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What's the difference between slow, sustainable and ethical fashion?

Really interesting read clarifying the difference between slow, sustainable and ethical fashion. Although brands will be advocates for more than one, or even all three, like GENKI, it's useful to have a clearer understanding of the importance and focus of each of these activist fashion movements. Found online and enjoyed. Have a read!

What is Slow Fashion?

Many sources define slow fashion by describing what it’s not. For instance, slow fashion is the antithesis of fast fashion. You’ll also see a variety of definitions for slow fashion because it’s been a dynamic and evolving concept over the last couple decades.

Let’s start by thinking about slow fashion in terms of the descriptions of slow living in general. In that case:

  • Slow fashion slows down the pace of shopping and consumption to ask the deep (tough) questions.

  • Slow fashion is a natural lifestyle choice.

  • Slow fashion is conscious and mindful.

  • Slow fashion is more timeless than trendy.

  • Slow fashion takes a long-term view as opposed to the fast fashion short-term view.

  • Slow fashion is about quality instead of quantity—garments that can last years or even a lifetime.

  • Slow fashion is purposeful and intentional.

  • Slow fashion is holistic and considers the whole product lifecycle.

  • Slow fashion is sustainable and doesn’t view products as disposable.

  • Slow fashion is ethical and looks at the connections between things—raw materials, the environment, human labor, etc.

And, like slow living, slow fashion is countercultural because it goes against the current societal norms that “more is more” and “faster and cheaper are better.”

Here were the two best quotes I came across while researching slow fashion:

  • “Slow fashion is also about returning to a personal relationship with fashion. One where trends and seasons don’t matter, but where your ethics and aesthetics seamlessly unite, and you can escape the stress of constant consumption, focusing on the style that truly appeals to you.” — Emilia Wik, Head Designer at BYEM¹

  • “Slow fashion is about designing, producing, consuming and living better. Slow fashion is not time-based but quality-based (which has some time components). Slow is not the opposite of fast – there is no dualism – but a different approach in which designers, buyers, retailers and consumers are more aware of the impacts of products on workers, communities and ecosystems…Slow fashion is about choice, information, cultural diversity and identity. Yet, critically, it is also about balance. It requires a combination of rapid imaginative change and symbolic (fashion) expression as well as durability and long-term engaging, quality products.” — Kate Fletcher (widely credited with coining the term “slow fashion” in 2007)²

Slow Fashion vs Ethical Fashion & Sustainable Fashion

Some of my favorite ways to describe slow living are that it’s conscious, intentional, and holistic. I believe the same characteristics apply to slow fashion—intentionally considering the holistic lifecycle of a product from its ideation, to raw materials, to manufacturing/production, to its supply chain/shipping, and ultimately with consumer use and end-of-life disposal.

There seems to be a lot of confusion between slow fashion, ethical fashion, and sustainable fashion (or eco fashion). This is understandable because there is a lot of overlap between these concepts. To keep things simple, here’s how I’ve seen ethical fashion and sustainable fashion defined:

Ethical Fashion:

  • Ethical fashion is often concerned with human and animal rights. As it relates to humans, ethical fashion applies to working conditions, fair wages and treatment, and no child labor.

Sustainable Fashion (or Eco Fashion):

  • Sustainable fashion is often concerned with the environmental impact. Opting for fibers and materials that are organic, recycled, or repurposed, limiting harmful chemicals/dyes, reducing energy/water usage and waste, and overall choosing low-impact options wherever possible.


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