Fast fashion has long monopolized the industry, but informed shoppers are looking for alternative ways to fill their closets. Brands that offer convenience and cheap prices have had to answer to customers demanding transparency. Being an informed consumer is the new black. We want to know where our food comes from, but shouldn’t we ask the same the same questions of what we choose to wear? Enter the “slow clothes movement”; a mindful approach to fashion that takes fair labor practices, environmental impact and sustainability into account.
To learn more about how our shopping choices make an impact, we turned to fashion industry expert, Karolann Goodwin. This fashion industry veteran has spent the last 15 years designing for brands such as Yaya (which would later become Reformation), Guess Jeans, and Current Elliott, to name a few. She studied fashion at FIDM before attending certificate courses at London College of Fashion focusing specifically on sustainable methods in the fashion industry. She currently designs and develops denim.
What aspects of the slow clothes movement mean the most to you? Why should the average consumer care about where their clothing comes from?
As a slow clothes shopper myself, I care about the environment. I care that the women making my clothes can afford to live and feed their families without fear of harm, harassment or slavery. I care that a child was not chained to a sewing machine in deplorable conditions to make my clothes. I care that the farmers harvesting cotton used for my denim can do so without being forced to use harmful pesticides that poison their own communities. I care that my denim is fabricated without wasting 1,500 gallons of local Los Angeles water while we are in the middle of a drought. I care that the chemicals used to make my jeans are kept from flooding into the storm drains that lead to the beach where I surf. I care about the environmental and social impact my fashion choices have on the world.
Fast fashion is everywhere and clothes are cheaper than ever. Is it really that bad?
We are currently living in the Anthropocene period, the first era to be named after the impact of human actions on the earth. We are living in a time when humans are directly responsible for an irreversible loss of nature. Fashion is on an interesting path right now. The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, yet we are a creative industry. If we all adopt a different approach as consumers, things could change. This could mean anything from throwing away less clothing, wearing items more times between washing, to buying items made from organic cotton or recycled polyester fabricated under fair trade conditions. A report done by Fung Global Retail & Technology showed online stores like ASOS, Boohoo, and Misguided take anywhere from one to eight weeks to bring a product from concept to sale. This is not a healthy or safe business model, and can devastate the environment and laborers in the manufacturing process. Cheap clothes come at a high price.
What do you think the biggest reasons are to steer clear of fast fashion brands?
There are many environmental and social reasons to avoid fast fashion retailers. First off, the widespread use of harmful pesticides to grow cotton ends up polluting the soil and water. This environmental devastation has social ramifications in places like India, where rural farmers are committing suicide at an alarmingly high rate as their communities are literally being poisoned.
There is a human cost that goes into making your clothes. Many women and children overseas work under inhumane conditions for low wages. We believe that if a clothing tag says “Made in the USA” that the workers are of legal age and paid a living wage, but this is not always the case. Modern day slavery is an endemic part of the fashion business, and the lack of transparency and traceability across the fashion supply chain is a major challenge we face.
What are the environmental impacts of mass produced clothing?
The global fashion industry brings in $2.4 trillion dollars annually, and employs around 50 million people (mostly women) worldwide. In 2016, WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Program) reported that fabric waste in the supply chain equalled an estimated 800,000 tons, while consumers discarded 300,000 tons of clothing. Clothes are piling up in landfills at an alarming rate. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, 26 billion pounds of textiles end up in landfills each year. The fashion industry has the power to make positive changes, and collaboration plays a vital role in imagining alternatives to our current system.
Where can I find information on the production practices of a fashion line? Is there the equivalent of the cruelty-free label we see on cosmetics?
Unfortunately, there aren’t enough regulations in place, but we are pushing for more transparency so the consumer can have the information they need to make ethically and environmentally sound purchases. I can say that if a company uses organic fabrics and follows fair trade practices, then they will let you know that information on their tag and company website.
If you want to be sure that an item of clothing has been ethically produced, look for the Fairtrade mark on the label. Fairtrade standards require farmers to follow practices designed to protect the environment, including reducing water waste, and forbidding the use of GMOs or other hazardous chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Fairtrade standards also protect the rights of workers including freedom of association, collective bargaining, and nondiscrimination. Fairtrade uses a portion of product sales to re-invest in local projects and infrastructures for workers and farmers (including improved sanitation, schools and medical facilities).
If you are concerned about the environment, check that the garment is made with organic fabric. If you are particularly concerned about the waste created during the production of a garment, look for recycled fabrics. If a brand is rated poorly in the Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index, avoid buying from that particular brand.
What are some good shopping options for someone looking to transition into a more ethically sourced wardrobe?
Fashion is part of all of our lives. Every day you make a choice about what to put on your body, and you can choose to research how that garment was produced. Personally, I don’t shop very often. I’ve started really thinking about what I need versus what I want. Creating a capsule wardrobe can be a great challenge to see how many clothes you actually need in your closet. For every new piece you get, take five pieces away to see if you really want that new piece. Curate your closet and donate what you don’t wear. Take a minimalistic approach to your wardrobe. Repair or alter items that maybe have a hole or don’t fit just right. I know that’s easy coming from someone that wears jeans and a t-shirt every day, but it’s advice I’ve taken from others over my years working in this industry.
Don’t shop at fast fashion retailers (Forever 21, Target, etc.) If you are shopping at Zara and H&M, stick to their environmentally friendly alternatives.
Thrift whenever possible to minimize clothing waste. I follow some great instagram thrift accounts, and more pop up daily (try: @bohemegoods, @_sentaku). I recommend following @ecolabo, an Instagram account that profiles the best eco-friendly brands from around the world. Support brands that follow ethical practices and slow fashion models, like Burton, Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, Outerknown, Everlane, Girlfriend Collective, Reformation, Levi’s (waterless denim), and Agolde. One-off sustainable collections, pledges for environmentally-sound production, and eco-friendly initiatives will only be effective if they are part of a greater movement — a movement that inspires and encourages all of us to think about our impact on our planet.