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Why your $10 t-shirt is more expensive than you think

T-shirts are one of the most basic and popular items of clothing. Look in your closet and count how many you have – we’re guessing it’s between 5-10, if not more. They're a wardrobe staple, and everyone owns at least a few, ourselves included. There's nothing better than a perfectly fitting plain white tee, and the styling options are endless. But as basic as they seem, it's important to understand the true price we pay when opting for an ultra-cheap version.

a woman walks along a plastic-free beach, which illustrates the importance of ocean cleanup and reducing our consumption

CPW = Cost Per Wear

While a $10 t-shirt may seem like a no-brainer, let's break down the actual cost over a longer period of time. You might have heard the term “cost per wear”, but what is it exactly? It’s quite simple – basically you divide the cost of a garment by the amount times you wear it, which can really help you understand the value of that garment.

fast fashion brands use heavy greenwashing tactics, especially during earth month. Their goal is to sell you even more stuff, while turning a massive profit, without any concern for people or the planet

When we’re shopping for a new item, we like to ask ourselves if we will wear the garment at least 30 times. If we will, then it's a staple piece that we may choose to add to our wardrobe. But knowing that it'll get so much wear makes us think twice about how it's made – and whether it will last for 30 wears.

It is estimated that the average person only wears a garment 7 times before it ends up in landfill.

A simple way to invest in better quality pieces is to buy 100% natural fibres and do a bit of research into the company’s values before purchasing. More expensive does not always mean more sustainable. It is far more environmentally friendly (and budget friendly) to have a piece of clothing that will last for years, as opposed to one that you have to replace every couple of months.

Let's do some quick math

$10 / 2 wears = $5.00 per wear

$50 / 30 wears = $1.67 per wear

If you wanted to get the same number of 'wears' from the cheaper option, you would need to buy that cheap t-shirt 15x in order to make up to the more expensive option, meaning you'll spend 15x more too. Now that $10 t-shirt ends up being $150. See where we're going with this?

Now if you think about this $50 t-shirt, you'll probably have it for much longer than a year, which would end up being far more than only 30 wears. Not only does a garment get "cheaper" every time you wear it, it plays a huge role in saving garments from ending up in the landfills. Worth the initial investment, in our opinion!

The Bigger Picture

Ok so now we know opting for the cheap version actually ends up being more expensive, let's also consider the impact of one piece of clothing compared to 15 pieces of clothing that essentially serve the same purpose. Most t-shirts are made from cotton, which has an extremely water-intensive growing and manufacturing process. So it's essentially 15x the natural resources, 15x the amount of land / crops used, 15x the labour required, and 15x the amount of chemicals ending up in our waterways.

One of the major impacts of the manufacturing of t-shirts is in the dyeing processes, as cheap t-shirts are made by companies who use harmful synthetic dyes and the wastewater from this is just flushed into the rivers and lakes, polluting them with toxins. This not only affects the communities who live in those areas, it also directly impacts the aquatic life and the surrounding soil.

The truth is, the cost of a cheap t-shirt is not just the dollar price we pay, but the environmental, ethical, and social cost of these garments.

Next time you're shopping for a basic t-shirt, do a bit of research beforehand, and decide which companies you choose to support. Maybe spending a bit more up front will save you money in the long run, and keep a few extra garments from ending up in landfills. And the next event you're at, where they're shooting branded t-shirts out of a t-shirt gun? Skip them – you'll never wear it, and they will most likely end up directly in the landfill!

And if you're still on the hunt for that *perfect* t-shirt, here are a few of our picks - sustainable, ethical, local. You're welcome!


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