Sustainable Fashion is Expensive but Maybe That's A Good Thing
A common get out jail free card when it comes to sustainability is ‘it’s too expensive!’- one I often use myself whilst giving all the money I do have to fast fashion retailers. And it’s true, it can be expensive to support sustainable fashion. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Buying a dress from a sustainable fashion brand such as Reformation rather than from a fast fashion brand such as Zara is going to cost two, three or maybe even four or five times the amount. This is because the processes involved in making sustainable clothing, from using recycled fabrics, to reducing the amount of water used in the production process, to paying workers proper wages, costs money.
Thinking about how much Reformation, to continue with this example, pays their factory workers, (approximately £5.70 per hour) in comparison to a fast fashion retailer shows, in itself, why Reformation clothing is far more expensive than its fast fashion equivalents. Reformation factory workers earn approximately £5.70 per hour whilst factory workers in Bangladesh creating clothes for fast fashion brands earn approximately £25 a month for working 14 hour days, which means, if they work 5 days a week, they earn approximately 8p per hour. Reformation factory workers wages are 71x higher than factory workers working for many fast fashion brands in deprived countries. Considering this, paying 3 or 4x the amount for a Reformation piece compared to a high-street piece doesn’t seem all that steep, and that isn’t even taking into account the cost of the environmentally friendly processes that goes into sustainable brands clothing.
The fact is, sustainable clothing is expensive to make. But it’s only expensive compared to high-street clothes that are made at the cheapest price possible so they can be sold for the cheapest price that will make the most profit. But these cheaply made clothes are destroying the planet, both their production and their lifespan after that.
I mean, this isn’t exactly breaking news. We all know fast fashion is a terribly polluting industry but, despite this, we still can’t, myself included, stop buying into the brands who are at the forefront of this pollution. And I think the reason we do this is because we have the get-out-of free card that ‘sustainability is expensive.’ But it’s only expensive in comparison to what we know to be the price of clothing.
For the sustainable fashion movement to truly take off, I believe we must re-define what the price of clothing is. Rather than considering £15, for example, as the average price for a t-shirt, we need to think of that as the average price of a t-shirt, that has not been made sustainably or ethically. The average price of a t-shirt, and every other single piece of clothing, is, in fact, higher than what we believe it to be, when they are made correctly, and rather than considering sustainable clothes as particularly expensive, we need to consider high-street clothing as worryingly cheap. Sustainability should be the standard not a selling point of a brand and changing our perspective is the only way that that’s going to happen.
Something that annoys me about myself is that I unthinkingly will buy 4 pieces of clothing that cost £20 each over the course of a month or a couple of weeks, but I will rarely buy something that costs £80. I’d like to think that I value quality over quantity in my wardrobe but somehow, it always seems that 4 ‘affordable’ pieces, probably not of the best quality, that I like, are a better investment than one more expensive piece, of much better quality, that I love.
This mindset is so damaging because not only am I supporting unsustainable fashion brands rather than the sustainable ones that truly deserve my money, but I am contributing to the supply and demand chain of fast fashion, buying lots of clothes because they’re cheap, thus suggesting to the retailers that they should keep making lots of cheap product.
On top of this, it is often hard to tell how much you truly like something when it’s cheap. I know that I think about whether I actually want something more when I’m spending more money on it, whereas with cheaper items I am often blinded by their price tag, buying them because I like them at the time and they’re a bargain, only to go off them a couple of weeks after because I haven’t truly thought about where they would fit into my wardrobe. This means they eventually end up in landfill, even if they go through the donation process first.
As a student who lives on very limited funds, I think it makes sense that I have always opted for cheaper options in the past because I am always thinking about how I can save money. Clothes make me very happy and are an important part of where I get my confidence from, so of course I want to have as many pieces in my wardrobe that make me feel that way as I possibly can afford. But the truth is, I’d probably like my wardrobe better if it was full of slightly more expensive clothes that I had really thought about and truly love, plus the ones that come with a guilt-free conscience, even if that means I had less clothes. I don’t think I’ll ever be a minimalist and capsule wardrobes scare me but I think there’s a lot to be learnt from both of these ideas, specifically that quality should always be prioritised over quantity.
The Everlane jumpsuit I’m wearing in these photos is an example of a piece I was willing to spend a little more on, because of the brands sustainable and ethical credibilities, but also because I adored the fit and the quality. And I have probably got more wear out of it than any other piece in my wardrobe over the summer, because its price-tag meant I had to be sure I loved it and I think it’s a really timeless piece that will stand the test of time.
Sustainable fashion is expensive but maybe instead of dismissing it for this very reason, we should embrace the new perspective it can allow our wardrobes. We should love every single piece of clothing we own, and paying a little more for something will usually ensure we do, especially if your budget is as small as mine. Looking at the price tag of sustainable fashion this way might stop you, as it has with me, from being so quick to dismiss it, and consider how this type of clothing is not only beneficial for the planet and the people making your clothes but for your wardrobe too.
I’m not advocating a complete boycott of the high-street and I’m very aware that for some people on low incomes, especially those with children, genuinely cannot afford to support sustainable fashion. But if you’re spending £80 or more on your clothing each month, consider whether you really want that money to go towards lots of new high-street items, or a couple of sustainably made, incredible quality pieces, whose cost-per-wear will probably end up being smaller than the more ‘affordable’ high street pieces anyway. But most importantly, I think we should all be trying to change our perspectives on how much clothing truly costs and stop using fast-fashion pieces as a measure of this.