I know what some of you may be thinking when it comes to purchasing from a sustainable fashion brand: "It's way too expensive!"
I totally get it, because I used to almost solely purchase from fast fashion brands, and cost was a HUGE driving factor for me too. That was before I faced the harsh truths of the fashion industry and started to understand what the true costs were, when purchasing from a fast fashion brand vs. a sustainable one.
Some shocking stats to consider.
For one, the perception of clothing’s value and price has changed so much over the years. In 1960, the average American household spent over 10% of its income on fashion, with each person buying less than 25 clothing pieces annually - 95% of this being made in the U.S.1 Half a century later, the average household was spending less than 3.5% on fashion, while buying close to 70 clothing pieces annually per person - with only about 2% of this being made in the U.S.1
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2013, the U.S. produced 15.1 million tons of clothing waste with 85% of that ending up in landfills.2 By 2016, the world was consuming over 80 billion clothing pieces each year, with each person throwing away nearly 70 lbs. of clothing.2
As fast fashion - and being able to buy a t-shirt for anywhere between $5-$20 - became the norm over the years, we started treating clothing as disposable goods that only get worn a couple of times before it ends up in a landfill.
But consider this - a t-shirt can take as much as 2,700 liters of water alone to make3, and other clothing made of cheap synthetics such as polyester can take up to 200 years to fully degrade. These fast fashion pieces are also often times made in an unethical factory where the garment makers work under unfavorable working conditions, unfair treatment, and receive unlivable wages.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are several variables involved that paint the overall picture as to why sustainable fashion can be more expensive than fast fashion. I can’t say this is true for all sustainable fashion brands, but often times the prices are higher if 1) the brand works with an ethical production partner that actually pays their workers a fair wage and provides a safe working environment, and 2) the brand uses sustainable fabrics and materials that do often cost more than cheap, synthetic material.
One reason sustainable materials cost more is that there are more regulations (such as limiting or even preventing the use of chemicals, and disposing waste water properly) and sometimes expensive certifications involved to ensure that the material is made in a sustainable manner. Another huge reason sustainable materials cost more is that the demand for it is still low (but steadily growing!), and there isn’t as much competition to drive the cost down or to convince suppliers to make more of it - unlike readily available synthetic fabrics such as polyester and nylon.
Knowledge = empowerment.
If we start to educate ourselves on what the costs really means and are able to shift our mindset to buying fewer, consciously better clothing that lasts, we'll start to see how we can get so much value from investing in a made-to-last item that you'll wear for years. That's all while having a smaller eco footprint and supporting the garment workers who make our clothes.
I know this can be a lot to take in, especially if you're new to the sustainable fashion world. It sure was for me when I first learned about the state of the fashion industry just a few years ago. I had so many conflicting thoughts before having the desire to support, and later help grow, the conscious fashion movement. But knowing how your clothes are made, and why they’re made the way they are, helps us to then decide what we want to do with this newfound knowledge. We know that it can still be hard to look past the cost of purchasing from a sustainable fashion brand, but we can now be more mindful of the true costs before making an impulse purchase or buying that green sequin dress you know you’ll only be wearing once and never again.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Instagram at @unseamthelabel if you're just starting to take steps towards sustainable fashion or are interested in learning more - I'd be happy to share resources and answer any questions you have!
Knowledge = empowerment,
1 Vatz, Stephanie. “Why America Stopped Making Its Own Clothes.” KQED, 20 Apr. 2018, https://www.kqed.org/lowdown/7939/madeinamerica.
2 Confino, Jo. “We Buy A Staggering Amount Of Clothing, And Most Of It Ends Up In Landfills.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 14 Sept. 2016, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/transforming-the-fashion-industry_n_57ceee96e4b0a48094a58d39.
3 “It Takes 2,700 Liters Of Water To Make One T-Shirt.” Curiosity.com, https://curiosity.com/topics/it-takes-2700-liters-of-water-to-make-one-t-shirt-curiosity/.