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Sustainable Fashion: True Cost & Over Consumption

sustainable fashion leather fez morocco

Sustainable Fashion can mean a lot of things. Whether it is moving away from imported goods, mass production, fast fashion, supporting local and high quality products or the benefits of large corporations, there are many factors that come into play. 

Made in China and Importation

After working years with companies manufacturing in China I cannot say I am totally against it, I made a good living doing this. With reputable suppliers, China among other countries are able to produce high quality goods for low prices. But this is a result of low labour costs with highly skilled workers. But we all know at what cost it is to buy everything made in China or buying all imported goods. You may save some money but the long term effect on the global economy and environment is obvious. I began to feel guilty buying anything from Zara or fast fashion companies. But honestly it is hard to compete with the price, quality and the style. Mass production is more efficient in both time and money. Not only that larger corporations provide work for many employees and are able to sustain long term business when done well. This is the truth. Made in China does not mean sweatshops or cheap products but it is necessary to know the social responsibility for the products you buy that are made there or anywhere. Because of fast fashion it had changed the way things were produced in China. Actions for regulations regarding chemicals used and disposed of were made because of the fast fashion industry. Sustainability also means efficiency so not all things made in China or imported is bad, but buying all and everything made overseas is not sustainable either. Black and White thinking will only bring you to suffering. Check where items are made before you buy them, research countries main exports, what their best products are and be willing to pay reasonable prices for things. Just because a T-shirt costs $5 doesn’t mean it should. Which brings me to my next point.

Workers at a leather tannery in Fez, Morocco

True cost of Fashion

Too often I hear people say, I never pay full price for anything, only shop on sale, “I got this T-shirt for $2 new”. As a clothing designer, this makes me cringe. Not only do you not value me or my skills, but also the hundreds of other people involved. My experience and knowledge has taught me, there is a reason something is so inexpensive, whether it is lack of quality or exploitation, something has to give in order for the price to be so low. Overstock, old goods, last season but whatever the reason I am going to bet you will not hold value to it as much as something you spend more on. Money is a way of putting a value on items, services, products and people. What is the world worth to you? What is humanity worth to you? What is the environment worth to you? And I get it. I buy things on sale, and cherish a deal on something I love. You get proud you manage to find a great opportunity. The problem lies when you refuse to pay more. It means the system is broken and somewhere, someone is suffering. Someone said to me once they bought 3 items on sale, and they didn’t even want them. They just bought them because it was a deal. This is consumerism and marketing. Buy more. As I mentioned in my other post. Yes, sustainability is consuming. But over consumption is NOT sustainable. Excess waste, time and money for what, more shit to sit on your countertop? Overindulgence leads to misery. A great documentary that explains in more detail “The True Cost” is a great one to watch for more on this subject. Back to my first thought, what cost goes into fashion.

The cost behind quality fashion brands

  • Product Development / Creative Team – Designer, Assistant Designer, Graphic Designer
  • Product Development / Technical Team – Technical Designer, Pattern maker, Marker maker, Sewer
  • Product Development – Outsourcing – Fabric Supplier, Thread Supplier, Garment Maker
  • Quality Control – Quality Control Technician
  • Production / Team – Production Manager / Coordinator, Import/Exports, Logistics, Shipping, Receiving
  • Accounting & Human Resources – Accounts Payables & Receivables, Payroll, etc
  • Sales & Marketing – Graphic Designer, Marketing Manager, Social Media Manager, Sales Representative, Customer Service
  • Retail & Direct Sales – Retail Store, Store Owner, Manager, Sales Associate
  • Other Staff – Janitor, Security, Reciptionist, Assistants, CEOs, external (customs, suppliers, etc)

Cost breakdown of Fashion Products

  • Physical Product Cost – Fabric, Thread, Label, Trims, etc
  • Labour Costs (see above)
  • Overhead – Electricity, water, machines, computers, software, etc

Looking at the cost breakdown above, you have to acknowledge, that $5 for a new quality T-shirt is actually disgusting. But it exists and with reasoning, but this is why people are overworking, stressed out and over consuming. If the blessing behind covid is anything, it is that we are forced to slow down and take perspective of what’s important. Imagine how many jobs mass production gives, and allows for maximum quality for lower price when the experts each have their role. Also, take the consideration for independent designers or small fashion brands who are forced to play all of these roles. Time is money and people with skills and experience are irreplaceable. We got greedy. We lost value on humanity somewhere along the way. It is up to us to get it back. 

Sustainable Fashion means quality over quantity

The issue behind importation, fast fashion and sustainability in the fashion industry is about quality, long term effects, wise investing instead of compulsive shopping. Buying imported goods is not wrong or bad. Some things are better made, more sustainable when made somewhere else, this has been the human reality. So unless you are going to start killing your own meat and making clothes from the animal skins, you need to buy from someone else. Vintage and second hand is a great way for those on budget. Research before you buy. Putting thought behind your purchases and consumption is the way to sustainability.

Weaving loom for handmade blankets in Fez, Morocco

Tips for more sustainable fashion & Shopping

  • Buy second hand clothes when on a budget
  • Invest in high quality for long term wear pieces – Leather, denim, outerwear, Shoes, etc.
  • Buy from small or independent designers & retailers
  • Buy from large corporations if necessary
  • Pay full price when you can
  • Think before you buy; Is it necessary? Will you keep it long? Is it quality?
  • Research brands and companies you look to buy from
  • Ask questions but with compassion. Not all corporations or companies are ‘evil’.
  • Remember we are all just trying to make a living doing what we enjoy.
  • Support instead of criticize

Research before you buy. Putting thought behind your purchases and consumption is the way to sustainability.

– Sustainable surfer girl