We Explain Why This Plain White T-Shirt Could Cost $40

loomstatePhoto: Courtesy of Loomstate.
Searching for a basic tee? Forever 21 has a relaxed-fit one for $6.80, Gap does it for $20, and you could get another at Nordstrom for $18. Or, you could get this organic-cotton tee from Loomstate for a cool $40.

Yo, why the price markup? It should be said that this is by no means the most expensive white tee out there (just peruse the likes of rag & bone or Theory). But, since everyone seems baffled by having to pay much more for organic clothing, we decided to settle the question once and for all. Why is that organic cotton T-shirt so expensive?

We talked to Rhett Godfrey, the coordinator of sustainability initiatives at Loomstate, who shared with us what goes into his company's typical organic-cotton tee. “It's labor. That’s the answer,” Godfrey says. “The majority of the price increase occurs at the farm. And, it's mainly because of weeds.”

At a conventional farm, crops are sprayed with pesticides to suppress weeds and pests. This is a problem. According to the Environmental Justice Foundation, pesticides are a factor in an estimated 1 to 5 million poisoning cases each year across all agricultural sectors, which results in 20,000 reported deaths. And, cotton production especially requires high amounts of the toxic chemicals, accounting for an approximated 16% of the world's pesticide use.

To avoid this, organic farms suppress weeds through mechanical means. “Anywhere in the world, for almost any industry, labor is the most expensive cost,” Godfrey says. It’s especially expensive if the soil is so wet that farmers can’t bring in a tractor and have to send individuals out to weed by hand.

The second reason for the tee markup is due to the nature of organic cotton. Most conventional cotton is genetically modified, and the fibers grow in long, predictable lengths. “Organic doesn't have the same funding and intensive breeding programs, so the seeds are much more diverse,” Godrey says. Which means when the cotton gets combed and carded, the processor ends up with more short cotton fibers that are only fit for Q-tips and tampons. “We expect 15-to-18% lost cotton,” Godfrey says. And — yep, you bet — “that goes into the price of the shirt.”

Manufacturing also plays a huge part. Loomstate does its in GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard)-certified facilities in the U.S. and Mauritius. GOTS certification ensures that no toxins are applied to the clothing (fun fact: clothing often has formaldehyde on it when you first take it home, so always wash it before wearing!) and that all workers are treated fairly and paid living wages. And, of course, no more factory collapses, please.

So, more labor, no pesticides, no GMO cotton, and fair labor practices — fair enough. But, we're still left wondering: Why, then, does American Apparel sell an organic, sweatshop-free tee for $18?

“Volume,” Godfrey tells us. “They probably made half a million, and we made 10,000.” That gives some insight into why screen-printed or dyed T-shirts from small local designers can run up to $150, too. But, this also raises the question: Why are Gap T-shirts — reportedly made from conventional cotton in questionable facilities — more expensive than American Apparel’s?

As an informed consumer, the choice is entirely up to you. Now, all you have to do is weigh in on whether you think organic, sustainably made clothing is truly worth it or not. Let us know your take below.