In an age when instant gratification is the expectation, the fact that the fashion industry has followed the trend is not surprising. The fact that these pieces of fast fashion are also cheap drives the appeal up and buyers to their smartphones so they can get the shirt they just saw on Instagram delivered to them tomorrow.
But fashion experts have been criticizing this quick consumption of clothing louder than normal lately. Something that may have to do with the fact that fast fashion mega-retailer Shein opened a pop-up shop in Los Angeles.
Like many other fast-fashion businesses, Shein — a company valued at $100 billion but many wish would go bankrupt— is built on cheap labor and materials, allowing them to keep up with demand quickly and, more importantly, cheaply.
But as menswear writer Derek Guy pointed out on Twitter, companies like Shein set unrealistic expectations for what clothes are made from ethical, sustainable sources actually cost.
How Much It Actually Costs To Make a Shirt
Guy explained that although people want ethically-made clothes by people earning a living wage, no one wants to pay for them. “If a shirt costs $20, there is not enough money for the worker,” he added.
According to Guy, the cost of fair labor to make a single button-down shirt, like something J. Press, O’Connell’s, or Sid Mashburn would sell, in the United States is around $35. After adding the cost of the material, the brand markup, and the retailer markup — which cover those businesses’ own expenses, like paying their employees — the retail price for a simple button-down shirt ends up being around $225.
Back in December, Guy also did a breakdown of the profit a company like Nike makes on the sale of one pair of shoes. Despite the fact a pair of shoes can cost $100, the company actually only makes about $5 in profit.
The Argument for Fast Fashion
For most shoppers, though, $225 for one shirt is nowhere near affordable.
As one Twitter user points out, the argument to spend more on one quality item than a few cheaper items makes sense, but only if you have the means to buy the higher quality version to begin with. Being able to afford the more expensive item to begin with, or having the luxury to wait until you can, is itself a privilege.
Finding brands that source their clothes from ethical, sustainable companies that are also size inclusive is also a bit like unicorn hunting. One woman shared she’s spent six months shopping for “an affordable, plus sized, retro styled dress” and wasn’t able to find anything.
Many also lament the lack of resources and buying guides to help direct shoppers towards sustainable brands with inclusive sizing.
How To Build an Ethically Sourced Wardrobe
Author and fashion historian Cora Harrington shared that even with a small budget for clothes, she’s been able to slowly update her wardrobe. Instead of buying a few pairs of something at a cheaper price, she invests in one quality-made item, whether through thrifting or from an ethical, sustainable brand.
“Does it take more time than buying a shopping container of clothes from Shein all at once?” She wrote, adding: “Yes. But what’s wrong with that?”
One of the other sources Harrington recommended was stylist Lakyn Carlton’s Where 2 Shop. For $2, you get access to a constantly-updated list of brands that sell ethical and sustainable womenswear.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.