Hanna Baror-Padilla is the founder of Sotela — an ethical fashion brand for the conscious woman.
The first questions I get asked when I tell someone that Sotela is an ethical fashion company that only uses eco-friendly fabrics is, “how much would your dresses cost?” and “wouldn’t it be cheaper to produce in China?”
Sometimes I delve deep into the conversation about sweatshops, factory tragedies, child labor, and how fast fashion is perpetuating modern day slavery; while other times I just answer them directly. My answers are sometimes met with support or even criticism because most people aren’t used to spending over $100 on a dress. They would much rather buy a dress that was made in China if it means they can spend $25 on it. Thanks to fast fashion, we’ve been trained to buy things frequently and cheaply. Today, I will share certain challenges ethical fashion companies face when they choose to produce domestically and with eco-friendly fabrics.
The real reason behind ethical fashion's 'high' prices.
Launching an ethical fashion brand can be challenging because not only am I selling clothing online (which can be difficult in of itself), but also because it is more expensive than what you would find at big box retailers. The biggest challenge for any ethical fashion brand is to convince potential customers that the high prices are what they should be paying for if everyone is receiving fair living wages. I often hear criticisms that ethical fashion companies are taking advantage of their customers by charging exorbitant prices. However, ethical fashion companies are the ones with the lowest profit margins because their cost of goods are so high!
For example, eco-friendly fabric is about 7 times more than conventional fabrics like polyester and nylon. You can find polyester at $.99 a yard (91.44 cms), while the most affordable eco-friendly fabrics like modal, are about $7.00 per yard. If you decide to use a woven eco-friendly fabric like tencel, prices are usually about $10 per yard. Eco-friendly fabric is more expensive because it is derived from more natural sources that don’t require toxins. Modal is made from the pulp of renewable beech trees that propagate on their own. Tencel is made from natural wood fibers that require less water and are produced using a closed loop system that recycles the solvents for future use.
Manufacturing in factories in the USA is costly compared to sweatshops because of strict labor laws that luckily enforce the minimum wage. Fast fashion stores like Forever 21 and H&M manufacture in factories that pay their employees several dollars a month. The factory I chose to manufacture for Sotela, pays their employees based on skill level, which is more than the minimum wage. I visit the factory frequently to make sure everything is up to par and employees are working in a safe and clean work environment.
With the cost of fabric and manufacturing, you are looking at a garment that can cost anywhere from $30-$60 depending on various factors. If you decide to eventually sell wholesale, you also have to take those costs into consideration, which increases your overall retail price.
So after all that, why launch an ethical fashion brand?
Even though there are certain challenges such as higher costs and lower profit margins, I wake up ecstatic that I get to work on this dream every single day with Sotela. I’m hoping that Sotela becomes more than just an ethical fashion company, but also a catalyst for change in how women feel about themselves and the clothing they buy. Sotela’s debut collection spans multiple sizes, leaving room for our dynamic bodies to stretch and grow in the beautiful and natural ways they do. Women’s bodies change all the time, whether we are pregnant, bloated, lose weight, or gain weight and often find ourselves with clothing that don’t meet this physical reality. In order to combat this problem and women having to buy new clothing every time their body changes, I carefully designed looser fitting dresses that aren’t tight, but still flattering. A closet where everything fits shouldn’t be a fantasy!
Even though each dress in Sotela’s collection is more expensive than what you would find at the mall, you can rest assured that it is priced accordingly due to the costs of fabric and domestic production. Each eco-friendly dress is made by skilled employees receiving fair living wages working in a safe and clean working environment.
Sotela’s first collection is available for preorder on Kickstarter and will solve the “nothing fits” dilemma with dresses that span several sizes. To learn more about Hanna's foray into running an ethical fashion business, make sure to visit http://sotela.co.