Mallory Ottariano, a 32-year-old Montana-based entrepreneur, has been making and selling clothes for about 10 years. Recently, a TikTok she made for her brand Youer has been getting attention for the detailed and eye-opening way she breaks down the costs of manufacturing clothing in the US.
Mallory starts the clip by breaking down the obvious costs involved in making one of her dresses. "$19.25 for the fabric involved. We choose high-quality fabrics, and there's a lot of it. $5.10 to print these shorts that are attached. Two bucks for the zipper, $32 for a team of people in Los Angeles to cut and sew, and $2 to ship the fabric for the mill to the factory and from the factory to our warehouse."
Buuuut that's not all that goes into it. "Development is a huge cost in apparel production. What's development? Basically, it's testing to make a bunch of samples and get the fit right, plus making a pattern that the factory can follow. It cost us $1,200. That development cost is shared over every single unit we make, and this year we made 300. So that adds another $4 per unit, bringing the total up to $64.35."
"And we have miscellaneous costs, like the cost for the factory to spend extra time sorting fabric, the cost for them to print a pattern cost for this hang tag, the cost for the factory to print the barcode on the back of it, and probably some other random charges or mistakes we have to pay for."
She even gets into how much profit her brand makes per dress. "We sell this dress on our website for $154, but we sell it to stores for half that, so we need to make sure we're profitable at that price, $77, and we barely are. That small amount of profit has to go to a lot of different things: It has to pay our employees, pay the rent on our warehouse, pay to run our online store, pay for shipping costs to get them to a customer, and a whole slew of operational expenses that brands incur."
"So, now you know exactly how much it costs and exactly how much we're profiting, and I hope it's making you wonder how a $25 dress from Shein could possibly be ethically made."
In the comments, people are loving this transparency and insight into everything that goes into making a garment.
Mallory told BuzzFeed that she started sharing more online about the nitty-gritty of running her clothing brand in 2020, when the pandemic ground her business to a halt and she went seven months with no inventory.
"What I realized during 2020 was that ‘supply chain’ was a phrase the general public was not familiar with, but post-pandemic, we ALL know and understand supply chains. So, I wanted to be part of helping people understand where the stuff they use comes from."
She also believes that being transparent helps build trust with customers and is part of an important conversation about where the things we use every day come from. "Ethical, slow fashion brands get a lot of pushback on prices because we exist in a world that’s saturated with fast fashion. So, I hope that by sharing the true costs of what it takes to make things sustainably and ethically, I’m encouraging people to think critically about their consumption."
And she says that the idea that sustainable clothing is too expensive is missing the point. "I think that unfortunately it’s not that sustainable clothing is too expensive, it’s that fast fashion is too cheap. Fast fashion giants have convinced people that pants should cost $25 and tee shirts should cost $5, when in actuality, there are huge social and environmental sacrifices associated with these ‘cheap’ costs."
Finally, Mallory says that sustainable fashion doesn't have to come with a big price tag. "Supporting sustainable fashion doesn’t mean you have to be able to buy one of our $154 dresses. Sustainable fashion is a mindset."
"Thrifting and buying used is sustainable (we have a resale portion of our site, too), choosing to buy a fewer number of sustainable pieces instead of ‘hauls’ of fast fashion is sustainable, repeating outfits and ditching trends is sustainable, and learning to repair torn or heavily worn clothes to extend their life is sustainable."