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23 Sep

Is More Sustainable and Ethical Clothing Really Expensive?

We get it⁠—for a lot of people, one look at the price tag on an item of ethical clothing is enough to turn you off for good, but we are here to tell you that it shouldn’t. Read on to find out whether ethical clothing really is as expensive as it seems, and why it’s worth investing in if you can.

Is more ethical and sustainable clothing really more expensive?

There are very good reasons why those little numbers on more sustainable fashion brands’ clothes tags seem an awful lot bigger than they do at the chain retailers down the road, and why we all, as conscious consumers, should push through the temporary pain for the long term gain, if we can.

By now we all know that the negative impacts of fast fashion reach far and wide, and leave us cringing⁠—from the death of thousands of garment workers when shoddy factories collapse, to the poisoning of water systems when producing chemically-intensive cheap synthetic fabrics, to the unspeakable treatment of animals like machines instead of thinking, feeling beings. Needless to say, fast fashion is not the answer.

So, what is the alternative? Enter slow fashion, fast fashion’s much nicer cousin, who is not only better on people, the planet, and animals, but looks damn good, too. Sustainable fashion is in Vogue, baby⁠—literally—but what are the costs associated with making more conscious garments?

Cost of sustainable materials

While you may know that ethical clothing is often made with more sustainable materials like organic cotton, you may not know just how much more expensive it is to produce fabrics that don’t leave a trail of destruction in their wake. There are very strict federal guidelines for materials to be certified organic, from pesticide use to labour rights, which all need to be taken into account.

It may seem counterintuitive, but all the chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilisers actually help to keep the cost down for farmers of conventionally produced fabrics. With less toxic shortcuts comes more time and effort that goes into the planting, growing, harvesting, spinning, dyeing, and cutting of eco-friendly materials.

Cost of paying a living wage

With fast fashion and mass production comes the outsourcing of labour to developing nations. While the outsourcing itself has the potential to boost these economies, when a fast fashion brand gets its claws in and pays pennies, it can afford to offer goods at absurdly low prices. Without access to a living wage, workers and their families remain trapped in a cycle of poverty.

By affording these garment workers not only a living wage, but also basic workplace rights that a lot of us take for granted like sick leave and reasonable work hours, the price of ethically produced clothing increases to something a little more realistic. Not to mention that ecolabels often opt to produce locally, where wages are much higher relative to the cost of living.

Cost per wear

Here’s the thing: clothing prices used to be much higher, and the production of more sustainable fashion actually harkens back to our roots. New clothing more than a few times a year was a rarity quite recently in history, and in just the last twenty years the price of clothing has plummeted to the pitiful prices we see today (looking at you, £1 bikini). We can only echo what the team over at Fashion Revolution had to say about that particular incident: “… when garments are priced as cheaply as single-use items, it implies that our clothing is disposable. And if we buy that message, we are buying into a very ugly side of fashion.”

When garments are priced as cheaply as single-use items, it implies that our clothing is disposable. And if we buy that message, we are buying into a very ugly side of fashion.

Fashion Revolution

Traditionally, clothing was handmade to last a long time, and individual pieces cost today’s equivalent of hundreds of dollars. Only with the boom of globalisation and high-population driven consumer demand did factories start pumping out cheaply made clothing that was only expected to last a few wears⁠—a trend that has, unfortunately, stuck around—especially with the rise of ultra harmful, ultra fast fashion brands like SHEIN.

“Cost per wear” is a rule adopted by many interested in giving their wardrobe an ethical overhaul, or with a particular budget in mind. It takes into account how many uses (or “wears”) you can get per item of clothing, and the more wears, the better the investment. Rather than purchasing five $10 t-shirts that will stretch beyond use after a few wears, consider buying one $40 t-shirt that is designed to last years to come. While the cost per wear of the $10 shirts ends up being a staggering $2, you are looking at a CPW of a few cents for the one that costs more upfront, but way less overall.

The “true cost” of cheap fashion

There is so much more that goes into a price tag than the cost of the fabric. If the “true cost” of fast fashion is the decimation of our planet and the abuse of people and animals, and truly sustainable fashion is produced responsibly and invests in the future⁠—ours, and the planet’s⁠—for those of us who can afford it, it’s a no-brainer.

Cheap prices make us believe they bring about savings for consumers. This may appear true in the short term, with a narrow focus and looking just at the money in our wallets, but all of us, as global citizens, will ultimately end up paying the external cost, the true cost for the unsustainable consumption and production of cheap clothing.

Fashion Revolution

Our mindset as consumers needs to shift away from the culture of instant gratification and materialism that often goes hand-in-hand with exploitation. The unrealistic and unsustainable price points that surround us have warped our expectations, and something’s gotta give.

A note on affordability

Good On You wants to help you find more sustainable options no matter your budget. But as we discussed, we recognise that many responsible brands appear more expensive up front.

Fast fashion has also distorted our view of clothing prices. We now spend much less and buy far more low-quality garments than we did a few decades ago. When taking into account cost per wear, higher-quality items you’ll wear again and again end up costing less in the long run despite the initial investment.

As always, remember that the ethical fashion umbrella includes shopping second hand and rediscovering and restyling what you already own. This is often much more affordable and accessible, and a great way to prolong the life of clothes that would have otherwise ended up in landfill. And for those of us who simply can’t justify large upfront costs right now, there is good news. As sustainable practices become more widespread and the demand increases, the price tag decreases.

We are already seeing various ethical fashion brands producing affordable clothing that is good for people, the planet, and animals⁠—and even your wallet. Here are some of our faves:


Rated: Good

Price point: $

Boody is encouraging conscious consumers to add eco-friendly essentials to their wardrobe with its affordable, ethically made bamboo viscose basics. Its budget-friendly prices allow consumers to explore and enjoy the comfort of sustainable fibres through everyday basics such as bras, underwear, and activewear. The great thing about Boody’s clothes and basics is that they’re always in style. A 3-pack of underwear will set you back just A$38. Find the range in sizes XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Boody.

Yes Friends

Rated: Great

Price point: $

Yes Friends is a UK-based fashion brand that creates sustainable, ethical and affordable clothing for everyone. Yes Friends’ t-shirts cost less than £4 and the brand only charges £7.99. Using large scale production and direct to consumer margins means Yes Friends can charge you an affordable price for a sustainable & ethical t-shirt. Find most items in sizes 2XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Yes Friends.

Honest Basics

Rated: Good
woman wearing sustainable white t-shirt by honest basics

Price point: $

Honest Basics is working to make fair fashion accessible to everyone through its affordable price points and focus on wardrobe essentials such as t-shirts, sweatshirts, and jeans. All Honest Basics products are made with GOTS-certified organic cotton, and ethically made in Bangladesh and India in GOTS-certified factories that meet the standards of the International Labour Organization. The brand carries affordable sustainable clothes for men, women, and children and features plenty of options under €20. The range is available in sizes XS-L.

See the rating.

Shop Honest Basics.

Shop Honest Basics @ Urbankissed.


Rated: Good

Price point: $

CHNGE focuses on creating organic cotton clothing that is ethically made in India in factories that meet third party certifications such as Fairtrade, GOTS, OEKO-TEX, Global Recycled Standard, WRAP, and Carbon Neutral. CHNGE’s unique styled t-shirt dresses, crop tops, and basics feature graphics that spread positive messages such as unity, feminism, and more. You’re looking at around $30 for a printed tee. Find CHNGE’s inclusive clothes in sizes 2XS-4XL.

See the rating.


Subset (Knickey)

Rated: Great
People in underwear by Subset.

Price point: $

Made in a Fair Trade Certified factory, Knickey’s organic cotton underwear sets are some of the best in the sustainable market. Taking it a step further, the brand has also partnered with an NYC non-profit to recycle old undergarments, turning the fibres into insulation and rug pads. You’re looking at around $50 for a bralette and $20 for a thong. Sending in your old undies will not only help cut down on the amount of fibres that wind up in the landfill, but it’ll give you the freedom to buy new, eco-conscious sets. You’ll find most items in sizes 2XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Knickey.


Rated: Good
two people holding each other, one in a black long sleeved turtleneck and the other in white, both wearing light blue jeans by Kotn

Price point: $$

Kotn is a sustainable clothing brand crafting apparel with organic Egyptian cotton. Kotn features a wide variety of men’s and women’s clothing with lots of options under $100. This certified B Corporation carries pants, tops, dresses, jackets, and more, making this a great one stop shop for any outfit. Find Kotn in sizes XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Kotn.


Rated: Good

Price point: $

Parade is an American underwear brand that is working to re-write the American underwear story so you are left feeling soft, breathable and good for your body and the environment. A bralette and underwear set will set you back just $40. Find most of Parade’s recycled underwear in sizes XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Parade.

Discover more affordable sustainable fashion brands

Editor's note

Feature image via Kotn, all other images via brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet, and animals. Use our directory to search thousands of rated brands. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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