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Shirt with pineapple pattern and black jean shorts

Become a more ethical traveller with this slow fashion challenge!

Could you go without buying new clothes for 12 months? Right now might be the perfect time to reassess your fashion habits.

Let me tell you a quick story about the last time I purchased something that I would consider ‘fast fashion’.

It was 2018 and I was doing a road trip around Scotland. I felt like I didn’t have enough t-shirts to get me through the next part of my trip through sunny Portugal, so I popped into an H&M store in Edinburgh and left with a few new items to add to my suitcase. I can’t remember exactly how much it cost, but I do remember feeling rather surprised at how little money I was handing over when the assistant rung them up at the register.

One of the tees was white with small black polkadots. I really liked this tee. I wore it when I went to explore Sintra, and felt pretty great while wearing it… until I spotted another woman in the streets wearing the exact same shirt. At this moment, I realised that shopping at big fashion stores meant looking the same as everyone else.

Still, I kept wearing the shirt after returning home to Australia. Summer was just around the corner, so I knew I’d get some wear out of it… except that it barely lasted the season. Not even 10 washes later, the fabric had stretched so thin that I couldn’t even tear it up and reuse it for rags. This is how this tee ended up being thrown away not even 6 months after I’d bought it new. It’s sad to think that this is the fate that awaits most of H&M’s clothing.

Exploring Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal, 2018
Wearing the H&M t-shirt while exploring Sintra

The problem with fast fashion

After this disappointing experience, I did a little research on fast fashion and discovered some disturbing facts. Fast fashion is designed to be cheap, trendy for a short amount of time, and discarded quickly. This is the way that fashion companies keep you addicted to buying new clothes, which in turn, makes them more money.

It’s also unfortunate that the fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters, with fast fashion leading the charge. Add trashing the environment to underpaid workers in unsafe factories and there’s no way that we can feel good about consistently buying new clothing for the sake of feeling like we look fashionable.

It’s easy to think that we can’t do anything to stop fast fashion – after all, it’s the big companies that are at fault, right? Actually, no. Sure, those companies want to make money, but essentially they will do what the consumers want, and we have previously desired clothing that is cheap and trendy.

If we stop buying their products, they no longer have any customers. We can use our dollars and our choices to show that we care more about quality than price, and demand that clothing production becomes more sustainable.

Fast fashion is promoted by travel influencers

I’ve noticed an increasing number of influencers, mostly female, promoting a curated outfit for each new photo they post on Instagram or for every new article on their travel blog. A list of buyable items is compiled (usually consisting of a flowy dress, a wide brim hat, a handbag, and a pair of sandals!) which makes them affiliate money when people click through to buy the items online.

Now, I do support affiliate marketing as an influencer or travel blogger. In fact, I do it myself by recommending local tours and hotels to people who are planning on visiting certain destinations. But sharing bookable experiences is pretty different to promoting fast fashion, which encourages people to continuously spend money on things that will inevitably end up in landfill after they’ve been worn only a handful of times, or discarded once the person has taken their own fashionable Instagram photo.

As I have become increasingly eco-concious over the past few years, I decided that some changes needed to be made to address this concerning issue. I wondered if I could get by without fast fashion. Would it be possible to update my wardrobe sustainably, especially considering that I travel often and therefore require a wardrobe that suits a range of climates?

Yellow t-shirt with stripes made from thrifted fabric
Handmade yellow t-shirt with bleached stripes made from thrifted fabric

So what is slow fashion?

Slow fashion is essentially the opposite of fast fashion. It’s all about slowing down the pace that you go through clothing. It means removing yourself from the fleeting trends of the fast fashion industry, paying attention to the quality of each new item you acquire, and thinking about how long you are going to keep it.

I’ve been working on a minimalist wardrobe for a while now, but slow fashion takes it a step further by carefully considering the source of each clothing item that enters the collection.

With this in mind, I challenged myself to participate in slow fashion for 12 months and see if this could make me become a more ethical traveller. So far I’ve been doing this challenge for 6 months.

Shirt with pineapple pattern and black jean shorts
Slow fashion outfit: handmade shirt from thrifted fabric, upcycled shorts from old jeans, second-hand leather belt from thrift shop, necklace from independent maker on Etsy

How to do a slow fashion challenge:

Avoid all fast fashion purchases. This means staying away from shopping malls and downtown shopping areas. It’s hard to define exactly which stores are considered fast fashion, but generally if the brand is a chain or if it supplies products to department stores, it’s probably best to steer clear. I actually avoided buying any new clothing during the challenge.

If buying new, buy sustainable brands. Do your research to check each brand’s ethical and environmental guidelines (usually found on their website) and pick independent brands that make their clothes locally instead of factory-made. I found that many sustainable brands are insanely expensive, which of course is what fashion should cost in reality. I didn’t want to spend so much money on new clothing so I mostly found other ways to update my wardrobe.

Buy second-hand. Pre-loved clothing is a great option as it diverts unwanted clothing from landfill and provides funds to charities and non-profits. Thrift shops and online marketplaces are great places to start buying second-hand. I’ve been roaming thrift shops in Sydney and have found some great items, including an amazing leather belt and a few clothing pieces that were brand new with tags!

Make your own clothes. I know not everyone has the skills for this, but it’s totally possible to learn. If you have access to a sewing machine, there are loads of YouTube videos and blog post tutorials that you can follow for making clothes. I recently started attempting to make a few basic pieces for my wardrobe. My fave so far is the linen pineapple shirt that I made entirely from thrifted fabric!

Repair damaged items where possible. It’s inevitable that some items will get rips or stains at some stage. There are actually a ton of online tutorials for patching up your jeans, or removing any kind of stain (just do an online search for ‘how to get ink/blood/grass stains out of clothing’). I’ve done this countless times and saved a bunch of items from what I was sure would be the end of their lives.

Upcycle old clothes into new items. Sometimes old clothes are irreparable, but the fabric could be reused for something else. When my old jeans got a huge rip in the crotch, I used the denim to make a handy electronics case with pockets for Rob, as well as a cute travel bag for my e-reader. Damaged jeans can also be easily converted to shorts by cutting off the legs!

Attend clothing swap events. I’m lucky enough to live in an area of Sydney where many of the residents care about sustainability, and recently there have been a few clothing swap events where people can take along unwanted items to trade with other people. If you can’t find any events like this in your area, organise a mini clothing swap with your friends!

Electronics cases made from an old pair of jeans
Electronics cases that I made from an old pair of jeans

I’ve learnt a ton from this slow fashion challenge so far. I initially thought it was going to be difficult, but actually I’ve had a lot of fun finding creative ways to update my wardrobe!

Update: I’ve now completed a roundup of everything I bought, how much money I spent, what I repaired or upcycled, and the failures that I experienced. Check it out here!

I’d really love to hear your thoughts on travel influencers promoting fast fashion, the slow fashion movement, and whether you’ve had any experience making the switch. Please share your stories or thoughts in the comments!

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