GuestOctober 24, 2023 AATCC Newsletter
(The following feature is an excerpt from the feature article in the November/December 2023 issue of AATCC Review. If you are an AATCC member, download your copy of the magazine to read the entire feature.)

While 80 billion ‘fast fashion’ garments are produced every year, 30% of clothing purchases are never worn. Furthermore, most clothes are discarded into landfills after an average of only seven uses. Given the impact of these unsustainable practices, there is a critical need to help ‘slow fashion’—high quality and durable garments with small-scale production and timeless styles—to have a chance in the fashion race.

A Brief History of Slow Fashion

Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, the ways in which societies envision and consume fashion have drastically changed. Steam-powered machines and the mechanical loom implied faster production, largescale manufacturing, and global supply chains. The fast fashion business model of the 1980s was a natural continuation of this unprecedented fashion boom, characterized by rapid trend changes and new collections at very low costs. Although these systems have been credited for making fashion accessible to the masses, they undeniably encourage excessive consumption and monumental environmental damage.

“A transformation towards circular textile business models, including slow fashion, could generate US$700 billion in economic value by 2030,” says Bettina Heller, Textile Lead, UN Environment Program. “Each 1% increase in market share of circular fashion business models is likely to reduce carbon emissions by 13 million tons of CO2. By encouraging collaborative problem-solving, slow fashion also imbues products with meaning and emotional longevity.”


The Current Status of Slow Fashion

Fast fashion continues to hold the lion’s share of the fashion industry with a revenue of US$106.42 billion in 2022. However, considering the relatively lower demand of sustainable fashion, revenue may not be an effective indicator of brand success. Indeed, except for a brief collapse in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the ethical fashion market (including slow fashion) has been steadily growing.

Valued at US$7,548.2 million in 2022, the market is expected to grow to US$11,122.2 million by 2027 at a rate of 8.1%.  This steady growth in ethical fashion has been attributed to increasing demand for sustainable garments, particularly among millennials and GenZ. Indeed, the media impact value for sustainability grew by 54% during the first quarter of 2022.

Several slow fashion brands have demonstrated that profit and sustainability can co-exist. For example, the American brand Reformation has grown an average of 60% year-on-year since its establishment, reporting a revenue of US$100 million by 2017. Kotn, a sustainable brand based in Canada, has reported a 37% growth since its establishment, also expanding into several brick-and mortar stores in the US.

Yet, not all sustainable fashion companies have been able to create success at scale. To facilitate the growth of such companies, consumer habits and demands for unsustainable consumption will need to be transformed and the systemic barriers impeding slow fashion progress addressed.


Driving Fundamental Shifts in Consumer Behavior

Fast fashion has managed to create a significant impact on the consumer psyche by tapping into their needs for instant gratification, social status, and self-expression. This means slow fashion brands will have to strategically wean consumers off cheaply priced, short-lived garments.

“No behavior happens without motivation,” explains Guy Champniss, head of Behavioral Science at consulting firm Inzio. “However, the problem with sustainability as a motivator is that it’s a very nebulous concept. Consider a consumer walking into a store to purchase an item. He may profess to believe in sustainability, but at that moment, he is only thinking about the color or fit of the garment—not whether it is good for the planet. To close the gap between attitude and behavior, you need to activate the consumer’s belief within the context of the store.”

Champniss offers the solution of tackling the abstract concept of sustainability. “Slow fashion brands need to find a way to translate the sustainability concept into salient features that influence the consumer when they are making decisions,” he says. “For example, the brand can remind you that by buying this item, you are minimizing your impact on the environment. Patagonia did this with their ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ campaign. They appealed to consumers not to shop on Black Friday to minimize environmental damage by displaying a blue Patagonia jacket. A lot of consumers bought that jacket just to be associated with the principles of the campaign.”


The steady progress the slow fashion has made in both addressing its value chain barriers and shifting consumer behavior is encouraging. Yet, slow fashion is a relatively new philosophy and, as such, needs to cross several thresholds before it can be declared successful. With the climate crisis poised upon a tipping point, it is more crucial than ever for fashion stakeholders to work together to strategize how clothes can be a part of the solution, rather than the problem.



About the Author

Nicola Davies, PhD, is a freelance writer, specializing in health psychology. Contact at


Disclaimer: Responsibility for opinions expressed in this article is that of the author and quoted persons, not AATCC. Mention of any trade or brand name or proprietary product in this publication does not constitute a guarantee or warranty of the product by AATCC and does not imply its approval to the exclusion of other products that may also be suitable.

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