We Can All Afford to Slow Down

Why investment dressing costs far less than fast fashion.

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.

Like 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: From short hems to long, pointy toe to round, skinny to wide leg, we yearn to stay current. 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. According to sustainable super star Kate Fletcher, who coined the term Slow Fashion, laundering our garments has a greater impact than the growing, processing and producing of the fabric, as well as its disposal. So it makes sense then that the more garments we consume, the greater the cumulative negative impact.

This is a serious problem and one that cannot change overnight. However the with our ecological clock ticking, we have to make a change sooner than later, and perhaps when it comes to fashion, we need to adopt a more European mindset. We need to invest in our wardrobe and buy 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 3 pairs of jeans and 2 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 4x per month for 12 months ie: $30/48 = 62.5 cents). The $150 shirt has now been further reduced to a cost 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 5 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 5 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.

All this talk of slow fashion forced me to reflect on my own wardrobe. I was curious to know how many pieces I still wear that I have owned for 5+ years. I was surprised to see that about 40% of my wardrobe is of that vintage. I was then inspired to poll other eco fashion experts to see if they own, and still wear, items purchased from 5+ years ago. Not surprisingly, here is what I found:

Above (right): Anna Griffin, Publisher and Editor in Chief, Coco Eco Magazine pictured with astrologer Susan Miller

“I was at the Susan Miller Event at the W Hollywood Residences and wore my most treasured piece, a vintage Ozbek which always stops traffic and is absolutely stunning.”

Jasmin Malik Chua, Managing Editor Ecouterre

“I bought this sweet gingham dress from Benetton shortly after 9/11, after a harrowing 11 days away from my Ground Zero apartment.  It was a splurge for a graduate student living on a shoestring, but it’s held up magnificently over the past 10 years. Weddings, brunches, picnics, you name it. I even wore it when I was five months pregnant, so you can’t say I haven’t made the most of it!”

Emma Grady, Fashion Correspondent for Discovery’s TreeHugger, Lifestyle Correspondent for The Daily Green and Founder of PastFashionFuture

“This is a London Fog trench coat that I found at a consignment shop in Newport, Rhode Island when I was still in high school, which was more than five years ago. I have only had to mend the belt and sew on a couple of the buttons since then and it is still in fine shape and still very much a wardrobe staple of mine.”

Johanna Bjork, Founder & Editor of Goodlifer

“I’m wearing an olive green miniskirt that I bought over ten years ago. It’s been in and out of rotation in my closet, but the basic color and cut makes it a timeless piece .”

Kate Black, Founder & Editor, Magnifeco

“I bought those boots before I even knew what ‘sustainable’ fashion was, but I wanted a pair of boots with longevity, that offered both a style and brand that would see me through the years. And they only get better with age! Being a North American living in Japan, I can’t buy jeans here in my size. This means I have to ‘borrow’ from my partner’s closet. This pair, which he bought in 2006, reside permanently on my side of the closet”.

Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff, Founder/Editor of Ecostiletto

“I bought this cotton shirt and jeans before I knew what sustainable fashion was! Even though I was eating and cleaning organic, I never thought about the implications of cotton production–that this outfit alone probably required about a pound of pesticides to produce. The empire waist has seen me through two pregnancies–my kids are 12, 9 and 4 so I’ll let you guess which ones. And the jeans are soft as butter. So I guess my non-sustainable fashion purchase turned out to be sustainable after all!”

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, which, according to Maureen Dickson, co-founder of of Slow Fashion Forward “Advocates consumers make do with what they have rather than buying new to combat over-consumption. The creative one-off Six Items or Less Experiment and The Uniform Project challenge consumers to minimize consumption by simplifying their wardrobe.”

Image: Zitona

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?