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I’m inadvertently very good at buying sustainable clothing on a budget.
My method is incredibly easy – I, er, almost never buy clothes.
I have a black jumper that my mum bought me to wear to school. That was over 18 years ago. I still wear it to work. At this point it’s so shiny it’s almost reflective. I DON’T CARE. It keeps me toasty in this incredible June rain we’re having.
(I’m actually not mad about it – my hydrangeas are loving it).
I own very few clothes that don’t fall into the categories of work clothes, dog-walking clothes, and pjs/lounge wear. Why would I? They’re the best clothes. I have the odd dress, but currently, the zips don’t do up on any of ’em.
My attitude to fashion can be summed up thusly:
- Ignore trends
- Wear jeans in winter, denim shorts in summer
- Buy one big coat, to negate the need for lots of layers.
I used to ignore sustainable clothing articles because I found the whole topic a bit overwhelming. There’s just so much to consider, such as:
Personally, I don’t buy anything from an animal, so no leather, wool, angora, or cashmere. This can make buying warm, sustainable clothing a bit of a ‘mare.
Plastic is also not great, so polyester is a no no.
Also cotton comes with its own set of issues.
SO WHAT’S LEFT?
I don’t want to be buying clothing that has to be shipped all over the world and wrapped in a lot of excess packaging. The carbon footprint of clothing can be horrific even without considering how it travels from the factory to the shop/your home.
But I live in the UK. So my options for clothing produced here is…M&S.
We’ve all seen footage of the horrific conditions that can be found in large clothing factories. We want to make sure that the clothes that we buy aren’t causing suffering to other humans. Being vegan means considering the plight of our own species just as much as we consider the plight of non-human animals.
The problems facing consumers
I think the largest problem faced by consumers when it comes to buying sustainable clothing on a budget is a lack of transparency from the clothing companies.
Just like in animal agriculture, the dirty side of the clothing industry is largely hidden from the public. And just like in animal agriculture, the vast majority of people are happy with that. If the unsustainability of clothing was more widely known, that would involve consumers having to change their habits – something none of us want to do.
If clothing is sustainable, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been made ethically, but for this post, I’m going to help you to curate a wardrobe that’s both sustainable and ethical. And without spending very much money.
1 – Buy fewer clothes
Shocking, I know.
We don’t need that many clothes. Most of us don’t anyway. Unless perhaps you work in fashion.
I buy clothes about twice a year. If that.
Arguably, if you buy clothes less often than you can buy better quality. However, when you’re on a budget it’s hard to justify spending £30 on a t-shirt.
If you’re a bit overwhelmed at the thought of minimalism and buying/having less stuff, I have a post on decluttering and getting used to living with fewer things.
I’ve recently been getting into houseplants, and it’s a great way to scratch that buying-itch, whilst also making your home beautiful and purifying the air.
My air must be pretty fucking pure now.
Plants are also great for when you want a new pet but know that, for whatever reason, you can’t have one. They need enough nurture that you can sate your maternal instincts, but you can also leave them to go on holiday for a fortnight without being arrested/having the RSPCA called on you.
2 – Buy second hand
Charity shops – really good for jumpers. I don’t know why, they just are. Also bags.
Ebay – great if you’re after something really specific, but don’t need it immediately. A friend of mine got two Ralph Lauren shirts for £20 from Ebay recently.
Depop – I personally don’t use it, but apparently, it’s great for designer pieces.
I personally wouldn’t buy non-vegan materials second hand (I had an absolute nightmare with a Jack Wills body warmer that started sprouting feathers. Genuinely never even considered it would be down. I had to give it away to my mum’s friend), but if you’re desperate for a leather bag (eew) then second hand is the way to go.
3 – Do your research on the best of fast fashion
If you’re on a really tight budget and need, e.g. work clothes and underwear, then fast fashion may be a necessary evil.
Maybe you’ve got a job interview and your tights have laddered. Don’t feel like you have to put your principles to one side – Primark aren’t too bad when it comes to sustainability.
I buy a lot of my basics from Primark. This may horrify you, but Primark is absolutely NOT the worst when it comes to shopping sustainably. I discovered this watching this video from Cruelty Free Becky.
H&M aren’t the worst either.
This is not an invitation to buy loads of clothes from H&M and Primark. Remember point 1 – we need to buy fewer clothes. These companies aren’t extremely sustainable – they’re just more sustainable from other fast fashion brands. Asos got a higher sustainability score than I thought too.
If you’re interested in the Fashion Sustainability Index, check it out here.
4 – Make your own
I bet there’s a whole section of YouTube dedicated to making your own clothes. I personally find it stressful just threading a sewing machine, so it’s not for me. I’m more than willing to sew on a button or (badly) repair a small hole.
5 – Look after what you already have
I’m also not the best at taking care of my clothes, but I’ve taken steps to negate the impact of this. Basically, I don’t buy anything that can’t go in the washing machine. It’s a great system.
Another great tip I have is to only buy dark clothes, so that you don’t have to worry about accidentally dying something pink. Nearly everything I own is black for a) that very reason and b) nearly everything I own can be worn to work.
A couple of sustainable fashion brands
Tala – activewear produced by Grace Beverly. I’ve not tried it yet, because it’s so ridiculously popular that it’s always sold out. Soon though, soon.
People Tree – not cheap cheap, but pretty affordable. The pjs are adorable.
Monsoon – again, not exactly Primark prices, but they do a great range of eveningwear that’s beautiful. I’ve loved Monsoon for years and had no idea that they’ve always been very sustainably-minded. They should plaster their sustainability manifesto about their website and stores more. Or I should pay more attention when I’m out and about.
In general, ethical and sustainable brands are more expensive than their non-sustainable counterparts, but that’s to be expected. The reason that non-sustainable materials and cheap labour are used is that they’re cheap. Your mum’s right: you get what you pay for.
If, like me, you find negotiating the world of sustainable clothing on a budget a bit difficult, then stick to buying fewer items and buying second hand. Swap clothing with friends. Don’t think you need a new outfit every time you go out (no one worth knowing will judge you). Consider a capsule wardrobe.
I hope this was informative and shed a bit of light on the complex topic of sustainable clothing on a budget.
It is doable. Buying sustainable clothing isn’t something for exclusively rich people.
If you want to know more about the impact of fast fashion, The True Cost is an eye-opening documentary that’s available to watch on Netflix. It’s a great way to kick0start your sustainable fashion journey.
Let me know of any other great budget-friendly sustainable fashion brands.
If you’re interested in other ways you can live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, plz check out this post