Sustainable fashion often comes with a hefty price tag. At first glance it might be intimidating, and it might tempt you to continue consuming cheaper products. However, it is vital to understand the true cost of every item you purchase when trying to shift to a more conscious lifestyle.
Today’s world is flooded with trends popping up left and right. This of course has led to fast fashion being the easiest and most cost effective way to turn a profit in the short term. Rather than weighing the long term costs and effects this vicious cycle has on the environment, corporate companies are relying on consumers to follow their lead without question. They create items that are disposable - made to wear two to three times and then thrown out. So, when you buy a cheap trendy dress and dispose of it after one use it feels like the norm. Sustainable fashion companies offer the complete antithesis of this. They provide consumers with the choice to purchase high quality goods with the potential for longer life spans, durability, and recyclability. The problem is that less than a third are willing to open their wallets.
Factors to consider that make sustainable fashion expensive
So what makes sustainable fashion so expensive? Higher costs stem from the additional expenses sustainable retailers have to pay. These include labor expenses, material expenses, certifications, and production expenses. When you purchase a sustainable garment you’re not only investing in your wardrobe but also investing in the future of the fashion industry. This is critical to understand because at the end of the day every price comes with a story. By supporting the sustainable fashion industry you can help it grow and achieve economies of scale. This will allow for sustainable goods to become cheaper over time as demand grows and savings trickle down and across supply chains.
Ethical labor practices must be factored into the cost of sustainable garments as well. It is easy to forget that there are workers behind every article of clothing in our closets. In the same vein, most of us are unaware of the mistreatment of garment workers. It might be shocking to know that almost 93% of garment workers are not paid enough to live a suitable lifestyle. In Bangladesh, the cheapest place to manufacture clothes in the world, their legal minimum wage is approximately $94 per month. Compared to the proper living wage of approximately $189 per month, this seems unacceptable. So when you score a deal on a cute new top from a fast fashion brand it’s often a result of the workers paying the ultimate price.
To make matters worse, these workers are not getting paid time off, weekends or sick days. Unfortunately horrible factory conditions are common in many countries that rely on fast fashion for their economy. In just 2013 a factory in Bangladesh collapsed killing 1,134 people and leaving 2,500 injured. This disaster was a direct result of administrative failures in which they continuously ignored signs that the facility was unequipped for safe use.
The unethical treatment of garment workers is heartbreaking considering the fact that we have all unknowingly contributed to this widespread problem. Thankfully by supporting ethical fashion businesses, you can be confident that workers are treated fairly and compensated accordingly. This of course leads to higher prices, but in the long term it’s a small price to pay to lead the fashion industry in a better direction. Brands with a mission like Alana Athletica advocate for social change in countries like Sri Lanka where they empower women who have survived abuse with the help of humanitarian organizations. Supporting a meaningful cause adds even more value to the power of your dollar because you can be confident that it is going towards the betterment of others and the industry as a whole.
High Quality Materials
Clothing as we all know can be made out of a variety of different materials. One of the reasons why sustainable fashion is so expensive in the fashion world is that fabrics can be at least 3 times pricier than alternatives such as synthetics. In order to understand the reasoning behind this, remember that natural fibers come from crops. Just as organic or non-GMO food might be more expensive than your typical supermarket brand’s, sustainable materials cost more to manufacture. Everything from the soil, to the fertilizer, to the harvesting is taken into account. Overall it takes more time, care, and attention to produce materials organically. All of this paired with the demand for natural materials not being nearly as high as mass produced fabrics drives the prices up. On the other hand, here's some good news: a recent survey found that 67% of consumers emphasize the importance of buying products made from sustainable materials. The end goal here would be to naturally drive prices of these materials down as the demand for them increases.
Cost of Certifications
Paying a fair wage is an expense of its own, and on top of that there is a tremendous amount of paperwork and documentation involved when running a sustainable brand. Becoming certified by organizations and nonprofits such as Fair Trade, GOTS, The Butterfly Mark, or OEKO-TEX can take a lot of time and resources. Although having certification might not be required to ensure sustainable practices, it provides transparency across the board for a brand, workers, and consumers. This ultimately leads to certifications and necessary audits being reflected in the price of the product in question.
Expense of Production Scale
Mass producing trends to turn a profit in the short term is the end all be all of fast fashion. Since they have the resources to do so, they feed into this destructive cycle at alarming rates. Brands like Missguided have been reported to release about 1,000 new products monthly while Fashion Nova’s own CEO has boasted launching 600 to 900 new styles every week. The speed at which these companies are churning out products is extremely concerning when it comes to waste, labor practices, etc. The only way to begin combating this issue is to support smaller businesses that produce small collections or made to order pieces. Many brands such as Bastet Noir do this to minimize their waste and will even offer alterations so that each garment is uniquely treasured by its owner. Of course, this kind of overhead only adds to the cost of each item.
Cost Per Wear
The unrealistic standard perpetuated by fast fashion brands and modern day rotating trends is detrimental to the environment and the initiatives of sustainable and ethical brands. American shoppers snap up about five times more clothing now than they did in 1980. Most articles of clothing consumers buy are on average worn only a handful of times. This is a result of our perception of cheap clothes as being disposable. If we can shift our mindset back to the past where clothing held more value for longer, the prices of sustainable clothing would be far from daunting. Sustainable brands are at a minimum producing clothes to be worn for years, and ideally they are producing clothing for a lifetime. The effort going into these pieces are meant to be cherished rather than quickly discarded making the cost per wear higher in not only the short term purchase but also the long term value.
While we might still be wondering why sustainable fashion is so expensive in the coming years, when you support small sustainable and ethical businesses it’s an investment in yourself and the growing slow fashion industry. This furthers the initiative to buy better and buy less. Thankfully modern consumers and technologies are shifting their values to live more conscious lifestyles with the people and planet in mind. So, if we continue in this direction the possibility that prices will be driven down as demand increases remains.
If you want to get started on your personal sustainable journey here are some of our favorite affordable brands to check out…
Affordable & Ethical Brands
Price: $10 - $78
Values: Ethical, Sustainable, Toxic-Free
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Values: Sustainable, Cruelty-Free, Woman-Owned, BIPOC-Owned
Price: $10 - $104
Values: Ethical, Sustainable, Toxic-Free, Cruelty-Free, Woman-Owned