by Marie Heffernan
Have you ever found the perfect organic, ethically made piece of clothing only to look at the price tag and discover that it is way out of your budget? Yeah, me too. It can be a shocker at first, enough to make one empty their online shopping cart or put the piece of clothing right back on the rack.
The reason the cost of eco-friendly and ethically made fashion astounds us is because we are so accustomed to the fast fashion model. Which, when you look further into it, is not a pretty picture. There are countless corners being cut to reduce costs. This includes everything from not paying workers a “living wage” (more on this to come) to using materials that are harmful to the environment because they are the cheapest.
At Naturæ by Lola & August things are run a little differently. The entire brands of Naturæ and Lola & August are produced with ethics in mind. Both brands are sewn by contractors local to Toronto where the brands are based. These seamstresses are paid a living wage. A living wage is the amount someone is paid that will cover all of their life expenses including housing, food, transit, healthcare, childcare and taxes. This is different from minimum wage which is set by the government and may or may not cover all of one’s necessary expenses in order to live. In addition to treating workers fairly, Naturæ and Lola & August source materials locally whenever possible.
The Naturæ line uses fabrics that are 100% organic. The fabrics for this line are purchased from a local family business in Texas and are GOTS certified organic cotton as well as Fair Trade certified.
An organic and ethically produced panty protects the workers who produced it as well as the environment and the wearer’s health. This is because organic cotton does not contain any of the pesticides that conventional cotton does. But of course with all these great benefits costs do add up. Let’s take a look at how the costing of a Naturæ organic cotton panty breaks down.
The first line is what it costs to physically cut, make and sew the garment, so this cost would cover the sewer’s wage. The next two lines cover everything that makes up the garment; fabric, trims, labels and hangtags. With production and material costs at $23.83 CAD, one can already see the reasons for a slightly pricier panty. Next, take a look at the profit after a 60% markup, just $14.17. The majority of this markup profit will go toward the costs of marketing, shipping and administrative work which are all necessary activities in running a fashion business. The company is left with $4.17 CAD as their gross profit.
This is an example of what transparent pricing looks like. And, it is why the price tag of an organic, ethically made panty is so different than the 5 for $25 deals we are used to seeing. Considering this price breakdown, I wonder what cost the makers of the 5 for $25 panties are short-changing with those seemingly great deals.
It’s important to remember that every garment ever made (or being stitched as I type this) is produced by a human. Yes, technology is quite advanced; we have digital and 3D printing, and a variety of different machinery for various types of garments. Yet, every machine is currently still operated by a pair of human hands. And the seamstresses deserve to have the compensation that will allow them to keep themselves and their families healthy and safe. This can only happen when companies agree to pay their workers a fair and living wage.
Naturæ and Lola & August currently produce in a local fair trade facility in Toronto. But I do want to highlight that local production does not automatically mean ethical production. Workers’ rights can be violated anywhere, just as workers can be valued anywhere. It depends on the company and on the facilities they use in their production process.
There are positive aspects to both local and overseas production. When producing locally, it is easy to have visibility into the factory to check on ethics and quality. With local production, there is also a smaller shipping footprint. However, overseas production can also be very beneficial, when done ethically, for workers in developing countries. Overseas production often gives women an opportunity to work, which in turn allows them independence. Supporting artisans and keeping their craft alive is another way that producing overseas can positively affect a community.
Fair wages can happen anywhere. And it’s important that they happen everywhere. This is the goal. My hope is that with an understanding of pricing of ethical, organic garments, consumers will be inspired to ask the hard questions of their favorite brands when something doesn’t seem to be adding up. Request transparency; request an ethical way of business, and an ethical way of treating the planet and its people.