wooden ladder with a white shirt on a wooden hanger hanging on it, as well as a straw hat.

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Ever wonder why ethical and sustainable fashion always seems so much more expensive? If you’ve browsed through any sustainable fashion storefronts, you might have balked at the higher prices and closed your browser tab faster than lightning. Pretty sure that same exact thought goes through everyone’s mind when first looking into and shopping for ethical clothing, I know it did mine! So why is something I can normally buy for $5 priced closer to $30? I am so glad you asked! 😉

There are very good reasons why those prices are higher than traditional retailers and why we, as conscious shoppers, should try our best to support ethical and sustainable consumerism.

What is sustainable and ethical fashion and why is it so expensive?

As the internet and social media continue to bring us all closer together, we’re now able to see firsthand the negative impacts our shopping habits can have on the environment and actual people. From the depletion of nonrenewable resources and unfair mistreatment of animals to the exploitation of local artisans and workers in impoverished countries, fast-fashion is now under the microscope.

But what is the alternative and how does it affect your wallet? Ethical and sustainable fashion are the answer.

Sustainable fashion is about producing items in a way that is environmentally friendly and has the least impact on resources. Ethical fashion concerns human rights and ensuring fair trade and safe working conditions for workers. When a fashion brand uses these methods to create their products, the cost is much higher because they are paying fair wages to their workers and taking additional steps to limit their ecological and carbon footprints.

Here are 4 reasons why ethical fashion is more expensive than traditional retailers and why the extra cost is worth it.

1. Cost of Sustainable Materials

The $30 t-shirt seems extremely overpriced, but that’s only because the $5 shirt is extremely underpriced. And the fashion industry cuts massive ethical corners to produce something for so cheap. According to sustainable fashion brand Reformation, up to 2/3 of the sustainability impact of fashion happens at the raw materials stage – before the clothes have actually been made.

Fast-Fashion brands typically want the cheapest materials and in the quickest amount of time, therefore forgoing quality control and research into their fabric and material choices. Sustainable fashion brands take the extra time to choose quality materials and minimize the environmental damage that can happen during production; ensuring efficient and careful use of natural resources.

So for example, the cost to use plants from a local farmer who doesn’t use fertilizers or pesticides (which pollutes the water) is much higher due to the limited supply because they rotate their crop growing (to let the soil replenish). Whereas, with fast-fashion brands, they may use the same plant but choose to purchase from the less expensive farmer who doesn’t use the same sustainable growing methods.

Collage of fair trade items from Thailand: wallet, tassel earrings, and bracelets.

2. Cost of Fair Trade

Human rights abuse is the main reason we can get clothing for so cheap. Think about it. The company has to make a profit off of that five-dollar t-shirt right? Therefore, the cost of supplies and labor to produce that item must be pretty darn low. Cue the sweatshops.

People, yes people, are making these clothes. They work in unfair and unsafe conditions. Their hours far surpass our typical 8-hour American workday. The factories they work in are dangerous and overrun with too many people. But they put up with the conditions because they need to provide for their families, oh wait, they do not make near enough to actually do that. But unfortunately, they have no other options.

Ethical fashion is more expensive because they pay the workers a fair and livable wage so they can actually support and feed their families. They provide safe working conditions and reasonable hours. The humans behind making the clothes are treated like actual humans! That’s why I love supporting ethical brands like Trades of Hope, whose mission is to empower women out of poverty. They do that by partnering with women artisans from around the globe so they can sell their goods for a fair price and support themselves and their families!

3. Cost Per Wear

Since ethical fashion brands often choose materials that are of higher quality because of the sustainable and ethical methods used to create them, they inherently end up lasting longer than their counterparts. Can you imagine only getting paid $1.50/hr to stitch the seams on hundreds of shirts and being forced to work 10+ hours a day? You probably wouldn’t perform your best work, would you?! Sometimes that lack of quality shows through in the wear – you may only get 4-5 wears out of that $5 shirt before the stitching starts to unravel but you’ll get 20, 30, 50+ wears out of that $30 piece.

4. It Costs To Give Back

While it can never be said that fast-fashion brands don’t give back to the community, they typically only do so during certain times of the year – whether through partnerships like with Susan B. Komen during the month of October or other special events. How much you give or how often is not the important part.

All contributions for the better good, no matter how big or small, are a step forward for everyone.

It’s just that ethical fashion companies tend to make giving back a driving force of their brand and the main reason they do what they do.

For example, a company might sell socks so that they can give a pair to homeless children and each purchase you make helps them do that. Their mission is to provide socks for those children, not to sell them just for you, and how they do that is by charging a higher price. I don’t know about you, but I would gladly pay more to know that part of my purchase is going to help others in need!

Why is sustainable fashion worth the higher cost?

Now that you know a little more about why sustainable fashion costs so much, I’m sure most of you would agree that the environment and lives of the underpaid workers are worth far more a fleeting trendy item that will only be worn a few times. By making a conscious effort to change our mindset on shopping, we can all help make the world a better place. Plus the more we continue to invest in sustainable fashion, the more affordable it will eventually become!

In the future, I will be discussing different articles, books, documentaries, etc. that provide more background into the devastating reality of the fashion industry. If you have any that you recommend please leave a comment below to let me know!