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The Tale of Two T-Shirts

We're often asked in store why sustainable clothes seem to be much more expensive than fast fashion. Why is this? 

The term 'fast fashion' was coined by the media in the mid 2000's to define popular high street stores like Topshop and H&M. It refers to brands that launch more than 8 collections a year, in contrast to the traditional fashion industry that focusses on 2 main collections a year, Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer.  

The amount of product necessary for 8 collections is not only wasteful, encouraging consumers to buy clothing they don't need, but it also comes with a huge environmental and social cost. Due to the constant demand for clothing production in the fast fashion industry, forced child labour and slavery is disturbingly commonplace. Farmers are encouraged to facilitate the growth of their crops with harsh chemicals that can cause permanent damage to the soil, and untreated dyes are used in the production process, which poison the water. 

If these are not sufficient reason to never buy fast fashion again, here is the cost breakdown of a £12 fast fashion t-shirt in contrast to a £35 ethical t-shirt.

 Fast-Fashion T-Shirt - £12

 Ethically Made T-Shirt - £35

Materials and Yarn £0.75

  • Non-organic fabrics sourced from wholesalers who take cuts from farmers
  • Farmers given loans by wholesalers to buy chemical pesticides & fertilisers for larger yields
  • Chemicals can have negative impacts on the soil and the farmer's health

Materials and Yarn £3.00

  • Fabric sourced from certified sources, eg cotton from verified cotton farmers who are paid a fair price
  • Some of the money can be invested in new stronger varieties of cotton seed, as well as training. 
  • Raw cotton is then taken to ginners, who turn it in to fabric 

Labour and Design £1.60

  • Factory workers earn a fraction of this to cut, stitch and sew. Wages are docked for any mistakes in production, and employees must work fast to meet the demands of brand's short lead times.  
  • Designers generally work in developed countries, and earn the bulk of this. 

    Labour and Design £7.00

    • Factories are hand-picked and regularly audited to ensure health & safety is maintained and workers are treated well
    • Workers are paid a fair wage, with the right to unionise, childcare and holiday pay, and opportunities for training and promotions.
    • No child labour 
    • Designers earn a living wage

    Tax and Duty £0.20

    • Import and export taxes can vary drastically depending how many miles the raw materials and finished products are transported 

    Tax and Duty £7.00

    • All taxes and duties are paid correctly to each country the product travels through, from country of origin to shop floor

    Warehouses and Shipping £0.89

    • Export from country of origin is one of the biggest carbon outputs of a product, especially if a t-shirt is sent by air freight because of short lead times. 
    • Most products are shipped from their country of origin to a centralised warehouse in Europe, then distributed to individual retail stores.

    Warehouses and Shipping £1.50

    • Shipping instead of air freight to reduce carbon footprint. Retailers order significantly in advance to ensure items can be produced without exploitation
    • Small warehouses either near or at the brand's headquarters overseen by small teams of staff


    Marketing £0.94

    • Some fast fashion brands (eg Primark) claim they can justify their low price point because they don't advertise, but the price of their garments does not equate to the money they save on advertising

    Marketing £0.50

    • Ethical brands spend little on marketing as they want to keep the price of their garments down. They will often use social media to advertise, and you can support them by following them and liking their posts

    Retail Mark-Up £6.44

    • The mark-up is the amount a business will make from the t-shirt, which contributes to paying rent, wages and reinvestment in the business. Any profit after this will be paid to board members and shareholders.

      Retail Mark-Up £12.00

      • The markup in sustainable retailers may seem high, but the retailer buys the product up front, ensuring the brand has resources to pay staff throughout the supply chain.

        Wherever your garment comes from, to make it truly sustainable you need to wear the t-shirt at least 30 times, and ensure it doesn't end up in landfill at the end of tis life.  

        We have some amazing t shirts from Thinking Mu that have QR codes in the labels which show the full traceability and impact of your t-shirt. 

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