When doing some keyword research for my site, I found out that the key words ‘affordable sustainable clothing’ and ‘cheap sustainable clothing’ received on average between 1.000-10.000 monthly searches according to Google (in the US and the UK).
One of the main issues that sustainable brands face is that consumers think their clothes are too expensive. According to the Global Fashion Agenda, 26 percent of business owners surveyed believe that “low consumer willingness to pay a premium for sustainable products” was the greatest barrier to them becoming more sustainable.
True to cost
For those brands that make clothes in a way that protects ‘planet, people and animals’, one of the major challenges is the impression that people pay too much by comparison with fast-fashion items. This feeling is not incorrect: sustainable fashion is more expensive than mainstream fast fashion brands if you’re only going by what you see on the price tag.
There is a reason for this. Fast-fashion does not make you as the consumer pay the real price for your clothes: they make the person that makes your clothes pay by not providing them with a living wage. They make the environment pay by using cheap materials that harm the environment. And in the end, they do you make you pay: cheap, badly made clothes that do not last a long time will cost you more in the long run.
It is a positive thing that brands such as Zara, H&M, Primark and Net a Porter have taken steps into ethical and sustainable fashion. It brings the ethical questions related to fashion firmly into the mainstream, and allows progress on at least some issues (for example, the use of more sustainable fabrics) However, having a couple of organic cotton items somewhere in your numerous seasonal collections does not make you a sustainable brand!
Sustainable should not be the most expensive option
What if you want to buy sustainable clothes but you can’t afford it? We are lucky enough to live in an age where secondhand shops and apps like Vinted give sustainable clothing options to those on a tighter budget. But as consumers we should not really need to pay top-prices for sustainable clothes and carry the sole responsibility for a cleaner environment together with slow-fashion brands.
Regulate and legislate
Governments could and should be playing a much larger role in this. The fashion industry needs to be regulated like any other polluting industry.
This is addressed in detail in an article by the Fast Company. France has already taken considerable steps in the right direction under the lead of Brune Poirson, secretary of state in the ministry of “ecological and inclusive transition”. Poirson spearheaded legislation to prevent fashion companies from burning unsold merchandise and drafted a zero-waste law that makes washing machine filters mandatory to stop microplastics from leaching out of clothes and into the water stream.
It is time to start voting with our feet and let policy makers and politicians know that steps should be taken in order to deal with this issue. If you want to get involved, following Fashion Revolution is a great place to start: https://www.fashionrevolution.org/