Why You Should Be Happy to Pay Higher Prices for Sustainable Brands
We will dive into details on why sustainable brands are expensive — and why you shouldn’t mind paying higher prices when shopping for eco-alternative choices.
Are sustainable brands expensive? Or could it be that our retail pricing standards are too low?
(Fast fashion brands, I’m looking at you)!
Indeed, when we can buy a t-shirt at Zara for $5, what’s the point in paying $20 more at another store?
I mean, who in their sane mind would actually want to pay more for the seemingly same piece of cloth when cheaper alternatives are so accessible?
It wouldn’t make any sense.
Yes, we all know that fast fashion items are made of lower quality material and we accept it as it is, without giving it much further thought.
But the seemingly lower price tag associated with fast fashion is in fact costlier than we imagine, going way beyond simply ‘’lower quality fabrics’’.
In fact, the base costs that go into sustainable fashion are inherently more expensive for a multitude of reasons. To name a few, eco-alternative brands go out of their way to sourcing (more expensive) eco-friendly materials, paying workers fairly for their work, avoiding resource wastage, and finding ways to diminish their carbon footprint.
Next, we will dive into details on why sustainable brands are expensive — and why you shouldn’t mind paying higher prices when shopping for eco-alternative choices.
Understanding Your Sustainable Choices
So yes, sustainable shopping will impact your wallet more than if you’d opt for fast fashion alternatives. Plus, it can be so easy — and darn tempting — to go for a quick (ahem… cheaper) purchase rather than paying the seemingly unnecessary extra cash.
I get it… Sustainable clothing brands can be incredibly expensive. And it’s totally understandable that higher pricing can deter you from buying eco-alternative items as often as you’d want. Truth is, deep inside, we all want to be more sustainable, but the problem lies when we cannot afford it.
But a big part of understanding why sustainable fashion isn’t more affordable is questioning our own awareness.
A few years back (before Google made us smarter), we could all blame our ignorance on the lack of available information and happily accept that we opted for the cheaper alternatives simply because we were compliant with the lower-quality materials used.
But information has never been so available to everyone. And because of this ongoing awareness expansion, consumers now are more invested in researching products, materials, and the ingredients used in everything they shop.
From Apps that explain why every ingredient in your face cream can be harmful, to an exorbitant amount of online articles teaching us about eco-awareness (and all the negative impacts that ensue a lack of concern). The available information is now endless. And no longer we can live the lie that cheap is exclusively related to lower quality.
The truth lies way below that.
So… why Are Sustainable Brands So Expensive?
Most businesses need to take steps to ensure they can quickly produce cost-competitive, high-volume items to drive sales. What isn’t reflected in that price tag is the environmental impact or the working conditions of the people in the supply chain—from farmers to sewers and factory workers.
And when an ethical brand produces a shirt that costs sometimes as much as 3x as a fast fashion store, it’s easy to write them off as a label that only cares about affluent, niche customers.
But it’s not greed driving the high cost of sustainable fashion.
It’s actually the opposite.
These brands are committing to paying for much higher costs in order to comply with ethical procedures, be it social or environmental. Because think about it: if a company is exploiting people and the planet to ensure low prices and a quick turnaround, is the clothing truly cheaper?
1. Fabric and Materials Used
In the hopes to minimize their impact on the environment, ethical fashion brands prefer certified organic, natural, or recycled fabrics. Certified organic means that farmers focus on the health of the land and the people in the hope of minimizing their dependence on agricultural chemicals (natural and organic materials cost more due to the extra work employed to make the process as low-impact as possible).
This often means sometimes manually taking on tasks such as weeding, cleaning, and reparation of pest damage. What’s more, in addition to costly processes, certifications are quite expensive to obtain. That’s because there are sustainable standards to comply with, such as fair wages, safety regulations, record-keeping for accountability, and even annual inspections that add to existing business costs.
2. Quality Over Quantity
High-quality items come at a price, and that ain’t news since the Industrial Era. This means that fast fashion’s low prices are reflective of what you’re getting—something trendy that costs a few cents to produce and often falls apart after a few washes.
On the other hand, slow fashion brands, such as The Good Trade and Good On You focus on producing timeless pieces, using higher-quality material, instead of churning out thousands of trend-led, poor-quality styles every week. The point is, if your items last longer, you won’t need to keep repurchasing them as often, which in turn means less damage to the environment.
Funny enough, many people don’t consider labor when they think about sustainable practices. Ironically, we’re all worried about the chicken’s wellbeing but we fail to recognize that there is also high human labor exploitation associated with producing basically everything we consume.
In fact, as stated by Rebecca Van Bergen, Founder and Executive Director of Nest, a nonprofit increasing global workforce inclusivity across the industry. “Labor is the predominant factor driving costs for sustainable and ethical fashion”.
So while fast fashion brands have continually demonstrated a lack of care for the people involved in the production of their products (many non-ethical brands prey on desperate communities to get the best bargain possible), slow fashion, eco-alternative brands align their operations with a more moral value set. This includes promoting a worker’s wellbeing and fair pay.
There is an ongoing concern towards demanding reasonable working hours, allowing weekends off, paying overtime, vacation, sick leaves, health coverages, and of course, providing safe work conditions at all times. As you may imagine, all this comes at a higher cost to the brand, which is shared with the consumer (ahem… you).
4. Niche Market
Although sustainable fashion is growing in popularity, it is still considered a niche industry. And as you know, prices are directly related to demand. The more market demand there is for a product or service, the more competition it creates, driving down prices when manufacturing in higher volumes.
So due to smaller customer demand, sustainable brands must produce in low quantities and in a low competition environment, which in turn drives up the price of production.
This leads us to our last touching point.
5. Economy of Scale
It’s actually more expensive to make less. With large quantities, the point of an assembly line is to maximize efficiency through repetition (also known as Fordism), thus minimizing cost. So if a brand wants to produce fewer pieces per style, they can’t benefit from this efficient assembly line.
Many slow fashion brands take the route of small-batch or made-to-measure production and unless they own their own manufacturing unit (which most don’t) it’s complicated to maintain prices low.
The Power Is in Your Hands
It makes no sense to compare sustainable brand prices to fast fashion. Simply put, the criteria aren’t the same. Fast fashion’s objective will always be to overproduce and make the most profit, regardless of ethics. Sustainable fashion’s objective is to safeguard our environment and people.
Knowing the true cost behind items is a huge stepping stone into reducing the environmental impact we have on our planet.
Sustainability isn’t something you can buy, but rather a mindset shift. And it’s a commitment to sustainability that will harness real change.
When brands are transparent about the time, raw material, and working conditions it takes to produce something, the low price tags can be quite disgusting (for the lack of a better word).
It’s safe to say that being a sustainable brand in itself is not the easiest or cheapest route. That’s why it’s so important to understand and appreciate their production initiatives and ongoing preoccupation with our world and its resources.
If you don’t know where to shop sustainably, Swiss Impact Store is an online marketplace for top international sustainable brands where you find everything from apparel to fashion and other eco-friendly lifestyle items.
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Ana is the voice (erm, hands?) behind Ana Palombini Copywriting, where she provides B2B copy for SaaS, Tech and entrepreneurs. Once graduated from a university where suits were mandatory, she is now a firm believer that work + sweatpants are a better match than ketchup and fries. When she is not furiously typing ‘till her fingers are numb, you’ll find her watching Friends for the millionth time or having late-night sushi from her couch (or both). Say hi on Linkedin or check out her website.
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