Let’s take a look at what exactly the term “slow fashion” means and how practices like upcycling and sustainable sourcing are helping save the world from the negative impacts of fast fashion.
What Is Slow Fashion?
Slow fashion, put simply, is the opposite of fast fashion. While fast fashion promotes increased consumption and manufacturing (regardless of any impacts on the environment or human rights), slow fashion encourages consumers and manufacturers to recycle, upcycle, and source their materials sustainably. The slow fashion movement encourages people to consider where their clothes are coming from, to find creative ways to reuse their old clothing rather than throwing it out and letting it end up in a landfill and to support companies that care about their workers and their environment.
The term “slow fashion” is believed to have been coined by Kate Fletcher, a well-known fashion and sustainability pioneer, design activist, writer, nature enthusiast, and research professor. The term was a play on the “slow food” movement that stemmed from the pushback against fast food restaurants like McDonald’s and Burger King.
Since then, the slow fashion movement has become closely linked with other movements like the upcycling movement (reusing used materials to make new products) or the sustainable fashion movement (producing clothes from sustainably sourced materials and through sustainable processes). Slow fashion, on the other hand, is all about reducing the amount of clothing we consume and, thus, the amount of clothing that needs to be produced.
What Is Upcycling?
One major facet of the slow fashion movement that’s been generating a lot of buzz in recent years is upcycling. You’ve probably seen a few TikTok videos of Instagram Reels in which people are cutting up old blankets and turning them into jackets or pants or something. This is the spirit of upcycling: turning something used that would otherwise be thrown away into a new piece of clothing.
And the concept of upcycling isn’t only reserved for fashion. Do a quick searching the internet and you can find thousands of amazing DIY upcycling projects that people have done, such as planters made from old soccer balls or cat houses made from old televisions.
In the context of fashion, though, upcycling usually involves sourcing fabric or other materials from old pieces of clothing, blankets, towels, or anything else that might look stylish and turning them into an entirely new piece of clothing.
The result of this trend is a reduction in the waste that the fashion industry produces. Instead of ending up in a landfill, these would-be-discarded items of clothing are being repurposed and resold. Plus, many people these days enjoy the handmade aesthetic that upcycled clothing has.
Owners of upcycle clothes have pride in knowing that they own a completely unique piece of art. No two upcycled pieces are alike. And, when someone asks you where they can buy your shirt, you can have the pleasure of responding, “Nowhere. It’s one of a kind.”
And, if there’s one demographic that enjoys exclusivity, it’s celebrities. So, it’s no surprise that many Hollywood elites have jumped on the slow fashion trend and have begun wearing or even producing their own sustainable clothing.
The Rise of Slow Fashion
The only way for any movement to gain widespread popularity these days is through celebrity endorsement. So, it’s reassuring to see that many of the world’s most famous celebrities have begun to fly the flag of slow fashion.
Billie Eilish recently collaborated with Nike to create an entirely vegan line of clothing and shoes. And, not only are these threads sustainably sourced, but they’re also incredibly stylish, coming in colors like sequoia and mushroom.
Billie has also been known to support non-mainstream artists. Above you can see Billie rocking an outfit made by Albuquerque-based artist Doug Wiggins. Wiggins is one of the artists leading the charge toward sustainable and creative fashion in the American southwest.
And, while Billie Eilish has been very open in her support of local upcycling artists, she’s far from the only celebrity that has endorsed the slow fashion movement.
Above you can see Avril Lavigne sporting a custom hoodie made by T.E.I.N. Clothing, an artist known for their punk-style reworked clothing pieces. Paris Jackson, Machine Gun Kelly, Steve Aoki, and other notable celebrities have also been spotted wearing threads made by T.E.I.N. Clothing.
How To Support Slow Fashion
With the fast fashion industry being one of the leading causes of environmental degradation today, it’s up to all of us to help our environment by supporting slow fashion instead. To do so, first of all, stop supporting fast fashion brands like Shein, Mango, and H&M (a company that burns mass quantities of unsold clothing, which produces harmful greenhouse gases).
If you’re going to shop with online retailers, do a little research and find out which brands source their materials sustainably and produce their clothing through sustainable processes. Here are just a few brands that are working to make a better world:
- Eileen Fisher
- For Days
These are just a few of the many, many brands out there today that are producing high-quality, fashionable clothing. So, if you need to buy new clothes, try spending your money on one of these brands instead of with a company that doesn’t care about the environment.
Another thing you can do to help reduce the environmental impact of the clothing industry is to simply stop consuming more than you need to. The whole idea of wearing a piece of clothing once and then letting it sit in your closet or throwing it out isn’t cute or glamorous, it’s environmentally destructive. Don’t buy more clothes than you need. Every time you purchase a shirt, a new shirt needs to be produced. And, to go back to the beginning of this article, one shirt takes 3,000 liters of water to produce.
If you do need to revamp your wardrobe, try supporting small businesses by purchasing your clothes from upcycling artists, many of which you can find on Instagram. Here are some of my favorite Instagram accounts that sell upcycled clothes:
Or, even better, you could learn how to upcycle your own clothes. Then, when one of your shirts gets ripped or something, you can repurpose it into something new.
All in all, being conscious about where your clothes are coming from and the environmental impact that the fast fashion industry has are the first steps that we need to take to start solving this problem. And, by supporting slow fashion companies and creators, you can be part of the solution.