Ethically Kate: I want to buy sustainable fashion, but it’s too expensive – NZ Herald

Ethically Kate: I want to buy sustainable fashion, but it’s too expensive – NZ Herald

Shopping sustainably and ethically requires a change of mindset. Photo / 123rf


Q: I think it’s important to buy ethical and sustainable fashion, but the price points are too high. What are my options?

A: I remember the first time I needed a singlet after learning about sustainable fashion. It’s impossible to make a quick clothing purchase once you acknowledge the exploitation of the people who make our clothes and the damage clothing production has on our environment.

I considered buying a $7 singlet at the mall. Tempting, especially as a student. I compared the cost of an ethically made singlet: $70. At 10 times the price, I struggled to justify spending so much money on one garment, but I bought it and it exists in my well-loved wardrobe today.


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I bought it because I knew if I wasn’t paying a fair price at checkout, someone else was paying for my singlet but in much more serious ways; with their livelihood, health, and safety.

It’s a tragedy that we have been taught to expect to buy clothing for such low prices. You cannot find $7 sustainably made clothing options because the true cost of clothing made by people who are paid fair wages, have lunch breaks, and work in safe environments is far greater than $7.

After considering the expense of design, pattern-making, fabric, transportation, sewing, dyeing, marketing, $7 simply doesn’t add up.

The world’s most vulnerable and impoverished people are involved in exploitative fashion supply chains, meanwhile most individuals only wear around 40 per cent of their wardrobe and continue to buy cheap things they don’t wear.


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I totally acknowledge sustainable fashion is expensive and not affordable for everyone, but we need to reassess our idea of what “expensive” is and change our purchasing habits.

Most people see sustainable fashion as expensive because if they kept up their current purchasing practices, the cost would be astronomical.

But sustainable fashion as a concept includes both how the garments are made (fairly for people and planet) and how many garments are bought (reduction in consumption).

For example, someone told me they would love to afford sustainably made clothing but they didn’t have the money. Throughout our conversation we worked out they spend around $200 a month on lots of little clothing purchases. If they stuck to buying just one item a month or bi-monthly, they could easily afford sustainably made clothing and would save money too.

Affordability of fashion is a complex topic integrated with social, environmental, and political issues. We must remember that those who live week to week and buy cheap clothes out of necessity rather than a hobby are not causing or contributing to the fashion industry’s problems. Buying second-hand, combating the social norm of “new event = new outfit”, repairing, clothes, swapping, renting, and borrowing are all great ways to engage in sustainable fashion with little expense.

Next time you find yourself describing sustainable fashion as “ridiculously expensive”, ask yourself if you need the garment and work out if your perception of expensive is valid or unfairly imposed on you by the marketing powers of fast fashion.