Do Ethically Produced Goods Have To Be More Expensive? (The Note Passer)

Ethically made clothing that pays proper wages for workers can’t compete with the costs of fast-fashion apparel. There are reasons these pieces are so inexpensive. Yes, fast fashion offers consumers affordable on-trend clothing, but it also comes with hidden costs like toxic chemicals, poor garment construction and exploitative worker conditions. There’s a mental disconnect we consumers have between how our clothing is made and the garments we try on and purchase. When we imagine workers exposed to chemicals while making our garments, we somehow think the garments are cleansed by the time they get to us. They aren’t. If they were made with lead, they will still have lead when we wear them.

The pieces in fast fashion are made rapidly and are not designed for quality or longevity. I mean, the plan is that you buy more items next season! So, that means (whether you want to or not) you will need to replace those items when they quickly fall apart. This makes them less economically appealing. Cheap yes, but less so when you factor in how often you will need to purchase new items. In a time of recycling and eco-friendly savviness, this is a disposable approach to fashion that wastes millions of tons of water and CO2, and where tons of textiles end up in landfills. In fact, textiles made up nearly six percent of the total municipal solid waste in 2012. That’s 14.3 million tons of waste!

What determines cost acceptability has a great deal to do with consumer expectations. Many fast-fashion shirts cost $9.95 and that is what we expect they should cost. To put it in perspective, we expect our shirt to cost just over twice that of our favourite decadent coffee beverage. The average American adult worker spent $1,112 on coffee in 2013, while the average consumer spent $1,604 for apparel and services in 2013.

As a responsible consumer, a shirt for $9.95 should be a red flag. In order to create prices that low, a company has to find incredibly low-cost labour. The result is that garment workers that produce the majority of big name fast-fashion apparel are paid a mere fraction of a living wage. The Center for American Progress reported in 2013 that garment workers in China, Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh — the four primary apparel exporters to the U.S. — earned 36 percent, 29 percent, 22 percent and 14 percent of a living wage, respectively. In Bangladesh garment workers’ monthly wages are $68, making it the lowest in the world.

Read more of this interview with Good Cloth founder, Stephanie Hepburn at The Note Passer.

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