Australians spend on average just $6.50 per item of clothing. How much should a t-shirt really cost? | life and style


Mhis favorite t-shirt is almost six years old. This is a black fitted crew neck t-shirt made in Australia from Japanese cotton jersey. Not a single T-shirt I’ve bought since comes close to the fit or quality.

I think it sold for around $200, which seemed like a lot at the time (and even more considering today’s cost of living crisis). But I still wear it regularly six years later (and not just around the house), so on a cost-per-wear basis, it has paid for itself.

Since reducing consumption is at the heart of a sustainable fashion industry, I spend a lot of time advocating for purchases like this: buy once, buy well! Unsurprisingly, what often comes up in these conversations is the price. Especially when it comes to basic items, like T-shirts.

A recent report from the Australian Fashion Council revealed how bad Australians are at buying once, buy well. The most terrifying statistic: on average Australians buy 56 new clothes a year at an average cost of $6.50 each. Which is somehow, disturbingly, lower than the price of many fast food burgers.

When I first saw this stat, I thought it must be a mistake. What kind of clothes are sold for so little? (It’s no wonder that nearly two-thirds of all the clothes we buy end up in landfill despite being so cheap). And worse, who is obliged to manufacture them?

As sale season approaches, it’s worth thinking about the elements that go into a t-shirt, so you can compare them with the retail price.

The basics

Generally speaking, the price of a T-shirt is calculated by combining the cost of materials and the cost of labor; this figure is then multiplied to account for the overhead costs of running a business (usually by 2.2) and then by 2.2 again to calculate the retail price. These margins vary depending on the business model, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

Let’s start with the cost of the material

According to Courtney Holm, the founder and designer of A.BCH, the quality and type of fabric will dictate a large part of the price of a T-shirt (about a third of the cost price to the brand, and a tenth of the retail price). She pays $8.63 for a GOTS-certified organic cotton t-shirt that has been ground in Australia.

Natural fibers will generally be more expensive than synthetic blends, she says. But “100% natural fibers like cotton, linen, hemp or wool t-shirts will generally last longer – less pilling, less stains and stink – than blended materials (like poly/cotton or cotton spandex). ) and will generally represent better value for money. for longer term money.

Other things to consider are the type of threads, labels and packaging used. In addition to feel, “heavier t-shirts will be more expensive because they require more material to make, but again should last longer than a cheaper thin t-shirt.”

The price of labor

It takes about 24 minutes to cut and sew a t-shirt. Photo: Hill Street Studios/Getty Images

I think it’s helpful when considering the labor cost of a t-shirt to consider the steps involved in making it. Someone has to lay out a pattern and physically cut the material into suitable pieces, before sitting down in front of a sewing machine and working them into a garment with hems and a collar. According to Holm, it takes about 24 minutes and is nearly half the cost price.

It should be noted that when the clothes are produced in large quantities, the cutting can be done in bulk, which saves time. And simple T-shirts might have a faster turnaround time for a highly skilled worker. But the reality is that the lower the price of the t-shirt, the more likely it is that a garment worker was pressed either for time or money, although a luxury price does not guarantee conditions either. fair to the person who made it. Although it doesn’t cover all brands, you can get a good idea of ​​whether a company is paying its employees a living wage by researching them in The Good On You directory.

where it’s done

Where a garment was made will also influence its price. Compared to Southeast Asia, where the vast majority of the world’s fabrics and garments are produced, the energy and labor costs of manufacturing in Australia are high.

Although a Made in Australia label does not necessarily guarantee best practice, local factories must comply with Australian workplace laws and environmental standards, while proximity to design studios facilitates visibility into working conditions. work.

Other costs to consider

According to Holm, the retail price of a t-shirt will also need to consider some of the other elements of running a fashion business, such as GST, design, shipping, marketing, retail and website, and profits. She says that in her business these things make up about 50% of the retail price, but for other brands “sometimes the markup is even bigger.”

If you’re buying from a brand that’s invested in running their business ethically, your t-shirt may also include costs for certifications and a follow-up or repair program. Given all of this, it’s hard to see how everyone along a t-shirt’s supply chain (from the cotton producer, to the garment factory, to the design team and the retail store) could be treated fairly when a t-shirt costs $6.50.

“As an ordinary individual shopping for clothes, it can be difficult to know” the true cost of a garment, says Holm. Because of outsourcing, she sometimes says, “even the brand may not know each other, which is scary.”

A t-shirt that lasts

Portrait of woman inspecting t-shirt while standing at store
For a t-shirt that lasts, look for a mid-weight, natural fiber fabric, whether new or used. Photography: Chanintorn Vanichsawangphan/Getty Images/EyeEm

“Look for t-shirts that will last in quality, mid-weight knits,” says Holmes. “Cost per wear is a way to calculate what it’s really costing you over the long term…look for brands with follow-up programs where you might receive repairs, modifications or resale options for free or at low cost to help extend the life and value of the T-shirt even further.

Of course, not everyone can afford the upfront price of an ethically made t-shirt. Holmes’ suggestions for the fabric of a t-shirt apply “whether new or used”. A used t-shirt that’s built to last will often outlast a new, inferior top for the same price.


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