Insider Tips for Shopping Sustainably on a Budget
Sustainable fashion has gained popularity in recent years, as more people become aware of the negative impact of fast fashion. However, one of the biggest concerns people have about sustainable fashion is the cost.
My response is always: “Yes it is more expensive than H&M/Walmart/Shien/whatever—that’s the actual cost of fair manufacturing.” The vast majority of people are used to getting a deal on clothing because the poorest communities on our planet are exploited for pennies-per-hour labour. These manufactures also use the cheapest materials that they can source.
BUT, it’s also true that many people cannot afford fair fashion brands at their standard retail prices.
So here’s the elephant in the room: Can sustainable fashion be affordable? Yes, yes it can! Conscious fashion can be found at budget prices—or even free if you’ve got the right connections.
And, no, it’s not as rare as a double rainbow next to the Eiffel Tower. (Though it certainly was a moment worth capturing, wouldn’t you agree?)
In this article, I’ll explore ways to make sustainable fashion more accessible without breaking the bank.
Before Looking Elsewhere, Shop Your Closet
Before buying new clothes, remember that the most sustainable option is to use what you already have in your closet. Try mixing and matching your existing pieces in different ways, and consider repairing or tailoring any clothes that need it. Investing in a few clothing tools can also help you keep your clothes looking nice, like a fabric shaver to remove pilling from fabric, a cheap needle and thread kit, and a steamer. You can find all of those on Amazon. I highly recommend the fabric shaver! They are dead simple to use: lay the garment flat and run the device over the surface to shave off cotton pills, lint, and other fuzzy things that are making your favourite clothes look shabby. (My most-worn tops and coats get a season spruce up. It makes a huge difference!)
Needs ideas on how to remix your existing clothing pieces? Check out my styling videos on YouTube, like this one focused on black and white summer fashion looks.
Browsing a vintage and thrift shop in Toronto. The bag and coat are both secondhand Stella McCartney. The hat is by Muttonhead, a local fashion company, and I snagged it during a major discount sale. The scarf is made in the USA by Bleusalt, which is a slow fashion brand that regularly runs sales.
Give Secondhand Fashion a Try
Secondhand clothing is THE MOST affordable option for sustainable fashion. You can even shop online, with websites like ThredUp (click here to apply an $40 coupon!) offering deep discounts each season. By choosing secondhand fashion, you’re not only saving money, but you’re also reducing the amount of clothing waste that ends up in landfills. It’s the most sustainable way to shop for new pieces.
I’ve been shopping secondhand for two decades. And do you want to take a guess on which of my clothes I get asked about the most? Yep, it’s the vintage $15 t-shirt or the $30 denim skirt thrift store find. Or one of my secondhand designer coats. Luxury consignment is probably not your best bet if you’re trying to shop within a small budget. Though you can find some absolutely steals there too! I purchased many of my workwear pieces from the sale sections of consignment shops when I was first starting off my career.
In 2022, I took on a Buy Nothing New challenge. Take a look at why I chose to shop secondhand for an entire 12 months.
Shop from Slow-Fashion Brands Off-Season
Another way to save money on sustainable fashion is to shop from slow-fashion brands off-season. For example, buy sweaters, coats, or boots in the summer when they’re on sale, and breezy dresses, swimsuits, and sandals in the winter. This can help you save a lot of money while still investing in sustainable fashion.
For those of you in the US or Canada, one of my favourite ethical luxury retailers Alltrueist regularly offers off-season discounts on their designer collections. Some other slow fashion brands here in Canada to keep an eye on for off-season sales: Thief & Bandit, Kaeyla Kay, Franc, and Encircled.
If you aren’t familiar with local, fair trade, or slow fashion brands, pop over to my Shop to browse some of my go-to online stores.
Resale Options From Sustainable Fashion Brands
Many locally-made fashion brands offer resale options, where they buy back their designs, professionally clean them, and repair them if needed, then sell them at a large discount. This is a great way to invest in high-quality sustainable fashion without spending a fortune.
Other Ways to Save Money on Sustainable Fashion
There are other ways to save money on sustainable fashion. Hosting a clothing swap with friends can be a fun, free, and sustainable way to refresh your wardrobe. You can also look for sample sales, where brands sell their excess inventory at discounted prices. Finally, signing up for email newsletters from sustainable fashion brands can give you exclusive information on flash sales or promotions. One of my favourite American slow fashion brands, Bleusalt, regularly runs sales. (I’ve noticed that around the 4th of July and Memorial Day they tends to have their deepest discounts.)
So in conclusion, yes, sustainable fashion can be affordable. By shopping your closet, choosing secondhand fashion, shopping off-season from slow-fashion brands, keeping an eye open for resale options, and exploring other ways to save money, you can build a sustainable wardrobe without breaking the bank.