Sustainable Fashion: Why is fast fashion so cheap?

Vanessa Thompson interview

Vanessa Thompson from Unravelled Consultants answers your questions on sustainable fashion. Image supplied.

During Fashion Revolution Week 2020 we introduced you to sustainable fashion expert Vanessa Thompson from Unravelled Consultants and this week we have her fourth Q&A column answering the questions you, our readers, sent in. This regular column on FashioNZ is aimed to help you and us learn more about sustainable fashion as we know there’s lots of confusion and lots of questions on this subject.

If you have a question for Vanessa please email it to us at [email protected] and we’ll forward them on to her otherwise you can also use the form below. Thank you to everyone who has submitted a question already, we’re excited to publish the next five answers from Vanessa.

Why is fast fashion so cheap? How is it even possible to make clothes for $5? – Emma T
There is a combination of factors that come into the pricing of garments – what country it is made in, what sort of quantity the brand is placing, what the margin requirements of the brand are, what fabric is used etc. Ultimately, overseas garment workers earn lower government set minimum wages than in New Zealand, and some factories even pay below this if not held to account by brands and the government. Fast fashion brands also place orders of high quantities to these factories, which allows for larger bulk orders of fabric etc, which also brings the price down, but brands will also still negotiate down the price, often leading factories to pay workers under the minimum wage.

Do you believe the ethical fashion industry is succeeding to radically change the fashion world or is it still a luxury niche? – Melissa K
I believe there has definitely been a shift, and consumers are more aware of their consumption habits and what their values are. However ‘ethical brands’ as such are still a niche in the industry. What I am hoping is areas such as resale and rental start to overtake normal mainstream brands, which will help to reduce consumption.

Why do you think people are still buying from mainstream shops that sell unethical clothing? – Lani M
I would put this down to price and the lack of ethical brand options for everyone. This is however slowly changing. It is more important than ever before for mainstream brands to start taking responsibility for their decisions, as not everyone will be able to buy from niche brands, and ‘ethical’ fashion needs to be accessible for everyone.

Do you think consumer demand will ever reach a tipping point that sustainable fashion becomes the norm? – Lisa C
The growth in consumers enquiring about sustainability in the fashion industry has grown extensively, and I don’t see this stopping any time soon. I think areas such as resale (second hand) and rental will become the new norm, and people will only buy from normal retailers if their values align.

Brands have information about how clothes are made but there doesn’t seem to be much information about the fabric itself, how do we find out if the fabric is ethically created? – Karen A
The fashion industry is incredibly opaque, with currently very little transparency through the supply chain. With the increase of brands adopting more sustainable fabrics, such as organic and recycled, the need for transparency and verification has been growing. There are new innovations on the horizon which will allow consumers to digitally track their garment all the way through the supply chain, from the manufacturer to the farm, however these are still in the early stages. Currently, the best way to ensure that your fabrics are sustainably made is to look for certifications such as GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), or GRS (Global Recycle Standard) to ensure the supply chain has been verified.

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