In the years I’ve been in the conscious fashion space, one of the most common hesitations I hear is “but sustainable fashion is so expensive!” and one of the most common questions is, “are there any affordable sustainable fashion brands?”
This post aims to bust the myths that sustainable = expensive and address the concerns about affordability and accessibility in sustainable fashion. [Check out this post for a whole list of sustainable fashion myths!]
This misconception about the high price of sustainable fashion stems from the assumption that participating in the sustainable fashion movement means you have to go out and buy from eco-friendly designers or brands.
While shopping consciously can be a part of sustainable fashion, the movement is not limited to consumerism.
With that, let’s dive into the tips for getting involved with sustainable fashion for little to no money at all…
1. Shop Your Closet
When I originally learned about the realities of fast fashion and wanted to get into more conscious fashion habits, the first step I took was taking a shopping break.
And this is what I still suggest to anyone wanting to get started on their conscious fashion journey! Taking a shopping “fast” — or break or whatever you want to call it — is a great way to slow down.
It gives you time to assess your style, evaluate what you do or don’t like in your wardrobe, and challenges you to get creative with what you already own.
Not only is using what you already have and what’s already been produced a super sustainable choice, but it’s also extremely affordable. Because it’s free!
While at first, the idea of just using what you have may sound uninspiring or boring, it actually can feel super satisfying.
Wearing what we have more and maximizing our clothing use can help us understand our styles more deeply, increase the appreciation we have for our clothes, and activate our creativity in unexpected ways.
Plus, it saves so much time. It’s such a relief to get off the hamster wheel of browsing, buying, trying on (and maybe returning), wearing, and discarding on repeat.
Part of this process is being comfortable with outfit repeating.
While social media and social pressures may lead us to think that outfit repeating is a negative thing, I actually believe it’s something to celebrate!
If you create a fabulous outfit that you love, it’s actually kind of sad to feel like we can’t ever repeat it again. If an outfit makes you feel confident and happy, why would we steal that joy from ourselves just because of some sort of strange societal norm?
So, instead of stopping myself from wearing a piece too much or wearing the same outfit too frequently, I reach for my favorite garments happily, knowing that this piece or this specific outfit will boost my mood that day!
2. Swap it Out
Once we learn to maximize the clothes that we have, there still may be a time that we want something else for our wardrobes. Perhaps we want a certain type of piece to complete an outfit or a few. Maybe the styles of the pieces we own no longer match our personal style, lifestyles, or the climate where we live. Or, maybe we need new sizes in a garment.
This is nothing to feel bad or guilty about! I firmly believe that your wardrobe should bring you joy.
And there are a lot of ways to add a piece or do a small closet refresh sustainably.
If fact there are ways to refresh your closet without purchasing anything at all!
How is this possible?
With clothes swapping!
The concept of a clothing swap is pretty straightforward. You exchange your clothes (or other pieces in your wardrobe) for pieces from another person’s wardrobe. The logistics work differently depending on the clothing swap, but that’s the gist!
Here are some ways to start swapping:
1. Participate in a large, ‘formal’ swap. You can search for clothing swap events near you on sites like Meetup.com or Eventbrite. Fashion Revolution is also a great resource for sustainable fashion events, including clothing swaps. You can also sometimes find virtual swaps on these sites!
2. Coordinate a casual swap with a friend, roommate, or family member that has a similar size to you. Just see if they’d like to refresh their closets too and ask if they’d be interested in swapping a few pieces with you. You can either pick a number of items or an estimated dollar amount to make it an even swap.
3. Plan your own clothing swap event or party! Check out these tips from Eco Age on how to organize a clothing swap party.
4. Use a swap app or site. If you need to or prefer to swap your clothing digitally, check out Swap Society or the app This For That. You can also look at “Buy Nothing” Groups on Facebook to see if there’s anyone who wants to do a swap with you.
3. Borrow or Rent
Borrowing is another great free and sustainable way to switch up your wardrobe. I often borrow (okay… maybe take) clothes from my mom!
Your friends and family members may also be generous enough to loan you a piece or two for a while.
If you feel uncomfortable asking to borrow a piece, you could offer to loan them a piece of yours as well (so similar to the swap model, but on a temporary basis).
A more formal way to ‘borrow’ clothing is to rent it. Renting is particularly useful if you need formal pieces for special occassions/specific events only or if you want particular pieces for a photoshoot and don’t intend on wearing them again.
Places to Rent Clothing:
Something to watch out for with rental is that some companies do rental subscription boxes. These can easily lead to over-consuming (if they offer a purchase plan) or just making you feel inundated and overwhelmed with clothes!
And it also isn’t a super sustainable choice since it’s a lot of shipping and packaging! It may work for some individuals, but I do feel like it prevents us from being able to find a deeper connection and relationship to our clothes overall. Which is such an important part of a sustainable fashion journey!
4. Secondhand Options
The next best thing to making the most of what you already own is making the most out of what somebody else already owns!
Shopping secondhand first minimizes the demand for producing new and extracting finite resources plus it reduces the amount of clothing sent to the landfill, since you’re keeping that unwanted clothing in circulation.
The Benefits of Secondhand
- Be able to find clothes in whatever aesthetic you’d like, consciously. Sometimes the styles from sustainable brands can be limiting. They can frequently be minimal and neutral, which is a style that some people definitely love, but it’s not for everyone. On the other hand, shopping used means that you can find clothes in a huge variety of aesthetics but do so in a sustainable way.
- Save money and the planet. Browsing pre-loved options is a great way to get clothes and accessories for less. You can sometimes even get gently worn or like-new pieces for half the price. If you love the aesthetic of a certain fashion brand but don’t want to support them because they don’t align with your social or environmental values, you can even search online secondhand fashion sites by that brand name to find their stuff used. This way, your money is not going to that brand, but you can still wear styles that you like.
- Afford designer and higher quality pieces. Probably my absolutely favorite aspect of shopping secondhand is the ability to find really high quality pieces at the prices I’d pay for quite low quality new items. You can browse designer consignment shops or even your local thrift store and find quite amazing deals. I once found a St. John’s skirt that retails for $400 in fantastic condition for just $20 at a designer consignment store in Chicago! (I will add here that you can often find much better designer deals in person than online.)
Places to Shop Secondhand Fashion
- Your local thrift stores or consignment shops!
- Online stores like ThredUP and Swap.com
- Peer-to-peer marketplaces like Poshmark or Depop
- Designer consignment sites like Vestiaire Collective and The RealReal
For more online thrift options, check out my guide to Secondhand Sites to Buy and Sell Pre-Loved Clothes Online.
5. Find Affordable Sustainable Fashion Brands
Once you’ve explored all of these options and you still aren’t finding what you’d like, there are still a number of affordable sustainable fashion brands out there!
While these brands won’t ever beat fast fashion prices — there’s simply no way to sell a $5 t-shirt and still pay your workers a living wage — there are many with sustainably-made quality pieces under $100 and $50.
Check out our guide to 30 Affordable Ethical and Sustainable Fashion Brands for a range of more accessibly priced options.
I also have a page with a list of ethical brand discount codes exclusively for Conscious Life & Style readers. I’m constantly updating this guide so be sure to bookmark it and save it as a reference!
There you have it… 5 ideas that just busted the myth that ethical fashion is always expensive! What’s your approach to finding affordable sustainable fashion?
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