Surprise! Could Eco-Friendly Clothing Actually Be Cheaper?

Alden Wicker
Posted

Pssst … want $150 of eco-friendly clothing? Fashioning Change is giving one LearnVest reader a mini green shopping spree. Check out the end of this post to find out how to enter. 

When we first heard that buying eco-friendly and ethical clothing could save us money, we were dubious.

It’s not that we don’t want to buy conscious clothing. (In fact, we made a whole chart to help you find guilt-free fashion.)

We know it’s important, as the fashion industry is responsible for some serious pollution around the world* (in fact, we’ve listed a few recent incidents below). But despite our good intentions, eco-friendly clothing just sounds more expensive than “regular” clothes, at best, and out of the reach of anyone on a budget, at worst.

After all, organic cotton is pricier than conventional. Fair trade by definition means you’re paying higher wages to workers. And ethics are great, but as far as we’re concerned, a $220 butterfly shirt isn’t gonna fly, even if it does benefit monarchs in Mexico.

Well, when we came to the conclusion that eco-friendly fashion has to be pricier, it seems we may have been looking in the wrong places–sort of like complaining about the high price of wedge sneakers after wandering out of Marc Jacobs.

You’re skeptical, of course. We’ll explain.

Green Fashion for the Masses

Unlike the many edgy and expensive green boutiques peppering the web, Fashioning Change aggregates a vast stock of conscious clothing and accessories that are down-to-earth, wearable and fit neatly in almost any fall budget.

And no, it isn’t all yoga clothes.

You can shop by cause (women’s issues or environment, for example), personality (“I consider myself a January Jones type of gal”) or style (what could I find here that would fit in at Zara?). Each of the 22,000 products on the site is carefully vetted, and comes with deets on the fabric, dyes, where it was made and by whom.

For example, this shirred tunic dress ($38) is made of organic fabric in a fair trade workshop in Uganda.

Save Money, Earn Karma

Shoppers often buy from mainstream brands because they think that authentic socially responsible alternatives are more expensive, says Fashioning Change Founder and CEO, Adriana Herrera. So she decided to run the numbers and find out once and for all.

Fashioning Change chose 133 items off their website and compared them to almost-identical pieces by brands like Guess, Nike and Urban Outfitters. The surprising result? The ethical alternative came in at a 27% discount compared to traditional clothing and accessories.

Wait, seriously?

We convinced Herrera to send us the data behind too-good-to-be-true result so we could verify it with our own eyes. This is what we found:

Reuse recycled jeans (right) clocked in at $95, while a pair of Diesel jeans (left) in an identical style cost $121.

The canvas and leather Land’s End tote (left) cost $130, while the leather and cotton cirque tote (right) by Proud Mary is $96.

A blue feather print dress by Old Navy (right) was $32.94, compared to a blue bird print dress by Etrican (left) for $26.

There’s even a label called Modrobes out of Canada that makes fierce-looking and conscious workout clothes for the exact same price as Nike. Score!

How Is This Possible?

We grilled Herrera to find out how a small eco-friendly brand like Reuse–which pays a fair wage to workers and uses low-impact dyes–could beat Diesel on prices.

She put it bluntly: Consumers are getting ripped off because companies often aren’t paying their garment workers living wages and yet charge a ton for clothes. “It costs very little to make those jeans, but a price tag of over $100 gets slapped on them, she explains. In short, more money for brands, and deplorable wages for workers.

There are also cost savings from working in a more earth-friendly way. Conventionally, when clothing is cut, there are piles of scraps left over, up to 15% of the fabric. The alternative, zero waste fashion, uses patterns that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Eco-friendly brands also make use of unwanted materials like plastic bottles or old jeans. Plus, if you’re fashioning your dresses right in L.A., you do pay more in wages … but you also pay less in shipping.

Is an All-Green Wardrobe Possible?

Fashioning Change presents a great step toward taking the perceived elitism out of eco-friendly fashion, but the industry still has a long way to go.

You won’t find the breadth of styles or brands on Fashioning Change that you will at Macy’s, and not everything is affordable. And if you love some brands for the brand, you may find it a stretch to compare these biodegradable sandals to Tory Burch flip-flops, complete with the recognizable Burch medallion.

Finally, you can find better eco-deals for mid-level fashion compared to standard stores, but you won’t find ethical shirts for a couple bucks like you would at Forever21. Ever. It’s just not possible to offer that kind of price without ripping off designers and paying next-to-nothing wages.

Given these lingering hangups, we know it wouldn’t be easy to give up your Urban Outfitters or Victoria’s Secret addiction altogether. But at least now you know it’s possible to snag a cute eco-friendly dress or two and save money while you’re at it.

Win-win situations–we love ‘em.

*Want proof? The Chinese textile industry produces three billion tons of soot per year, according to the NRDC. Just last month a garment factory fire killed 289 workers in Pakistan as chemicals and piles of clothing caught fire. You can tell by the rivers in China what the trendy colors of the season are, as toxic teal or pink dye is dumped directly into the water.

Giveaway Alert!

Fashioning Change loves LearnVest readers so much, they’re doing their first ever giveaway with us, and giving one LearnVest reader $150 to spend in their store! To enter to win:

  • Sign up for Fashioning Change
  • Fill out your preferences and check out the Changing Room stocked with items in your preferred style
  • Leave a comment below with a link to your favorite item
Giveaway ends Friday at midnight. Read our standard contest rules.