Why is fair and responsible fashion more expensive than fast fashion?
To understand the gap between fast and fair fashion we must consider the true cost of a garment, how brands can keep costs at a low level and the role that markups play - because it is no secret that producing fashion in a responsible way throughout the supply chain comes at a higher price point.
The price on the tag includes the materials, labor, transportation, taxes and the retail markup among other costs. When all these are added up, it becomes clear that someone is losing out in this equation.
Before diving into the true cost of our garments, spend a minute dwelling on some facts about what criteria Europeans have when buying clothes and what barriers there are to buying ethical and eco-friendly clothes.
- Cost is one of the largest influencing factors on our buying decisions.
- 68% of the respondents in the European Fashion Report from 2021 say that price is the most important criteria when buying clothes, followed by quality (61%) and fit (56%).
- The fabric is important for 24% of European consumers and
- a product’s environmental impact is only important for 15% of the European consumers.
- The survey also found that 34% think that buying ethical clothes is too expensive,
- 30% said that it is not clear which eco-friendly aspects are fulfilled,
- 28% say that it is hard to discern ethical brands and
26% say it’s not easy to find ethical clothes
(we think it's fair to say that these facts justify SARTHs existence).
THE COST OF GARMENTS
The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), an international network fighting for better working conditions in the fashion supply chains, estimates that the garment worker who sewed your clothes received just 3% of the price you paid for it. Most of these workers are in Bangladesh, China, India and Vietnam - but worker wage theft also happens closer to home, paying garment workers much lower than the national minimum wage (remember the case with Boohoo and the UK factory?).
A person spending €200 on fast fashion a month definitely has the option of making different choices - but those with lower income might be more restrained to buy ethical clothes from brands that actually publish their supply chains because of the price.
What is expensive and what is affordable is relative and fluctuates depending on everyone's financial situation. Maxine Bédat from New Standard Institute suggests in an interview with FASHIONISTA that
“defining those parameters for yourself is one way to shop more consciously and avoid the allure of buying something just because it's cheap.”
In the same interview she says
"I don't agree with the belief that fast fashion is terrible all the time and if you do it, you're evil. That's wrong. It totally ignores people's economic situations. But if someone can navigate what feels substantive to them, ensuring they're being thoughtful about it, that's a really good way of going about it."
What defines if we can make change and if we will succeed in making a shift in the way we consume, is a transparent dialogue between brands and consumers, traceability in the supply chain, responsibility, accountability through legislation and educating ourselves in knowing what the price (socially, environmentally and financially) actually is for our clothes.
You cannot achieve a sustainable, accountable and fair fashion industry without transparency. Increased transparency enables workers’ rights and environmental advocates to identify, report and hold those responsible accountable.
Typically the cost of a garment consists of the following components:
- Company expenses
In order to pay for company expenses, including wages and overhead costs, fashion brands add a markup, which then determines the final retail price. Most brands add a markup of x2, which means they multiply the true cost of their garments by two to determine their wholesale price. At least another markup of x2 is then added by retailers to reach the final retail price.
Splitting these components into the different stages of the supply chain typically looks like this (fast fashion cotton hoody example)
- Cotton farming 1%
- Separating fibers from seeds 1,5%
- Spinning plant 2%
- Fabric factory 15,5%
- Textile factory 5,75%
- Printer 0,65%
- Sourcing agent 2,5%
- Costs (brand) 38,5%
- Profit (brand) 15,75%
- Taxes 16,65%
It is made very clear that the fast fashion brands’ profit is almost the same as all the workers in the supply chain put together.
“Cheap clothes are not cheap. Someone always has to pay for them. And that someone is a worker.” Kalpona Akter a labor activist from Bangladesh.
When considering and comparing prices of sustainable vs fast fashion garments, a good approach is “Cost Per Wear” (CPW).
CPW, describes the price you pay for a garment, divided by the number of times you wear it. Consider, for example, buying a garment for €100, and wearing it five times. The garment costs €20 each time you wear it. Increasing the number of times you wear the garment to 10 consequently lowers the CPW to €10. The CPW concept encourages us to think economically about our purchases and pushes us to buy high-quality, long-lasting clothes that cost more upfront but help us save money in the long run.
So, the next time you compare the price of a sustainable piece of clothing to fast fashion, think about the impact the production of the garment has had on the planet and garment workers, while also keeping the CPW concept in mind. Favouring quality over quantity can help you fill your wardrobe with clothes you actually love, keep textiles out of landfills and support the responsible fashion movement, all while sticking to your budget.
Fast fashion brands (and some influencers) tell us that we need the latest, trendiest clothes, they tell us that excessive shopping hauls are the norm, and sell clothes for less than a sandwich to make it tempting to fill up our carts. This is what creates a disposability culture, and makes the choices difficult for consumers because of fear of missing out.
Essentially, conscious consumerism focuses on making positive decisions when buying, with the intention of helping to balance some of the negative impacts that consumerism has on the planet and the people.
It takes some to be a conscious consumer that is value-driven and thoughtful, and to go beyond the price tag.