by Brooke Bowlin

Looking for ways to shop for sustainable fashion on a budget? Do you want affordable ways to create a slow fashion wardrobe? Have no fear– while sustainable fashion may appear to be a big investment, we’ve compiled plenty of ways to create a more ethical wardrobe without breaking the bank.

p.s. Sustainable fashion on a budget is a lot easier than you would think!

Sustainable fashion isn’t all about shopping from ethical brands that charge higher prices compared to the fast fashion industry. Creating a greener closet is more comprehensive than *just* the sustainable clothing brands we shop from. It also includes finding creative ways to source and make the most of our clothes, like shopping secondhand and taking care of our clothes so they last longer and can be passed down from person to person (or generation to generation – like in the old days!).

Why is sustainable fashion *so* expensive?

With the rise of fast fashion in the last couple decades, culturally, we’ve grown used to cheap clothing. However, clothes haven’t always been cheap and those low prices are often a result of exploitation in the fashion industry.

Often, it’s a result of cutting corners, making unreasonable demands of garment workers, and using plastics-based fabrics.

Fast fashion engages in what is known as “the race to the bottom.” This is the practice of finding the cheapest ways to produce clothing by seeking out countries and factories that have the least amount of regulation and worker protection in order to push the limits of garment workers to get high quantities of clothing produced quickly at a low cost. Often, this means fast fashion brands target poverty so that the factories will have no choice but to comply with fast fashion’s unreasonable, unhealthy demands because the factories rely on the business.

While we may label fast fashion as “cheap”, it does come at the cost of the livelihoods of garment workers and harmful environmental impact. Sustainable fashion is more expensive because its prices allow for better payment for garment workers and supply chain partners and higher quality materials.

8 Amazing Ways to Engage with Sustainable Fashion on A Budget

1. Start with what you have! – The most sustainable clothing item (and most budget friendly!) will always be the one you already have. Thus, the best thing we can do is wear our existing clothes for longer. This requires us to take care of our clothes so they last as long as possible. Learning how to properly launder, maintain, and store our clothes can go a long way! Additionally, challenge yourself to try out new outfit combinations that you would not have thought of before.

2. Repair & Mend – Instead of throwing out an item when it becomes damaged, repair it! No, you don’t have to be a Martha Stewart type – you can (very affordably) pay a local person to fix it for you. It’s often cheaper to fix something than it is to buy a replacement. Plus, the environmental benefit far exceeds the time or effort it may take to repair the piece. There are so many resources available to teach yourself basic repair, like these videos on hand sewingmending holes, or replacing buttons.

3. Shop Secondhand – When it comes time to add a sustainable fashion piece to your closet, look secondhand first. Secondhand is a great way to get new-to-you items without the higher price tag of a sustainable fashion brand. There are many ways to shop secondhand from in-person thrift shops to online platforms. Often, you can even find secondhand versions of the sustainable fashion brands and pieces you love (sustainable fashion on a budget usually comes with a lot of patience!).

4. Shop Less to Invest in What You Love – Part of the sustainable living journey is committing to buying less overall. This is not talked about enough – but it is a huge benefit for our finances and overall mental health. We have to shift our mindset away from consumption patterns. Instead of regularly spending money on cheap clothes, pause your purchases, save, and invest in ethical clothing brands.

5. Calculate Cost Per Wear – Cost Per Wear (CPW) is a method used to break down the upfront cost of a garment based on the number of times you will wear it. The item price divided by the estimated wears is the cost per wear. For example, if an item costs $100 and you estimate wearing it 50 times, the CPW is $2. Cost per wear can be used to evaluate whether a purchase is worth the investment. We tend to think sustainable fashion costs more, but looking at the long term costs, that may not be the case.

6. Mitigate Impulse Shopping – Impulse shopping often leads to regret and clothing purchases that don’t get a lot of wear. By reducing our impulse shopping, we can save ourselves from purchases that waste our money. Then, we have more cash to spend intentionally on pieces we will really love to wear.

7. Build With Basics – A sustainable wardrobe will be full of versatile, quality pieces that will be in your closet for years to come. To build a more eco-conscious wardrobe and reduce your cost per wear, shop from sustainable fashion brands that align with your personal style and will fit in well with what you have. This will ensure that you will get a lot of wears out of your pieces. To increase the versatility of your closet, start by adding basic, multi-functional pieces to your closet.

8. Plan and Have Patience – Sustainable fashion should be slower. If you want to avoid spending full price on an item, plan ahead. A conscious closet should always come with mindful decision making. Create a list of your needs and gaps in your closet. Then, give yourself time to acquire them. If you are wanting to shop new from a sustainable brand, wait for a sale. Sign up for their mailing list to be notified of discounts. If shopping secondhand, create search alerts on secondhand sites to track items you’re looking for. Be patient and disconnect from the need for instant gratification.

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