Why is sustainable fashion so expensive?
“Why is living a sustainable lifestyle so expensive? I love The Good Trade’s articles on sustainable, affordable fashion and living a sustainable life on a budget—but why are these products, this clothing, etc. so expensive in the first place?”
When thinking about living sustainably, it’s important to understand the true cost of the items we buy. Upon first glance at a price tag, it’s easy to be confused or dismayed by the sometimes dramatic price difference between fast fashion and sustainably made clothing.
Unfortunately, while sustainably made items are becoming more popular, they aren’t the standard in manufacturing. In a highly capitalistic society, most businesses zero in on profit margins and take steps to ensure they can quickly produce cost-competitive items to drive sales. What isn’t reflected in that price tag is environmental impact or the people in the supply chain—from farmers to sewers and factory workers.
Cutting corners to cut costs can include utilizing child labor and paying factory workers pennies. In fact, the fashion industry funnels more money towards modern slavery than any other industry outside of tech.
The rapid production of clothing is also one of the primary contributors of global pollution. The fashion industry is responsible for 10 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, which is more than the emissions from all international flights combined! Fast fashion also produces 20 percent of global wastewater, which is mostly caused by toxic textile dyes. This dye leaches into ecosystems, and micro-fibers from unsustainable fabrics (like polyester) pollute our waterways even further.
Cutting corners allows businesses to make a lot of items quickly and sell more at a lower price point. The alternative—having a sustainable supply chain—means producing less and selling at a higher price point. So much harm is behind the price tag of unethically made items. We have to ask ourselves: If a company is exploiting people and the planet to ensure low-prices and a quick turnaround, is the clothing really cheaper? While the dollar amount might be, the lasting environmental and social impacts are not.
I’ll be honest, some sustainable companies are incredibly expensive, and this deters me from buying many things at full price. However, because I work in sustainable fashion, I can promise you that your dollars go towards supporting employee initiatives like onsite childcare, subsidized, organic local lunches, fair and living wages for workers. That money also supports environmental nonprofits. This is why I try to shop sustainable clothing brands when I can, so that if I want to buy new, I know where to go first.
I also try not to compare fast fashion prices to the cost of sustainably made items because the criteria aren’t the same. Knowing the true cost behind items has actually encouraged me to avoid buying new altogether. For the most part, I stick to thrifting. There’s already a lot of clothing and product waste in landfills, and I find it better to reuse and repurpose before buying new. Plus, it saves me a lot of money!
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Leah Thomas is a contributing writer at The Good Trade with a passion for wellness, inclusion and the environment. She works on the communications team at Patagonia and is a sustainable living blogger at Green Girl Leah. You can connect with her on Instagram @GreenGirlLeah