How Much Do Your Clothes Really Cost?
The Fashion Industry. It is responsible for billions of dollars in revenue and employs millions of people around the world. It has grown from small, locally produced brands to large, international corporations. With its rapid growth, clothes have become more accessible than ever and prices have reduced dramatically.
That might sound like a good thing, but have you ever stopped to consider the true cost of your clothing?
Not So Simple Economics
While purchasing clothing at a cheap price seems like a smart move for consumers, there’s much more to this economic equation. The recent appearance of cheap clothing options has completely changed the way we consume fashion. According to fashion documentary The True Cost, clothing consumption has increased by as much as 400% over the last 30 years. But even though we’re buying more clothes, we’re wearing each garment fewer times.
A study conducted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that globally, the number of times a garment is worn has decreased by 36%, with some areas experiencing an even more dramatic decrease in use. In higher-income countries, it’s estimated that some garments are discarded after only seven to ten wears. This is in large part because fast fashion relies on cheap materials and results in less durable clothing.
What does this mean for you as a consumer? Although the initial cost of these garments may seem like a great deal, you’re not likely to get much use out of your clothing before needing to dispose of and replace it. This means you’ll need to purchase more clothes more often.
It’s important to determine your cost per wear instead of just the total garment cost. If you purchase an item for $60.00 but wear it only ten times, you’re essentially paying $6.00 to wear your garment each time.
Now, if you turn to quality fashion brands, your initial garment cost may appear higher. However, in most cases you’ll be purchasing an item made of higher-quality materials which you can expect to last for years. So, if you purchase a garment for $300.00 but can wear it 150 times or more, your cost per wear is much lower at just $2.00 per wear. Sounds like a better deal to us.
The Environmental Cost
The short lifespan of cheap clothing has not only led to more expense for consumers, but also to an increase in the number of textiles ending up in landfills or our oceans. Sure, you can donate your old clothes to charity, but most pre-worn clothing cannot be sold again and is eventually disposed of at waste facilities. And that’s not even taking into account the micro pollution added to the environment from the use of cheap synthetic fabrics like polyester.
Textile production relies heavily on pesticides and chemicals, which pollute our waterways, and it also uses large amounts of water, electricity, and other resources. The growing demand for new clothes has led to an increase in the number of factories and dyehouses around the world, putting even more strain on the environment.
Who’s Really Paying for This?
In addition to the negative economic and environmental impacts, there’s also a human cost associated with fashion. The industry has a long history of exploiting its workers to offer cheaper prices to consumers.
As production costs began to rise in wealthy societies, clothing manufacturers began looking for cheaper labor elsewhere. They found it in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Today, most garments are produced in developing countries where there are fewer regulations around working conditions and pay, such as China and Bangladesh.
Garment workers are paid very low wages, work long hours, and are frequently exposed to hazardous conditions, like poor ventilation, insufficient lighting, and extreme temperatures. In fact, the working conditions in garment factories are often so unsafe that many workers have lost their lives. In Bangladesh alone, more than 1,200 garment workers have been killed in factory-related incidents since 2005. And this isn’t just an issue in developing countries, either. Even countries like the USA have been reported to pay lower than minimum wage and create sweatshop-like conditions for garment workers.
As Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, stated to the New York Times, “Cheap clothes are not cheap. Someone always has to pay for them. And that someone is a worker.”
Our Own Fashion Revolution
At Untouched World, nearly all our garments are produced in New Zealand. And the rest? We only partner with companies that meet our strict social and environmental standards. At every location and at every level of production, our workers receive fair pay and health benefits. Similarly, we require working facilities which are good for both employees and the environment.
Why? Because we believe that fashion shouldn’t come at such high environmental and social costs, and we’re willing to do something about it.
To dive deeper into the true costs of fashion, begin with these studies and articles:
- Andrew Morgan: The True Cost
- The Ellen MacArthur Foundation: A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion's Future
- The Garment Worker Center: Dirty Threads, Dangerous Factories: Health and Safety in Los Angeles’ Fashion Industry
- John Hobson: To die for? The health and safety of fast fashion
- The New York Times: After Factory Disaster, Bangladesh Made Big Safety Strides. Are the Bad Days Coming Back?