Let me start this by saying that yes, there’s privilege around having a sustainable style. It’s not only about money, it’s also about sizes that sustainable brands offer and locations of fashionable second hand shops.
But today I’m here to talk money.
I want to make a small disclaimer before we get started: dressing more sustainably is not expensive, but buying from sustainable brands might be.
There are sustainable alternatives to fast fashion that can be as affordable, if not more than them: second hand is usually very affordable (of course, saving the differences of trendy vs need second hand) and swapping clothes is virtually free.
This means that making more sustainable choices mostly comes down to our own decisions, not to impossed price-related restrictions.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s go down to business.
Why is sustainable fashion so expensive?
Sustainable brands are more expensive than fast fashion brands, of course. But actually, these two business models are not comparable: they don’t have the same vision of the market or the same principles, so we can’t judge them according to the same criteria. Sustainable fashion is value-oriented, fast fashion is profit-oriented.
Sustainable brands don’t follow the same philosophy as most high fashion brands either, because in the case of ethical and eco-friendly brands we’re paying for the values they represent, not for the status they carry, like in the case of high fashion.
It’s very easy to try and put sustainable brands next to non-conscious brands and cry over the price tag, so these are a few of the things you should keep in mind the next time you look at the price of a sustainably produced piece of clothing. Always remember that you’re paying for the true cost of the clothes.
1. Sustainable production is not the standard
We have normalized impossibly cheap clothes. We worship them, we celebrate that we can get two pairs of 15 $ jeans for the price of one, and we barely bat an eye to things like a 1$ bikini.
Sustainable production is not the rule in the current profit-focused fashion market. These brands will get out of the beaten path to try and improve the quality of their products, find innovative materials and always guarantee that worker rights are respected.
This means that consumers need to shift their perspective. We need to get used to brands not cutting corners and to consuming differently, thinking about the whole process of clothing production.
According to Fashion Revolution, a garment is worn on average 4 times. Maybe the secret behind normalizing sustainable fashion is wearing what we already own more than four times?
Of course, if you buy a 100$ coat and you wear it 4 times, it’s going to come to a high cost per wear (25$), no matter if it’s made sustainably or not.
But let’s say that you wear this coat once a week over the fall and winter. Just once a week. This means that you’ll wear it roughly 25 times and that the cost-per-wear will be 4$. And now imagine that the quality of the coat is so high that you can wear it once a week every fall and winter for the next 5 years or the next 10 years and it’ll still look like new.
When we shop from sustainable brands, we’re shopping from a producer that wants us to keep those clothes for as long as we can, not for a market that considers fashion disposable.
3. You’re not only paying for a piece of clothing
My primary school teachers used to repeat over and over again this line by Antonio Machado: “slowly and neatly, doing things well is more important than just doing them.”
When you invest in pieces produced by sustainable brands, the higher price point means that your money is doing something else than just getting you a cute piece of fabric. It’s also covering social and environmental issues and making sure that your values are reflected in your clothes.
While the price on the tag might seem great for a consumer looking for quick satisfaction, someone somewhere is paying the price.
In this sense sustainable fashion is bringing back that mindfulness that the modern industry seems to lack.
4. Sustainable production is not mass-production
And one of the implications of producing less is having to sell at a higher price point.
Economies of scale can sell at impossibly low prices because they mass-produce. For example, Boohoo adds more than 100 new designs to their website daily and this is not a sign of a bright economy, this is an expression of the most aggressive economy of scale that disregards any other value other than profit. Pure entitlement.
This idea is based on constant growth and fast expansion. How can that be sustainable? How can that guarantee decent quality? Think that the more uncontrolled the growth, the harder it becomes to oversee the production and the principles that are applied to it.
5. Sustainable fashion is not elitist
High fashion and designer brands are built around the idea of exclusivity and status, not transparency or ethics.
Sustainable and high fashion brands might have in common higher price points, but they cater to two completely different audiences.
Sustainable brands don’t look after that idea of status and exclusivity, they want to offer an experience of transparency in which the consumer can create a style that aligns with their values. They offer clothes that support a lifestyle and mindset of caring for our environment and for people all over the world.
The materials and techniques used to produce clothing can make or break the sustainability of a garment.
This is a tricky topic that can be easily used as a greenwashing tactic, but sustainable brands will always be trying to outdo themselves, finding new materials, promoting innovation and making the most educated decisions as to which materials to use.
This is why nowadays we have tons of vegan alternatives to leather (cactus, apple, pineapple,…), we’re able to support organic cotton production and we have young designers promoting the use of zero-waste patterns.
In this post about clothes made of recycled plastic, we chatted about how the main problem for new and innovative materials is their high cost. But the way economy works, the more demand there is of sustainable materials, the cheaper they’ll become.
Fashion Revolution has this booklet on how to be a fashion revolutionary and one of the parts i love the most is a double page (pages 18 and 19) that shows the price breakdown of a 29 euro t-shirt. On average, 0.18 euros of the total cost of the t-shirt are spent in labor (meaning, that’s the amount paid to the worker per t-shirt), and for workers to be paid a living wage, that amount should be 0,45 euros, and the total retail price of the same t-shirt would go up 1.57 euros.
What’s the point of fashion if, in order to consume freely, millions of people have to be doomed to live a life that they didn’t choose, with no means to change their situation and no possibilities to create a better life for their children?
Have you watched the movie The True Cost? If not, I 100% recommend it. It’ll help you understand this point perfectly.
There are many ways to find sustainable fashion other than buying high priced sustainable brands.
If you want to learn more about the more affordable alternatives you have to sustainable fashion brands, you can check out this post about the 7 forms of sustainable fashion. And if you want to learn more about sustainable fashion, download your Sustainable Fashion Begginners Guide below.