Dear EarthTalk: What is “slow fashion?” Does it relate to sustainability? 

In the U.S., millions of shoppers pack clothing stores, excited to key into the newest trends while paying low prices. On the other side of the world, low-wage workers — many of them young girls — are crushed under the hammer of “fast fashion” (the mass production of cheap, poor quality, disposable clothing), laboring without safety protections or adequate rights. Fast fashion’s impacts on both the environment and human rights are evident, and slow fashion may just be the only solution to a greener future.

First off, fast fashion revolves around the concept of speeding up production time while minimizing costs — which prompts producers to use the cheapest textiles and toxic textile dyes. Perhaps one of the most popular textiles, polyester is derived from fossil fuels and sheds microfibers that can end up in oceans. Another common material is cotton, which requires extensive quantities of water, pesticides and labor to produce. More important, fast fashion is constantly changing clothing trends — most consumers fall into this ploy and discard garments once they are out of trend. As a result, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in 2018 11.3 million tons of textiles ended up in landfills and 3.2 million tons were incinerated — releasing high amounts of greenhouse gases.