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What can you say about a piece of clothes from its price?

Buying cheap clothes is tempting, but who is really paying the price in the textile industry?

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Fast-fashion machines made us, customers, confused about the value and pricing in the fashion industry. One of the main reasons why high-street clothing has been getting cheaper in the last decade is the moving of the production line to the different countries and continents where the workforce is cheaper and less socially protected.

To understand what is behind the low price few researchers from the Swiss NGO Public Eye and the Clean Clothes Campaign conducted an experiment. They tried to find the real cost of a Zara hoody. The task turned out to be complicated as the company wasn’t willing to disclose any information. The research team interviewed people in Turkey where the garments for Zara are produced. They analysed financial data and made some estimations with the help of experts in production and prices.

In the end, they found out that out of 27 euro average price more than two-thirds went to cover the Inditex/Zara costs and profits and VAT. And around 1.10 euro was paid to the worker for 30 minutes of work on one garment. This payment is far from the minimum hourly wage even by Turkish standards. Should we also take into account this particular piece of clothing was a part of the “ sustainability” line of Zara.

This seemingly easy task of calculating the breakdown of the price took a group of professional researchers 6 months. What does it say about the company’s efforts for transparency? Nothing good.

Obviously, Zara is not unique in this industry and didn't purposefully hide the information. That is how the fast fashion industry works — at the highest speed with the lowest price with the most opaque supply chain. Even with the recent extensive efforts for sustainability and transparency major retailing brands continue to fail at each step. A not-for-profit group Fashion Revolution, estimated that only two (OVS and Patagonia) of the world’s 250 largest fashion brands disclose how many of their workers are paid a living wage. And that despite the profits the company founders and top-management makes.

Is the fault fully lying on the industry and regulators? Basically, yes. However, the problem with cheap isn’t created by the low-income households. It is the middle-class shoppers who extensively participate in over-consumption, buying more than need and contribute to filling up landfills with textile waste.

According to the UN estimates, the average consumer buys 60% more pieces of clothing during his whole life now than they did 15 years ago. Meanwhile, fashion is getting cheaper and cheaper with new online retailers selling clothes at the price averaging 1–2 euro or dollar for the t-shirt.

Some sustainable fashion experts advise looking at the price of a garment you want to buy and try to break down the labour on it. For example, if a dress costs less than 50 euro/dollars, how long would it take for a person to make it and how much could she get paid? Of course, it is very subjective as there are too many factors that should be taken into account and all the data that we don’t have.

Buying fewer items of better and more durable quality, recycling and reusing — is the only and best advice for the consumers while the system shifts and the business model changes.




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