Conscious Confessions: Is Ethical Fashion Too Expensive or Are Our Definitions Wrong?
Last week, I published the first "segment" of my Conscious Confessions about the different definitions of the word "ethical" and the (often hidden) fact that ethics and ethical shopping aren't a black and white area. Rather, they're a grey, mushy area full of opinions, and perspective, and history.
But that, I believe, is what makes the topic beautiful and worth learning about.
This Conscious Confession series isn't planned or sponsored - rather, it's a reflection of issues and conversations that I see rising in the slow fashion community and want to dissect further in the "safe space" of my own blog. It's a place for discussion, thought, and maybe, disagreement.
Today, I was prompted to dive into the topic of pricing, in it's (again) complicated form, after having several conversations on the topic in a surprisingly short period of time. The first, was with my friend Sara, the founder of IMBY and general business and ethical living guru who I've been lucky enough to call friend over the years. The second, was for an interview with an online publication who, almost immediately after my chat with Sara, asked me my thoughts on the price of most ethically made pieces. The last instance was less of a conversation and more of an extrapolation after seeing a fellow ethical blogger's Instagram story and having an inner "AMEN" moment.
When things come up in succession like that, I usually take it as a "sign" to hurry up and listen.
It's no secret that shopping from ethical or fair trade companies is more expensive. But why is that? It is because they hike their prices up to add "exclusivity" to their brand? Is it because producing ethically is really that much more expensive than producing like most brands do?
I try to represent a wide variety of price ranges on SL&Co, knowing that most of my readers (like myself) don't have an expendable budget and that just because a piece is made ethically doesn't mean it has to cost the same as my rent. However, I've been noticing a lot of chatter around pricing and whether or not it's truly "fair". That's what made me want to dive in and stir the pot (to mix two, totally non-compatible idioms).
One blog post from Elisabeth Suzann (recommended to me by Sara), discusses this issue in detail, breaking down the exact cost/profit margins for their particular brand and explaining why their prices seem to be so much higher than a "similar" piece from J Crew or GAP. She did an incredible job of breaking it all down, but I want to do a similar rundown here, and add in a few "counter" points that are worth considering as well.
Here are my rambled thoughts on the matter:
1. We are conditioned to accept unethical prices
30 years ago, a $10 pair of jeans would be considered "cheap"- and not in the good sense of the word. It wasn't unheard of for someone to spend $60- $100 on a quality piece of clothing that they knew would last. Closets were smaller, pieces were more unique, and fashion wasn't nearly as fast (although it was swiftly moving in that direction). As noted in the blog post linked above, even though many of us haven't experienced that mindset and market, the reality is that fast fashion became "fast" very quickly.
And we, as products of our generation, are conditioned to think it's normal. We're taught to hunt for bargains, and shop the sales racks, and accumulate more (at a lower price), rather than being taught to look for injustice, and shop for pieces that will last, and accumulate less but better.
Luckily, minds can be changed and broken industries can be healed, or at least patched up.
Are ethically made pieces really outrageously priced, or are they just priced the way fairly made clothing should be? We've cheapened our expectations as much as we've literally cheapened our clothing prices.
Fast fashion brands are able to offer such "affordable" prices because they've cheapened the labor and quickened the process (i.e. devalued the human life and the natural process of product creation) on the other end of the supply chain. We are taught not to question it.
2. There is privilege involved in ethical shopping
As a counter argument, I'm fully aware of the "privilege" that's involved in slow shopping. Even having the ability to save up money for a $185 pair of jeans is unheard of for a vast portion of the world. For some, making ends meet is the top priority, and usually that means shopping at garage sales and sale racks and buying the $9 pair of jeans. I'm aware that the fact that I can "get on my high horse" and preach about ethical shopping is a privilege. But for those of us who are able to, choosing to support ethical brands is one way to use your advantage for good, not just for convenience's sake.
3. Your money is your voice
Of course, your actual voice is your voice too, but the places you're willing to spend your money (not just out of necessity, but out of choice,) are your voice too. Each time you purchase from a slow, ethically constructed brand, you're casting your vote for small business, ethical practices, and circular economy, and against fast fashion, exploitation, and broken supply chains.
No, you won't be perfect. And sure, ethics is a multi-layered subject. But when it comes to the "cost of shopping ethically" I think the cost of shopping "fast fashion" is much higher.
What say you? I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter- even if you disagree with my reasoning!
And if you're looking for more resources, here are few that I've found particularly helpful on my quest for an ethical closet: