The True Cost of a T-Shirt
If you’re like most Americans, you have so much clothing that you can simply choose to throw items away when they begin to wear or you tire of them. In fact, the average American sends a whopping 65 pounds of clothing to landfills every year. And why not? With the cost of items like t-shirts so low, it’s hard to see the value of reselling or otherwise recycling them.
A blank t-shirt at wholesale can cost as little as $2 when produced or purchased in bulk, making it easy for manufacturers to pass them on to consumers like you at low prices, while still maintaining a pretty healthy profit margin. But, did you ever step back and wonder how a t-shirt can be produced at such a low, low price?
Here’s how most t-shirts are made:
- Major retailers and traders use their purchasing power to source fibers at the lowest possible price from developing countries.
- These fibers, including cotton, are farmed using toxic chemicals, in countries with few regulations to protect workers or the environment.
- Each part of the process – growing raw fibers, spinning them into yarn, weaving them into fabric, and sewing them into clothing – is usually performed in a different country, generating pollution as materials are shipped here and there.
- Final production is done in impoverished regions like Haiti by workers earning as little as $3/day.
- Despite all the movement, the overall cost is kept pretty low—thanks to exploitative farming and production processes that have even included tying aid to trade to negotiate favorable agreements.
This buyer-driven supply chain capitalizes on and perpetuates an ongoing cycle of poverty that takes advantages of the poorest among us, including children.
But not Allmade shirts. Our t-shirts are made better:
- Our tri-blend shirts are made from organic cotton; polyester made from recycled plastic bottles (3 per shirt), and modal, a sustainable alternative to rayon.
- With the exception of modal, a European export, all of the fibers in our shirts are sourced right here in the U.S.
- Our yarn and our fabric are both produced in America as well, reducing shipping and the environmental impact dramatically.
- Our final products are brought to life in Haiti, a 30 minute flight from Miami, in a unique facility whose profits are 100% dedicated to orphan prevention and care, where workers earn 5x the going wage.
It’s not easy to do things completely differently. We had to make some tough decisions. We wanted to go 100% organic for our cotton t-shirts but, after much investigation, decided that it wasn’t practical or necessary so long as we were purchasing domestically, where we could be sure crops were farmed sustainably. It turns out that cotton is a difficult crop to grow without some chemicals. So difficult that it ends up being extraordinarily cost-prohibitive to produce, driving up prices too high for most consumers. However, cotton can be produced traditionally with minimal impact to the environment under the right conditions. So, we went with organic cotton for our tri-blends, and traditional for our 100% shirts.
Other decisions were much easier to make, like choosing to use Repreve polyester, made from recycled water bottles, instead of virgin polyester made with petroleum. Modal proved another simple choice to make, although it took some doing to find the right source and set up our supply chain. Modal is made from sustainably-harvested beech trees in PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes) certified European forests. It’s a sound (and feather-soft) alternative to rayon and its associated chemical process.
The easiest decision by far was making sustainability is a cornerstone of Allmade’s values and business philosophy. We care about how our shirts are made, and we believe you care too.
If you care how your shirts are made, please join us in our mission to change the world, one t-shirt at a time.