Last week, I asked on Instagram what types of blog posts you wanted to see. One of the questions I received was– why is sustainable fashion so expensive?
The easy answer is that sustainable fashion is more expensive because paying for quality at fair wage price is expensive. Big box brands have managed to lower their prices by cutting corners at the human and environmental level. Sweatshop factories are still the norm for clothing manufacturing, which makes up 98% of the industry. Only 2% of clothing is manufactured in the US. Most companies don’t want to bring their manufacturing back to America because it’s expensive! The taxes, licenses, and fair wages drive profit margins down. And since profits are the bottom line, why would they change anything?
Now, if you want a more detailed answer into sustainable fashion’s prices, we have to look at Sotela’s pricing and compare it to a fast fashion company with a similar style.
Sotela’s Amalfi Dress
- Price: $169
- Fabric Content: 40% Rayon from Bamboo, 30% Hemp, 30% Organic Cotton
- Made in USA, specifically California
Madewell’s Garment- Dyed Apron Maxi Dress
- Price: $128
- Fabric Content: Linen/Rayon
Let’s talk about what makes these two dresses and why $40 isn’t enough of a difference in price!
The Amalfi is made with a more eco-friendly fabric composition than Madewell’s Apron dress. Even though the 40% rayon from bamboo isn’t the cleanest option,the other 60% is good for the earth. **Side note- I didn’t realize how bad rayon from bamboo is before writing this post, but the other sustainable fabric alternatives didn’t work with the design.** The buttons on the Amalfi are made of Corona which are a type of nut in Panama.
Along with all of Sotela’s pieces, the Amalfi is designed and manufactured in California. It’s important to note where in the USA something is manufactured because wages and cost of living make a difference! California has a very high cost of living and the minimum wage is $11. Taxes are also very expensive here.
Madewell’s Apron dress is made with a linen/rayon blend, which isn’t terrible. Linen is a natural fiber that I use all the time, and rayon isn’t great. But since we both use rayon, I can’t say too much about fabric composition. I’m assuming their buttons were conventionally made, so probably comprised of plastic.
Like many fast fashion companies, they just say imported under product description. Can it be any more vague? Where was their dress made? By who? In what conditions? How much were they paid?
I’ve priced our pieces based on various factors such as cost of fabric, labor, notions (thread, buttons, etc.), packaging materials. I’ve yet to include other expenses such as overhead, marketing and my salary (yes, folks I still work for free). I’m working on a strategic plan right now to dive deeper into my expenses since I now have a clear idea of what it takes to run Sotela on a monthly basis.
Fabric: Depending on how many yards I buy, the Amalfi costs $9/yard, which is pretty good. I’m realizing now it’s probably because of the rayon from bamboo that is driving the price down.
Buttons/notions: $1.50 per dress
Recycled Packaging Materials: $1
This is where it gets pricey! It takes my seamstress over an hour to complete a dress. The dress has 10 pieces she sews together. The top of the dress is particularly difficult because she adds an extra step to fold over the trim so that it looks clean and streamlined. There are two seams along the straps, top trim, and middle for an added detail. The middle placket where the buttons are placed have a special fabric to keep it firm and clean which she has to iron onto the dress fabric. Once she’s done constructing the dress, she has to make the button holes and sew on the buttons. We are in the process of getting a button machine, but for now it is hand sewn.
I pay my seamstress $20/hour because she is a total badass. Since it’s just me and her, she is integral to Sotela’s success.
When I compare our prices to other sustainable brands, I find that we are on the lower end, which is probably why I don’t have enough to pay myself! Especially with the amount of work that goes into each piece, we are one of the few brands that actually uses a certain type of trim that isn’t just a seam and buttons.
Any profits that are made with each piece gets reinvested into marketing, photography, models, fabric sampling and patterns for future collections. It usually takes 2-3 fabric samples to find the right one that works with my designs. I originally wanted to use an organic cotton fabric for the Amalfi, but it didn’t drape well so had to find a completely different fabric. The Amalfi went through two variations of samples in order to find the perfect fabric.
I’m slowly understanding our financial situation more and hoping to make changes to include our future location, my salary and potential employee. I’ve outgrown my home office and need a location for Sotela’s headquarters, which means more expenses!
I hope this pricing breakdown gives you a better idea as to why sustainable fashion is more expensive than fast fashion brands! Although, I was shocked the Amalfi is only $40 more than a Madewell dress even though the fabric and costs to manufacture are a lot higher. It just goes to show the profit margins for sustainable fashion are a lot lower.
Let’s continue the conversation! What else would you like to know? Were you surprised the Amalfi was $40 more than a Madewell dress?