You're interested in consuming fashion more consciously but when it comes to resources, articles and information, all the different terms can be confusing. They all mean different things even though they all stand for the same goal: to create a more eco friendly and just fashion industry.
Let's discover the meaning between Fair Fashion vs. Slow Fashion vs. Sustainable Fashion:
Fair Fashion aka Ethical Fashion
Fair Fashion stands for products that are ethically produced, meaning under fair working conditions. The workers along the supply chain all receive a living wage that helps them pay for their every day expenses, their family, their children's education and to even leave enough money to put into savings. Seems like a no brainer and something that should be implemented no matter which industry.
Unfortunately the fast fashion business model is not built on paying workers a fair wage. Many companies for example produce their fast fashion in Bangladesh. There is no country that has lower labor costs than Bangladesh. Hourly wages of less than 40 US cents are standard. In a month, an unskilled female worker earns the equivalent of 30 €. However, according to calculations by the Asia Floor Wage Campaign, female workers should earn 115 € a month, which would be considered a living wage. On top of that many workers do a lot of overtime and sometimes work up to 100 hours/week to earn a wage that comes close to ensuring the survival of their families.
It is also a misconception that more expensive brands automatically pay their workers better. Large and expensive brands are sometimes produced in the same factories as discounters. Design and fabric may have a better quality but the working conditions of the seamstresses are the same.
In contrast, Ethical or Fair Fashion means fashion that was produced under good working conditions (reasonable hours, safe working place, regular time off, pension funds included, etc.) with fair wages.
There are a few certifications that help consumers find out which companies work to guarantee that their producers suppliers, etc. receive work under ethical conditions such as Fair Wear Foundation, GOTS (which also has a big focus on sustainable factors), Fairtrade Cotton and Fairtrade Textile Production.
However, not all ethical fashion companies can afford these expensive certifications. Transparency is key: if a company can transparently list, show and write about their supply chain, with actual facts and figures, they most likely can be considered as ethical fashion.
Beware of Greenwashing though! We will talk about that topic another time.
(Fair Fashion and Ethical Fashion mean the same thing. In some countries the term ethical fashion is preferred and in others fair fashion)
To keep it short and simple: Slow Fashion basically means the opposite of fast fashion. It both includes the practices of the brands and the consumer.
A few examples how brands can incorporate slow fashion in their business:
- by bringing out less collections, instead of churning out new collections every week
- by focusing on timeless designs that can be worn over many years
- by creating high quality fashion that lasts a long time
- by incorporating circularity programs
A few examples how consumers can focus more on slow fashion:
- by simply shopping less: In the last 15 years, production of clothing has doubled. And at the same time more and more clothing gets thrown away each year even though each item gets worn less often according to statistics.
- by shopping what is already produced: second hand is a great option, clothes swaps or renting garments as well
- by repairing clothing that just needs a quick fix to be able to be worn again
- by taking care of your clothes so they last for a long time (for example by following the washing instructions)
- by building a capsule wardrobe or minimalist wardrobe: this way you create a wardrobe that does not need new fashion items all the time
- by just doing more research and gaining knowledge about the fast fashion industry: more knowledge means more conscious shopping decisions
Slow Fashion therefore does not necessarily mean buying ethical or sustainable fashion. It is a very inclusive term and basically just means consuming more consciously, independent from fast and always changing trends and with less influence from marketing and brands who want to make you buy new items basically every day.
We just mentioned it when we talked about ethical fashion and slow fashion. But what does sustainable fashion mean? It kind of means both of those terms and more.
Sustainable fashion should be ethically produced and focus on slow fashion business models to be truly eco friendly. However, the term is often used to solely describe sustainable production processes and sustainable materials.
Eco friendly materials or processes can be:
- certified organic cotton
- deadstock fabric
- recycled fabrics
- buttons made out of natural materials instead of plastic
- recycled polyester threads, Lyocell threads or cotton threads
- eco friendly packaging, less packaging in general
- organic elastic bands instead of plastic bands
- designs that create less fabric scraps
- reusing fabric scraps
- and more!
Some certifications that help guide consumers to purchase fashion made from more sustainable materials: GOTS, organic 100 content standard, Oeko-Tex, IVN Zertifiziert Best Naturtextil and Cradle to Cradle.
However, as with the certifications mentioned above, not all brands can afford those certifications. And even if they only use fabrics that are certified with the above mentioned certifications, they are often not allowed to advertise with this certification unless they pay for the license. If you are unsure, ask the brands you like to purchase from directly. If they know their supply chain, they can give you a transparent answer.
Sustainable fashion is getting more and more popular. The bad and devastating practices of the fast fashion industry are becoming more and more publicised. Consumers are becoming more and more knowledgeable about what the fast fashion industry is doing to the people and the planet.
At the same time, it is important to explain different terms, practices, certifications, limitations and options - so consumers can make a choice they are happy with and so that businesses take more responsibility of what they actually produce and how they produce it.
Next step is to dig deeper into the topic of circular fashion.