Slow fashion brands are notorious for costing more. But why? In this post, I look at the definition of “slow fashion” and why it often leads to more expensive products.
It’s not hard to understand why people love fast fashion: It’s trendy, it’s accessible and, perhaps most importantly, it’s inexpensive.
Need a whole new wardrobe? Just walk into Primark with £200 and you can come out with three jumpers, five t-shirts, a pair of jeans, some jewellery and shoes. And maybe even a set of Harry Potter PJs to boot. Decide that you don’t like a few of the pieces? Well, they only cost you a fiver; it’s no big deal!
Unfortunately, that mentality is something that all of us – myself included! – are very used to in 2019. The value of an item of clothing has changed in our society, so much so that the idea of spending over £5 on a vest top might just make you wince.
A few days ago, I asked on my Instagram stories what the biggest thing that was stopping people from buying slow fashion was. Unsurprisingly, the answer that came out on top was the cost!
It’s well known that ethical clothing manufacturers often have much higher price tags than fast fashion retailers. And, thanks to that mentality surrounding the low value and disposability of clothing, such prices can seem absolutely ludicrous.
Before we dive into the “whys” and “whats” of ethical fashion costing more though, it’s important to understand the definition of “slow fashion”. Because it’s this definition itself that plays a huge part in explaining exactly why ethical clothes are often synonymous with a heftier price tag.
At its most basic level, slow fashion is the opposite of fast fashion. That is to say, that it is the antithesis of “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.” Hence the term “slow”!
Related post: The fundamentals of fast fashion and why it’s fucked up
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Slow fashion, therefore, combines three key principles: Ethical manufacture, eco-friendly production and reduced consumption. Without ticking all of those boxes, the clothing might still be miles better than fast fashion, but it probably isn’t classed as “slow fashion”, either.
The killer combination of these three principles feeds right back into why slow fashion brands cost more money.
Slow fashion brands and economies of scale
Economies of scale refer to, “the cost advantage experienced by a firm when it increases its level of output. “ So, to put it in I-don’t-own-a-business terms: Producing a larger quantity of something costs less per item, than producing a smaller quantity.
This is true for many areas of the fashion industry: Shipping in bulk costs less per item than shipping a smaller amount. Buying huge amounts of fabric often comes with a discount. Even investing in things like packaging materials will have a higher price if doing so on a small scale.
So, whilst fast fashion garments innately cost less money to produce, transport and sell due to the sheer volume at which these fast fashion giants are working, slow fashion is focused on reducing consumption and waste. This means that buying large quantities of something, with the risk of them going to landfill, is a no-no.
On top of this, slow fashion is still a growing market that considerably fewer people buy into every year. Fewer customers mean less money to put towards bulk orders.
Fair wages within slow fashion brands
The low cost of fast fashion items has to be made up somewhere. Low wages mean a lower production cost, which means a lower sale price is necessary in order for the company to make a profit.
For this reason, fast fashion giants often severely underpay their workers, outsourcing production to countries such as China and Bangladesh where minimum wage requirements are far below those in the UK. The majority of garment factory employees in Bangladesh, for example, are paid around £25 (3,000 taka) per month.
By contrast, slow fashion is founded on the principle of ethical production. That means that all people involved in the production – from garment factory workers to cotton farmers – are paid a fair amount. This is often the national living wage for their country or more.
Naturally, these higher costs mean that slow fashion pieces of clothing also have a higher price tag.
Higher quality slow fashion items
A big part of creating a sustainable fashion world is simply reducing consumption. On an individual basis, this means buying less and looking after what you own. But on a corporate scale, this means creating clothes that last. It means creating items that are high-quality so that consumers are not having to repurchase and replace their wardrobes as frequently.
High-quality materials and production processes often cost more money.
Related post:The fundamentals of fast fashion and how to avoid it
The eco-friendly practices of slow fashion brands
As slow fashion brands also focus on reducing their environmental impact, this can mean that they have to invest in more costly eco-alternatives to things that are commonly used in the garment industry.
Whilst it’s hard to give exact figures or to speak for all slow fashion brands, planet-friendly fabric dyes, the installation of renewable energy sources, eco courier services and organic materials are certainly costly. Again, this only adds to the necessary price of a garment in order for a brand to cover its outgoings.
Is shopping sustainably actually more expensive?
“Beth, you just spent a whole post telling us why fast fashion is more expensive, and now you’re telling us it might not be?”
What can I say? I love me a good curveball.
Let’s be clear: per item, sustainable clothing is almost always more expensive, due to any or all of the reasons I’ve mentioned. A higher quality t-shirt made by workers who are paid fairly, that is produced and transported in smaller quantities and that has eco-practices at its heart will inevitably cost more than one from Primark.
However, it’s arguable whether dedicating yourself to shopping sustainably will actually cost you more money.
Understanding that slow fashion is so focused on created high-quality items that don’t end up in landfill after two months, conscious consumers will end up buying less every year. And I’m sure that this lower rate of consumption will soon make up for the higher price tag.
After all, if I buy one t-shirt for £25 that lasts me 5 years, instead of one for £3 that lasts 6 months, I’ve already saved money.
Investment is a privilege though. Being able to splash out that initial £25 is simply not financially viable for a lot of us, and I totally get that. Spending smaller amounts of money more often is a much more accessible option.
Related post: How to shop ethically on a budget
So, are slow fashion brands worth the price tag?
Let’s say it in unison: Yes!
Whilst fast fashion is founded on the mistreatment of people and the planet in order to keep costs low, slow fashion takes a more conscious approach to garment production. It refuses to cause harm for the sake of profit, whilst also creating clothes that will serve you well for (hopefully!) many years.
If you are able to invest in slow fashion brands, even some of the time, you are using your money as a vote for workers rights, for the earth and for a more circular economy.
Now that’s worth every penny.
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