A change in the industry starts at the customer.
When it comes to sustainable fashion, quality is key. In complete contrast to fast fashion, clothes need to be built to last wear after wear, wash after wash, season after season. For this reason though, sustainable clothing is often more expensive to create, and therefore to buy, than its fast-fashion counterparts, which can put some people off. We spoke to one of London’s emerging sustainable brands to understand why it is necessary to have these higher price points, and why investing in them now might help to make sustainable fashion more affordable in the long term.
Sunny Williams, founder of House of Sunny, explains that the processes going into sustainable products are simply more complex than for fast-fashion pieces: “There are more stages involved and a system that’s a little bit more layered than a fast fashion prototype.”
Sourcing the right materials that will last and finding factories than run through ethical processes with fairly paid workers spans, so I think that’s where we justify that additional price. It's the reality of time and effort that result in extra costs and stages. The fabrics are more costly due to low-impact dyes being more expensive, for example, and we cannot overlook poor finishing, raw edges or low-quality fabrics that won't stand a couple of washes, just to bring down that price point to sell it in volume."
The company has been working with organic fabrics, such as cotton drills, which has all been developed in the East London atelier. Additionally, there has been a strong emphasis on working with recycled and environmentally friendly materials and techniques, such as using off cuts.
But, while using more complex and layered processes may increase price, Williams is of the belief that the more we all invest in sustainable fashion, the more affordable it will eventually become.
With most things in society that require change, we need a shift in mindset. We see daily reports on how the planet is in huge danger from climate change, including the species that inhabit it. If people start buying sustainable clothing when they’re able to, it will eventually lead to lower prices in a similar manner to what has happened with organic food.
A change in what the customer wants has a rippling effect throughout the fashion industry. Williams explains: “It might mean larger retailers will start to quickly adapt, they have the cash flow and the ability to change how they do things and they’ll lead as examples. It feels right.”
However, Williams also believes that there are ways to bring the price of sustainable fashion to a more realistic place now, which is what House of Sunny has achieved.
“We have a love for what we do and this opens the question to me that are these large margins to shop sustainable so necessary? Is it just profit? Or paying for systems? I raise this question as I think our prices are reasonable so it shows it’s possible to have an affordable price point and be sustainable.”
One of the reasons that House of Sunny is so affordable is because it goes directly to the customer and sells via Instagram. An e-commerce site wastes 30 per cent less energy than a traditional retail unit – and there is a clear appetite for House of Sunny's online-only approach, signalling that times are changing in the retail industry.
One in 12 shops on the British high street have closed in the last five years, according to the Guardian. In June, Topshop, formerly a British high-street giant, was saved from administrationafter a company voluntary arrangement agreed to chairman Philip Green’s proposed rent cuts - up to 50 per cent less - plus 23 store closures and 520 job losses.
And our relationship with shopping and fashion is changing far beyond online vs high-street. Take, for examples, the growth in a sharing economy for our wardrobes, through rental fashion sites.
So, just as we've seen with these changing shopping habits, the power really is in hands of the people. Williams has hope that with investment and support now, sustainable fashion will become more popular and therefore more affordable, moving us away from the need to purchase fast fashion. For the future of our planet, we hope that this is the case.