No need to sugarcoat it – sustainable clothing is more expensive than fast fashion, and to go for that $3 t-shirt is entirely understandable, especially when the one right next to it looks pretty similar yet costs significantly more. Most folks know they *should* be shopping from sustainable clothing brands, but few actually execute when it's time to check out. Understanding the actual cost of fast fashion helps us understand where our money is (and is not) going, rounding out the reasons why slow fashion is a better choice for the planet and humanity.
The Slow Fashion Goal
Sustainable or eco-friendly fashion aims to minimize the environmental impact by using organic, recycled materials, reducing waste, and opting for energy-efficient manufacturing processes. But it's not just about the environment. Sustainable fashion also values fair trade, ensuring safe working conditions and living wages for all workers involved in the production process.
Let’s Talk Textiles
Growing cotton typically involves a 5-6 month farming process, plus additional time for cleaning, spinning, and weaving. Conversely, synthetic fibers like polyester (a material used in most fast fashion garments) are derived from petroleum through a series of chemical processes, which can be executed rapidly on an industrial scale. However, polyester production is environmentally harmful, relying on non-renewable resources and releasing damaging substances. In contrast, while cotton farming can have its environmental setbacks, the resultant fiber is biodegradable. Plus, more sustainable brands opt for recycled cotton before new or organic. Therefore, despite the time efficiency of synthetic fiber production, natural fibers' environmental and ethical benefits outweigh its limitations.
(See our post about Organic Cotton Vs. Recycled Cotton to learn more!)
The People Affected
Unfair and unsafe working conditions have been associated with the fast fashion industry, highlighting the need for greater transparency and responsible practices. In contrast, sustainable fashion prioritizes ethical production, ensuring workers' well-being and dignity. Sustainable fashion supports a shift towards transparent supply chains and fair labor practices, creating a more equitable and safer environment for those involved in the manufacturing process.
You Get What You Pay For
The saying "you get what you pay for" rings especially true for sustainable fashion. These garments are designed to last, both in style and durability. The focus shifts from trendy to timeless and disposable to durable. High-quality construction requires skilled labor, top-notch materials, and a careful, slower production process, all of which add to the cost. Fair Trade, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Waste & Resources Action Programme (WARP), Global Recycled Standard, or Bluesign are certifications that guarantee a certain environmental or ethical standard, but acquiring them involves a substantial financial investment, one that factored back into the cost of the clothing.
A “Take Only What You Need” Approach
Fast fashion brands produce large quantities of garments to benefit from economies of scale, significantly reducing production costs, a leading reason why cheap clothes are (frankly) cheap. But, what happens when they don’t sell all those one-shoulder tank tops that were in style for one season and out the next? Unfortunately, an alarming amount of clothing and materials end up in landfills, contributing to environmental pollution, resource depletion, and the perpetuation of a wasteful cycle. In contrast, sustainable brands produce smaller quantities to avoid overproduction, and when they do have leftover textiles, it’s not uncommon for them to repurpose those textiles into something new and fresh.
Instead of chasing fads, sustainable garments prioritize classic styles that can be worn for years without going out of style, like jeans, denim jackets, and other pieces that have remained relevant throughout the decades. By curating a timeless collection of sustainable clothes, you reduce the need to constantly update your wardrobe, ultimately saving you money down the line.
Choosing a sustainable brand is a powerful way for consumers to support a more equitable, environmentally conscious world. Understanding why it costs more allows us to appreciate the true value of what we wear and to realize that, in many ways, the higher price tag reflects the actual cost of clothing, a cost fast fashion brands often hide.