Picture this: you’re on your fourth outfit change, there’s a pile of clothes on the bed, a closet bursting with things that have barely seen the light of day, and you’re running late yet again as you panic that you “don’t have anything to wear.”
You’re in a “fast fashion” frenzy.
I know this all too well; caught up in the constant need to buy more, and stocking up on cheap new clothes before every night out. But after years of “what-to-wear” anxiety and getting caught in a consumerist cycle, I decided something needed to change. I’d made eco-conscious changes in other areas of my life; it was about time my approach to fashion followed suit. But I didn’t expect this change to feel so good.
Livia Firth, the co-founder of Eco-Age, compares fast fashion to fast food: “After the sugar rush it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.” Slow fashion, on the other hand, is like a nourishing diet that makes a lasting positive change. Here’s how I learned to love the clothes in my closet without the need to keep adding to them, and the mental benefits of escaping throwaway fashion.
Frightening “Fast Fashion”
Fast fashion is the world’s second-largest polluter after the oil industry. According to Greenpeace, people buy 80 billion garments around the world each year, and every single second 2,625kg of clothing becomes waste. That’s enough to fill the Empire State one and a half times… every day. As well as damaging the planet, it’s damaging people too. Last year the popular UK-based fashion retailer, Pretty Little Thing, sparked outrage on Black Friday when they discounted clothes for as cheap as 8 pence (11 cents). The scandal catalyzed Twitter users to question how it is possible to sell clothing so cheap and pay the workers a fair amount for producing them. Answer: it’s not. Wages for fast-fashion factory workers are 2 to 5 times less than what a worker and her family needs to live with dignity.
An industry focused on speed, hyper-productivity, and injustice goes hand-in-hand with pressure, over-stimulation, and greed. It’s damaging our wellbeing, too. The fast fashion industry makes us think we’re not good enough as we are, that we’re needing an upgrade. We have to look a certain way by dressing a certain way, and once we’ve dressed that way, it’s time to change it up … again. We’re caught up in a “more is more” culture that causes us to forget where our clothes are coming from and appreciate the things we already own.
It’s time we wear our values: to be intentional, ethical, and show gratitude by slowing down and simplifying our style.
Breaking the Cycle
Even when we’re not intending to shop, we’re bombarded with adverts that suggest we “need” new things, making mindless consumerism an easy cycle to get stuck in. But it’s also a simple cycle to break, with two key approaches: buy less and/or buy second-hand.
The first one is summed up beautifully by designer Vivienne Westwood: “buy less, choose well, make it last.” It’s about appreciating and loving what you already have before you add to the collection. When you do want something new, it’s about ensuring that you ask “why” before you buy. Don’t rush into clicking “add to cart”; give yourself breathing space to think about what you’re buying, its quality and longevity, and the ethics of the brand. Then give yourself time to spend accordingly. As Anna Lappé, author and sustainability advocate, argues, “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want to see.”
Admittedly, the “buy less” approach takes a lot of self-control. Buying second-hand is a great approach if you’re someone who likes to change it up more frequently. Try looking at thrift stores, charity shops, and online second-hand stores on sites like thredUP, Depop, and Vinted. I’ve always loved second-hand shopping and discovering unique pieces. But when you’re buying “pre-loved,” remember to take good care of what you buy and not simply temporarily suspend the throw-away cycle. There’s rarely a refund policy with second-hand shopping, and it’s easy to grab something exciting before realizing you’re never going to wear it, so keep it slow and mindful!
Minimalism and Mindfulness
Minimalism is about living only with the things you really need, items that spark joy and support your purpose. Minimalist living encourages you to be intentional and eradicate the things that distract from what truly matters to you. As Joshua Becker, author of Simplify, states, “After the external clutter has been removed, we create the space to address the deepest heart issues that impact our relationships and life.”
Slow fashion is a great way to practice minimalism and living with intention. Instead of getting caught up with the “shoulds” and “musts” of modern life, slow fashion gives you chance to define and refine your values, and to rethink the ethics of the choices you make. It allows you to consider the amount of time, energy, and money you actually want to spend. It shifts the focus away from the stress of finding something new to wear, to appreciating the clothes you already own. It gives you the opportunity to discover the colors and styles that suit you and bring you confidence, rather than simply chasing what’s “in fashion.”
Mindfulness, in its simplest definition, is the practice of observing thoughts and feelings without being consumed by them and focusing entirely on what we’re doing at that moment. There are many mental benefits of mindful living, and whilst this is usually associated with things such as meditation, yoga, and a healthy diet, the philosophy of “slowing down” and fully focusing can emerge from slow fashion. Stepping out of auto-pilot cultivates space for calmness, clarity, and compassion.
I’d say I’m a habitual maximalist and an aspiring mindful minimalist. I like to do more, fill my days to the brim, but I’m trying to live more simply, to strip back, make conscious choices, and focus on the present. I’ve found slowing down my style has freed me from the stress of constantly needing something new to wear. It has helped me cut out clutter and distractions and develop a simple sustainable style that I truly love.
Photo: Thrift shop (Prudence Earl, via Unsplash)