Why cheap sustainable fashion is a big fat lie, and why you should care!

Why cheap sustainable fashion is a big fat lie, and why you should care!

We hear this so often. I want cheap sustainable clothing! But what is cheap clothing? How do you define sustainable? Routonomy is currently working on its fourth collection. Here's the thing. We always order sample fabrics from suppliers we already trust, and new ones. This year the possibilities seemed endless! We were all excited to be able to choose from a wide range of sustainable fabrics, at better prices!

And then the samples arrived… 

What is sustainable clothing? 

Before we define cheap, let's define sustainable, specifically, sustainable clothing. For us, sustainable clothing is designed to last, to be worn often and leave a minimal impact on the environment. Sustainable fabric is just part of that. We believe it is about providing the best service to our customers so they buy a clothing item they will actually use; and giving the right washing instructions. It is paying a fair price to the people who work with us. That ranges from the photographers for photoshoots, to the people actually making the clothes.

For many brands, using natural fibers seems like an easy way to produce “sustainable clothing”. But is it really sustainable if the rest of the corporate practices are not responsible? This is greenwashing. And that, we avoid at all costs. 

When samples for the upcoming collection arrived, we were very excited. Online, the options seemed endless. In reality, not much. We are not willing to compromise on a few things: 

  • We only use recycled and/or organic cotton, and avoid conventional cotton, 
  • If we use synthetic fibers, we only use recycled materials, not virgin, 
  • We demand the fabrics are made in fair working conditions. 

This is where things go sideways. Many fabrics seem “sustainable” because they have a small organic or natural component. What they certainly have is a great marketing team behind. Is a 90% conventional polyester and 10% hemp fabric really sustainable? If you only check the advertising, most certainly! According to us, not so much. 

What is cheap clothing?

Cheap slow fashion is a common search term on Google. It is contradictory though. These terms can never go together. What one could search for is ethically-made, sustainable, and affordable. Never cheap. But hey, careful with affordable!

The term "slow fashion" emphasizes the importance of quality over quantity, and encourages consumers to invest in well-made pieces that are designed to last. At Routonomy we want to be as accessible as possible, but we understand not everyone is able to afford our prices. We can’t go lower though, because that would mean the people we work with would receive an unfair wage. We are working on this while we grow organically. Although that sounds like a paradox. By growing our business, we can negotiate better prices for the fabrics, divide transportation costs and fixed costs (for example our accountant) over more pieces. That is our goal for the future: sustainable, organic growth, in order to become more affordable. However that doesn't answer our second question: ¨How do you define cheap clothing?¨

Is it only the price end consumers pay for their clothing? Remember that while cheap production clothing may seem like a good deal in the short term especially for end consumers, it often comes at a significant cost to the people who make it and the environment. So yes, cheap clothing equals high cost for society and the economy.

Here are some tips for finding affordable slow fashion:

  1. Buying from ethical slow fashion brands like Routonomy. Without wanting to encourage you to buy at our competitors… There are many other great options for small slow fashion brands all over the world. Check how transparent the clothing brands are about their production methods, materials, production location, labor conditions etc. You will find many brands with great, timeless options.
  2. If you don’t want to buy anything new… try thrift shopping. Thrift stores and secondhand shops are great places to find high-quality, sustainable clothing at a fraction of the cost of buying new. Please don’t let the lower prices make you greedy and remember that there are many people who actually depend on second hand shopping for their clothing because they are not able to buy new! 
  3. Investing in timeless pieces. We’ve said this many times and it is certainly one of the pillars Routonomy was founded on. Timelessness. Invest in a good white shirt, a blouse that you can wear at any occasion for the coming years or a pair of shorts that go with anything. 

The key is still going for quality of quantity! Also keep in mind the price per use. A $100 shirt that you use often and makes you impatient for the washing cycle to finish because you want to keep wearing it…. That item per hour worn, or per use, ends up being much cheaper than a cheap clothing item that is never worn or damaged after three washes. 

By prioritizing ethical and sustainable clothing options, and actually wearing them, you can make a great positive impact on both people and the planet.

Why is it important to buy sustainable clothing? 

There are several reasons why buying sustainable clothing is important:

  1. Environmental impact. The conventional/ fast fashion industry is a big contributor to pollution. This is partly because the textiles they use are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution. It is also because their designs are not made to last. And lastly, although this is changing, they tend to overproduce and dump everything that is not sold quick enough. 
  2. Social impact. We won’t say all big fast fashion brands are unethical in their labor practices, and luckily there is a movement towards fairer work conditions. However, there are still way too many people working insane days under very poor circumstances. Slow fashion companies usually prioritize paying fair wages. 
  3. Durability and timelessness. Sustainable clothing is typically made to last. The use of higher quality materials, combined with craftsmanship in the production process make it a higher quality garment. Slow fashion doesn’t necessarily mean timeless designs, but the idea generally is to wear your items more often and for a long time. This reduces waste and the need to keep replacing clothing.

So cheap sustainable fashion is impossible?

Yes. Cheap slow fashion is an ideal. In practice, not very likely because sustainable fashion generally included higher quality materials, ethical production practices, and a higher price point. In other words. Fast fashion just uses very cheap materials that are very harmful to the environment because of heavy chemicals. It also involves cheap labor that people literally die in production locations, therefore they are able to manage lower prices. Fast fashion is also hugely popular and has very optimal supply chain logistics that small independent brands simply can’t compete with. Imagine the impact if those fast fashion chains would turn to more sustainable practices? Anyways, while we keep on dreaming… 

Here are 10 ways you can reduce impact on everyday activities for a slow living principle.

  1. Learn how to repair. Whether it is your clothing, kitchen appliances or electronic devices. Repairing is almost always more sustainable than buying new. If you don’t know how to repair things yourself, check YouTube that has tons of do it yourself videos or find a repair shop close to you. 
  2. Learn how to take good care of things. It is so much easier to maintain stuff than to repair it. It’s often quicker and cheaper too. Read washing instructions of clothing, and follow them. We swear… it does make a difference if you tumble dry, or not, a T-shirt made of recycled cotton. Take good care of your electric appliances in and maybe around the house. Once again, Google is your friend if you are unsure about what proper maintenance should be.
  3. Channel your inner Marie Kondo and organize what you have. Again, this applies to everything in your life. Going grocery shopping? Check what is still in the fridge and make sure you don’t buy things twice.
  4. Go outside as much as you can. This is not necessarily clothing related, but it certainly is good for you.
  5. Appreciate the slow and learn to observe. Floor, one of Routonomy´s founders, loves knitting and knitwear. She already knew how much time goes into a well designed clothing item, because you know, she had already founded Routonomy. But since she knits she really really really appreciates all the efforts involved in clothing. The same goes for woodworking or growing your own food. Once you start understanding the process behind an item, you will appreciate it more. Often these hobbies can be quite expensive, but there is no shame in starting slow and small. 
  6. Find peace in silence. As we say in Routonomy “an object, the simpler, the more stories it will have to tell”.
  7. Exchange and borrow stuff. Want to sand a wooden table? You don’t need a sanding machine! Find someone who will lend you one or there are many library-like initiatives around. Same goes for clothing. You really do not need a new dress for every wedding you go to.
  8. We have said it before and will say it again. Buy timeless and versatile essentials. What was never in fashion, can never go out of fashion. We are not saying that you should always buy the most expensive item. But think of the price per use as you will use it over time.
  9. Learn how to say no, or say no more often. Limit impulse purchases. Don’t shop for the sake of shopping. If you are prone to impulse buying then limit the impulses…
  • Unsubscribe from mailing lists luring you in with fancy discount codes, 
  • Make lists for things you might really need before big discount days like black Friday, 
  • If you are financially able to, buy premium plans of services you use often, that way you limit advertisement,
  • At places like malls, only go into the stores you were planning to, make lists before you go. Don’t shop hungry! And wear comfortable clothing, so you won’t buy things out of discomfort.
You don’t have to have everything all the time. It is okay to go without many things for a while. Go back to your essentials.
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