How I learnt to afford slow fashion

Words Mary Madigan

To embrace slow, ethical choices, I also had to slow myself down.

Everyone I speak to about slow fashion wants to support it. Who doesn’t want to make more ethical choices? Still, there’s no getting around it: slow fashion is more expensive. Of course, it’s more expensive for good reason. Everyone involved in making the garment is being paid a living wage. Therefore, you need to pay more when purchasing your dream slow fashion piece.

For a long time, the cost of slow fashion meant I automatically opted out. I live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and I work in the arts. I’m not raking in the big bucks by any stretch of the imagination. So, while I supported the ethics behind slow fashion, I wasn’t walking the walk or, in this case, strutting the ethical runway.

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Full disclosure: I’ve been a long-term buyer of fast fashion. Let’s face it, chain stores are affordable, accessible, and a way to try a trend without over-investing. But the more I read up on the truth about fast fashion, the more upsetting it became. People in third-world countries are working in horrible conditions, and I was supporting the stores that exploited them.

The guilt gnawed at me. I’m a big believer in always trying to do whatever you can to make the world better, whether that’s in a big or small way. So I recycle, use a Keep Cup, sign the petitions, go to the rallies – you get the picture. I wanted to change my relationship with fast fashion and I wanted to do better, so I decided the best approach was a practical one. 

I’d always waived off slow fashion because of the price, so I decided to investigate how much I was spending on clothes a month. I realised the average I spent on clothes was $300. Instead of treating myself to an array of material treats, I decided to use that budget towards one or two pieces – usually, it’s only one piece.

It sounds simple in theory, but I’m an emotional shopper. If I feel sad, anxious, or overworked, I tend to want to treat myself with a fun piece of clothing. I’m constantly chasing a little bit of dopamine. So, limiting how much I shopped meant changing my habits. It also meant I had to re-shift my thinking.

I was used to baulking at the price of a $250 dress. But once I put it into perspective (realising I was burning through at least $300 a month on fast fashion), I realised I could spend the exact same money and invest in slow fashion. At first, it wasn’t easy. I had to curb my desire to impulse buy. To embrace slow, ethical choices, I really had to slow myself down and I needed to stop endlessly scrolling through the internet and focus on quality over quantity.

I’d trawl online stores and find a dress or a pair of boots I wanted, and if they had the ethical slow fashion tick, I’d add them to my cart and not check out. Then, whenever I got the urge to treat myself, instead of continuing to search online, I’d go back to that cart, stare at the item and remind myself that this was my goal. I didn’t get that immediate dopamine hit, but it did feel nice to know it was coming.

Once I started investing in slow fashion, it became more and more appealing. The clothes I bought were made with care and craftsmanship; they were made to last and not end up in landfills in six months’ time. It’s also meant I don’t spend half my life trying to find a button that’s fallen off a cardigan, because my wardrobe is now full of well-made, durable clothing.

Plus, I didn’t suffer from buyer’s regret because I wasn’t buying items instantly. I had really thought about each piece of clothing I was buying; adding time and consideration to each purchase meant I got what I wanted. It’s also forced me to pause and decide if I like trends or not, rather than just indulging in them mindlessly. So far, I’ve managed to abstain from buying a corset top for this very reason, but that could change. 

I’m not pretending I still don’t buy the odd fast fashion item. I’m human, and sometimes I just need something cheap or quick or easy – dress-up parties, I’m looking at you. But I have drastically changed my spending habits. I’m working towards eliminating fast fashion from my life, and it’s made me feel a lot better about my wardrobe.

If you think you can’t afford slow fashion, I’d highly recommend doing the maths and working out how much you spend on clothes already and then putting that towards buying more ethically. It feels better and it does more good. 

Head here for a list of resources to help you shop ethical Australian fashion.

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