Comparing a £2 polyester t-shirt with a similar organic cotton model featuring a £12 price tag? Then you’re probably wondering why sustainable fashion is so expensive.
However, we believe the real question should be the opposite:
how does fast fashion manage to be so cheap?
And the answer, in a nutshell, is that it hides a much higher environmental and ethical cost.
Why sustainable fashion is expensive compared to fast fashion
Don’t worry: it’s not like we were actually going to ignore your initial question!
1. Ethical fashion brands pay their workers fair wages
Unfortunately, this is not a given. In fact, it’s extremely rare!
248 out of the world’s 250 largest fashion brands don’t even disclose how many of their workers are paid a living wage.
A typical fast fashion supply chain can involve unmonitored sweatshop-style factories in developing countries, child labour, unsafe working conditions, long hours, and a lack of human rights. These workers are basically trapped in a cycle of poverty and modern slavery conditions.
Sustainable fashion is more expensive because it pays and treats them right.
2. They use eco-friendly materials and processes
Fossil fuel-derived polyester or pesticide-loaded cotton might be cheap… but it’s the environment that pays the price!
Whenever possible, ethical fashion prioritises the most sustainable fabrics. This can involve organic cotton, bamboo, linen, hemp, modal ones like rayon or Tencel, organic wool, and recycled or upcycled materials.
From the lack of pesticides and toxic dyes to growing these resources in a way that regenerates the soil (rather than degrading it), this is obviously more expensive.
3. They often have sustainable certifications
Actual ethical fashion brands don’t do any greenwashing. They don’t use vague and unquantifiable terms like ‘eco’ or ‘green’ on their labels and websites.
So, to prove that their garments were actually produced sustainably and their workers treated right, they often invest in third-party certifications.
And trust us: they ain’t cheap!
4. They rely on small-scale productions
Fast fashion also cuts costs by mass-producing clothes without worrying about potential waste.
Another reason why sustainable fashion is so expensive is… these brands don’t do that! They reduce waste by investing in small-scale production lines or made-to-order options.
Why sustainable fashion is technically cheaper
While sustainable fashion garments are more expensive than fast fashion pieces, their cost per wear is actually much, much lower. This is because they’re durable and timeless!
Fast fashion items, on the other hand, involve planned obsolescence (yes, they’re literally designed to fall apart) and follow ephemeral trends.
- A £10 fast fashion dress that you only wear twice and chuck by the end of the season will cost you £5 per wear
- A £90 ethical fashion model that you’ll keep (and that’ll actually last you) for years and wear at least 30 times? Only £3 per wear
Let us be clear: we appreciate that not everyone has enough money aside to afford certain sustainable fashion garments!
However, the average consumer spends £526.50 on clothing every year… but only wears 10% of their wardrobe on a day-to-day basis and keeps 60% of it for less than a year.
Shopping sustainably is more expensive and therefore requires a conscious lifestyle shift – if you want to stick with the same budget, you have to buy less items. Noor, one of our co-founders, for Live Frankly.
Now that you know why sustainable fashion is so expensive, isn’t the hidden cost of fast fashion that actually feels higher?
If you’re ready to make this lifestyle shift but aren’t sure where to start, here’s how to ditch fast fashion in ten steps. You can also receive more advice and inspiration to start making more ethical fashion choices. You've got this!
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