Why is sustainable fashion so expensive?

Many people would like to shop more sustainable, but the price tag stops them to do so. And it is true, sustainable fashion is known for being expensive. The (sometimes dramatic) price difference between fast fashion and sustainable clothing can be confusing. But it’s also important to understand the true cost of the items we buy as there are many aspects that drive up the price.

Our globalized fashion industry is deeply messed up. We worship cheap clothes and proudly tell our friends that cute top from H&M only cost €5. Fast fashion normalized cheap clothes. Because of them we are used to buying a t-shirt for less than €10, buying new items for every occasion and do we think brands need to drop new collections every few weeks. So, when a sustainable brand produces a t-shirt that costs €40 or €50, it’s easy to write them off as overpriced.

But to be fair, you can’t compare these two business models. They have a totally different vision of the market and different principles. Where sustainable fashion is value-oriented, fast fashion is only profit-oriented. You can probably understand that sustainable brands are more expensive than fast fashion brands, that’s logic. But you might not completely understand why. So here are three important things you should keep in mind next time you look at the price of a sustainably produced clothing item. Most important thing: remember that you’re paying for the true cost of the clothes.

#1 Labour

Clothes aren’t made my robots, every piece is handmade on a sewing machine by a real person. How much these people are getting paid is the predominant factor driving costs for sustainable fashion. Many fast fashion brands pay their garment workers far below the living wage, paying them €70 a month for working 60 hours a week. Ethically run sewing facilities pay their employees a fair wage and offer them human rights such as taking a bathroom break, working hours limits and a safe working environment. Choosing to manufacture like this drives up the costs a lot for sustainable fashion brands. When actually, it’s ethical to do so and this should be standard.

When you think about it, the ‘expensive’ price tag on sustainable items ensures the livelihood of the person who made it.

#2 Materials

Another major factor contributing to sustainable fashion costs is the price of raw materials. The materials used to produce clothing can ensure the sustainability of an item. Sustainable fabrics usually come from plants and animals and are more expensive than synthetic alternatives that are made of chemicals. In addition, ethical materials such as organic cotton must be farmed using sustainable practices including proper disposal of wastewater and upright wages for farmers and weavers. All this together makes the price of the sustainable fabrics very expensive.

#3 Sustainable production can’t be mass-production

Producing less means having to sell at a higher price point.

Large fast fashion companies save money through ‘economies of scale’: being able to reduce costs due to its size and sell at impossibly low prices because they mass-produce. But this is not a sign of bright economy, it disregards any other value than profit. The idea is based on continuous growth and rapid expansion. But how can this be sustainable? How do they ensure quality?

Sustainable fashion is definitely growing in popularity, but it’s still a niche industry. Because of smaller customer demand, sustainable brands must produce in small batches, thereby increasing production prices. Sometimes they only produce the items when they have been pre-ordered, to prevent overstock.


These are 3 of the main reasons why sustainable fashion is so expensive. But it’s more than that, they’re also the reasons for being ethical and less harmful to our world.

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