Consumers frequently complain about the high expense of ethical and sustainable design, labelling it as "exclusive" or "elite."
And it's accurate to say that our globally diversified fashion sector is seriously flawed.
Fast fashion has conditioned us to believe that a t-shirt should be less than $10, that we can duplicate a celebrity style for less than $20 within a week, and that new collections should be released on a regular basis. According to McKinsey, there can be as many as 52 "micro-seasons" in a single year.
Therefore, it's simple to write off an ethical and sustainable brand when they manufacture a garment that costs $30, $50, or even $80 as a company that primarily caters to wealthy people.
With only a few notable exceptions, the high expense of ethical fashion is not due to avarice.
Actually, the reverse is true.
The need to transition to sustainable fashion is driven by a number of compelling factors, including the increasing impact on the environment, oppressive pay structures, and the need to conserve traditional crafts.
For those wishing to switch to a more ethical wardrobe, the cost may act as a deterrent.
The cost of a garment made sustainably with fair labour conditions can frequently be higher than that of a mass-produced, off-the-rack design, giving the impression that sustainable fashion is only for affluent consumers.
However, a number of considerations come into play that eventually influence a product's price in order to guarantee that every garment manufactured has a low impact on the environment.
Following, industry insiders walk us through the variables that affect how much a sustainable clothing costs.
It's critical to comprehend the full cost of the things we purchase if we want to live sustainably. It's simple to be perplexed or appalled by the often stark price gap between fast fashion and apparel created sustainably upon first glance at a price tag.
Sadly, despite growing more and more popular, sustainably created products are not yet the norm in manufacturing.
In a highly capitalistic environment, firms typically focus on profit margins and take measures to make sure they can quickly produce things at competitive prices to boost sales.
Unfortunately, the environmental impact on the individuals in the supply chain, from farmers to sewers and manufacturing workers, is not taken into account in that pricing.
Using child labour and paying industrial workers pennies are two ways to save money.
In actuality, aside from the technology sector, the fashion business is the one that contributes the most to modern slavery.
One of the main causes of global pollution is the quick production of garments.
The carbon emissions from the fashion business account for 10% of global emissions, which is greater than the emissions from all international flights put together!
Additionally, fast fashion contributes 20% of the world's wastewater, primarily due to hazardous textile dyes.
This dye contaminates ecosystems, and microfibers from synthetic clothes (like polyester) further contaminate our streams.
Businesses can produce a lot of products rapidly and sell them at a lesser price by taking shortcuts.
A sustainable supply chain requires less production and higher selling prices as opposed to the alternative.
The cost of goods created in an immoral manner comes with so much harm. We must question ourselves: Is the clothes cheaper if a firm uses people and the environment for profit in order to maintain low costs and a quick turnaround?
Although the monetary value could be, the long-term effects on the environment and society are not.
The Relation Between Pricing And Sustainable Fashion
Ruchika Sachdeva, creator and creative director of Bodice, states that sustainability is a belief in a set of values. Ayesha Barenblat, the creator of the non-profit organisation and fashion watchdog Remake, supports the idea.
"A garment that is reasonably priced and created with sustainable materials shows a brand's commitment to minimising their impact on the environment and the makers as well," she claims.
According to her, the perception that sustainable fashion is pricey only exists in the context of fast fashion, which has raised a generation of consumers who anticipate cheap costs.
We had heard from a clothing manufacturer that "the price reflects the exploitation.
A generation of young women, especially from South Asia, have been held in a cycle of poverty by the dirt-cheap costs of fast fashion, she continues.
The issue doesn't exist in isolation, though. The San Francisco-based activist thinks that if you take a deeper look, you'll see that the problem affects both extremes.
"It's crucial to remember that higher-priced clothing does not always translate into higher salaries.
We have visited in factories where high-end and mass-market brands coexist and pay their garment workers the same pitiful rates.
Even though they operate with bigger margins, many expensive luxury firms hire artisans in South Asia and pay them pitiful wages, according to the expert.
Reasons Why Sustainable Fashion Is More Expensive
Better Quality Comes At A Price
The cheap pricing of fast fashion are indicative of what you get: trendy items that only cost a few cents to make and frequently disintegrate after a few washings.
Slow fashion, a movement to cut back on production and consumption and create durable clothing, is projected to have the opposite effect.
Rather of mass producing tens of thousands of low-quality, trend-driven styles each week, slow fashion brands concentrate on creating timeless, well-designed pieces that have been fairly manufactured.
Slow, sustainable brands put an emphasis on the quality of the garment, the experience of their staff, team, and employees, as well as how they handle environmental issues.
Slow fashion brands align their operations with a more moral value set, which includes promoting worker wellbeing and fair pay, protecting the environment, and ultimately driving the industry to do better, in contrast to fast fashion brands who have repeatedly shown a lack of concern for the people making their clothes.
However, it can be difficult for regular shoppers to mentally break down the price of a $250 garment. Perhaps more companies are needed to make this process simpler for regular buyers.
The concept of extreme price transparency was revolutionised by the American clothes company Everlane.
On the product pages, they include the price of everything, from textiles and sourcing to retail markups and logistics.
This kind of price transparency serves two purposes and has two effects: it sheds light on the less well-known but crucial steps involved in producing our clothing and holds companies responsible for keeping their commitments to (hopefully) refrain from greenwashing.
Beyond improved price transparency, the average customer finds it challenging to comprehend the extensive and complex supply chain of the fashion industry.
The higher cost of sustainability (e.g., eco-friendly materials or processes) or ethics (e.g., better pay, working conditions) is sometimes lost in translation.
In the future, it might be beneficial for brands to provide more material that analyses and investigates these problems, both online and offline, in order to expand their consumer base and better keep their current ones.
Raw Material Costs
Sustainable fashion demands premium raw materials, which are typically more expensive. Additionally, fabrics made of natural, organic, or recycled materials are required for the production of special ecological items.
There are innumerable different materials used to make clothing.
Some of them are beneficial to both the Earth and you, while others are less so. The majority are made of polyester, nylon, acrylic, and coal and petroleum byproducts.
These are prevalent because they are some of the most affordable textiles for clothing.
Another material that is frequently used to make garments is cotton. Although it seems very natural, it is bad for the environment.
Unless it's organic, it consumes a lot of water, is often pesticide-sprayed, and frequently comes from GMO seeds.
It is less expensive than other fibres that are more environmentally friendly, like hemp, because it is mass-produced, like the fabrics listed above.
Hemp fabric production takes a long time and requires extra labour. The same might be said of eco-friendly bamboo and linen (as opposed to the bamboo fabric that uses chemicals to soften it quickly.).
Because they take longer to make and cannot be purchased in big quantities like artificially produced fabrics, these textiles are more expensive.
Most environmentally friendly materials are made to order. In exchange for a higher price for the fabric, less waste is created during mass production.
There is however hope! Sustainable clothing is comparable to organic food. It was extremely pricey at first, but as more people embraced it, prices began to decline.
The biggest disadvantage of eco-friendly fibres is their high price. They continue to be in low demand, are scarce, and require expensive production procedures.
Consumers are encouraged by sustainable fashion brands to spend less but of greater quality.
Responsible labels oppose excessive consumerism, in contrast to fast fashion retail giants who urge you to spend more and more frequently.
They create garments that are timeless and traditional and last longer than the season.
Unfortunately, greater prices are required to offset costs between each purchase that should happen less frequently because you wear the same clothing repeatedly.
Recycling Is Expensive
Recycled fabrics are used by many eco-friendly clothing companies in their newest lines.
To reduce their influence on the environment and keep them out of landfills, they recycle used clothing and textile waste into new ones.
Instead of encouraging a throwaway culture, reusing, recycling, and repurposing old clothing adds value and is the more ethical approach to fashion.
However, recycling uses resources and costs money.
It's More Expensive To Make Less
Fast fashion businesses have historically been able to keep prices low by ordering and producing in huge quantities.
This benefits from economies of scale and allows them to provide thousands of new types every week at the cost of a meal while still turning a profit, even if there isn't enough demand to support it.
Although more people should have access to sustainable clothing, overproduction is not the solution.
It is fundamentally unsustainable and defeats the goal of moral production.
Instead, a lot of slow fashion companies opt for small-batch or custom manufacturing.
However, it's challenging to maintain cheap pricing unless they have their own manufacturing facility.
Since many huge fast fashion firms already own their brand and manufacturing facilities, vertical integration—when a brand controls its own supply chain—is not a novel idea.
There aren't many ethical companies with production facilities that have more control over the entire lifecycle of their products, though.
According to Christine, co-founder of the ethical clothing firm Tove & Libra in Hong Kong, brands must spend more to create less.
"The goal of an assembly line when producing big numbers is to maximise efficiency through repetition and reduce cost.
Therefore, a firm cannot utilise this assembly line if it plans to make fewer than 100 units of each style. They are forced to labour in cramped sample rooms where they must individually cut, finish, and package each product.
Additionally, she notes that they are priced differently "to account for the added effort."
Customers are prepared to support ethical brands as a result because it is impossible to compare the products at various price points.
While eating organic food and using cleaner skincare products have health benefits, it can be more difficult for people to notice the advantages of eco-friendly clothes right away.
Fast fashion companies frequently make false statements regarding how their operations affect the environment.
Instead, they strive to appear more environmentally friendly in order to win over eco-aware customers and boost sales.
While not deceiving customers, ethical brands also advertise their sustainable fashion projects.
Despite being more expensive, they offer evidence, in-depth information, and certification criteria to guarantee credibility, openness, and authenticity.
Sustainability Pays Fair
Living wages are offered by ethical companies that treat their employees with respect and fairness.
This increases the cost. On the other hand, quick fashion has long been linked to Bangladeshi or Cambodian sweatshops, where employees are paid less than the minimum wage. However, you won't only find them in underdeveloped countries.
The corporate headquarters of numerous eco-friendly companies, including Patagonia and Reformation, are in Los Angeles.
Fast-fashion brands like Fashion Nova are also available. In actuality, LA is teeming with factories that pay their employees significantly less than what is permitted by US law and off the books.
More recently, Fashion Nova came under fire for paying its seamstresses as little as $2.77 an hour.
Additionally, fair labour rights should cover all the fundamental rights you would anticipate from your job in addition to just compensation.
For instance, fair work schedules, weekends off, paid overtime, paid vacation and sick time, health insurance, the option to form a union, and of course, safe working conditions.
Of course, it costs more to provide all of this and a safe workplace.
Because of globalisation, businesses frequently decide to produce clothing in nations with the lowest salaries.
So it only makes sense: would you produce your garments in Bangladesh, where the minimum wage is less than $2, or in the UK, where it is roughly $15, if you owned a business and wanted to turn a profit?
Here, it's important to understand what a liveable wage is and to make sure that it's upheld.
Although there are many various definitions of a living wage, it is typically understood to be the amount of money required for an employee to cover their basic requirements.
The term "needs" is typically used to refer to things like food, shelter, and other necessities like clothing.
There is no one set standard for what constitutes a liveable wage, however, because the phrase "needs" is ambiguous.
Despite this, it is undeniable that a liveable wage in, for example, rural India is significantly lower than it would be in, say, New York City.
Again, it seems sense that clothes manufacturers pick nations with low living costs as their production locations.
If a company promises its clients that its employees are paid a "fair" or "living wage," this should imply that these employees have access to education, enough food, clean water, clothing, and savings.
However, it goes without saying that paying these rates means a business is probably paying a little bit more than its unethical rivals.
And the difference will probably be paid by the customer.
Third-party suppliers and factories exploiting corners to boost profits have already had disastrous results.
One of these was the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza building, a tragedy that ignited the Fashion Revolution movement. The expense of factories adhering to those requirements is higher.
Smaller businesses must face the majority of these costs, from fire safety precautions to routine equipment inspections, which raises their manufacturing cost per unit.
We hesitate to purchase sustainable goods due to higher pricing, but the prices of sustainable designs are higher since there is less demand. It's a bit of a vicious circle.
Artisanal Crafts Take More Time And Human Skill
Many sustainable firms collaborate with artisans, workshops, and career training facilities in addition to employing people in factories and workshops.
This supports artisan craft, preserves the expertise, and strengthens the communities whose survival depends on the craft.
Their craft is more widely available around the world as a result of these global corporations' efforts to modernise artisan labour.
Men and women from rural villages have the opportunity to learn and earn in addition to the vocational training facilities!
A deliberate and expensive strategy used by brands to support local communities is to train employees before hiring them.
Sui founder Mahima Gujral discusses how she established her company on workmanship and teamwork.
The business owns its workshop and maintains constant communication with its group of suppliers and artists.
"We're able to manage our production by hiring the best employees who share our values."
Additionally, traditional techniques like block printing, herbal dyeing, weaving, and needlework are naturally ecological because they don't use electricity or emit carbon.
These manual procedures are time-consuming, difficult, and unique to artisan craft, making them difficult to imitate.
Despite this, artisan creations are still plagiarised by corporations without giving them full credit, ranging from fast fashion to luxury.
religious and culturally appropriate patterns and symbols without regard for the importance of their historical context.
While saying that their needlework is done by individuals in white coats in ateliers in Paris and boosting their costs correspondingly, certain high-end labels have been accused of using sweatshop labour in India for their embroidery. The takeaway?
In particular, if the brand withholds pertinent information regarding its supply chain, a higher price tag may not always indicate a workforce that is appropriately compensated.
Ethical Supply Chains
Fast fashion and ethically created apparel cost drastically different amounts of money, and for good reason. One of them is to lessen the effect that supply chains have on farmers and industrial workers who make clothing.
Many quick fashion retailers make their clothing in settings akin to sweatshops. Modern-day slavery and child labour are still issues.
Although more expensive, ethically produced goods ensure that fashion industry workers receive a living wage and have safe and fair working conditions.
Unfortunately, businesses that sell incredibly cheap clothing abuse both people and the environment in the process.
Even though fast fashion is extremely affordable, there are significant environmental and societal implications.
Although many sustainable clothing items are exorbitantly priced, as demand increases, sustainable fashion may eventually become more accessible.
Changing our perspective on what's 'expensive.'
Before the invention of ready-to-wear clothing, buying clothes was a seasonal activity.
It was reserved especially for people who could afford custom clothing.
In the decades preceding the industrial revolution, clothing was a true indicator of social position.
The wealthy might be identified by their well-tailored attire. Making one's own garments was also less expensive, but buying clothes that were mass-produced was more practical.
Fashion was therefore the most economical form of social engagement.
Fast fashion and social media have led us to believe that there are 52 "micro-seasons" of shopping every year. When it comes to overconsumption and influencer culture, social media plays a significant role.
First off, it contributes to the stigma associated with wearing previously shared clothing again. Instagrammers go to fast fashion to satisfy their online desires since they constantly want the newest looks.
What's worse, these fast-fashion companies have indoctrinated us into believing that it's acceptable to wear anything just once before discarding it since it wasn't expensive enough to be valuable.