Why is sustainable fashion more expensive than fast fashion?

16 September 2021

Why is sustainable fashion more expensive than fast fashion?

Why is sustainable fashion more expensive than fast fashion?

Whether it’s cheap labor or harsh chemicals, fast fashion has a lot to answer for. Here’s a breakdown of why sustainable fashion is worth paying extra for.


Whilst shopping online, or in a store, it is easy to become focused solely on the look and price of a garment, particularly with the amount of choice available to us as consumers. Although fast fashion may feel great on your wallet, something or someone has suffered a consequence for it to be so cheap. When was the last time you considered how these products came to be available for us to purchase?


It often comes as a surprise to people just how many individuals are involved in the creation of a fashion item - the many miles it has traveled and the processes it has been through. Whether it is a simple white t-shirt, vegan shoes crafted from vegan leather, or an extravagant handbag, every item is unique in its production.  


Justifying paying more for an item that may look the same but is sustainably produced becomes a no-brainer when you understand the journey the product has undertaken. And fear not, because we’ve devised a general overview on this to get you in the know…


Step 1: Design

During the design process, every creative detail of the product’s look is decided. This includes the colors, print, shape, and fit of the item. Some designs are drawn by hand and others are depicted by a computer.


The design process plays a huge part in deciding the sustainability of the item, since it decides the quality and end-of-life. Designing with the planet in mind is usually ignored in the fast-fashion world, with the focus instead on fueling rapidly changing new trends. Items are not built to last or made to be repurposed or recyclable.


In contrast, slow and circular fashion considers the environmental impact of fashion items and aims to make them as sustainable as possible. For instance, this could be creating vegan sandals from organic cotton rather than non-organic cotton, or using natural cork to craft cork shoes instead of using plastic fibers which would take thousands of years to decompose.

Step 2: Fabric processing

The textile is a key component of a fashion item since it forms the vast majority of the garment or accessories. All textiles are made up of fibers that are arranged in different ways to create the desired strength, durability, appearance, and texture. Fibers can come from many origins, with the four main categories being plant fibers, animal fibers, man-made fibers, and synthetic fibers.


Many consumers are totally unaware of which fibers make up most of their wardrobe, and this is hardly surprising when there is a lack of education surrounding the fibers which we wear day in, day out. For instance, the benefits of switching to organic, less chemically induced textiles are not common topics of conversation. Not only are certain fibers better for the planet and lifesaving to animals, but they can also be kinder on your skin and help you to avoid skin allergies and irritations.


Unfortunately, in the fast-fashion world, the fiber behind the fabric for a garment or accessory is not chosen for its ethics, but for its look and cost. This means the planet, animals, and people come last over monetary gain.


Sustainable fashion on the other hand aims to be kind by creating minimal negative impacts and taking nature, animals, and people into account, for instance by using plant-based fibers such as Pinatex to create cool vegan shoes made from pineapple leaves. Of course, by using alternatives, this does mean it has a greater price tag, but I think we can all agree it’s a fairer one.

Step 3: Garment/accessory manufacturing

Once the fabric is of the desired properties, it can be cut, sewed, and finished into the garment or accessory. The process of crafting the item can undergo an array of inspections including quality checks, evaluation of fit, sizing standardization, and quantity and cost checks, to name but a few.

Four of the largest garment exporters in the world include China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and India. The low-cost labor of these countries draws brands seeking out their own monetary gain over the wages of garment workers. For instance, out of the top four exporters, China provides a minimum wage of just $150-338 per month and Bangladesh only provides an even more shocking $65 per month. Money-focused fast fashion brands will actively seek out the lowest cost garment manufacturing, which often results in low wages, and sometimes even slave labor.


It is possible for brands to ensure the workers involved in the manufacturing of their garments are paid fairly, if they are prepared to make the effort to do so. But as a result, a brand will likely have to sell their products at a higher cost.


Part of the reason why local, sustainable production is more expensive is because the production is in smaller quantities than with fast fashion. It is therefore impossible for these sustainable brands to be price competitive. It is essential to remember that the cost of the item reflects its journey to the fashion shelf.



Step 4: Transportation & Advertising

Transportation is a key part of the production, since it allows for products to be delivered to stores and your front door, thanks to the ease of online shopping. With the rise of globalization, garments have been produced from further afield, and particularly due to fast fashion, the demand for import and export of these items has only increased.


Whether it is by road, train, sea, or air, all transportation contributes pollution to the environment. However, most sustainable brands are making the effort to source and produce their clothes, vegan shoes, and vegan accessories as locally as possible. This helps to minimize the carbon footprint of the item. However, it is usually not the cheapest option, which again lends reason as to why sustainable fashion costs more.


Fast fashion advertising promotes a ‘wear once culture’, selling items that will be out of fashion just as quickly as they came in. Fast fashion brands often create low-quality items that just won’t last the test of time, meaning they must be discarded (also not good for the planet). Minimalist fashion and timeless design are not encouraged in the cheap fashion world, unlike in a lot of sustainable fashion advertising, resulting in the constant consumerist need for more.


Although it might be hard, breaking the cycle on your fast fashion shopping and limiting your exposure to their advertising may really help you to shop more sustainably and only buy what you need.

When you really break it down, you begin to realize just how many people are involved in the creation of a garment, shoe, or accessory. You realize just what you are paying for when you choose a sustainable fashion item over a fast fashion item.


Make choosing the local, ethical alternative a no-brainer, and your conscience, the planet, people, and animals will thank you for it.


Looking for some sustainable fashion inspiration? Check out how to ethically style vegan accessories here.


Have a wonderful day.


The NAE Team


Madeleine Bird

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