The Cost of 'Sustainable Fashion' May 27, 2022
One of the most common questions I've heard and been asked at sustainable fashion panels is, 'How can sustainable fashion actually be affordable?'. To that my answer is: It's a matter of a supply and demand, plus a shift in values. Currently, less than 10% of textiles produced are made of natural fibres (linen, cotton, hemp, silk), and less than 5% are made of certified organic natural fibres. There is a small supply of raw materials to make 'sustainable fashion'. A whopping 52% of all textiles produced each year is polyester, which is a plastic fabric made from petroleum. Furthermore, only 14% of this polyester production comes from recycled inputs. Not to be confusing, but we think recycled polyester and nylons are ok for minimal swimwear like swim briefs and bikinis, but because of the health issues surrounding microplastics in our food chains and the fact that we're still absorbing the petroleum based chemicals through our skin when we're wearing petroleum based fibres, we're not really fans of polyester, recycled or not.
Bodies As Clothing firmly believes that textiles made from natural fibres that are not pushed through a chemically intense process from fibre to finish (Bamboo rayon, I'm looking at you!) are key to sustainability. But a key has multiple parts: A handle + shaft, and the actual cut part of the key that stores the code and information to turn and create a shift.
On the material side (the handle + shaft part of the key), there is clearly a lack of supply of natural fibre based textiles produced yearly in the world to make completely biodegradable, natural clothing. As Adam Smith, the father of economics and his 'invisible hand' have taught us, low supply whilst there is still demand means prices will be expensive.
Now, to get into the actual cut part of the key that stores the code and information to create a shift: This part of the key lies in the more abstract psychological state of consumer behaviour. Since the onset of the industrial era, the average cost of a new set of clothes has gone down drastically, and people want it ready to wear right away. Why so? This is perhaps largely because of the invention of plastic based fibres that are cheap to produce, easy to scale, and quick to make, combined with the lightning speed of electrical communications and transport links. Petroleum based fibres and the large corporations that produce the plastic textiles and the collections of clothing with them are also largely subsidised by governments; which makes them appear even more affordable to their natural fibre, plant dyed, independently owned business counterparts. Because of this economic shift in the production of textiles, and big fast-fashion giants like H&M and Zara, it became normal for people to think that a t-shirt should easily cost less than 15 euros. When we take a step back, shouldn't we be spending more money on our clothes that are meant to protect and keep us company intimately against our bodies for years to come rather than spend a comparable amount on a drunken Friday night meal?
This is where the paradigm shift lies at the tip of the key. A shift in how much we value our clothing needs to change in order for fashion to be truly sustainable. Clothing isn't something disposable or quick to change, clothing is like our second skin, and human beings that respect the gentle balance of life, we must respect our second skin that interacts with the delicate balance of the interconnected systems of life.
Until raw materials for sustainable fashion become more affordable and a paradigm shift occurs in consumer behaviour regarding the value of clothing, sustainable fashion will continue to appear 'expensive' and not affordable.