Why is sustainable fashion more expensive than fast fashion?

There is a growing demand for eco-friendly clothing, but most people don’t want to pay more for it. Fair enough, as fast fashion has taught us to expect that a t-shirt should cost HKD$70, when a sustainable brand sells one for $200, it’s easy to dismiss them as catering exclusively to the wealthy. However, there are good reasons for the seemingly eyebrow-raising prices of sustainable fashion.

“The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual greenhouse gas emissions” 

So it’s important that sustainable fashion is accessible to all, not just an elite few who can afford to be eco-conscious. Thankfully a survey found that 67% of consumers consider eco-friendly materials to be an important factor when buying clothes. Unfortunately, less than a third are willing to pay more for eco-friendly products. It’s a catch-22 because demand determines supply but as sustainable clothing becomes more mainstream, prices will decrease and become more affordable.


Fast fashion cuts corners

Fast fashion brands are able to price their clothes so low because they essentially cut corners. They do this by treatmenting their garment workers unfairly with up to 93% of brands not even paying them a living wage, to the cheap and short lifespan of the fabric used. This allows businesses to make a lot of items quickly and sell more for less but we need to ask ourselves: is clothing really cheaper if it means exploiting people and the planet to ensure low prices and a quick turnaround? 

So, for now you and I may have to be willing to pay more to ensure that the clothing we’re buying is sustainable but consider this: investing in clothes that are better quality and therefore you can wear for years to come, brings the cost per wear down!


No one is suggesting you pay $900 for a t-shirt, but investing in one that costs more than what you would normally pay and that is designed to last longer, will make you, the planet and your wallet happier! 

Supporting brands that put an emphasis on sustainability, and asking more of those that don’t will help make sustainable fashion more accessible.

There is a lot of power in the decisions we as consumers make so we should use this power for good.

Here are some great sustainable brands we love: 

5 most and least sustainable fabrics

As fast fashion begins to slow down, old and new brands are starting to see that not only are sustainable fabrics the best choice for the environment, they are also in higher demand than ever. We all know consumer demand is the key to creating lasting change and at 8Shades we are all about making more conscious choices even if it’s just a small change.

Did you know as much as 35% of all microplastics in the marine environment are fibres from synthetic clothing, largely a result of fast fashion. These fabrics are durable, cheap and easily available, but many of them are made through wasteful, chemically-intensive or ethically harmful processes.

Additionally, the fashion industry is responsible for 20% of global wastewater, while also releasing 50 billion plastic bottles’ worth of microplastics into the environment each year. So let’s all do our part.


Here’s our list of five synthetic fabrics to avoid:

Polyester, Acrylic and Nylon

Most synthetic fibres are made from crude oil, so they are non-biodegradable and not easily recyclable, each taking up to 200 years to break down. They also shed microplastics when used or washed with each washing cycle releasing over 700,000 microplastic fibres into the environment!

Polyester

Polyester is used in many products, from T-shirts to bottles. Polyester is incredibly water-intensive to produce and the wastewater contains harmful chemical dyes that spill into waterways, polluting local communities and causing health issues to factory workers. 

Acrylic

Acrylic is used to make winter essentials, like sweaters, hats and gloves, but its environmental impact is not so warm and fuzzy- acrylonitrile, a key ingredient in acrylic production, can enter the body through skin contact or inhalation and cause dizziness, and nausea for the people making these clothes.

Nylon

Typically used in tights and stockings, as well as swim and activewear, its production uses massive amounts of water and energy, polluting water in the process. Producing nylon also creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 300 times more concentrated than carbon dioxide!

Cotton

Conventional cotton (not to be confused with organic cotton) is one of the biggest water-wasting crops on the planet; a single pair of jeans requires more than 70,000 litres, while a T-shirt requires 11,000 litres! Cotton farming also uses pesticides that sink into soil and water supplies. They don’t just harm bugs, short term pesticide exposure can cause nausea and seizures, while long-term exposure can cause asthma and cancer. 

Rayon

In a prime example of greenwashing, rayon is considered the “sustainable alternative” to polyester. Rayon is made by dissolving cellulose (the main element of plant cell walls) into a chemical solution and then spinning it into threads. The fibre itself is biodegradable and non-toxic, making it popular in fast fashion, but it is extremely water, energy and chemical intensive. The demand for the plant-based material also increases the demand for, you guessed it, plants; worsening deforestation. 

Biodegradability isn’t the only factor to consider though, durability contributes to slow fashion. So if it breaks down easily and naturally yet is not durable enough to wear for decades, is it really sustainable? We think not. Fear not though, all it takes is a little research to know what to look for and a few favourite brands that are doing things right. 


Thankfully, many in the industry are working to make sustainable clothing that doesn’t compromise on looks. 

Here’s our list of 5 natural fabrics to buy more of:

Linen

One of the oldest known fibres, linen is also one of the most sustainable. Its production process requires less water and pesticides than many other materials, making it chemical residue-free. Linen is absorbent, durable and breathable; while the time-consuming production process generally makes it more expensive, linen can decompose in as little as two weeks in the right environment. Check out Hong Kong-based brand Classics Anew, who gives the traditional Chinese qipao a contemporary twist by blending organic cotton and linen with classic Chinese elements like mandarin collars and buttons. 

Hemp

Hemp is the most durable of all natural fibres, requiring minimal water and pesticides, allowing it to decompose in as little as four months. Hemp also adds rich organic matter to soil, making it safe to dispose of. Lightweight and sweat-absorbent, hemp fibre is perfect for humid Asian weather. Levi’s Wellthread Collection includes its classic 511 jeans made with hemp fibre.

Organic Cotton

Not to be confused with “conventional” cotton, organic cotton is produced without pesticides or fertilisers, making the end products free of chemical residues and able to decompose within just 5 months. Everlane offers a vast range of clothing pieces that are made using recycled materials and organic cotton and has vowed to move all of its cotton to certified organic by 2023.

Soy

To produce soy fibres, soybean proteins are broken down and filtered into long strands. These fibres absorb dyes quickly and have UV-resistant qualities, making them ideal for summertime. 

Cellulose Fibre

Cellulose fibres, including modal, viscose and lyocell, are extracted from plant-based materials and are recyclable, biodegradable, and dye well, resulting in less chemical pollution. Trenery incorporates light & airy cellulosic fibres in its clothing.


We love that more and more clothing manufacturers are choosing to use eco-friendly fabrics and diversifying their products, while reducing reliance on any 1 material resource. Now you know that your choices are important in paving the way for a more sustainable future, doing good and looking good. 

The Unleathering of Leather

Investors take note: the global vegan leather industry is forecasted to be worth nearly USD $90 billion by 2025! To put that in perspective, the global sports footwear market is currently valued at USD $90.4 billion. Wait a second, what exactly is vegan leather? Some of you may have heard of or even own faux fur. Well, like faux fur, vegan leather doesn’t use any animal skins or animal-derived materials.

SUPPLY AND DEMAND BABY

We have to thank our eco-warriors for vegan leather’s meteoric rise in popularity. Today’s consumers are becoming more conscious about the environmental footprint of not just what they eat but what they wear and their dollars are speaking. In addition to issues of animal cruelty, traditional leather production is linked to some serious environmental hazards. 

90% of animal leather is made by tanning the hide (skin) of animals (most often cows, but also goats, kangaroos, crocodiles, fish) with chromium sulfate and other chromium salts. These are toxic and carcinogenic chemicals that often make their way into soil, waterways, and farmlands, and have caused respiratory problems, infections, infertility and birth defects among animals and humans.

More companies are hearing customers’ demands for planet friendly leather options, recognizing that their failure to innovate will cost them losses in market share; sadly that’s what drives most companies, but the tides of change are upon us. 

NEW MATERIALS FOR A NEW WORLD

It’s important to note however that most vegan leather is still made of or contains some form of plastic. As we highlight in “plastic is not so fantastic”, plastics are made of fossil fuels and do not biodegrade. Fortunately, researchers, scientists, and innovators have been hard at work creating vegan leather that is actually sustainable. Check out our list of eight bio-materials that we were shocked yet excited to find in the booming vegan leather industry. 


1.

There is Mushroom in Our Hearts 

Bolt Threadsis a startup company that’s specialized in growing next generation fibers that are inspired by nature. Although the startup is best known for creating Microsilk, a polymer bioengineered to mimic spider silk, the company has recently debuted a handbag made from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms.

2.

Always Strive for Grapeness 

Vegea is an Italian company that has developed vegan leather made entirely from grapes and waste products of the wine industry. Last year, H&M launched an entire collection with Vegea, and Bentley has even used grape leather to line the interior of its 100th anniversary car.

3.

Let’s Live Apple-y Ever After 

Frumat is an Italian company that is based in the north of Italy, a region known for the production of apples. The company has engineered a bio-based leather alternative using the apple industry’s food waste, including the peel and the core of apples.

4.

You’re Berry Special 

Gunas is an American handbag company that uses 100% vegan leather in all of its designs. Recently, they launched Moby, the first unisex bag that was made by artisans in South Korea using layers of handmade paper coated with Mulberry tree leaf pulp.  

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I’m Coconuts about You 

Malai is an Indian company started by product designers, mechanical engineers and fashion designers. Partnering with local coconut farmers, the company collects their waste coconut water that would otherwise be dumped and has transformed it into a bio-composite material with a leather feel.

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Don’t pine for me 

Piñatex is a natural, non-woven leather alternative that is made from the cellulose fibres extracted from pineapple leaves. Piñatex is certainly a fan favorite and has been featured in the product lines of Puma, Hugo Boss and even Chanel! Also, #womanboss alert: Dr. Carmen Hijosa developed Piñatex at the age of 62, while undertaking her PhD at the Royal College of Art in London. She is a trailblazing entrepreneur that has won numerous innovation awards. You can find her Ted Talk here.

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Always shake your boochy 

Bulgarian-born fashion designer Galina Mihaleva has recently created vegan leather using kombucha, the fizzy probiotic drink that all of us love.

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Be-Leaf in Yourself 

Nuvi Nomad is a Frankfurt company that sells vegan leather products that are made from teak leaves sustainably sourced and handpicked by farmers in Chiang Mai.


Can you believe that disgards of everyday fruits, vegetables and other plants are at the frontier of eco-friendly innovation? It’s true that luxury designers have been slower to embrace leather alternatives, understandably so because leather is considered an item of luxury. Nevertheless, let’s not forget that the most successful companies are those that dared to pioneer, those that were disruptive, and those that didn’t always take the well trodden path. 

Did you know that Tesla’s Luxury Model 3 interior is 100% vegan? From its seats to the steering wheel, the entire car is leather free! Kudos, Elon. 

Now, it’s your turn to demand all this creative change to be accessible to everyone, especially from the fashion industry.  

Watch: Veronica Chou, Applying material science to materialism

8Shaders, welcome to the first ever episode of 8ShadesTV! 

Since this is our very first episode, of course my inaugural guest is someone paramount in my own life but more importantly making footprints, not the carbon kind, in the sustainable fashion world.

Let’s be realistic here for a second, are we ever going to stop consuming? It will take a lot for our economy to change, so we are faced with finding ways to make sure our choices are making fewer footprints, of the bad kind. 

Everybody and Everyone’s favorite Veronica Chou – pun intended. Watch Veronica and I discussing sustainability in fashion right here.

In 2019, Veronica launched her first eco-innovative, sustainable, size inclusive and body positive womenswear, Everybody and Everyone. They offer sizes between 00-24 which aims to provide accessible, everyday clothing to make our hectic lives just that little bit simpler. Their designs are so versatile and can be worn in a variety of ways so that you can buy quality clothes that will last longer, ultimately buying less resulting in less waste, AKA slow fashion


Sustainability at the core of Everybody and Everyone

Take a scroll through our 8Shades Pick of the week and you will see Everybody and Everyone’s newly launched athletic wear (that you see us wearing here) which can biodegrade in landfill in just 3 years. Everybody and Everyone partners with EcoAlf for their signature dual-use puffer coat which is made from reclaimed ocean plastic bottles and recycled polyester. They also use material science to create pants that are made of sugar extracted from agriculture waste … sweet!

Their products are coated with PFOA/PFC free finishes and activated with recycled silver for odor control and anti-microbial property. This results in less laundry, less water wastage and fewer chores – phew! 

Another way they are eliminating waste is by using technology to visualize garments in 3D before producing them, eradicating the need to manufacture endless prototypes.

A brand this incredible of course has a cool charity collaboration and are working with One Tree Planted to plant a tree for every product sold.  Everybody and Everyone are definitely a brand that we are supporting all the way.


8Shades of Veronica Chou

Aside from our hike, Veronica also took some time to answer our new “8Shadey questions”, designed to give you a more intimate peek into the lives of our featured guests!

7 Steps to curating a conscious wardrobe


1.

Use the 30 wears test to guide your shopping decisions; ask yourself “will I wear it a minimum of thirty times?” 

You’ll be surprised with how many times you might say no. Check out the #30Wears campaign to see why and how. 


2.

Invest in high-quality, timeless, well-made pieces, or just borrow!

If you are on the hunt for something special to wear to an event, check out shops like Wardrobista, or Pret-a-Dress where you can rent clothes for any occasion. Or check out clothes brand ADAY which is established with the “less is more” approach in mind. 


3.

Look for sustainable fabrics. 

Our favorites include organic hemp, Piñatex, and recycled cotton. There are also other vegan leather products entering the market on a regular basis to keep an eye on. 


4.

Research before you buy. 

How do we know if a brand is truly sustainable? A good starting point is checking out what legitimate sustainability websites are writing about them – some brands on their own websites might come across as being greener than they actually are (AKA greenwashing). Always read 3rd party write-ups that don’t just reflect a brands website. 


5.

Do a closet audit and donate instead of dumping. 

Think about the pieces that you love and why you love them. You may find that most of your favorite pieces are your basics. Being intentional about investing in trans-seasonal basics (garments that I can wear all year around) is a really good starting point to resist impulsive fashion faux-pas. 


6.

Look after your clothes so they last longer. 

Go to a local tailor and talk to them about how you can upcycle, repair or better yet, take up a new hobby and do it yourself! It’s really fun and a great way to start exercising your creativity. 


7.

Be mindful of how much you wash and dry. 

If there’s a small stain, use stain remover to rinse it out instead of washing the whole thing. Stay away from machine dryers, they cause clothes to deteriorate quicker and use more resources to run. 

Be More Mindful With Slow Fashion

We are all well-acquainted with fast fashion and its various problems, but what on earth is slow fashion? Firstly, there is no solid definition, but we need to deviate from the common belief that these two names have anything to do with time to begin with. 

Slow fashion finds much inspiration in the Slow Food Movement, which was created by Carlo Petrini in 1986 and linked together food and its ensuing pleasure with greater awareness and responsibility, both as an individual and as a community. It fiercely guards biodiversity, preserves the need for consumer information and protects cultural identities through its food. 

Similarly, slow fashion is a more peaceful, mindful way of consuming fashion – it focuses on the planet and all its people. It begins with an individual breaking down and understanding what their needs are and proceeding to address these needs in the most sustainable, ethical way, along with as much information as possible. This could mean shopping second hand and vintage, putting together a capsule wardrobe, highlighting the importance of natural, high-quality fabrics, or simply buying less.

“With increased awareness and demands for improved sustainability and ethical practices – the viscous cycle begins and ends with us”

Slow fashion is so much more to do with choice and autonomy, and along with it, bolsters our psychological need to create our own identity, communicate through our clothing and be creative; it strives to strike a balance. On the other hand, fast fashion offers zero individuality and does everything it can to disrupt said balance. It shifts focus onto quantity and frequency, hiding behind it poverty, climate issues, unfair production practices and completely disengages us from reality. 

Slow fashion allows companies themselves to plan accordingly and build upon profound, mutually beneficial partnerships in order to provide employees with more secure employment and improved opportunities. The concept of slower fashion has gained traction in recent years, and we are lucky enough to be provided with a great deal of options. With increased awareness and demands for improved sustainability and ethical practices – the viscous cycle begins and ends with us. Remember that.

Here’s what slow fashion in Hong Kong has to offer. 

Basics for Basics was founded by Kayla Wong and focuses on… who guessed it? Basics. Comfy t-shirts, jumpers and tank tops are the name of the game here, all designed in-house, produced in ethically mandated factories and aim to reduce carbon footprint. Its limited stock is a result of relying on excess fabric found, which is used in conjunction in its collections, with organic cotton that is certified by FLO and GOTS. A passionate supporter of fair trade, Basics for Basics also works with local programme Hands On Hong Kong, whose mission is to empower us all to volunteer. 


Eschewing the standard pre-order protocol for material sourcing, Love From Blue searches for deadstock yarn to use in its folky knitwear, whose designs are dictated by said deadstock yarn and inspired by the landscapes of Hong Kong. Its first collection named “Drop 1” features the cosy Bay sweater, which pays homage to memories of camping in Tai Long Wan.

A thoughtful company at heart, Love From Blue was founded by Grace Lant and promises a mindful, closed-loop approach to its collections. 

For proof slow and sustainable fashion isn’t simply relegated to basic pieces, fashion designer Angus Tsui began his journey with an unyielding intention to be environmentally sustainable without compromising his futuristic, avant-garde ideas and silhouettes. 

Having already reached international acclaim since its 2014 inception, Tsui worked closely with upcycling pioneers such as Orsola de Castro to offer a fashion line that undertakes a sustainable journey from supply chain, design, sourcing, production, retailing, campaign and even after-sale services. Moreover, Tsui established an educational charity named ANCares, which works closely with NGOs such as Friends of the Earth, Redress and St. James Settlement to present workshops and exhibitions. He has, in the past, partnered with companies such as Cathay Pacific, Swire Properties and H&M, for example, to work on upcycled projects using various sustainable materials. 

Support local and go SLOW.