What If I Can’t Afford Sustainable Fashion?

Why do we perceive sustainable fashion as over priced

Shopping more sustainably is great and everything, but what if you can’t afford anything other than H&M and Inditex? Maybe the real problem isn’t that sustainable fashion is too expensive, but that we’ve been told to value low price and convenience over everything else, regardless of the suffering that causes.  

Why do we perceive sustainable fashion as over-priced? 

Clothing is cheaper now than it has ever been before. People’s wardrobes are crowded with mass-produced, cheap garments. Some brands produce fifty seasons a year with some even launching 10,000 new garments every day. It’s become normal to buy new stuff every week because they’ve made it the norm. Even now, I sometimes cannot bear to wear the same thing two days in a row. And if I did, either family or friends would tease me.  

Fashion the way we know it would be considered inconceivable, even only a few years back. My mother used to get a new dress for the Easter holidays, and most of the time, it was my grandfather who made a dress for her. Currently, what Gen Z shoppers want is a cute, cheap instagrameable and tiktokable outfit. Our world has created a society which tells itself that wearing the same outfit twice isn’t cool. 

Have you ever wondered how it’s possible that clothing is cheaper now than it has ever been before? One of the main reasons why fast fashion is so cheap is because the clothing is mass produced in large factories, which means a greater quantity of garments is produced for minimal costs. But everything has a cost, including fast fashion. And there’s nothing fair and equitable about short-changing and exploiting people.  

Paying A Living Wage to Garment Workers

An investigation by Public Eye traced the source of one item: a €26.67 oversized hoodie from Zara’s Join Life Sustainability line, in which all the workers involved in the process shared a mere €2 for their efforts. These numbers may not perfectly represent every Zara item, but whether or not the estimates are accurate, it’s clear workers are not getting a fair deal. 

In countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, wages are much lower than in other countries and companies take advantage and exploit their workers’ rights in order to make a bigger profit. And every time you pour money into a big brand and you have other options (because remember, not everyone does), you’re turning a blind eye to the system. If you continue to support this system, ultimately you’ll hurt the most vulnerable people within it. 

Multinational corporations travel the world looking for cheap, good labour while demanding lower prices for every deal. All fast fashion brands can afford to pay their employees living wages. So, in order to make a change, to live in the future we want, we have to decrease demand, meaning that we just need to buy less.  

The Fabrics Are More Expensive

There are many reasons to participate in the slow fashion movement and start buying sustainable clothing, but the biggest barrier is its cost. Don’t get me wrong, no matter how you look at it, buying fast fashion isn’t affordable. The planet cannot afford the environmental costs, and neither can most of its inhabitants. Only those who can’t keep their wallet in their pocket should feel offended.  

So, what goes into the pricing of sustainable fashion? The biggest differentiators are its kindness towards the environment and its longevity – these pieces are designed to be timeless and high quality, so that consumers can wear them over and over again. While sustainable and eco-friendly fabrics are growing in popularity, they’re not as in demand as cheaper and mass produced fabrics like polyester and cotton, making these sustainable textiles more expensive for the manufacturers to produce.  

The cost of ethical production – also means paying farmers and garment workers a fair wage – and with all the greenwashing happening in the fashion industry, certifications are adding onto the cost – including fees for the standard itself, certification bodies, auditors and travel costs – and they need to be renewed every year.   

Buy Less, BUT Buy Things that You Want to Keep for Longer 

There is this notion that in order to do more in this conversation, you have to run out and buy the $300 super ethical dress. Why do I think this is ridiculous? Because you’re trying to fight fire with fire. And let’s face it, we’re so used to paying $20 for 5 dresses from brands like Shein that it’s impossible to change our habits overnight.  

How can you justify spending 100 euros on a dress that you are going to wear twice when for that amount you can buy more than 30 in Shein? Why invest in something you won’t wear that much? Why am I going to pay more when I can pay less for the “same thing”?” These are questions I read every day on social media. Our world has created a society that tells us that wearing the same thing twice isn’t cool. And we have to reverse that, because it’s a huge part of the problem.  

The business model of consumption is making you feel bad, and then selling you something to make you feel better.


Don’t sweat it: a lot of people don’t know where to begin with this stuff. It all feels overwhelming. In an ideal world, I would tell you to stop buying fast fashion because you are contributing to the exploitation of people and of the planet’s resources. But how about starting by reducing your fast fashion consumption? What if you only shop occasionally at Zara?

Being the perfect ethical consumer isn’t the point. Thinking about your consumption is!

Who doesn’t want to be the perfect ethical consumer? I’ll face a barrage of criticism for saying this, but there is no such thing as perfection and I don’t think it’s wrong to buy fast fashion occasionally. There, I’ve said it. Buying second hand or ethical and sustainable clothes is not accessible to everyone. Look how limited the range of sizes is in charity shops. And sadly, not all sustainable fashion brands are size inclusive.  

This doesn’t mean that it’s ok to buy fast fashion like crazy. Nothing could be further from the truth. But above all, we are people and it’s not necessary to put additional pressure on ourselves. When the things that you want to do become things you have to do, it causes discomfort and anxiety that can lead you to stop even trying. This is what we want to avoid at all costs. 

What we have to do is to use, as much as we can, the clothes that we already have in our wardrobe, even if that means continuing to use and wear daily clothes from brands that got us into our current situation. We can’t change the decisions we have made in the past, and buying sustainable brands is not going to pay back the workers who made the clothes we have already bought. But we can show respect to these workers by caring, and by wearing the clothes they made, giving them the life they deserve.