Why is Fast Fashion so cheap, and Slow Fashion so ‘Expensive’?

Breaking Down The Price of Fashion

You might have already noticed: the price of a fast fashion item is usually very low, way lower than when you go to slow fashion labels. Why is fast fashion so cheap, and slow fashion so ‘expensive’? That’s right, expensive is in brackets, and not for nothing: in this blog, we will explain to you why buying slow fashion is the cheaper & better option in the end.

1. The Design

When producing a new item, a clothing brand always start with the design. In fast fashion, the goal is to produce as many different designs in as little time as possible, in order to constantly keep launching a tsunami of new products and keep customers interested. Yet, a major downside of this strategy is that designers are usually pushed to take as little time to develop a new item as possible, which means they do not get a chance to properly think it through at all. The result is that a lot of the clothing produced has a flawed design, is impractical, has weird colours or low quality overall.

Slow Fashion labels, on the other hand, take all the time they need to properly develop a new product. This might cost a little more, but the result is a very smart and well-considered design. The items tend to be very suitable to be mixed and matched with anything in your closet, and can be worn at any occasion, from a formal meeting to a relaxing day on the couch. This way, you’ll have to buy way less to have a great wardrobe!

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2. The Materials

Then, a very important part of the price is the material the clothing is made of. We all know that a cashmere sweater is more expensive than a plain cotton one, but even within material groups there can be a huge difference in material quality. In this step, fast fashion designers usually take the cheapest option to save money, where slow fashion producers take more time sourcing the perfect fabric for their design, and tend to go for high quality material. In the end you will pay more for a slow fashion item because of this, but it has a major upside: the item tends to have a better fit, is more comfortable, lasts a lot longer, and often the fabric has many more benefits (like Tencel, the fabric we use for our brand, which is even antibacterial and suitable for highly sensitive skin).

3. Fair Production

When the design and materials are decided upon, it is time to actually produce the garments. The fashion industry is very time- and labour-intensive, and therefore a part of the price of every garment is the wage of the one who made it. This is where the biggest difference in price is hidden: the production of fast fashion is usually done under very harsh -sometimes even dangerous- circumstances, in factories that could collapse any minute. Fashion workers, sometimes even kids, tend to work extreme hours and almost never receive a liveable wage for their work. This way, fast fashion producers can lower the price of their garments significantly. Yet, when you do not pay the price when shopping, someone else has already paid it before you. 

Even with slow fashion labels you’ll have to make sure they really produce fair, but the bigger part of them do. They tend to produce locally, or have a very transparent supply chain with high ethical standards at every step. They make sure that the people producing the clothing 1) Work under good circumstances 2) get enough time and support to produce, and 3) ALWAYS receive a living wage. Sure, this will make your garment more expensive, but also free of harm and suffering. Besides that, again, the quality is way higher, as the workers really know what they are doing.  Isn’t all that worth it?

4. Small scale vs. large scale

Besides the physical cost of every single garment, there is also always an extra margin in its price. A fashion brand needs to use that margin to, for example, pay for shipping cost (if shipping is free for customers), rent of the stockroom, taxes, administration, building and managing the website, customer service, and marketing costs. The thing about these costs is that when you produce more clothing, these ‘overhead’ costs per garment produced goes down, lowering the price. This is why fast fashion brands usually are very big, and have a huge stock of items, all with a very low margin.

Sounds great, you would say, but unfortunately there is a major issue regarding this low margin: if anything happens that slightly increases the cost of a garment, for example because a customer wants to return it (twice the shipping cost) or because it has a small stain that could easily be removed (more labour time), it is already not profitable anymore to try to patch up and sell that item. That’s why many returned items get thrown away right away, and why fast fashion producers do not even bother to remove a stain or anything else to sell the product anyways. 

Another issue caused by this low-margin-philosophy is overproduction. For fast fashion brands it is more profitable to produce too much, as the price per item also drops when producing more. Therefore, every single season millions of garments are produced and not even sold, and within the business model of these brands that is a calculated loss: part of the business plan. 

Slow fashion brands usually are smaller, and therefore need a bigger margin per item to pay for the above mentioned costs. Yet, exactly because of this higher value per item, the clothing is treated a lot better throughout the whole production chain. To give some examples: packing and shipping is done more carefully, and when an item is returned it is always put back in stock to get sold again. Whenever there is a flaw or stain found in an item, the brand puts real work into improving it to sell it anyways, without compromising on quality. This way, slow fashion brands tend to produce a lot less waste, and can offer you higher quality service!

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