The Real Reason Why Ethical Fashion is More Expensive

I’ve come to know “the look”. I’ll be representing Purse & Clutch at a local pop-up market & inevitably as some shoppers flip over a price tag, they flinch. Some even take a visible step back. “Oh! It’s a bit out of my price range” they say politely as they back away, not making eye contact with me.

For context, our most expensive handmade Ethiopian leather handbag is $189. So not Chanel, but also not H&M. Plus, we were just named by Wonder Wardrobe as one of the 100 Affordable Ethical Fashion Brands (and only eight handbag brands were listed!). 

A lot of people I talk to tell me that they assume that ethically made items cost more because each worker is paid a fair wage. And while it is true that everyone in our supply chain is paid fairly & able to work in a positive environment at a reasonable pace, that’s generally not why our handbags are more expensive.

We’re a small batch manufacturer.

Most ethical fashion brands are.

We don’t have the luxury of economies of scale for production & honestly in some cases, we don’t want it. The more handmade processes we can incorporate into our supply chain, the more jobs we’re creating – which is why exist as a company.

Slow Fashion, Botanical Dyes

Botanical Dyeing Process

It can feel at odds at times. Most companies work to find ways to be more efficient, eliminate cumbersome or finicky processes. To streamline.

We choose to incorporate things like botanical dyes instead of synthetic because we believe that it’s better for the people working with the dyes & it’s better for the environment – even though producing consistent colors through different weather patterns can be a nightmare.

Hand Spun Guatemalan Cotton Thread

Hand Spinning Cotton into Thread

We choose to employ women to hand spin the cotton that will then be handloomed into the fabric we use because we know that if they’re working with us, they will be able to earn enough money to support themselves & their families in a country where job opportunities of any kind are scarce.

But in some cases, such as sourcing zippers or shipping costs, we simply aren’t large enough to take advantage of bulk pricing discounts that larger companies have access to. On average, for every $1 we can cut on these kinds of hard costs translates to about $5 off the retail price which can really make a significant difference to the overall price.

While in fast fashion workers most likely aren’t earning a fair wage, many times the majority of the cost “savings” is reallocated to the profits of the company, not the lower price to the consumer.

The way to decrease the cost of ethical fashion to make it more available to a larger group of consumers is to help ethical fashion brands grow to a size where they can take advantage of bulk pricing.

According to research by Erickson commissioned by Faire Market in July 2018, 41% of non-supporters of Fair Trade would be more likely to buy if the prices were cheaper. Because of our commitment of fair treatment & compensation for our employees, the place we can cut costs is in economies of scale.

The added benefit to company growth besides lower price points for our customers? Offering more dignified work to men & women in developing countries where employment opportunities are rare. I believe they call that a win, win!


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