Fast fashion has pushed the industry into an unprecedented state. The process – defined by designing, producing, and selling garments at high volumes and as rapidly as possible – enables garments to go from a sketch to selling in stores in a matter of weeks to even days, whereas typical apparel production takes months.
In the grand scheme of things, fast fashion is a newer phenomenon because throughout history humans have sourced and sewn their own clothing. Mass produced fashion began with advancements in textile machinery and the debut of ready to make clothes during the Industrial Revolution. Yet even then, lower class individuals typically made their own clothes. Now, almost anyone can easily purchase fast fashion from popular retailers like Forever21, Zara, and Abercrombie and Fitch.
Fast fashion stirs up controversy due to its immense social and environmental impact. It often requires brands to produce their clothes cheaply, and hence, they often wind up exploiting labor in order to achieve low prices with positive margins of return. The constant rate of fast fashion production also has negative environmental impacts. It accounts for 10% of the planet’s greenhouse gasses and 20% of its wastewater according to the World Bank. Furthermore, a mix of fast changing trends along with the low quality and low prices feeds consumer sentiment about the disposability of garment products, and hence, contributes to them ending up in landfills.
In recent years, however, the slow fashion movement emerged as an opposing response to the harmful effects of fast fashion and an attempt to shift customers’ and buyers’ relationship with purchasing apparel.
What is Slow Fashion?
Slow fashion is a concept that arose from the sustainable fashion movement. It encourages consumers to purchase new items thoughtfully. In terms of designing and producing clothes, it encourages fashion brands to focus on quality and longevity over speed and volume through sourcing strategies such as small batch garment production. Garments made through slow fashion will typically cost more, but the way in which they are produced ensures a lower environmental impact and more ethical working conditions than those produced through fast fashion production practices. Ultimately, slow fashion asks the industry and individual designer brands to encourage slower consumption through slower production.
Is Starting a Slow Fashion Line Profitable?
It can be intimidating to start this kind of business when mainstream, fast fashion brands perform so well. One of the greatest appeals of major fast fashion brands like H&M and Shein is low prices. While Kotn, one of the more affordable and sustainable brands, sells a shirt for $40, H&M sells its basic t-shirts for $6.
Research has pointed to a valid disconnect between what people want from their clothing brands and what they are willing to pay for their products. A report that surveyed 2,000 consumers from the UK and US found that 52% of consumers want environmentally responsible practices, but only 37% are willing to pay a premium.
However, finding that more than one third of customers are willing to do this has proved good news for the slow fashion movement because it shows the growing willingness to pay for goods that match consumer values. The Global Sustainability Study 2021 found that 39% of Gen Z and 42% of Millennials are willing to pay a premium on more conscientiously produced fashion products compared to 31% of Gen Xers and 26% of Baby Boomers. These numbers support Global News Wire’s report that the ethical fashion market will grow from 6 billion in 2020 to 10 billion in 2025. Ethical and sustainable fashion is a growing value for customers and the industry alike as we near increasingly drastic consequences of global warming.
So, do conscientious and slow fashion’s predicted upturn in growth and demand make it a sustainable strategy for a fashion startup? How can new fashion entrepreneurs illustrate that investing in pricier but more sustainable pieces is worth it?
No need to fret. Several slow fashion brands are already thriving in this market, and yours can too when you follow these 3 steps.
Step 1: Research and Create Your Slow Fashion Concept
While you know that you want to have a positive social and/or environmental impact, what kind of product do you want to make? Unlike fast fashion brands, your brand is less about short term trend forecasting and more about creating staple pieces people can wear for a long time with many other outfits. Many slow fashion brands like Kotn and Pact feature more minimal designs. However, you can still have a specialization and a focus. For example, Christy Dawn is a slow fashion brand with a distinctly romantic style. Then, the prominent Allbirds brand focuses on shoes with sustainable fabrics.
You must also determine how you want to be sustainable, ethical, and/or slow. One crucial aspect of slow fashion is selling fewer items and instead restocking products once they sell out. Typically fast fashion brands release several styles only once, which creates a sense of urgency for the buyer to purchase quickly to keep up with short term trends. Many of these items would be out of style quickly anyway, so brands don’t feel a need to restock, which contributes to faster trend cycles. On the other hand, your brand can produce and sell products and styles that are timeless or that rise above revolving trends.
Other positive practices include bringing attention to sustainable fabrics or unique fabrics. Others include adopting more cyclical fashion practices, but offsetting the waste of them by using fabric scraps to make clothing or by sourcing deadstock. Some brands will also sell slightly faulty items at a discount, so as to incur less textile waste and make expensive, more eco-friendly clothing more accessible. Finally, brands may also opt to take a strategy similar to Patagonia, which promises free or lifelong product repairs.
Step 2: Choose a Slow Fashion Garment Manufacturer
To execute your ideas, you must pick a suitable manufacturer. Often people consider the country from which they want to choose a supplier. China is known for lower prices and a specialized industry; by sourcing domestically, you can contribute to your local economy. Italy is also a highly sought after location because it has long held roots with artisans who produce luxury quality products and who work with luxury brands on the cutting edge of fashion innovation.
In terms of sourcing fabrics, countries like China and India are known for being major producers and exporters of textiles and fabrics. For example, India is the world’s leader in producing cotton and China has six sub-industries for different textiles like wool, chemical fibers, and cotton. Smaller countries like Italy have their strengths as Italy is known for their innovative fabrics and trims like e-textiles. Directories like this one for Italian vendors can help guide you to trusted fabric and trim suppliers, saving you time.
Step 3: Develop Stand Out Branding
Exposure can be a challenge especially against large brands that have been around for decades. However, with the power of the internet and social media it is possible. Create your own fashion brand’s social media accounts to get discovered by consumers or reach out to sustainability micro influencers who can promote your line to their already established audience.
Even large bands have caught wind of customer’s demand for sustainability and ethical production. They have made many promises. However, while they have great marketing, they also are known to lack transparency. Greenwashing is still common – a practice when brands appear to care about the environment through their marketing yet take little to no genuine action. Therefore, it is crucial to prioritize transparency to build trust with your consumers and make promises that you know you can deliver on. A confident declaration to help on your website with vague plans to take action is not enough. Some companies show clothes being made in factories and others even post wages for workers. Applications like Orma help brands make their production process more transparent by showing customers how their products were made on an interactive platform.
Slow Fashion Was The Past and Will be the Future
Launching an ethical and sustainable business is a very commendable pursuit and hopefully will become the norm as our society dedicates itself more to these values. In the meantime, it is a difficult task to take on, so try not to expect your brand to be perfect just yet. For now, focus on taking practical and creative steps toward meeting the challenge of being an apparel brand dedicated to the values of slow fashion. Just this action alone is a big step in the right direction for the fashion industry.