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Understanding slow fashion

Explained: What makes a sustainable fashion brand?

Although slow fashion isn’t about being elitist or inducing shame over the fast fashion items hanging in your wardrobe, it is about minimising impact1. If you’d like to know what makes a sustainable fashion brand, well, sustainable and how to align it with slow fashion, you’ve come to the right place! Behold our rundown of sustainable fashion brand basics.

Our slow sustainable fashion guide

In broad terms, sustainable fashion companies are those that care for – and attempt to address – their environmental and human impact. To this, slow fashion adds the goal of extending the life of clothing to offer a more holistic picture.


How can you tell whether an item of clothing or brand is not only sustainable but also aligned with slow fashion principles? Here are four areas to get you started:


  • Fair fashion
  • Material composition
  • Provenance
  • Action and reaction

Labelling fair fashion

Wondering whether a fair fashion label by any other name would still smell as sustainable? Sadly, we don’t have an easy answer for you because fair fashion means different things to different people. While, typically, the vast majority of fair fashion labels and certifications take some kind of ethical stance, they are not united in their goals. For example, fair fashion brands with Fair Trade certification focus on fair wages. In other words, fair fashion certifications do not always automatically align with sustainability or slow fashion. A fair fashion label is a good start, but to see whether its goals truly align with yours, you’ll have to look deeper. Fortunately, more and more fair fashion labels are making an effort to meet slow fashion criteria.

Material, girl

A close-up of a fabric label – material plays a crucial role in sustainability and slow fashion

A simple way of knowing whether a sustainable fashion brand item is not only sustainable but also aligned with slow fashion, is by checking its material composition. If a garment is made from sustainably-sourced 100% wool, it can be easily recycled. Conversely, if it’s made from 30% cotton, 20% polyester and 50% wool, it cannot be properly recycled as there is no technology (yet) that can separate blended fibres. Don’t fret – there are still plenty of ways to ensure it doesn’t go to waste. The most contentious player in the material stakes is 100% cotton. Generally speaking, even sustainably-farmed cotton fabrics need large amounts of water2. If this is something you’d like to avoid, sustainable fashion brands that use hemp offer a good alternative, as the fabric requires far less water for production.

No place like home

A close-up of a person sewing – mending clothes is one way to extend their life and participate in slow fashion

Believe it or not, your clothes have probably seen quite a bit of the world. This is because from crop to store they travel to complete the manufacturing process. Even when a garment has a tag that reads, “made in Germany” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a slow fashion item – some of its components could have come from faraway places. However, as is often the case, things are not black and white. While the most sustainable items are sourced and created in the same place (and sustainable fashion brands will often highlight if they are), this is not always possible. The best approach is to simply do your best – be aware, check on the provenance of items and make conscious decisions. However, keep in mind that taking good care of your clothes with good washing practices and mending to love them longer is a powerful way to contribute to slow fashion.

Animation with facts supporting why washing, rather than buying, is an important part of sustainable fashion

Ask the sustainable fashion brand

A woman looking at a laptop – communicating with sustainable fashion brands is a good way to get empowered

Understandably, most sustainable and ethical fashion brands are loud and proud about their achievements. Most will list the details of their sustainability, slow fashion or fair fashion efforts on their website. If you’re feeling proactive, you can also contact them to find out more specific details. It may be that only some of their items are true examples of sustainable fashion, while others are a work in progress. At this point it’ll be up to you to decide whether you only want to invest in sustainable fashion pieces, if you’d still like to buy the non-sustainable item, with the view of supporting a company that is taking the right steps, or resist purchasing a new item altogether.

Image credits

Header image: Stocksy
Image close-up of a fabric label: Getty Images
Image close-up of a person sewing: Getty Images
Image of a woman looking at a laptop: Stocksy



1. Collins Dictionary definition of slow fashion
2. WWF, Impact of cotton