why the cost per wear concept is important when ethical shopping

Let me explain why the cost-per-wear concept is one of your most useful tools when ethical shopping.

In another of my how to build an ethical wardrobe from scratch series, I want to again look at how to develop more mindful approaches to consumerism.

Last time I spoke about removing yourself from mailing lists, which is something I have found really helpful to resist fast fashion temptation. Today let’s talk maths.

Everyone Loves A Bargain

Fast fashion is cheap.  It’s undeniably difficult to avoid its lure. Especially when there is often a huge difference in price between an item of clothing on the high street and its ethical counterpart, and your budget is tight.  My budget is tight so I get this.  Everyone wants to get the most for their money and feel like they’ve got a bargain.  I’m no different.

So, is there a way to reconcile shopping ethically with shopping on a budget?  I like to think so. It’s called cost per wear analysis.

But before we get to that, let’s put all ethics aside for now.  Let’s imagine I take a completely hypothetical shopping trip to the high street.

Picture the scene. It’s a sunny autumnal Saturday, just after payday.  I have budgeted and decided I can spend up to £50 on clothes this month.  I meet my friends for a coffee and a catch-up, and then we head to our favourite fast fashion shop.  I buy a pair of skinny jeans for £15 because I figure you can never have too many of this wardrobe staple, especially at that price.

At the shop next door, I pick up a red ‘going out’ top for £10, even though I don’t really need it.  The thing is it’s pretty and on sale. My friends encourage me to buy the top because we’re going out for drinks that night and I can wear it then. 

Impulsively I also pick up a pair of red shoes for £15 because they go with the top, even though they don’t go with anything else I own.  Giving me a total spend of £40.  I go out that night in my £40 outfit and feel great.

Introducing Cost Per Wear

Sadly, my retail high doesn’t last that long.  

The cheap top loses its shape in the wash after two wears and I discard it.  Cost per wear?  £5. 

I wore the shoes once but since I discarded the top that matches, the shoes languish at the back of the wardrobe forevermore.  Cost per wear?  £15. 

The cheaply made skinny jeans develop a tear in the crotch after a couple of months of wear. I can’t repair the tear. I try to find a tailor to repair the jeans, but the repair cost is more than I paid for the jeans, so I bin them.  Let’s say the cost per wear was £1.

From a total hypothetical spend of £40, the cost per wear of these purchases was a huge £21.

Why Cost Per Wear Works

If I had decluttered my wardrobe, and examined the gaps, I would have known that I didn’t need the skinny jeans. Nor did I need a ‘going out’ top. And I would have known I definitely didn’t need the red shoes.

Instead, I would have known that what I did need was in fact a classic black go-with-everything top.  I could have shopped ethically and bought a well-made quality black top* for £48. A top that I would know I would wear repeatedly, giving me a much much lower cost per wear.  If I wear the top 40 times, the cost per wear of my £48 top would be a bargainous £1.20.

Suddenly, using cost-per-wear analysis, those cheap fast-fashion purchases don’t seem to add up. Nor do they seem quite so good value anymore.  That more expensive but better made, ethically produced top suddenly becomes better value in the long run.

The idea of saving up to shop for better-made ethically produced pieces becomes more appealing and makes more economic sense.  So, if you ever need an economic argument for shopping ethically then there you have it. Cost per wear coupled with only shopping for what you really really need.

If you need another economic argument for shopping ethically then this cost analysis of a $10 (non fair trade) top is also useful.

Join me next time to talk about all things Black Friday shopping, and how to keep your cool whilst prices fall.

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