A broke girl’s guide to sustainable and ethical fashion
So you care where your clothes are made and how, but can’t afford to buy organic cotton, artisan-made, fair trade everything? Yeah, me neither.
Before I began my slow fashion journey, the aspect of sustainable and ethical fashion that seemed most daunting to me was the price tag. But I’ve since learned there’s more to this conscious fashion lifestyle than just buying from (usually pricey) brands that tout their sustainability and ethics.
Here are some tips to help you be a more conscious consumer at any budget!
1. Don’t buy stuff just because it’s cheap or on sale.
I have been so guilty of this, but a lot of the time I end up never wearing the things I bought just because they were cheap. Instead, I now try to only buy things I can imagine wearing often and keeping for a long time.
Remember: Even if something’s only $5, the cost to the planet is much more than that!
Let’s try to reduce waste in the fashion industry by only buying what you will actually use and love. This also helps you save money by not spending on items you won’t really use.
2. Shop secondhand.
There are so many cool and affordable finds at your local thrift store. In Seattle, I like Lifelong (proceeds help individuals with HIV/AIDS!). I also shop at consignment stores like Crossroads, where you can get more current styles and brands at a lower price. Another way to shop secondhand is on apps like Poshmark and Depop.
80% of donated clothing ends up in landfills, so give your local thrift shop a chance.
Edit: Previously, I had endorsed shopping at Goodwill, but a reader sent me this article about how Goodwill exploits disabled workers by paying them much less than minimum wage. Not so ethical, after all 🙁
3. When you do buy, cherish that item.
Sometimes you really need or want an item but can’t afford the sustainably or ethically made version. It happens, especially with the relatively narrow range of conscious fashion choices out there today.
If you can, save up over time for what you want. My friend Deb at The Broke Minimalist has a great post on how to save up for slow fashion items. But if you must buy something that’s not from a sustainable or ethical brand, make sure it’s also something you’ll treasure and use for a long time, just like you would with slow fashion items.
Fast fashion has made us accustomed to instant gratification because we can impulsively buy cheap clothing. Slow fashion asks us to think more deeply about our purchases.
This means that instead of buying lots of cheap, trendy items, try saving for a high quality, more timeless piece.
In the past, I’d spent very little per item but end up overspending on clothes because I kept buying things I didn’t need. Now, I’m trying to be more mindful of my purchases by asking myself how each item I buy fits into my wardrobe and into my long-term personal style.
4. Find your style without following every new trend.
Yeah, I know, it’s tough to restrain yourself when you see your fave influencer rocking the latest new trend and you imagine how *cute* that would look on yourself… BUT this is a rabbit hole of more and more spending and wasteful consumption. A lot of trends die quickly, leaving you with clothes you don’t want to wear anymore. And chances are, you’re buying from fast fashion companies that make cheap, low quality clothing only meant to be worn for a season or two.
This doesn’t mean you can’t follow any trends; just pick the ones that you can see yourself rocking for a long time.
If you’re curious about how I intentionally incorporate trends into my wardrobe, check out my post on defining my personal style.
5. Care for your clothes consciously.
Most of the environmental harm caused by clothing actually occurs when we machine wash and dry our clothes or use toxic dry cleaning services. Using a clothesline can save the average American household over $200 a year and reduce a household’s carbon footprint by 2,400 pounds a year. Try hand washing and air drying some of your clothes; this helps them last longer and retain their quality. Use green dry cleaners if dry cleaning is necessary.
And of course, make sure to research how you can care for your clothes so that they can live long, happy lives in your wardrobe.
I’ll be writing posts on how to properly care for your clothes, so stay tuned.
I hope these tips were useful. Let me know your strategies for dressing yourself sustainably and ethically on a budget!
Dress: bought secondhand from Crossroads
Bag: Kate Spade*
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*not a brand wholly and transparently committed to sustainability and ethics