Fashion: We Can All Afford to Slow Down, by Kelly Drennan

The term “Slow Fashion” combines many aspects of sustainability. From an industry perspective, it can refer to slowing down the production cycle, giving more attention to detail and craftsmanship in each garment, manufacturing locally, or supporting fair wages. From a consumer’s angle, it means slowing down our consumption habits, buying fewer garments that are classic, of quality, and will last us for years.

As a frequent public speaker on the topic of sustainable fashion, I find that the concept of slow fashion resonates really well with the audiences I speak to. My guess is because it’s the one area where consumers feel they can make the most impact simply by shifting their consumption habits.

Those habits are hard to break. As with fast food, we are victims of fast fashion in North America. We feel constant pressure from the media to buy the latest trends that change with each season. Because most of us simply cannot afford to buy quality-made garments to keep up with these fluctuating trends, we resort to shopping at the “convenient” fast fashion outlets and the big box retailer that trend-hunts runways to bring you the latest fashions in a matter of weeks.

As consumers, we are a sale-driven culture used to the quality of disposable products. We think after we wear a piece of clothing purchased at such a dramatically low cost, it’s acceptable for it to fall apart, for buttons to drop off, threads to come undone, or for them to lose shape. After all, who cares, it only cost us $10!

The problem with this mentality is that it fuels excessive over-consumption, which comes with a hidden price tag on the environment. We need to invest in our wardrobe, buying quality made pieces that are timeless and can be worn for years without falling apart.

Cost-per-wear or investment dressing is a relatively new term. But it is a very powerful tool with potential to change the way we shop. Let’s use a button-down shirt as an example. On the higher end, you might spend $150 on such a top (particularly if made from organic cotton).
• First, divide the cost of the shirt by the number of garments in your wardrobe that can be worn with it. For example it can be paired with three pairs of jeans and two pairs of pants, so $150/5 = $30. The $150 shirt has now been reduced to a cost of $30;
• Next, divide the new cost of $30 by the number of times the shirt will be worn per year (say four times per month for 12 months, ie: $30/48 = 62.5 cents). The $150 shirt has now been further reduced to a cost of 62.5 cents;
• The last step is to divide the new cost of 62.5 cents by the number of years the shirt will be worn – and if it was quality made and off trend it should last at least five years. So $.625/5 = 12.5 cents.
The final result is a $150 shirt reduced to a cost of 12.5 cents per wear over a five year period. Compare this to a cheaper option that falls apart in 6 months or is no longer in fashion and thereby rendered unwearable by the fashion gods. Your cost per wear can be up to 10 times more than an investment piece.

To explore this a little deeper, there are some great organizations helping raise awareness with consumers around slow fashion, such as Make Do and Mend. Take a look at your wardrobe. Do you own any pieces that are more than five years old and still wearable? Why do you think that is?

This article was originally published on Eco Salon.

Kelly DrennanKelly Drennan is a true social entrepreneur, devoted to making change within an industry known for its many negative social and environmental impacts including labour, energy, waste, water, and the use of toxic chemicals.

Kelly has successfully aligned her company Fashion Takes Action with many leading businesses and ENGOs including Fashion Fights Poverty, Social Alterations, Environmental Defence, Earth Day Canada, Change for the Environment, FEM International, Vancouver Fashion Week, Green Enterprise Ontario, Toronto Greenhouse and Fashion Group International.

As a media “go-to” expert on sustainable fashion, Kelly has been featured in top media outlets including the Globe & Mail, Fashion Television, Metro, Breakfast Television, Toronto Star, Virgin Radio, Green Living Magazine, UK Times and Flare Magazine. Kelly also writes the “green” column for Canada’s fashion industry magazine, Trends, and is a contributor to two of the top US blogs in the “green” space, Elephant Journal and Eco Salon.