What is ‘Slow Fashion’? - A Short Guide to a Sustainable Closet

girl in bright dress and slow fashion bag

Have you ever wondered where your clothes and accessories come from?  It’s not something we think about on a daily basis, is it? Especially while we're shopping in big retail shops. In the corridors full of clothes. But have you ever taken a moment to think about who made your clothes? What is their quality of life? And is there anything you can do to improve that quality in any way?


There’s a chance that you’ve already heard the term ‘slow fashion’ and thought to yourself: what? Or even: so what? It’s okay. What’s important is that you heard it, and probably a few times.

Yup. Slow fashion is slowly 😉 taking over. More and more often terms like ‘slow fashion’ and ‘fast fashion’ are sneaking into our common vocabulary. But what do they actually mean? If you’re curious or just want to know ‘so why should I care?’, carry on reading.

What is Slow Fashion all about?

By definition ‘slow fashion’ relates to the specific attitude towards shopping and a way of decision making while purchasing. This includes purchasing locally made and ethically sourced/traded products, choosing garments of higher quality that will last longer so there won’t be a need to purchase more, and rejecting aspects of ‘fast fashion’ industry.

girl holding slow fashion bag

Slow fashion vs. fast fashion

The terms 'slow fashion' and 'fast fashion' first appeared in the Economist in 2007. In an article titled 'Slow Fashion', author Kate Fletcher sets fast fashion side by side with fast food. Why? To show that with lower production cost the quality also decreases.  ‘Fast fashion isn’t really about speed, but greed.’ Fletcher says. ‘Time is one factor of production, along with labour, capital and natural resources that get juggled and squeezed in the pursuit of maximum profits. But fast is not free. Short lead times and cheap clothes are only made possible by exploitation of labour and natural resources.’

In the age of consumerism ‘fast fashion’ seems like the most convenient option. Mass production has been taking over more and more sectors. Especially since the publishing of Kate Fletcher’s article. We buy a lot of items during a single shopping trip, but that’s not the most important. What actually matters to us is we get it for the cheapest price. Is it good that we tend to choose lower price over quality? Don’t we miss out on something? Doesn’t it all seem too good to be true?

shops in a shopping mall

Well, it actually is. And it’s not only the quality of product that’s under the knife. It’s the quality of someone else’s life. While we seem to get the best deal, there are people on the other side of the thread. Working long hours, for a minimal pay in poor conditions. This doesn’t sound like a fair deal.

girls working in a sweatshop

That’s where Fair Trade arrangement came to life. To improve social and environmental standards of the producers. As well as help the makers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions.

Slow Fashion vs Ethical Fashion vs Sustainable Fashion

Those terms are often used as synonyms, but do they have the same meaning? Some sources list them as exactly the same thing. Others, as a few different aspects or even branches of conscious shopping.

They all branch out from the same category but are not the same thing. You can obviously use them in any way you want.  But even though those terms do overlap in their concepts, they should not really act as synonyms. Why?

Here to explain:

Slow fashion focuses on Fair Trade and locally made products. It also puts an impact on the conditions in which the product was made and the quality of life of the makers as well as the quality of the product.

Ethical fashion is an umbrella term. It describes all the products created in ethical conditions. Including not only the aspect of the makers but also if we call it ethical - the aspect of animal cruelty. So this term describes all the items sourced without any kind of harm to another living creature.

Sustainable fashion describes all the items produced from eco-friendly or recycled materials. It is also a part of a bigger concept of minimalism, where the decisions are based on the purpose. It is all about the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.

man creating slow fashion bag from natural materials

So as you see a product can be placed within all those categories. But also there are products that could fit into one of these categories but not into the others.

But what can you do?

“Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” - Anna Lappe

Read the labels

More and more of us read food labels before buying and consuming. If we care so much about what we put into our bodies, why don’t we pay more attention to what we put on them, too? If we have the privilege to make a choice, why wouldn’t we use it? Doing the research on fashion brands and products would be a good follow up. If you don’t see any information about the product being ethically sourced it is a good idea to Google it! It doesn’t take that long. You can also find an existing list of slow fashion brands online and use it while shopping. A little research never killed anybody. 😉

vintage jeans with labels

Shop local or secondhand

If you want to contribute to making a change but don’t have time to fully research, try to look around your town. There are definitely a few shops in your neighborhood that sell local products. Also, check social media! Many places organize markets with local goods, including clothes and accessories.

The same applies when you’re traveling! You can pack less (how? Here is an answer), and get high-quality handmade clothing and accessories from local markets. You know where they come from and they are usually inexpensive. Obviously, there are a lot of big markets selling mass-produced items, but you can usually tell if something is handmade. You can also talk to the vendor about the story behind the garment. If it has the story, it’s worth it, isn’t it?  

Thrift shops and vintage shops are also a great alternative. A lot of preloved clothes are actually of great quality. You would never know someone had worn it before. And honestly, you can hunt a Chanel bag for ⅓ of its original price. Isn’t that tempting?

clothes in a vintage shop

Have you heard about upcycling?

There are many great companies today for upcycled fashion. What does that mean? It’s a creative reuse of clothes. All of the clothes that didn’t preserve well or were treated as useless or unwanted can be reconstructed or repaired and serve for another decade, two or even longer.

You don’t have to break the bank, or compromise on quality to find super cute items! Win-win. And a lot more sustainable than ‘fast’ trendy fashion that is made in poor conditions and goes to waste relatively soon after the purchase.

girl wearing vintage upcycled clothes

It’s all about your choices

It all might sound a bit overwhelming. And no, you don’t have to throw away half of your wardrobe and stop shopping at your favorite retail shops right now. But putting a little thought into where your garments come from is a good start. Focus on making choices based on your conscious. Use the above tips and then the choice might be much easier than you expect.

We've come a long way in past few years as consumers. We've become more aware and curious. The years of social ignorance are dwindling, which is awesome.

If you’re still asking yourself ‘why do I care?’, then think about this: The fashion industry is one of the major polluting industries in the world. If not for others, do it for the planet. We will all benefit from it.

slow fashion bags lying on the beach

All in all, the decision on how to shop is yours to make, but wouldn’t the world be a better place if we thought of one another? However cheesy it might sound, together we can make a difference. Your perception can make a difference. And you can start by making small but smart decisions while shopping.

Shop Jenn Lee is a slow fashion-focused business. I work with local families in Eastern Bali. This is a small community of artisans, who take great pride in creating the highest-quality ata bags. They are honored to share their craft with you. It is the time to give the business back to the makers. And it is important to me to be able to show you every step of the process of how the bags are made. As well as take you (virtually 😉) to visit the families. Check the video from the last visit to Eastern Bali here.

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