The real cost of 'Throwaway Fashion'

One year the grandparents asked if they could buy my girls fluffy slippers for Christmas. I had already bought some and offered those, but they felt that they were too pricy and wanted to choose their own, and so I returned mine.

The following week 2 pairs arrived in the wrong size, and I asked for the receipt to exchange them. “Oh, don’t worry, they were only 3 quid, chuck them out,” was the cheerful reply.

I am so much on the forefront of ethical living, that it is very hard for me to accept that those closest to me don’t care as much as I do. I know everything is easily available. I know everyone else is doing it.  I know saving money is important. But see, these 3 quid pair of slippers had to be designed, manufactured, stored, shipped, flown, unloaded and driven around, more storage, brought to the store and displayed for sale. Everyone along the way had to make a profit, while still paying production costs and paying salaries. That is a tall order to fulfil for a 3 quid pair of slippers.

My mind often baffles when I see super cheap clothing: How can a knitted jumper be £3? A pair of Jeans £6?

The expectation that fashion should be available at less than the price of a coffee is a relatively new one, and shopping has become a hobby instead of a necessity. But cheap fashion is not all it seems to be, and truly, there is a very high price to pay indeed.


The demand for cheaper and cheaper clothing means that the profit margins get slimmer. As I wrote above, the manufacturing process between the more expensive and the cheap slippers is pretty much the same from design to shop floor — and someone must carry the costs. Generally that means the workers at the end of the supply chain.

It has become completely impossible for most companies to produce clothing in the West, where we have unions and people make an actual living when working in a factory (and that is beside the fact that sweat shops are as much an issue here than every else in the world). But as long as we are prepared not to look beyond the price, inequality and poverty will continue to be the norm.


Climate issues start with production: the worst fabrics for the environment are cotton, synthetics and animal-derived materials — farming uses high levels of pesticides and toxic chemicals that seep into the earth and water supplies.

But it does not stop there. Did you know that 90% of all clothing ends up in a landfill? The surplus of unwanted fashion and especially cheap mass-production, means it cannot be passed on. You may feel good bringing your ‘almost new’ items into the charity shop, but that is just making it someone else’s problem. There is no easy way to dispose of the clothing mountain

Your own hard earned cash.

I hear the argument of price, especially from parents. But buying it cheap truly is false economy. One mum friend of mine literally bought a pair of jeans for her two boys every month. It was in her household budget, as they’d rip them in no time. So, let’s do some maths: I spent over 3 times as much as she did on a pair of jeans in September, for two pairs. But they lasted for the whole year, and then were passed on to my second child (who, truthfully, did not thank me all that much).

9 x £20 x 2 (for two years), a whopping £360 for boys jeans (18 pairs in total, not counting the summers). As opposed to £95 for 3 pairs, that could then be passed on. My little girl once wore a dress that was recognised by a young graduate at a family party as her first party dress!

But it is the same for everyone, not just kids. I like fashion, but I also have favourites that I want to wear over, and over again, such as my cashmere jumper which is as light as a cloud and dresses up as well as down. Or a timeless summer dress that was just perfect for my body, and still looks great 20 years on (there you have it, I am a little older than some of you…). If neither the environment nor humanitarian aspect were of interest for you (and they are, I know, because you are reading this), your money should be the cruncher.

There is a big price to pay for throwaway fashion — and we are the marketing gurus biggest weapon. As long as we are prepared to look the other way, the planet and its people will suffer. And it’s not the people at the other end of the planet who are causing it - it’s us, and our demand for new clothes for every opportunity.