​How expensive is cheap?



Today I read a post on BoF that said: "Our biggest challenge is convincing consumers that they must be willing to pay more for goods produced consciously and ethically". I decided to write the post because recently, talking about sunscreens, going to zero waste fair and purchasing items, each of which is about x3 to x4 times more expensive than the same type of product (e.g. deodorant) I usually buy, made me think who these products are for. Who can afford them? Are they expensive for a reason? Are they elitist in a way? Or have we all been so brainwashed into thinking that everything can be so cheap, but really someone is paying the price somewhere down the line? It is relatively easy for me to buy into this kind of product because being unemployed and writing my posts in the hope to be heard, I am still supported by my parents. But what about other people who have to survive on a bare minimum and cannot always participate in the fairer consumption practices? Or are all of these just excuses?


I recently went to Lone Design Club, which is a brand and a pop-up that presents a selection of ethical and conscious small scale designers, who are innovative in different ways from their design to their approach to business. What I noticed was that the cheapest item of clothing I found was £108. It is not too bad for an ethically produced garment not made of virgin plastic, but it is no £2 Primark T-shirt (the price that an average consumer is used to). So let's imagine high street does not exist. Who can afford these clothes? I worked in the fashion industry, and I was paid a London living wage twice out of many jobs, and that was because one was an internship organised via university and another one I worked for almost free for a while before asking for the wage. But I wouldn't say that I would be able to live all chic on that money and most of my jobs I worked for no money at all, because I was hoping for experience in mopping the floors, making coffee and hopefully getting the connections I needed (I still don't have the contacts). If I had no support, I would probably be very environmental and buy no clothes, not even the vintage ones, let alone the ethical ones. What about people who work in the creative industries, have 100 other jobs besides their freelance career and support themselves entirely? I know some can go to charity shops, some of which if you spend enough time looking, you would have some lovely pieces.


I suppose it comes down to buy less and buy well, so instead of buying 100 pieces as Instagram, fashion magazines, bloggers, celebrities and high street suggest, buy one key piece that you love for your wardrobe. Recently I read Stylist, which made me feel glad that they covered a few environmental issues, but also sad because they still have to promote brands and trends to make money. Reading it felt so contradictory: "Take care of the environment! But please buy this new YSL lip lacquer" (but that's a theme for another day). With all this influence and contradiction it feels impossible not to want to participate and 'get the look', especially when it is available so cheaply.


Besides the clothing, which we all probably have in incredibly unnecessary amounts, what about homeware, cleaning products, shampoo bars etc.? Most of the ethical zero-waste products are more expensive than the usual plastic alternative. I am hoping they last longer, so I am investing into £2.95 sponge vs a set of 3 for £0.65 made of and packaged in plastic. To justify the amount spent, if I usually use a sponge for a month (they get destroyed by knives so fast), I have to use the ethical sponge for 13 months (I bought it in March 2019, so it better last till April 2020). So far my eco-sponge is doing well btw. Again, taking into consideration the salaries paid in London especially for creative jobs, I really wonder who would run for the eco option.


However, I should consider the makers. Businesses (including my own in the making) have to pay everyone in the production chain fair wages, their own salaries, ethically source all the resources to make the product responsibly, probably make locally or somewhat locally to reduce the environmental impact. All that costs, subsequently the consumer has to pay. It will take time before people, myself included, will start consuming less and/or more consciously. Getting accustomed to the new prices may take a while before the citizens (consumers) will get used to the fact that they 'suddenly' have to pay 4 times of what they usually pay. A lot of ridiculously cheap items cost a life of a person we don't see, be it their health, living conditions or working conditions. We have been so brainwashed and offered such cheap readily available (and easily breakable) items of clothing and homeware, that we think this is how much it costs, but it doesn't. Hopefully, the ethical products will last longer and consuming less will enable people to have more money to spend on a more conscious deodorant.


Right now life feels like a vicious circle, people slave in the less-developed countries to make clothing for the western world, where people buying it are slaving for their employers getting non-existent salary, which is just enough to afford Forever 21 as a treat. Is this all some form of a scam, where very few are making money out of this very unsustainable system? Probably...




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