Why is Eco Fashion So Expensive?

Photo credit: Getty Images

It's a question I've been asked more times than I care to count--even if I could count that high: Why is most eco fashion so effing expensive? So, prompted by an excellent story on EcoSalon.com on the why and wherefores of costly green duds, I figured it was time to finally put the matter to bed (and a PBDE-free one at that).

1. Time and effort is money
It may seem counterintuitive that sustainable crops such as organic cotton, free from the trappings of GMO, chemical pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers, would actually cost more to grow, but the truth of the matter is that these toxic shortcuts are precisely what enables farmers to keep their costs down. Harvesting organic cotton is also more labor intensive because it's done without the use of chemical defoliation aids.

2. Fair is fair
A point of pride for many American eco labels is that their goods are manufactured locally in the United States, or at least fairly in an overseas facility that doles out what constitutes a living wage for its workers. Most companies, especially those without the supply-chain muscle of big-box stores, would be hard-pressed to price their garb inexpensively without resorting to grossly underpaid minions in a factory in Bangladesh. It's unrealistic to expect something to be cheap, equitable, and well-made--something's gotta give. If you pick up an unbelievable steal, you can bet your bottom dollar that someone down--way down--the line is paying for those savings. And it's not Mister CEO in the fancy pinstripe suit and the corner office.

3. Don't pick on the little guy
It's all about economies of scale. While the organic market continues to grow and thrive, it's still a small slice of the overall consumer-spending pie. Inventory-wise, the volume of goods produced is also infinitesimally smaller compared to what mass-market manufacturers churn out on a daily basis, which makes everything from marketing to shipping less cost-effective. On the plus side, sustainable products tend to be better crafted, which makes for longer life spans than the majority of disposable clothing and accessories you can get on the cheap at artificially depressed prices (see sweatshop labor, industry clout, etc.)

4. Sometimes stuff, eco or conventional, just costs more
For every pair of cheap $3.50 thongs you can buy at Kmart, you have $895 satin sandals by Christian Louboutin, yet you don't see angry mobs with torches and pitchforks amassing outside Hermès or Givenchy. While perceived cachet is sometimes a factor, especially when it comes to luxury goods, often it's also a matter of quality versus quantity. And because most eco fashion falls under the technical definition of "couture," with extreme attention to detail and handcrafted techniques, it's only fair--there's that word again--to expect to pay a price commiserate to the effort involved in the item's making.

EcoSalon went straight to the free-range, pasture-fed horse's mouth and interviewed six ecofab designers. A few excerpts:

Olsen Haus:

The green movement is not only about the impact of activities upon the environment, but also a change in priorities of wants and needs. Materialism and consumerism is the path we have been on and it just isn't sustainable on a physical or emotional level. Less is more and eco -friendly is better for everyone.

Mountains of the Moon:
Eco-fabrics are more expensive, low-impact dyes are more expensive, and manufacturing locally in the USA (rather than overseas) is also more expensive. Because of these factors, in order for a garment to produce any sort of profit for the designer or company, the price point may be higher. In the end, though, you get what you pay for. Eco-clothing is often very well made, and eco-fabrics also have much longer life spans than conventional fabrics, so you aren't purchasing disposable clothing.

Cri de Coeur:
Eco-clothing isn't always that expensive, relative to similar designer brands. Even so, the price tags aren't come up with arbitrarily...every step of the production process adds its own cost to the bottom line. For example, Cri de Coeur shoes are made in a socially responsible factory that pays fair wages. Materials are high quality, so not only do they look and feel good, they'll endure through many years of wear. The shoes are made by hand, since the vegan materials don't lend themselves to automated production processes that were developed for leather footwear.

It's also important to keep in mind that the cost of a product isn't solely what's on the price tag. Everything has a carbon footprint that it impacts upon our planet. While buying the sustainable, organic or fair-trade product may be slightly more expensive in the short-term, it's long-term benefits are more than worth it.

More eco-friendly fashion
Mountains of the Moon
Beautiful Socially and Environmentally Aware Clothes, by 100% Cerrado
Edun Pops Up in San Francisco, Los Angeles
London Fashion Week: Ciel SS09 is Bold with Beautiful Prints
London Fashion Week: Fabulous Ethical Knits
Vote Ecologically, Organic Cotton T-Shirts From Under The Canopy
5 Favorite Eco-Chic Looks for Girls and Guys from NY Fashion Week
Edun Pops Up in San Francisco, Los Angeles
London Fashion Week: Ciel SS09 is Bold with Beautiful Prints
London Fashion Week: Fabulous Ethical Knits
Vote Ecologically, Organic Cotton T-Shirts From Under The Canopy
5 Favorite Eco-Chic Looks for Girls and Guys from NY Fashion Week

Tags: Accessories | Clothing | Cotton | Fair Trade | Green Fashion | United States


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