Time and time again you hear it: “Eco-fashion is way too expensive!”
But is it?
Myths abound when it comes to sustainably designed clothing and accessories. Here’s what six designers had to say about it.
As consumers become more aware of the impact of certain industries on the environment, they want to make better choices, and I can honor that people think eco products are more expensive, but they need to consider a few things:
1) The cost of organic, eco, raw materials is more expensive, so designers are spending more money to make a product that is better for the environment, humans and animals. These materials are more expensive because these companies/industries are not subsidized by our government.
2) As consumers become more aware of the power they have to change old, harmful industries, and the demand for eco products goes up, there will be more companies making better products. With more demand, there is more supply; the cost of raw goods will go down and this will be reflected in the final cost to consumers with a lower price tag.
3) Eco goods are generally better quality and are not mass-produced in countries with inhumane labour practices.
4) Lastly, the green movement is not only about the impact of activities upon the environment, but also a change in priorities of wants and needs. Materialism and consumerism is the path we have been on and it just isn’t sustainable on a physical or emotional level. Less is more and eco -friendly is better for everyone.
More than anything, I do my best to explain (without being preachy) why eco-clothing appears to be more expensive than conventional clothing. The process of creating truly green fashion involves expenses you don’t find when producing conventional garments.
Eco-fabrics are more expensive, low-impact dyes are more expensive, and manufacturing locally in the USA (rather than overseas) is also more expensive. Because of these factors, in order for a garment to produce any sort of profit for the designer or company, the price point may be higher. In the end, though, you get what you pay for.
Eco-clothing is often very well made, and eco-fabrics also have much longer life spans than conventional fabrics, so you aren’t purchasing disposable clothing. One of my biggest goals in design is to create pieces that are stylish, but also timeless – wardrobe staples that you’ll have in your closet for many years. In the long run, spending a little more for a few beautiful, key pieces that will last truly does save you money over continuously buying cheap pieces.
We also work very hard on our price points in an effort to keep our them reasonable. It’s more important to us to make our clothing accessible and available to as many people as possible than to make a huge profit. We want people to appreciate fashion, but also to realize the necessity of preserving our earth.
Oami Powers, designer of Judah Ross
We all love to look beautiful, and for most of us, we are trying to figure out how to do that on a budget. When times are tight, the lure of that cute, fashion-forward top going for $20 at H&M or Target can be overwhelming.
It’s important to try to look at the big picture, though. If you think about it, the amount of labor and energy that goes into each conventional garment we buy is kind of staggering. The crop is planted, nurtured, harvested. Then the raw material goes to a factory where it is processed and spun in yarn. The yarn is usually then taken to another factory where it’s woven into fabric, sent to a dye mill where it is dyed and possibly finished.
It’s sold to a manufacturer who must design, draft and grade patterns, create samples to test for fit & performance, cut and sew the garments, market, finish pack and ship. At each stage there are ordinary people who need to be paid for their labor, and the cost of raw materials.
The eco/sustainable movement is growing, but it is still very new and is a small part of the industry worldwide. Often, the raw material themselves are more expensive. It is a significant investment of time and money for a cotton grower to transition from a conventional to an organic crop. Raising sheep on organic pasture is more expensive than feeding them the non-organic option.
Processing the raw materials in a responsible manner often means that the mills and dye houses will need to alter existing machinery or buy new machinery, and add new waste treatment facilities. In order for worker conditions to improve all along the supply chain, factory’s cost of doing business will increase.
Because the demand for eco clothing is still a small proportion of the industry as a whole, they are often being made by smaller producers or they are a small part of a larger company’s production. Though it may cost us more to buy a hemp/silk dress than one made of conventional cotton, I think we can take some pride that a little portion of each of those dollars is paying a factory worker a better wage, or helping a factory treat the waste from their factory.
If eco-clothing is expensive, just think of all the wasteland and oceanic deadzones that were created so we can have cheap and plentiful clothing. That is something no money can bring back.
Cost is a subjective thing. We don’t think twice about spending $200 on a pair of Nike sneakers, where the actual cost was $4.50, advertising cost $30 and profit margin 300%+. Yet a pair of shoes that costs the same, well made with honestly sustainable materials by an unknown designer, may be considered costly. Do we ever wonder why?
Perhaps if we each are more conscientious about our purchasing choices, even if it’s just one garment at a time, we can bring up demand, reduce cost and have the best of both worlds.
Eco clothing absolutely costs more to manufacture than conventional clothing. The raw materials cost more. There’s only a limited supply of organic cotton. Extra processing to avoid nasty chemicals, waste and runoff all goes into the price of sustainable fabrics. Low-impact dyeing and printing costs more. Labor expenses are often higher for eco-clothing manufacturers, whether that means working with domestic contractors or with factories abroad who pay workers fair wages.
The profit margins are pretty slim in manufacturing and production volumes have to be high to negotiate pricing. It isn’t cost efficient yet to produce eco-clothing, but if more consumers choose to buy green we may see a wider range of price points in the near future. Buy eco now if you can, and it will benefit us all in the long run.
Eco-clothing isn’t always that expensive, relative to similar designer brands.
Even so, the price tags aren’t come up with arbitrarily…every step of the production process adds its own cost to the bottom line. For example, Cri de Coeur shoes are made in a socially responsible factory that pays fair wages. Materials are high quality, so not only do they look and feel good, they’ll endure through many years of wear. The shoes are made by hand, since the vegan materials don’t lend themselves to automated production processes that were developed for leather footwear.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the cost of a product isn’t solely what’s on the price tag. Everything has a carbon footprint that it impacts upon our planet. While buying the sustainable, organic or fair-trade product may be slightly more expensive in the short-term, it’s long term benefits are more than worth it.
Main image: Borman818