Clothing should never be cheap.
Now, hear us out.
Historically, fashion has never been cheap or fast. It was made at home or locally produced, and something that you budgeted for and invested in bi-annually or, at most, seasonally.
Now fashion is both fast and cheap and made in the Global South without oversight or concern because it’s out of sight and out of mind for those of us in the Global North.
And cheap clothing is the fuel that drives fast fashion.
The rise of fast fashion over the past thirty years has dramatically changed how we think about clothing. We tend to shop on impulse – with no investment or connection – and throw a piece away or donate it after only an average of seven wears.
A lovely dress with a bright, trendy print, ethically manufactured with responsible fabrics by garment professionals that were valued & respected for their work, will cost at least $100 (this is an average, not a fixed, price point).
And, honestly, it should cost more. Most of us don’t realize how environmentally and labor-intensive it is to produce a single garment.
And that’s on purpose. The less we know, the better, for ultra-fast fashion retailers that have led us to believe that clothing should be cheap & disposable.
So, sustainable, ethical, and/or conscious fashion brands entered the chat. Their entire business model is rooted in people & planet vs. profits. Great, right?
Well, yes, except their price tags reflect the actual cost of production & respecting entire supply chains, so this brought quite a bit of sticker shock to those of us accustomed to fast fashion pricing.
With this disparity in pricing & quality between fast & slow fashion, there are valid arguments concerning classism within the sustainable fashion industry.
And that makes total sense – we don’t want to marginalize those without the economic privilege to drop $100+ on a single piece of clothing. Especially seeing as underserved & low-income communities impact the environment the least yet will be most affected by climate change.
However, there is a big difference between fighting classism within sustainable fashion by narrowly focusing on making it affordable (i.e., cheap) vs. making it accessible and approachable.
Being expensive is a good thing. Again, now hear us out.
When something is more expensive, you, naturally, must pause & consider if you’re prepared to invest in that item financially & emotionally – and that is the mindset shift we need to reduce our consumption habits.
Most of us cannot ever consider dropping $100, let alone on a whim. Still, it is here in this moment where our brain is processing the price that we ask ourselves the questions that we should ALWAYS ask when shopping, even if the item is $15:
- Do I already own something similar?
- Am I only buying because it is on sale / cheap? Or do I genuinely love it?
- Who made it?
- Will I be able to wear it for years? Pass on to family? Re-sell it?
- Am I willing to invest in repairs for it?
- How do I care for it?
- Will my dollars benefit a small business or support the local community?
Suppose you decide that you are willing to invest your time and money into that item. In that case, you usually take better care of it, and, in turn, it lasts long enough to enjoy for many years or even generations.
Also, when something costs more, it is often a higher quality or made with more expensive natural materials, which extends its life cycle & allows it to be more easily reused, repurposed, or recycled.
On the other hand, cheap clothing requires nearly zero investment and is most likely made with zero integrity.
As it has zero sentimental value to us, we have zero problems never wearing it or simply throwing it away if a single thread pulls or a button falls off. Then off that item goes to a landfill (where it usually ends up, even if you donate it).
So its production severely cost the planet, and so did its disposal - all for an item we had zero interest in and maybe never wore.
So, again, the goal shouldn’t be to make ethical, sustainable, slow clothing cheap because clothing shouldn’t be cheap – it takes too many resources and too much skill – but we need to make it more accessible.
And for that, we must get creative as, ultimately, creativity is at the heart of sustainability.
As a responsible retailer, getting creative vs. cheap means offering rental programs, payment plans, layaway, mending & tailoring services, cash and store credit for consignment, hosting clothing swaps, and more. See our Full Circle Program.
As a consumer, getting creative vs. buying cheap means shopping our closets, shopping secondhand, utilizing payment plans, finding rental & recycling programs, attending clothing swaps, borrowing, taking advantage of consignment programs, upcycling events, and more.
We know life is full and busy and messy and expensive. We cannot *altogether* avoid mega-retailers due to price, accessibility, or specific need, which is *100%* okay.
We do NOT believe the onus is on the individual consumer – the responsibility lies firmly and solely at the feet of exploitative corporations.
However, as trite and cliche as it sounds, the simple act of consciously slowing down & being more mindful of our consumption when we can makes a difference. Consumer purchasing power, or a lack thereof, is stronger than ever and *is* changing how businesses operate.
You're doing great.
We want to be clear that this piece is only for those with the privilege to choose where, how, and when they shop.