Guide to Shopping for Sustainable Fashion on a Budget

Guide to Shopping for Sustainable Fashion on a Budget

written by Sam Fleming

The fashion industry is one of the worst offenders of global carbon dioxide output on the planet, accounting for up to 10% of emissions. Eco-conscious shoppers are demanding alternatives to the fast and mass fashion companies that account for the bulk of these emissions, however, many consumers are deterred when they consider the question: can sustainable fashion be affordable?

The answer to that common concern is well, both yes and no. While there are affordable alternatives that can reduce harmful effects on the environment, to generate the systemic change needed to impact the fashion industry an investment is needed. To become more conscious of how to shop sustainably, consider the following consumer strategies and facts exploring the creation of eco-friendly garments.

Buying Second-Hand Clothing

Buying Second-Hand Clothing

 Source: WITF Media Outlet / Taken By Ryan Kneller

Shopping for used clothing is a great way to protect the environment while supporting your local economy. Additionally, while reusing garments cuts down on water usage and greenhouse gas emissions, it also comes at a lower cost than purchasing something newly produced.

Here are just a few of the organizations that aim to make acquiring second-hand clothing accessible and easy for the everyday shopper:

  • Swap Society and Big Sister Swap are online services that allow consumers to send in unwanted clothes and trade them for other pieces
  • OuterKnown and ThredUp have entire selections of used garments to pick from
  • PopSwap is an app where users share photos of their outfits and can set up swaps based on their personalized likes.

Connecting With Sustainable Clothing Brands

Sustainable clothing companies often dedicate entire sections of their websites to the standards and vision the brands hold themselves to. This transparency of the production process can give consumers insight into the eco-friendly aspects of pricing a garment. For instance, Public Habit is a company defined on the belief that “the key to a sustainably fashionable world is a world in which everything is made on demand”. Another brand, Two Days Off, proudly shares “we believe thoughtfully crafted clothes will be loved and you deserve the ease associated with knowing your wardrobe was artfully, ethically and sustainably made”.

These philosophies toward sustainability encourage shoppers to think about just what goes into the clothing they wear. Whether creating only what is sold or ensuring that each step of the garment design process is environmentally-friendly, these are elements sustainable business owners consciously choose even if it raises their prices above fast fashion. 

Factors That Make Sustainable Fashion An Investment

1. Cost of Labor

Cost of Labor

Source: Business of Fashion

While garment workers in many countries that manufacture clothing receive assurance they will make minimum wage, this payment is often a fraction of what qualifies as a living wage. In order to keep these jobs, workers are required to work every day, often between 14 to 16 hours in unsafe conditions. A critical effort of the ethical fashion industry is establishing living wages for workers equitable to the regions where they live.

2. Longer Life Span

A crucial part of sustainable fashion is designing quality pieces with durability in mind. Eco-friendly companies urge consumers to consider the saying "buy better and buy less" when thinking about what they are paying for clothing. By purchasing pieces designed with sustainable materials crafted to last for years, shoppers avoid the need to frequently replace lower quality products and save money in the process.

3. Ethical Sourcing

Going beyond choosing fabrics that are less harmful for the environment to examine how they are created is a step ethical fashion finds absolutely necessary. A large part of ethical sourcing takes place in the continual communication occurring between sustainable clothing companies and their supply chain. By forming these relationships, eco-friendly business owners can guarantee their workers are treated and paid fairly as well as that their clothing is not adding to environmental harm. Connecting directly with the source of fabric can also form business arrangements that are more mutually beneficial than what could be found on the fast fashion market.

4. Smaller Production Size:

Smaller Production Size

Source: Public Habit’s Philosophy Page

Fast fashion has a reputation for selling the most clothes in as many installments as possible throughout a given year. With sustainable brands, however, the drive to develop garments for longevity and need rather than scale leads to increased costs for smaller productions. 

What The Future Holds
Although for the time being the intersection between affordable and sustainable clothing may be limited, this is in no way a permanent condition. As consumer demand shifts towards ethically made clothing and acknowledging the increasing harm fast fashion causes becomes mainstream, prices will drop. A strong strategy that members of the sustainable fashion industry can employ to encourage growth is designing with the individual customer in mind. Not only does this take a step away from fast fashion’s quantity-over-quality mindset, but it can also spark a lasting bond between consumer and business owner.

The first step to take action can be as easy as reading the stories of sustainable clothing businesses looking to make the world a brighter place. A greener tomorrow can start today.

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