A Question Of Cost : Why Sustainable Fashion Is So Expensive

by Priest LondonOct 10, 2019


Image : Stella McCartney

Is sustainable style worth the cost?

The short answer is yes.

The long answer...

It's 2019 : by 2030, the fashion industry is expected to be worth $3.3 trillion and will have manufactured over 100 million tons of clothes and shoes. If we don't act fast, the world is expected to experience a serious climate-related catastrophe in the 2040s. Cue Greta Thunberg, the environmental activist taking climate change on one school strike at a time. With a generational army behind her fuelling what media have labelled the "Greta Thunberg Effect".

it's 2019 : climate change is the hot topic that we seem to finally be taking seriously, making actions and policies towards our changing climate, of which, the fashion industry is the highest contributor. This has led to the rise of finding alternatives to the fast fashion industry - slow sustainable fashion. 

It's 2019 : the term sustainable fashion has been a buzzword as of late, with ethical, vegan or socially conscious brands growing constantly worldwide. We're spoilt for opportunities to shop consciously and make good buying decisions that . However, though it's easy to want to start buying eco-friendly pieces, many are deterred by the high prices, especially in comparison to fast fashion prices like Missguided's £1 bikini. 

But we're here to tell you why these prices should be looked at, not as a cause for concern, but as an indication of doing better.

why ethical fashion is so expensive

Priest London Tip : Invest in pieces that last a lifetime, not a season.

So why is there a premium with ethical fashion?

Why shouldn't you buy a £40 from Topshop instead of handing over £100 to brands like Reformation? 
Conscious brands provide quality using materials and processes that are kind to the environment and last a lifetime, with care. Quality reduces waste. By buying sustainable brands that provide quality, like the ones you can find on Priest London, you buy less and reduce waste.

Amongst others, these are 3 very important factors that drive up the price of sustainable fashion, and why it's worth it anyway :

1) Long Lasting : take into account cost-per-wear

Only recently has the price of fast fashion plummeted to new lows, with the introduction of major fast fashion brands like Primark where you can find a top for around £1.80, get a £5 bikini (or a £1 bikini). The Fashion Revolution correctly pointed out that "when garments are priced as cheaply as single-use items, it implies that our clothing is disposable. And if we buy that message, we are buying into a very ugly side of fashion". So when buying a more premium item from a sustainable brand, it helps to understand the cost-per-wear.

Cost-per-wear describes the price you pay for a product, divided by the amount of times you wear it. For example, if you buy a dress for £200, and wear it 10 times, that dress cost you £20 each time you wore it. Compared to buying a Primark item for £25 only to wear it once, that's a cost of £25 per wear. This pushes us as consumers to really consider if what we're buying has longevity and can be worn on various occasions - sustainable pieces that we have to pay more for upfront should be seen as an investment; something that will save you money in the long term. Some of our brands at Priest London offer lifetime warranties with every purchase because they believe so strongly in the quality. 

"When garments are priced as cheaply as single-use items, it implies that our clothing is disposable. And if we buy that message, we are buying into a very ugly side of fashion."

Quote : Fashion Revolution

Statistic image : The First Mile

2) The cost of labour

Fashion journalist Lucy Siegle points out: ‘Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone somewhere is paying for it.’ That someone is a marginalised garment worker'. Fast fashion brings along with it the outsourcing of labour to developing countries out there...

A garment worker who isn't receiving fair working conditions or a fair wage is often not considered when it comes to buying from fast fashion brands. The prices are painstakingly low that we feel like we have to buy mindlessly, even if it's not something we want and resulting in exploitation of workers mass producing these products,
Brands like Nectar Nectar and O My Bag at Priest London advocate for fair wages and have programmes that not only support their workers, but also ensure they are treated fairly. Nectar Nectar encourages women to work. Their artisan development programs provide supplementary training in employable trade skills as well as life skills. Trade skills are provided in jewellery crafting as well as in industries such as agricultural crops, wooden handicrafts and others that are suitable for their background. By providing life skills and affording them a living wage and fair treatment, we're simply affording these workers rights that we take for granted, such as sick leave. So rightly, the price of ethical clothing increases significantly to a more reasonable price that can then be used to provide basic work rights and a fair wage. 

With these prices, you're helping brands pay fair wages to those who outsource their labour to these developing countries. One of our recent learning at Priest London is that most sustainable brands that outsource, work with artisans that handcraft these designs, giving it the attention and quality that is required to create beautiful timeless pieces. We need to shift our mindset and educate ourselves as consumers on the the true expectations we should have of the price of our clothes and where they come from. Sustainable fashion is still a niche market due to smaller consumer demand, so the more we educate ourselves and shop responsibly, spreading the news of sustainable brands, the more the price decreases for us. 

3) The cost of materials

Fast fashion brands tend to place large bulk orders for excessive amounts of materials that often ends up as wastage - this bulk buying easily pushes the price of the materials down severely. According to Forbes, a 2018 'Pulse Of The Fashion Industry report stated that fashion generates 4% of the world's waste each year, 92 million tons, which is more than toxic e-waste'. However, smaller, sustainable brands are often the answer to this wastage problem. These brands create in smaller batches to avoid waste, meaning the price of these materials is significantly higher than the likes of Primark or brands like Pretty Little Thing.

Returning to my earlier note, the quality of these garments is incredibly important when creating a timeless piece. Ethical brands are increasingly looking to more sustainable and ethical alternatives such as Pinatex, Tencel Modal, Bamboo, Organic Cotton or other regenerative materials - built to last but these come with a premium. In addition ethical brands look to more sustainable processes when creating their products such as vegetable tanned leather, which can also impact the cost to make.  Ethical brands like those at Priest London aim to remove the exploitation of people and the planet through these more costly means. But it's worth it. It's worth it when we realise the impact we're having on the planet. It's worth it when we understand the amount of waste the western world alone produces and it's worth it when we realise we're not exploiting developing countries for our instant gratification.

So what can we do?

Unfortunately the above isn't an exhaustive list of all the reasons behind the premium prices of sustainability. Whilst sustainable fashion tries to be accessible to all, we still have a long way to go. However, with the industry gaining recognition and growing with each day, more affordable pieces are entering shops like Priest London. The challenge is growing this industry from a niche, to the norm. We need to ensure we raise our expectations of what we wear, and where we get it from - we can do this by communicating. We can do this by sharing our favourite brands and supporting the brands that push ethics in anyway you can. This doesn't always have to be in monetary form, but shouting about them on social media, following their work or sharing information. 
As opposed to fast fashion, sustainability encourages people to buy less so that we waste less. We need to educate ourselves more on buying consciously - saving up to invest in that jacket that'll last us for years to come, 
Whilst the prices for sustainable clothing is significantly higher, we need to understand that it's worth it and in the long run, we'll be saving money, ourselves and our planet. 

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