Does sustainable fashion really cost more? In this post, we dive into why sustainable and ethical clothing often comes with a bigger price tag and whether it can be affordable.
June 23, 2023
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In the fashion world, sustainability has become quite the buzzword. New ethical and sustainable brands are popping up, while industry leaders are adding eco-friendly lines to their existing collections.
Unfortunately, it has become increasingly difficult to separate the honest ethical brands truly working toward sustainability from those, often much bigger brands, using ‘greenwashing’ as a marketing tactic to increase sales.
But what is sustainable fashion? What are the costs? And can affordable sustainable fashion truly exist? Let’s dive in.
What is sustainable fashion?
Sustainable fashion embodies a more progressive and fair fashion industry. Unlike fast fashion, sustainable, or slow, fashion strives for ecological and social integrity at every point along the production line.
Although each so-called sustainable fashion brand functions exclusively, at the core of these brands is a motivation to be kinder to the environment and to treat workers with the respect and rights that they deserve.
All of this might translate as prioritising natural, organic, or recycled materials, small production runs, and fair working environments for their factory workers.
But this can also have an influence on cost.
Why does sustainable clothing cost more?
Price is what you pay. Value is what you get. – Warren Buffet
As a society, we’ve come to expect the lower cost of fast fashion and the ability to purchase cheap disposable clothing on a whim. Fast fashion brands churn out an astonishing number of garments in a very short period of time.
Sadly, however, with little regard for the damage they are doing to our environment, the abuses suffered by their workers, the waste produced by excess quantity, or the quality of the finished product.
Many fast fashion brands rely on cheap synthetic fabrics made from carbon-based materials, using toxic dyes that pollute the earth’s air and water.
Conversely, a sustainable fashion brand might instead choose to use raw materials like recycled fabrics, organic cotton, hemp, and other tree-based fabrics like TENCEL™ and bamboo.
Natural fibres can be costlier than the cheaper, essentially plastic, synthetic fabrics used in fast fashion houses.
And, the price of production is not only influenced by the type of fabric used, but also where it came from, under what conditions it was made, and how much the garment workers were paid.
This is necessarily reflected in the cost of sustainable products.
What’s happening behind the scenes
A big part of the slow fashion movement centres on transparency.
Sustainable brands strive to use manufacturing methods that won’t damage the environment, pay fair wages, offer good working conditions, and source quality materials with less environmental impact.
To make these claims, brands are required to meet certain criteria that allows you, as a customer, to easily ensure their authenticity and their adherence to ethical requirements.
That’s why a little research into the brands you choose to buy from will help you make the right environmentally and ethically friendly decisions.
High-quality products stand the test of time
High quality comes at a price. And is something most sustainable brands refuse to compromise on.
Rather than disposable ‘come and go’ trends made from cheap materials, sustainable garments are made to last. This is good news for the environment, limiting landfill pollution.
Ask yourself how much money you've spent on fast fashion items, only to discard them after one wear (or none at all). Or found, after a few washes, the garment just doesn’t hold up.
With this in mind, we might ask the question, ‘Is sustainable fashion really more costly?’ Although it may come with a higher price tag, its longevity makes the investment worthwhile.
By purchasing unique well-made items that last longer, you’ll save money in the long run. Plus, you’ll create your own unique, one-of-a-kind wardrobe, full of high quality pieces you love!
The ‘true cost’ of fast fashion
Fast fashion production is contributing to a huge percentage of total global carbon emissions, drying up water sources, polluting rivers and lakes, and filling our landfill sites to the brim.
Further, by just washing our clothes, we are polluting our oceans with microplastics released from the synthetic fibres that fast fashion is mainly composed of.
So, while buying fast fashion might make clothing more affordable at that moment, is it really worth the cost to our environment?
And, there is good news! As sustainable practices become standard, and the demand for high quality, ethical clothing increases, sustainable fashion will become more widely available, and more affordable, too.