Yes, it’s difficult to argue that shopping sustainably and ethically isn’t better than doing otherwise. You would be hard-pressed to find a lot of people who think that (aside from maybe some economists who write on Forbes, and people who work for fast fashion corporations…). The problem, however, is that slow fashion is not that cheap. We have to pay a lot more than we’re used to paying. And for those of us on a budget, that can seem just about impossible. But it doesn’t have to be! Even on a budget, in my opinion, you can make responsible choices that won’t break the bank.
I recognize that I am speaking about this from a place of privilege because, although I’m a university student on a tight budget, I don’t struggle severely or have a lack of resources to obtain clothing, food, or shelter if in need. Therefore, I write this post as someone in that position and want to be clear that I realize not everyone is in it. Everyone’s story is different.
In high school I worked a relatively well-paying part-time job, and I used large portions of my paychecks (looking back, much more than I should have…) to buy ethical clothes and products. Once I started university, however, that changed – and at first, my consumer habits didn’t change with it! I was spending far too much money. It was then that I realized I needed to be saving a lot more – which I did start doing! But I never stopped buying ethical clothing, and I never went back on my promise to not support the fast fashion industry even though I had less to spend on clothes. To do that, I’ve learned a few tricks to be able to do a bit of both: live comfortably on a budget but still make a difference.
Tip #1: Literally Buy Less Stuff.
Something I can’t state enough is that starting a slow fashion lifestyle does NOT mean getting rid of all your other clothes and buying all ethical, sustainable ones. Not only is that really expensive, in all honestly, it’s the opposite of what I think being an ethical consumer embodies! When I started switching to slow fashion I took my time, and now, about two years into the journey, I still have a great number of pre-slow fashion pieces that I love.
I think it’s really important to squeeze every last bit of life out of those pieces. We have to start appreciating the things we wear and thinking about where they may have been made. Understanding that they came from unethical conditions shouldn’t cause us to just throw them out, but instead to hold onto them and use them for all they are worth. Otherwise, not only are we not appreciating what the maker of that item went through to create it for us, but we are also encouraging the pollution of the earth, which the fashion industry is so very much to blame for.
Something that saves you even more money is just to stop buying clothing in general, like Project 333suggests. My minimalist best friend, Daniela, told me about it, and added this:
“I’m realizing that consuming responsibly is just about consuming less in general! It’s about using what you have and making it last – getting it repaired and all! I’m still in the process [of “ethicalizing” my wardrobe] but I’ve realized it’s possible to live with 30 pieces of clothing and shoes and some people can even do it with less! I’m hoping to fit all of my belongings in a suitcase before the end of the summer.”
Therefore, starting a slow fashion lifestyle isn’t an enormous change that you prepare to create overnight. Instead, it’s a slow, lifelong journey. I promise you that it is less scary and expensive than you think!
Tip #2: Shop Secondhand
I LOVE secondhand and vintage shopping! They are two of my biggest hobbies, and two of my biggest money-savers. There are so many things I love about it, and so many ways to do it.
(Something I want to note about secondhand shopping is that it’s one of the best ways to reduce fashion’s impact on the environment. As much as I love supporting and promoting my favourite fair trade companies, making something new always will affect the environment, no matter how much we try to limit our footprint. We’ll still be using fossil fuels and a lot of water. Therefore, I think it’s important to try and limit this as much as possible. I’ll be exploring this concept in a later blog post, too!)
Depending on where I am living at a given time (the joys of university – moving around lots!), there are different ways I shop secondhand. When I’m at university in the big city, I have a few favourite vintage stores I love to visit! It’s such a unique way to find new items of clothing for fair prices. When I’m in a more rural area, like back at home, I shop from two online platforms: Depop and thredUP. I love them both! The only thing I’ll note is the shipping, which does have a carbon impact on the environment. Therefore, I try to buy bulk orders online if I need something.
Depop is a global fashion marketplace run by its users. Anyone can create their own “shop” wherein they post photos of the item they want to sell, with a price, size, and description. I have found SO many amazing deals on Depop and the other sellers are so incredibly friendly. I love the community aspect. As well, many of the sellers are students or younger people who are simply selling their old clothing to make a bit of money. I love helping them avoid having those clothes go to the landfill or to a donation store where they likely won’t be sold.
thredUP is the self-proclaimed world’s largest consignment store. It’s based in the United States but does offer international shipping. There are literally hundreds of thousands of items available on the site, so it requires a lot of filtering, and even then you might catch yourself hunting for hours to find a gem! For the fashion-lover, however, this can actually be pretty fun. Again, the deals on here are pretty fantastic! I’m so happy with everything I’ve bought from them.
Tip #3: Sell on Depop/Consign to thredUP and Save the Money
Speaking of Depop, why not sell your clothes there?! It requires pretty minimal work: simply list a couple of items, follow some other people to build a network, and just make sure you get yourself to the post office to send them. This can give you some pocket cash to get out there and buy a new ethical item or two!
Also, thredUP will send you a free donation bag, return shipping label included, to fill with your gently-used items to send back to them. In return, they’ll credit your account with a cut of the profits when they sell. Although I have heard it’s not the fastest way to make money, it’s certainly something to consider.
I also love these alternatives to donating your clothes because it’s a far more surefire way to ensure the lifespan of your clothes is extended. Donating clothes more often than not means they’ll end up in the landfill, impacting the environment, or being sold in a developing nation, stealing work from artisans trying to sell their own items.
Tip # 4: Buy Investment pieces and don't impulse buy
When you do buy ethical clothing, however, the way to save money is to invest in staple pieces that you absolutely adore and know you’ll wear all the time. One item that for me comes to mind is this locally-made, delicately floral-printed tee shirt shift dress that I own. I just love that thing, and wear it probably more than anything else in my wardrobe! It’s versatile, it’s flattering, and it just speaks to my personality and what I want my style to portray about myself to others. FIND THAT ‘DRESS’, WHATEVER IT IS FOR YOU. And BUY IT!
Think hard about that piece of clothing before you buy it. Will you actually wear it? My rule of thumb is that it has to be wearable in at least two seasons and with more than one outfit for me to buy it. And you have to feel confident about it. I recently bought a pretty expensive bikini that I thought about for at least six months before I made the decision to hit “purchase”. I’m not saying do that every time, but I’m just saying I’m so glad I did, because I love it and have no regrets about spending my hard-earned money on it! These harder decisions have, I really think, caused me to spend less money in the long run.
These four tips have definitely helped me out lots in my pursuit to not spend all my money but to also still make ethical choices. I hope they can help you on yours. Please feel free to send me any questions you have about your own experiences and I guarantee I’ll do my very best to help out!