Why Does Sustainable Fashion Cost More?
This question is one that my team and I field A LOT in the shop. It’s both a valid question and one that I am always happy to answer. Knowing what goes into pricing the items we purchase creates a transparency that connects us to the goods we buy on a deeper level. I am also convinced that it helps us rethink the way we consume goods and value them all the more.
Some of the reasons I am going to touch on in this post will likely be of no surprise to you, but I hope a few shed light on why sustainable goods typically cost more. More than that, I hope you also begin to ask yourself not only WHY but HOW certain goods cost so little. I can assure you that even when an article of clothing is inexpensive to purchase there is most definitely still a cost involved. It’s our responsibility to consider the human and environmental cost of fast fashion and decide if we are willing to accept that price.
So here we go!
The materials cost more.
Sustainable materials like hemp, Tencel, bamboo, and organic cotton simply cost more at this time as do natural, non-toxic dyes typically used in the sustainable fashion realm. The good news? These materials will maintain their quality far longer than cheap, synthetic materials and lend themselves better to being repaired. You can also rest assured that you are not covering your body in toxin-laden chemicals when you purchase garments dyed with eco-friendly pigments.
It costs more to pay farmers and garment workers living wages.
Clothing costs more to produce than it ever has in human history yet we now spend less on clothing as a percentage of our household income than ever before. How? Close to 97% of the clothing sold in the United States is outsourced and produced in developing countries where garment factories and supply chain production provide much needed job opportunities. While this sounds positive, these vulnerable populations are specifically targeted to gain the cheapest labor possible. Rather than risking the loss of business from large corporations, garment factories are forced to accept contracts under fair market value to gain business and jobs.
Globally, the majority of garment workers don’t earn enough money to live - even working 80 hours a week.
Sustainable and fair trade fashion labels provide transparency that is unseen in fast fashion - including wage information and commitment to paying living wages.
Third party oversight comes at a cost.
There is little to no regulation on the terms brands can utilize in their marketing efforts. Sustainability is trending and big brands have jumped on the opportunity to create “eco” or “natural” lines to entice well-meaning consumers. There is no regulation on what may be deemed “sustainable” leaving companies to use this terminology at will.
Certifications from third-party entities that substantiate sustainability, labor, and safety claims come at a cost to sustainable fashion brands. In addition to the monetary costs involved, third-party certifications also require lengthy and labor intensive vetting processes for the duration the certification is claimed.
Original design requires more skill and time to create.
The replication of original designs and prints plays a role in fast fashion brands’ ability to cheaply make designs. In doing this, they bypass an integral part of the design process. The original designs of sustainable brands take time and expertise to perfect and fit test – all necessary steps in ensuring a garment is well-constructed, lays beautifully, and can stand the test of time. Strategic and thoughtful design is also utilized by sustainable fashion labels to minimize material waste - a process that requires more skill and time.
Economies of scale.
In microeconomics, economies of scale are the cost advantages that businesses are able to gain due to their scale (amount of output) of operation. As businesses scale or get bigger, it is common to see efficiencies occur in production due to things like technological advancements that increase output enabling manufacturers to decrease end consumer prices. Another source of scale economies is the ability of manufacturers to purchase inputs (supplies, fabrics, etc.) at a lower per-unit cost when they are purchased in large quantities. At this time, the sustainable fashion movement is one being spearheaded by small makers and brands who have limited purchasing power for inputs and supplies. The good news? There is the potential for prices to become more approachable as demand for ethically produced, sustainable fashion increases.
Vote with your dollars by supporting brands and shops that align with your values. Without you, it is not possible to sustain our businesses and further our missions. I encourage you to wear your values friends.