After a few years of blogging about conscious fashion and sustainable brands, the most common question I’ve been asked is: “how/ where can I find affordable ethical fashion?”
There’s definitely a widespread myth out there that ethical fashion is expensive. And while there are certainly numerous luxury sustainable fashion designers and a fair amount of handmade artisan-made collections that are on the pricier end, participating in ethical fashion doesn’t always have to break the bank.
And if you’re just starting on your conscious fashion journey—or just feel overwhelmed—I recommend starting on a solid foundation! Check out my free Closet Inventory and Budget Template that will help you track what you have, what you want/need, and understand when it’s right to make the investment—and when it’s not.
1. Shop in Your Own Closet
When I first learned about the realities of fast fashion and wanted to get into more conscious purchasing, I was a college student with an unpaid internship—i.e. I was broke. So I didn’t exactly have the cash to go buy an all-new ethical wardrobe, but I knew I wanted to do something.
Thankfully, the easiest, cheapest, and fastest way to start your conscious closet is to simply use what you already have. This may not sound super exciting, but it can truly be much more rewarding.
I used to be afraid of outfit-repeating or wearing a particular piece to the same place too many times, but once I embraced re-wearing, it reduced SO much time and stress from my morning routine.
It would take me up to 20 or 30 minutes in the morning trying on outfits, analyzing which pieces would go together that I didn’t already pair together too many times.
What a waste!
By being okay with being an “outfit repeater”, I’ve been able to free up my mind in the mornings to actually enjoy this precious hour of the day—less time by my closet has meant more time savoring breakfast… and a few more minutes laying in bed.
Another common benefit of re-wearing our clothes is the increased appreciation for our clothes. I’ve come to treasure those pieces that I reach for again and again in my closet. Instead of stopping myself from wearing a piece too much, I reach for it happily, knowing that the piece will bring me joy or confidence when I wear it.
2. Swap it Out
If you’re feeling like you’re closet doesn’t quite represent your style anymore or perhaps you’re just feeling ready to switch it up a bit, coordinating a closet swap with a friend or finding a swap party event in your area is a fun, sustainable (and free!) option.
It can be as simple as calling over a friend to bring a few pieces for you that she’s ready to get rid of in exchange for some of your pieces. Or, you could really go all-out and plan an entire swap party at your place! Swaps are a great win-win for participating in sustainable fashion—you’re saving pieces from the landfill and getting a refreshed closet without purchasing anything new.
3. Borrow or Rent
Borrowing is another great free and sustainable way to spice up your wardrobe. I often borrow (okay, take) from my mom, since she her style is pretty on-point after a few fashion lessons from me and after watching more than a few episodes of What Not to Wear.
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 it’s a bit more of a reciprocal agreement.
A more formal way to borrow clothing is to use a clothing rental service like Rent the Runway. This is especially useful if you need a dress or other formalwear for a specific occasion that you don’t plan on wearing again. Rent the Runway even has a few storefronts—including one that I regularly walk by in Chicago—that you can try on the pieces before you rent them. If it’s possible for you, going in the store is a way to avoid the carbon footprint involved with shipping back and forth. (Since the shipping part of rental programs is one of the not-so-sustainable aspects of it)
Even if you do have to ship the piece, though, rental services are still preferable over buying a brand-new garment just to wear once and then give away.
If you asked me if liked to go thrifting few years ago, I might have just laughed. Now, I’m laughing at myself for being so ignorant to all of the incredible secondhand options out there! I’ve discovered spots in Chicago such as Buffalo Exchange and Designer Resale of Chicago that I love exploring.
I know that many of you, like me, might be wondering but how the heck does one find what they actually need in a thrift store? And my recommendation, after thrifting a fair amount of times is to go in the store with an idea of what you want, but don’t be too specific.
While I do know there are people who enjoy going into a thrift store without a list or plan just to browse see what they find, this doesn’t work for me. In my experience, going in without an idea of what I needed caused me to buy unnecessary pieces that I only ended up wearing once or twice. So I like to have some sort of plan before I walk in.
I decide on either the style I’m looking for (I want something sparkly or shiny, for example), OR a specific type of item I’m looking for (for instance, I need a skirt)…
…but, I never go in with BOTH the style and specific type requirements (as in I wouldn’t go into a thrift store specifically looking for a shiny and sparkly black skirt).
If you do prefer to thrift for more specific pieces, your best bet will be online thrift stores where you can search for the size, style, color and price range you’re looking for. My favorite online shop to buy secondhand clothes is ThredUp—they have a massive collection of pre-loved pieces with a diverse range of styles and price points.
For more online thrift options, check out my guide to 7 Secondhand Sites to Buy and Sell Pre-Loved Clothes Online.
5. Find Affordable Ethical Brands
YES! There are responsible and budget-friendly brands out there. When you’re in need of something new or are looking for a conscious gift for a loved one, there are plenty of brands conscious of the environment and of their workers that are also conscious of your wallet.
While these brands won’t ever beat fast fashion prices (there’s simply no way to sell a $5 and still pay your garment workers a living wage), there are many with quality pieces under $100 or even $50.
For more choices, check out my guide to 32 Affordable Ethical and Sustainable Fashion Brands (which includes both clothing and accessories companies).
And, just like any other store, you may want to keep an eye out for sales during the end of the seasons and look for discount codes. I have a page with a list of ethical brand discount codes exclusively Conscious Life & Style readers—so go take a peak!
There you have it… 5 ideas that just busted the myth that ethical fashion is always expensive! I’d love to know if you used any of these strategies before or if you have any additional ideas to share.
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