Why is Slow Fashion So Slow to Catch On?

For a generation of budget-conscious millennial shoppers, popping into stores like Forever 21, H&M, Uniqlo and Zara – that offer trendy clothes at low prices – has become par for the course. In 2013 alone, those four fast fashion retailers generated a combined $48 billion in global sales. And a recent report by the financial services firm Cowen Group forecasts that fast fashion sales will increase 11 percent year-over-year through 2020.

The collapse of an apparel-manufacturing factory in Bangladesh last year, which killed more than 1,100 workers, spurred a global conversation about human rights and fair labour practices of garment factory workers in international apparel supply chains. And an increased awareness of the intense water, energy and waste implications of apparel production – as well as health risks connected to endocrine disrupting and cancer-causing chemicals that have been found in clothes sold by 20 of the worlds top fashion brands – are also leading consumers to ask more questions about where their clothes come from and how they were made.

Queue in the slow fashion movement. For an industry that churns out fashions after fashions at the speed of consumers’ changing tastes, slow fashion is an oxymoron. Plain and simple, slow fashion promotes high quality versus fast production, durability versus design for obsolescence, and mindful consumption versus overconsumption.

Emerging designers and e-commerce innovators such as Zady, Modavanti and Cuyana are leading the movement, selling more ethically and sustainably made apparel that’s built to last.

“Fast-fashion is designed to fall apart after a few washes, so we as consumers go back to those brands to buy more and more. And as our closets fill with cheaply made clothing, our wallets start to empty out,” said Soraya Darabi, co-founder of Zady, a mission-driven brand best described as “The Whole Foods of Fashion.”

Responding to a rising consciousness among certain consumers, leading global apparel brands are also undergoing a slow fashion makeover that is intent on making clothes more sustainably.

Many other global apparel companies are increasingly committing to improve the environmental and social impact of their products and supply chains, too. Even fast fashion bastion H&M – the world’s second largest fashion retailer – has made sustainability commitments. Last year the Swedish retailer launched a Conscious Collection made from recycled fibers and organic cotton, and the company recently announced its commitment to pay living wages to textile workers in factories in Bangladesh and Cambodia. H&M hasn’t gone “slow,” but taking these steps is promising.

Despite rising tide of the slow fashion movement, the fact remains that slow fashion sales do not compare with those of fast fashion – in quantity or in dollars.

A look at example product prices may help explain why: An on-trend dress from a fast fashion retailer sells for $15.90, while a similar dress from a slow fashion site goes for $145; a fast fashion sweater is $24.90, and a slow fashion sweater is $160; fast fashion pants are $17.90, while slow fashion pants are $128. You get the picture.

Positioning slow fashion against fast fashion is like pitting David against Goliath. Of course, those low fast fashion prices do not accurately reflect the social and environmental costs of making those products. One would like to think that, given the choice, consumers would vote with their dollars and purchase high-quality, durable and ethical slow fashion products. But in a country still psychologically recovering from an economic recession, where the median annual household income is $54,000, it is no surprise which prices win out.

Indeed, fast fashion is a multi-billion dollar industry – and it’s growing. Fast fashion retailers have proliferated across the nation in the past decade and continue to cast their net. Case in point: Earlier this year, Forever 21 opened a concept test store called F21 Red, which boasts starting price points as low as $1.80 (selling $3.80 T-shirts, $5.80 leggings and $7.80 denim jeans). Already, Forever 21 operates 600 stores worldwide – and the company plans to double its global presence by 2017 – while Zara has 1,800 locations and H&M owns 3,400 stores. Both plan to amplify their global presence in coming years.

As H&M has shown, it is possible for fast fashion brands to move a little slower. Does that mean that someday those same brands will bring the slow fashion movement to the masses – and create a world where shoppers can feel good about purchasing accessibly-priced, ethically-made garments on the fly?

One can dream. For now, let’s hope that both fast and slow fashion brands can provide consumers with sufficient ethical and economical options to render their choices easier to make.

Image courtesy of H&M and Balmain

This is an excerpt from the article here



One thought on “Why is Slow Fashion So Slow to Catch On?

  1. I am definitely guilty of being a regular customer at fast fashion stores but hope that when slow fashion becomes more popular and readily available, people will be willing to spend the extra bucks to invest in a piece that can last you so much longer!
    Your post is great and very thoroughly researched! I have gained so much from this!


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