Finding the Balance Between Trend and Sustainability!

The fashion industry has undergone a significant transformation in recent years driven by shifting consumer preferences and increasing awareness about clothing production's environmental and social impact. These changing dynamics have led to two contrasting approaches: Fast Fashion and, on the other hand, Slow Fashion. These two models represent two fundamentally different philosophies, each with different implications for the industry, consumers, and the planet. In this post, we attempt to analyze these two models, presenting their main characteristics, mainly focusing on their environmental impact and providing green solutions, paving the way for further discussion and reflection.


Understanding the Fast Fashion Model


Fast Fashion is a business model that offers consumers frequent novelty in low-priced, trend-led products. The model relies on occurring consumption and impulse buying, creating a "sense of urgency when purchasing" (Bailey 2022).

The Fast Fashion Industry experienced tremendous growth during the late 20th century, at a time when the manufacturing of clothing became less expensive, mainly due to more efficient supply chains and the increasing reliance on low-cost labour from the apparel manufacturing industries of South, Southeast and East Asia.


The numbers are indicative of the Fast Fashion model's success (Niinimaki et al. 2020):

  • The brands' clothing production has almost been duplicated compared with the pre-2000 era.
  • The yearly clothing production demand increase is estimated at 2%.
  • Global per-capita textile production has increased from 5.9 kg to 13kg per year from 1975-2018.
  • Global consumption has risen to 62 million tonnes of apparel annually and is estimated to increase to 102 million tonnes by 2030.
  • The rising consumption of fashion products led to lower clothing prices. The average per-person expenditure on clothing and footwear in the EU and UK has decreased from 30% in the 1950s to 12% in 2009 and 5% in 2020 (!).
  • One person in Italy is estimated to buy 14.5 kg of new clothes annually. Similarly, the corresponding quantity in Germany is 16.7kg, 7kg in the UK and between 13kg and 16kg across Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland.

The Fast Fashion Chain

The fashion supply chain spans several industries, from agriculture to manufacturing, logistics and retail (Bailey et al. 2022):


Agriculture (natural fibers): More specifically, the first stage of the chain is "getting the natural fibers through cotton and wood". Among others, China, USA, India and Pakistan are the primary sources of such natural fibers.

Yarn Manufacturer: The second stage of the fashion supply chain is yarn manufacture. Textiles are manufactured from yarns through knitting or weaving and demand lots of water and energy through wet processes such as bleaching, dyeing and finishing.

Textile and Garment manufacturing: The third stage of the fashion supply chain is textile and garment manufacture, which causes excessive waste. Garment manufacturers take the finished textiles for assembly. Garment manufacturers are primarily located in the Global South, while the design processes occur in the Global North. The geographical distance inevitably causes mistakes during production planning and hence unnecessary pre-consumption waste from manufacturing.

Garments Shipping and Distribution to the Global North: The fashion supply chain's last stage is garments shipping and distribution. The finished garments are shipped in large quantities to central retail distribution centres, followed by smaller retailers where clothing is purchased. These centres are often located in the UK, EU and USA. Container boats or, more often, air cargo undertake garments’ transportation. Although faster, air cargo has a more significant environmental impact: It is estimated that moving just 1 per cent of garment transportation from ship to air cargo equals a 35% increase in carbon emissions.


"New season, new styles, buy more, buy cheap, move on, throw away:
the fast fashion industry is feeding the triple planetary crisis, hence jeopardizing the planet's viability"

By triple planetary crisis, we refer to the three most significant and interlinked issues that the planet is currently facing:
climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss.


The Dark Side of Fast Fashion

Affordability, rapid response to trends, and accessibility are traits that attract millions of consumers worldwide to Fast Fashion. However, these characteristics do not accurately reflect the true nature of Fast Fashion, which, in reality, poses significant environmental harm. The exploitation of labour, serious ethical concerns, the nurturing of waste generation and encouragement of a “throw-away consumer mentality, the quality issues and the lack of transparency are just a few of the significant drawbacks associated with the model of Fast Fashion (Hayes 2022). In the framework of this article, we focus on the impact of Fast Fashion on the environment.



The Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion

Fast Fashion is characterised by producing large quantities of clothing at a rapid pace, often using cheap materials and manufacturing techniques. This leads to substantial environmental impact, including the generation of significant textile waste in landfills, excessive water usage and pollution. The globalization of the textile and fashion industry has led to an uneven distribution of these environmental consequences from developing countries – where the textile and clothing production takes place – to the developed countries of the Global North – which essentially consume the products (Niinimaki et al. 2020).


Fast fashion’s environmental impact summarizes into three categories: the use of massive amounts of water and energy, the emission of greenhouse gasses and the harmful use of chemicals. Each stage of the fast fashion chain - from cotton cultivation to textile dyeing and finishing -  requires large amounts of water usage. 3% of global irrigation water is used for textile production, translating into 44 trillion liters of water annually for irrigation. According to the UN Environment Program, the fast fashion industry is responsible for 20% of global wastewater, while textile dyeing is the second largest water polluter globally. Given the increasing water scarcity globally, the current fast fashion model exacerbates the problem.

Regarding carbon emissions, it is estimated that the fast fashion industry releases 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. According to the UN, the fashion industry is responsible for 8-10% of global emissions, more than the combined aviation and shipping. At the same time, scientists worldwide are warning that by 2030, total greenhouse emissions will increase by 50% (Whalen 2022). High CO2 emissions are associated with textile manufacturing, consumer use and air freight shipping. Fiber type, as well as production method, influence the extent of carbon emissions. For example, natural fibers have a lower carbon footprint than synthetic fibers (Niinimaki et al.2020).


Additionally, more than 15 thousand chemicals are used during textile manufacturing. Among them, agrochemicals leach into the soil, causing a decrease in soil biodiversity and fertility and interrupting biological processes and destroying microorganisms, plants and insects. The fact that approximately 80 per cent of EU-consumed finished textiles are manufactured outside of the EU makes it difficult to estimate the total chemical usage (Niinimaki et al.2020).



Slow Fashion  


What is determined as slow fashion? In this section, our goal is to demystify this term and clarify the significance of slowing down the fashion industry, ensuring a more environmentally friendly legacy for future generations.


The term “Slow Fashion” was first coined by Kate Fletcher, author and design activist. She defines slow fashion as “quality-based rather than time-based, it encourages slower production, combines sustainability with ethics, and invites consumers to invest in well-made and lasting clothes”. In simple terms, slow fashion is the opposite of fast fashion. Slow fashion implies an awareness and approach to fashion that carefully considers the processes and resources required to make clothing. It stands for buying better-quality garments that will last longer, and values fair treatment of people, animals and the planet along the way.

The past few years have witnessed a growing endorsement of slow fashion, driven by consumer demands for elevated sustainability and ethical standards. Research indicates that 19% of top searches related to fast fashion are now focused on environmental concerns, ethics and sustainability. With heightened awareness and increasing popularity, adopting this more deliberate approach to fashion promises benefits for the planet and its inhabitants.


Slow Fashion prompts us to pause and assess whether we genuinely need something new, encouraging us to explore our existing wardrobe for overlooked items that may only require minor repairs. Slow fashion urges us to break away from the mindset of treating clothes as disposable items. Instead, it encourages efforts to repair, upcycle, pass on, or responsibly dispose of garments when they no longer serve their purpose. The slow fashion ethos advocates for the purchase of fewer garments, less frequently, and promotes the preference for second-hand options when possible. Instead of acquiring a multitude of inexpensive polyester tops prone to unraveling after a few wears, conscientious consumers opt for higher quality pieces. These garments are crafted using more sustainable processes and eco-friendly materials, showcasing the artistry of clothing production and honoring the skills of artisans.

Some Slow-Fashion traits are:

  • Use of garments made from high quality, lower impact materials (linen for example)
  • Garments are more timeless than trendy
  • Locally sourced, produced and sold garments


Slow Fashion offers significant benefits, such as:

  • Slow Fashion emphasizes sustainable practices, hence reducing the overall environmental footprint of the fashion industry. This includes the use of eco friendly materials, ethical production processes and a focus on longevity, which helps minimize waste and pollution.
  • The adoption of sustainable practices in slow fashion, such as using non-toxic dyes and chemicals, helps minimize water pollution. By avoiding harmful substances, slow fashion mitigates the negative impact of ecosystems and water resources.
  • Localized and small-scale production results in fewer transportation-related emissions. This contrasts with the globalized production and transportation networks associated with fast fashion.
  • Slow Fashion encourages recycling and upcycling of clothing items. This promotes a circular economy where materials are reused or repurposed, reducing the demand for new raw materials and decreasing waste.
  • Slow Fashion often involves the use of organic and sustainable farming practices for materials like cotton. These practices are less harmful to ecosystems, promoting biodiversity and minimizing the negative impact on soil and wildlife.
  • Some Slow Fashion brands prioritize cruelty-free and ethical practices when it comes to using animal-derived materials, ensuring the well-being of animals in the production process.
  • The Slow Fashion movement encourages innovation in sustainable technologies and materials, fostering the development of eco-friendly alternatives within the fashion industry.


What’s the response to the hyper-consumer model of fast fashion and its consequences?


Individuals must cultivate various green skills to counterweight fast fashion's negative environmental and societal impact. These green skills focus on reducing consumption, promoting sustainability and supporting ethical practices within the fashion industry.


Here are some essential green skills individuals can develop and incorporate into their everyday lives:


  • Sustainable Fashion Knowledge: Education’s role is crucial in alternating the current fast fashion overconsuming trend. Letting individuals understand the importance of choosing sustainable materials, ethical production practices, buying local and the significance of reducing waste in the fashion industry must be at the core of the education provided.
  • Clothing Repair and Up-cycling: Learning how to repair damaged clothes through basic sewing and mending techniques and up-cycling old garments into new and creative pieces is essential since we extend their lifespan and reduce waste.
  • Water and Energy Conservation: Washing clothes in cold settings, avoiding over-washing and line drying instead of using a dryer are good practices to reduce water and energy usage when laundering clothes.
  • Sharing and Swapping Clothes: Sharing clothes with friends, family, or local communities is an environmentally friendly way to refresh our wardrobes without buying new items!
  • Support Sustainable Brands: Find and support brands that prioritize sustainability and follow ethical practices. Certifications like Fair Trade, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Bluesign are indicators of eco-friendly and socially responsible production.
  • Identify and Support Nearby Businesses: Utilize the services of skilled professionals - local seamstress or tailor to handle clothing repairs - ensuring not only quality craftsmanship but also fostering a sense of community and economic resilience. This approach not only supports local artisans, but also aligns with the principles of environmental sustainability, creating a win-win situation for both consumers and the local and green economy.
  • Eco-friendly Laundry Products: Choose eco-friendly laundry products over fabric softeners with harmful chemicals that often pollute water sources.
  • Awareness and Advocacy: Advocate and spread awareness for sustainable practices digitally – through social media but also physically – through personal discussions and debates.
  • Find a place where you can leave your used and old textiles for recycling: Many communities provide drop-off points or collection centers specifically designed for textile recycling. By utilizing these facilities, you contribute to the reduction of textile waste in landfills and help in the creation of a more circular economy. Recycling textiles not only conserves valuable resources but also minimizes the environmental impact associated with the production of new fabrics.
  • Support Slow Fashion as a counterweight to fast fashion: Slow fashion embraces the idea of conscious consumption, encouraging consumers to be more mindful of their clothing choices, considering not only the environmental but also the social impact of their purchases.


Action within community

Beyond taking action at the individual level, getting active at the community level against the fast fashion model - which has been proven unsustainable in the long term – can significantly impact raising awareness and promoting sustainable practices. But what steps can someone take at the community level to get started?


  • Team up with community organisations: Join efforts with local environmental and social justice organisations and amplify the message in favour of a sustainable fashion model.
  • Organize educational events: Raise awareness in the community about sustainable fashion choices by hosting workshops, seminars and other educational events. Try to focus on the benefits of supporting ethical and eco-friendly brands.
  • Create social media campaigns: Use the power of social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook to spread the message about sustainable fashion and its benefits. Share information and tips and influence others to make wise fashion choices.
  • Work with influencers and bloggers: Reach out and collaborate with local influencers, bloggers and fashion enthusiasts to promote sustainability in fashion and increase the impact of your efforts.
  • Participate locally in global movements: Support global environmental-related campaigns by joining or initiating local events. Fashion Revolution Week is one of these campaigns that advocates transparency and accountability in the fashion industry.



Remember, change at the community level starts from the individual one. In other words, lead by example! Make sustainable fashion choices in your everyday life and showcase how they can be practical and simultaneously stylish. Discuss your sustainable decisions with friends, family and your broader social circle and inspire them to follow your steps.


The development and adoption of these green skills and actions, individually but also collectively, can play a significant role in counteracting the negative impact of fast fashion on the environment and promote a more sustainable, environmentally friendly and ethical approach to clothing consumption.


Did you know?

The EU aims to lead globally in sustainable and textile value chains, adopting new technological solutions and innovative business models. This initiative seeks to decrease the environmental impact of textiles throughout their life cycle, enhance the sector’s resilience and competitiveness, and align with international labor standards to improve working conditions. Additionally, the objective is to ensure that the value of textiles is retained in the economy for an extended period.


The Sustainable and Circular Textiles Strategy is designed to establish a cohesive framework and vision for the textile sector’s transition. By 2030, the textile products introduced to the EU market are expected to be durable and recyclable, predominantly composed of recycled fibers, devoid of hazardous substances, and manufactured with a commitment to social rights and environmental considerations.


Try this quiz to see how much you know about Fast Fashion vs. Slow Fashion!


  • Bailey, K., Basu, A., & Sharma, S. (2022). The Environmental Impacts of Fast Fashion on Water Quality: A Systematic Review. Water, 14(1073). doi:10.3390/w14071073
  • Hayes, A. (2022, 9 16). Fast Fashion Explained and How It Impacts Retail Manufacturing. Retrieved 2023 from Investopedia:
  • MAITI, R. (2023, May 21). Fast Fashion and Its Environmental Impact. From EARTH.ORG:
  • Mc-Fall-Johnsen, M. (2019, October 21). The fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined. Here are the biggest ways it impacts the planet. From INSIDER:
  • Niinimaki, K., Peters, G., Dahlbo, H., Perry, P., Rissanen, T., & Gwilt, A. (2020). The environmental price of fast fashion. Springer Nature Limited, 1, 189-200. doi:10.1038/s43017-020-0039-9
  • Whalen, V. (2022). Fast Fashion and Climate Change 101. From ACE: Action for the Climate Emergency:


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