Cost per wear: Why UK-made is the smarter option

At Make it British we sometimes receive messages from people telling us that they can’t afford to buy British-made goods. But we’re here to tell you it may be the most cost effective option.

When cost per wear is calculated, more expensive items often turn out to be cheaper in the long run.

Cost per wear

Cost per wear is the equation used to work out how much you have spent on an item for each time you wear it. You’ll often hear the phrase ‘cost per wear’ when people discuss slow fashion, sustainability and ethical consumerism. That’s because it supports the idea that we should be buying less, but buying better.

The amount we are prepared to spend on clothing has been steadily decreasing. For example, in 1960 a suit from Burton’s (then Montague Burton’s – Britain’s largest tailoring chain producing from factories in Leeds and Worsley) cost around £24+. That’s £563.50 in 2020’s money.++  Today you can easily pick up a suit from Burton’s (that’s manufactured offshore) for under £150 and often for a lot less in the countless sales.

Over the decades we have demanded cheaper and cheaper goods but, as a result, the products have become increasingly inferior to cut costs. We’ve become accustomed to a culture of disposability. Many of us buy cheaply, frequently, and are unsurprised when the item is no longer fit for purpose, or even wanted, after a handful of uses.

Cost per wear

The First Mile (a zero-to-landfill waste management business) carried out research in 2019. They surveyed 1000 UK adults on their consumer habits and cost per wear of their garments. Their findings showed that garments are being worn only a few times before they are disposed of. They also reported that each year an astonishing 350,000 tonnes of wearable clothes go to landfill in the UK alone. And that nearly 8 million British adults admitted they would wear a pair of jeans less than ten times before replacing them.*

The environmental impact of this alone may make us think twice about consuming in this way. But what is the impact on our pocket?

Cost per wear

What makes a garment expensive?

It’s true that British-made goods are often more expensive than those produced overseas.  But where this is the case, it’s usually because it’s of a higher quality and therefore will last longer and work out to be a less expensive option over time. We should also take into account ethical and sustainability factors. If the price of a garment seems too good to be true, it probably is. Someone will be paying for it somewhere through low wages, poor working conditions or unsustainable environmental practices.

The fabric of a garment will affect both the price and how long it lasts. Fabrics that have been produced using quality raw materials and manufacturing techniques are less likely to pill retaining a better appearance for longer. They will be more durable against wear and tear and retain their shape and structure over sustained use. Man-made fabrics can be inexpensive and hardwearing, but each time we launder them microplastics will be dispersed into the environment. Natural fibres are often more expensive but are usually far more eco-friendly, equally durable and comfortable to wear.

Construction techniques play a huge part in the longevity of a garment too. More expensive garments are likely to have more stitches-per-inch which increases the production time but means seams are stronger. Flat-felled seams and french seams offer even more durability. Pocket bags may be bound to strengthen them. Even the way buttons are attached show care and attention to detail to make sure they stay where they’re supposed to. Techniques and procedures like these take time and resources and will make a garment more expensive, but also far more durable and strong.

Expensive or cheap products? Which is really better value?

Cost per wear

Let’s look at a coat as an example.  In The First Mile’s research, they found that on average the British public spent £49.45 on a coat and wore it 43 times. That’s an average cost per wear of £1.15.

If we compare that to owning just one high quality, classic coat that’s been carefully designed and made to last, we would see a signification difference. 

For example, take a UK-made coat that’s designed for function with a flattering fit and timeless style made from Harris Tweed. Harris Tweed is handwoven from 100% virgin and was originally made as hardy workwear but the production process has been refined to produce fabric perfect for the fashion industry. As one of the most sustainable textile fibers available it’s biodegradable but is expected to pass ‘the test of time’- a Harris Tweed coat can be expected to last for 10 years. A Harris Tweek coat may cost you £525, but it will last years and see you through many winters.

According to Gov.uk the UK sees temperatures of less than 10°C on at least 180 days per year**, on the assumption that this coat is used on each cold day for 10 years the cost per wear would be just 29p.

Cost per wear - Harris Tweed

Still not convinced? Here’s a round-up of the five reasons why we think you should be paying a little more and investing in quality UK-made products.

1. It will increase the longevity of your belongings

Expensive items are often so because of the quality of materials and the construction processes used.  Making something built to last often takes more labour hours, notwithstanding the skills needed to get the job done well.

Invest in products where you know the provenance and that they are made using high quality materials and construction techniques. Then you can be using it, and loving it, for years to come.

“I use traditional methods and hand stitching. Making from quality veg-tanned leather. I can show you how it was made and where – the whole process.”

Roslyn Whiting, Roslyn Whiting Leathergoods

2. You will be generating less waste

Buying fewer products and using them for a longer time, or even handing them on to others, will of course create less waste.  But higher quality items are also more likely to be repairable, and you’ll be more likely to want to have them fixed than replaced.

It’s also true that if a product is made locally you have a higher chance of being able to get spare parts or access to the skills needed to do the job.

“We were contacted about a Harris Tweed jacket that was about 130 years old. The lining had had it, but the wool was perfect. Harris Tweed can be a lifetime wardrobe staple, it can be an heirloom.”

Ruth Masson, Harris Tweed Hebrides

3. Your belongings will have greater value and meaning

Buying more expensive, higher quality items often means an investment of more than just your money, but your effort and emotion too. 

You’ll have spent time investigating what is right for you and doing your research. Or maybe falling in love with not just the item, but it’s story and heritage too.

“I want to create treasured memories, garments with heart and soul sewn into them, often with reused and upcycled materials. That way I’m creating high quality items that can be passed on to be used and loved by others.”

Dawn Clarke, Dawn Clarke Designs

4. It’ll make you be more creative with your style

Spending more per item usually means owning fewer things. This can be no bad thing, not only for the environment, but also to fire up your creativity.

You may need to think about how you use things in a multi-functional way. And you may need to mix and match, getting creative with how you put items together. 

“Invest in good quality items that you can use in different ways. Whether it’s fashion or interiors, invest in quality statement pieces to refresh your look.”

Bianca Elgar

5. It will save you money

We truly believe that buying fewer, but better quality products, will save you money in the long run.

But why not check it out for yourself?