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Why is Sustainable Fashion So Expensive?

Why is Sustainable Fashion So Expensive?
By Jennifer Dobrowolski

In a perfect world, we would all shop from sustainable brands without giving it a second thought.  But oftentimes, the price tag can come as a shock.

In a perfect world, we would all shop from sustainable brands without giving it a second thought. 

But oftentimes, the price tag can come as a shock.

When you a T-shirt for $10 and another similar looking one for $40. The cheaper one feels like the rational choice. At first glance, it can be difficult to comprehend why sustainable fashion is so much more expensive.

So what is it about sustainable fashion that makes it cost more?

1. Labour & supply chain management

The first reason that sustainable fashion costs more is simply because of wages. 

A garment worker in Bangladesh who sews clothing for a fast fashion brand makes on average 28 taka an hour, or around 33 U.S. cents. Even working 60 hours per week, this comes to $85 USD/month, far below the living wage of $115 USD/month for a family with two kids (wage indicator, 2020). 

By contrast, sustainable brands like Veja ensure living wages and fair working conditions. In their Brazil factory, Veja’s workers earn $1335 Real or $235 USD per month. What’s more, 40% of employees live close to the factory, while 60% live in neighboring towns and cities, for whom Veja provides a communal bus. Factory employees are also granted 4 weeks of paid vacation per year, work regulated hours and have weekends off.

Beyond fair conditions and wages, companies who produce sustainably must invest in teams to monitor and evaluate their suppliers, ensuring compliance with health and safety standards. 

Essentially, the price tag that you see on a sustainable garment ensures the livelihood of the person who made it. 

Why is sustainable fashion so expensive?
Image credit: VEJA

2. Materials

Another major contributor to the cost of sustainable fashion is the price of the raw materials. Sustainable fabrics are often derived from plants and animals. Much like the food we eat, these natural resources must be farmed and cost more than synthetic alternatives. Further, ethical materials like organic cotton must be farmed using sustainable practices including proper disposal of wastewater, and fair wages for farmers and weavers. Because they limit pesticide use, they also face lower yields and higher risk. .

Studies indicate an average price per pound received by farmers of  $0.69-$1.40 USD per pound for upland organic cotton compared to an average of 86.4 U.S. cents for conventional cotton (Statista, 2017). 

Why is sustainable fashion so expensive?
Image credit: Pangaia

3. Sustainable production does not mean mass production

Many large fashion companies can save money through a concept called ‘economies of scale’. This is when a company is able to reduce costs due to its size. These savings can come in the form of bulk discounts from suppliers, larger advertising buys and a lower cost of capital.  Additional savings can come from purchasing expensive machinery that is able to efficiently produce products at a low cost per unit.  Essentially, larger companies are able to produce more by spreading the cost of production over a larger amount of goods.

However, for sustainable production, garments are often created in small batches. Sometimes they are even made to order, in order to prevent overstock. This means that they can not reap the benefits of economies of scale, and these additional costs are baked into the cost of the item. 

Why is sustainable fashion so expensive?
Image credit: Everlane

The Bottom Line:

Unfortunately, sustainable fashion is not the norm. Oftentimes, the cost of clothing is subsidized by environmental and human costs. Essentially, when companies cut corners on human rights and eco-friendly practices, the environment bears the consequences, which as we know, affects us all.

“We have to ask ourselves: If a company is exploiting people and the planet to ensure low-prices and a quick turnaround, is the clothing really cheaper? While the dollar amount might be, the lasting environmental and social impacts are not.”


– Leah Thomas, The Good Trade

So how can you dress sustainably on a budget?

While it is a privilege to be able to spend money on sustainable clothing, you can invest money and protect the planet in the following ways:

1.Buy higher quality, lower quantity

Technologies like Klarna, Afterpay are making sustainable fashion more affordable. You can buy an expensive item and pay it off in interest-free increments over time.

Instead of buying 4 fall coats in different colours, why not save up to get one high-quality coat that will last you for years? 

Not sure where to start?

Check out some quality basics from brands like Kuyichi  and  Ocealah for some beautiful pieces that will stand the test of time.

2.Buy second hand

By far the cheapest way to shop sustainably is to thrift. So why not make a fun day out of it and head to your local thrift shop? If not, Renoon has you covered with our wide section of second-hand items.   

What to read next

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