7 Ways to Embrace Slow Fashion
Guest Post by Nicole Robertson of Swap Society
When you think about sustainable living, fashion might not be the first thing that comes to mind. To be honest, I’ve long considered myself an environmentalist, but I have not always considered the impact of my wardrobe. I thrifted to find cool, unique pieces, but I also shopped at regular stores and bought brand new clothes. But in 2010 when I learned that the apparel industry is one of the biggest industrial polluters, I decided to fully embrace slow fashion.
From greenhouse gas emissions, to water pollution, to an abysmal end-of-life, the impacts of the fashion industry are pretty staggering. The total greenhouse gas emissions from textile production total 1.2 billion tons annually, which is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Textile dyeing is the second-largest polluter of water globally and the fashion industry produces 20 percent of global wastewater. And every second, a garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or incinerated. If donating clothes to thrift stores is your go-to when things no longer fit, or you simply don’t wear them anymore, it’s important to know that less than 20 percent of what gets donated to charities gets resold.
The good news is, there are lots of alternatives to the take-make-dispose fashion consumption model. Here are the top 7 ways you can embrace slow fashion and reduce the impact of your wardrobe.
1. Wear What You Already Have
This is literally the most sustainable option. That being said, sizes change, styles change, and clothes get worn out. If you’re in need of some guidance about what you should keep and what you should get rid of, there are some incredible sustainable stylists who can help you shop your own closet. They can give you ideas for re-working the clothes that you already have to make them feel fresh and new. They can also help you decide what to purge. I love Stephanie of ComposedCo, Jennifer of Conservationista, and Sonia of Native Styling.
2. Mend Your Clothes
If your clothes are in need of mending, take them to a tailor or get crafty. Visible mending is a fun (and hopefully lasting) trend that will extend the life of your garment while making your clothes unique. I am a big fan of Sashiko mending. It is a beautiful form of traditional Japanese embroidery using geometric patterns that highlight imperfections in an artful way. There are lots of tutorials online, but if sewing isn’t your thing, check out Roboro’s Denim Repair Lab. They can mend your worn-out jeans (and more!) for you.
3. Swap Your Clothes
Swapping is my personal favorite. Back in 2010 when I started my slow fashion journey, I didn’t have time to try and sell my clothes online. Also, I have never liked the resale shop experience where they pay you pennies on the dollar for the few garments they accept. I had a closet full of clothes that I was bored with and I was fortunate to find a little clothing swap club in my neighborhood.
For years, that was the main way I got new-to-me clothes. This was also how I passed on the clothes that no longer fit or weren’t my current style. During that time had two babies, and gained 50 pounds each time, so I have been a lot of different sizes. I saved a lot of money by not having to buy new clothes when my size was fluctuating so much. I loved that my wardrobe wasn’t negatively impacting the environment.
Then in late 2016, I had the idea for my company Swap Society, an online clothing swap for women and kids that makes it fun, easy, and affordable to mix up your wardrobe in a sustainable way. I loved swapping so much more than the alternatives. I wanted to make it available to women all over the country. We launched in 2017, and our members have already swapped over 20,000 garments, helping to save about 30 tons of clothing from going to landfill!
Our members send us the clothes that don’t fit or aren’t their current style and swap them for clothes they want to wear now. Unlike swap events that are usually one-to-one (e.g., bring 5 things, take 5 things), Swap Society uses a points system so you get equal value for the clothes you swap. And instead of markups, everything ordered from our site costs points plus $3.99. We accept all brands, even fast fashion and clothing without tags so long as they are in great condition. We believe that all wearable clothing should be kept in circulation for as long as possible.
4. Shop Secondhand
Another simple way to embrace slow fashion is by shopping secondhand. There’s so much clothing out there. “The fact is that we have already produced enough clothing to last us all for the next 40 years and beyond — at considerable cost to our planet,” said former fashion editor Bel Jacobs who now works with Extinction Rebellion. Unless we’re talking about items such as underwear or socks, buying something brand new should be a last resort. There are numerous ways to shop secondhand. If combing through thrift store racks isn’t your jam, there are websites for buying and selling secondhand clothes online. Chances are, if you’re looking for it, you’ll be able to find it.
5. Commit to a Shopping Ban
Reset your relationship with fashion and take Remake’s #nonewclothes pledge for 3 months. Or if you’re really feeling bold, take the XR Boycott Fashion pledge and commit to buying nothing new for a whole year. I’ve bought very little new clothing in the past ten years, and I have had plenty of clothes to wear. I promise! But if committing to a shopping ban seems too restrictive, start slow and simply reduce how much new clothing you purchase. You don’t have to go to extremes to make a positive impact.
6. Make Your Laundry More Eco-Friendly
How we launder our clothes accounts for a third of the total carbon footprint of our clothing. Wash your laundry less often*, use cold water when you do, make sure your laundry soap is eco-friendly, and skip the dryer and line dry your clothes. Also, if you’re washing synthetic fibers like acrylic or polyester, consider attaching a microfiber filter to your washing machine, or use a special washing bag to capture microfibers because 35% of all microfibers in the ocean come from washing synthetic textiles!
*Most of us wash our clothes more often than necessary. You don’t need to wash all of your clothes after one wear. Spot cleaning is your friend. You can also set clothes out in the sun or toss them in the freezer for a little freshening.
7. Buy Clothes Made from Natural Fibers by Sustainable Brands
When you do purchase brand new clothes, make sure they are made ethically and sustainably. Favor natural, renewable fibers that are ideally made with regenerative farming practices. Avoid synthetic materials as much as possible, and if you do feel the need to purchase synthetics, recycled is best. Check out Galerie LA, Remake’s Sustainable Brands List, and the Good On You app for guidance.
Nicole Robertson is an aspiring zero-waster, sustainable fashion advocate, singer, dancer, yogi, and the founder of Swap Society. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two sons.