It has become common knowledge that the fashion industry is a major contributor to the world's pollution. This has created a demand for sustainable fashion in the last five years as consumers seek better alternatives for people and planet. However, what it takes to achieve this goal is a higher price. Is sustainable fashion elitist? Let’s take a look at the components that factor into the higher standards that correlate to higher costs.
One of the aspects in making sustainable fashion expensive is the materials used. Extra care and resources go into producing these materials organically and without harmful chemicals. “The [organic] material has a low environmental impact compared to economically feasible alternatives” (Simplicable). These materials are also responsibly sourced meaning the workers are paid a living wage and often involve more manual labor to create. For example, naturally dyed and hand embroidered processes all raise the price.
Economies of scale
Once garment workers have been trained on producing a new product it is easier for them to produce more quickly than a new product they must learn from scratch. Many sustainable fashion brands are new and small, therefore the size of their manufacturing is smaller making the cost higher. When brands can order more quantities in fabric and products, the cost per unit naturally reduces due to these economies of scale.
Another factor contributing to the higher cost of sustainable fashion is worker compensation. Paying workers, a living wage increases the product costs which in turn increases the costs of the retail value. Ethical brands choose to manufacture with factories who pay their workers a legal or (higher) living wage that allows them to support themselves and their families. Location plays an important role in this as wage varies greatly by currency and cost of living. So as can be expected, an ethically made garment in New York City will cost significantly more than an ethically made garment in Bangladesh.
Sustainable packaging can be an easily forgotten factor in a product cost, but if you are seeking more sustainable alternatives than plastic, be prepared to spend more. There are some exciting sustainable packaging alternatives growing in the industry, but they can come at a steep price. “According to Raconteur, 43% of businesses cite cost as being one of the biggest obstacles in adopting sustainable packaging” (Shipstation). However as these resources grow in popularity they are becoming more approachable for smaller brands and hopefully more financially appealing to big brands.
It can be overwhelming as a new brand when you see the significant costs that go into making a sustainable product but remember, sustainability is a journey. Make small decisions to increase your materials, packaging, and supply chain as you can. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is your supply chain. To learn more about setting up and managing your production check out our Production Pro Course or consider applying to the Coaching Club, our private 4 month brand accelerator, where you will learn how to launch and scale your sustainable fashion brand.