What is Ethical Fashion? & How to Transition from Fast to Slow Fashion
Olivia Youngs  |  August 30, 2018

What is Ethical Fashion? & How to Transition from Fast to Slow Fashion

If you’ve explored current social media trends at all lately, chances are you’ve heard the words “ethical fashion” or “slow fashion” tossed around a time or two. Maybe you shrugged them off as another trendy buzzword that will pass sooner or later, or on the other hand, maybe you can’t seem to get away from the phrase and its repetition has you wondering what the term actually means.

I fell into the second camp a few years ago. When the words “sustainable fashion”, “fast/slow fashion”, and “ethical fashion” kept popping onto my Instagram feed and even into my day to day conversations, I took it as a sign to dig deeper into what those words meant and, just maybe I thought, apply them to my life. 

The tricky thing about ethical fashion is that an exact definition is hard to nail down, and what it means can vary from person to person depending on their values. However, with that in mind, here’s an operating definition of ethical fashion according to the Ethical Fashion Forum (not the definitive source for ethical fashion, but a great reference nonetheless). 

“…Ethical fashion represents an approach to the design, sourcing, and manufacture of clothing which maximizes benefits to people and communities while minimizing impact on the environment.” 



More simply put, ethical fashion is fashion that seeks to do the most good for the people making their clothes and for the environment (and lessen the bad while they’re at it). To some brands, plant-based fabrics that minimize environmental impact is their focal point. To others, it’s ensuring that the factory workers or artisans are paid a living wage and treated with dignity, upholding traditional craftsmanship or artistry. To others, it’s ensuring no animal products or testing were used. To many, it’s all of these things.

Although these concepts seem like they should already be the “norm”, unfortunately, it’s far from the truth in the mainstream or “fast” fashion industry. 

The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries on the planet, and catastrophes like the Rana Plaza disaster where more than 1,100 lives were lost due to the neglect of big name brands and unsafe working conditions have brought more attention to the way our clothes are produced. Still, we have a long way to go. These are just a few of the woes of fast fashion: 

 It takes 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton t-shirt (enough for one person to drink for two and a half years).

● In many countries, more than 70% of their rivers and water sources are polluted by fashion waste, making the water unsafe for drinking or animal life.

● Almost ¾ of the world’s fashion is made in developing nations where garment workers are paid very little - on average about .5-3% of the price of the article of clothing goes to the person who made it.

● It is estimated that 260 million children worldwide are engaged in child labor, and many are working for the fashion industry due to low levels of transparency and accountability along the supply chain.



Making the transition from fast fashion to slow, ethical fashion can seem daunting. 

Whether you’re hearing about ethical fashion for the first time or have been wanting to make the switch for a while, it doesn’t have to be hard to “quit fast fashion”. In fact, it’s easier than you might think. 

Follow these simple tips to clean up your shopping habit and begin transitioning your wardrobe to pieces you can feel good about wearing: 


Start With Secondhand 

Believe it or not, when you think about it, shopping secondhand is debatably more ethical than buying something new. Instead of supporting new production or supporting the fast fashion brand, you’re giving a new life to a piece of clothing that would have likely ended up in the landfill. And plus, it’s way more budget-friendly than buying a brand new piece. 

Research Before You Buy

One of the trickiest parts of shopping ethically is doing the “digging” necessary to determine whether a brand is ethical or not. As a general rule of thumb, I usually assume that if a brand lacks basic transparency about their manufacturing, factories, fabrics, and ethical policies, they’re if-y. 
If you don’t even know where to start, utilize bloggers and the resources they’ve created to make ethical shopping more accessible. 

Use What You Have First

One of the hardest hurdles to get over when you start to shop more consciously is the “shopping addiction” that most of us are prone to. When you’re shopping a lot, it’s hard to justify buying high quality, ethically made pieces. However, practicing contentment and asking if you truly need something before you buy it can get your head in the right place before your wallet is. 

Take it Slow

Any change, no matter how big or small should be taken slowly if you want it to stick. Habits aren’t broken overnight and quitting something cold turkey rarely works. Instead, commit to shopping from secondhand stores first, or go on a two month “shopping fast”. Take your new commitment to sustainability slowly and you’re much more likely to create habits that will stick around for the long haul. 

Focus on the Good

As detrimental as the fast fashion industry can be, guilt should never be your main reason for shopping ethically. Focus instead on your new found power - an ability to “vote with your money” and create a better livelihood and environment through each small purchase you make. 

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or an ethical-shopping newbie, these tips can make the slow fashion lifestyle a bit more approachable, because ultimately, it’s real people like you and me, who are going to change the fashion industry for the better. 


Olivia Youngs is a Colorado born and raised writer, simplified living enthusiast, ethical fashion advocate, coffee lover and minimalist Mama to two beautiful babes. Visit her at simplylivandco.com




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