Rather, it's fast fashion that's cheap. And fast fashion is cheap because the brands are cutting cost, be it in terms of fairness towards the workers who make the clothes, or in terms of environmental costs by using the cheapest materials or ways of production.
If you're on a tight budget, or if you simply can't justify spending hundreds of dollars on a simple piece of clothing, you might feel like ethical fashion isn't accessible.
But even without purchasing from the more expensive ethical brands, there are cost-effective ways to switch to a sustainable wardrobe.
If you're just starting out, the following ideas should help you on your journey.
1. Thrift, don't shop.
I'm kicking off the list with the one thing that can have the biggest impact. Thrift stores are full of gently-used clothes, most of them in very good condition, that are begging for a new home.
Out of the millions of clothes that are donated to thirft stores, only about 10% are actually sold. The rest of them will go to the landfill. This is why I think it's so important to encourage thrifting and second-hand shopping.
Instead of shopping at H&M, Forever 21, or Zara, you can find the same brands for less than half the cost, plus you get to shop sustainably instead of supporting an unethical brand. Some thrift stores are even non-profits or charities, so all the money we're spending there is going towards a good cause.
Thrift store prices are very reasonable, especially considering that you're able to find higher-end or even designer items. Since I started thrifting recently, I've seen labels like Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, and Rag & Bone on the floor. All in near mint condition (and yes, I did pick them up!).
I've only been thrifting for a couple of months, and although it took some getting used to, it's quickly become something I enjoy doing. The thirft store might seem daunting or even a bit icky at first, but it won't take long before you get over your worries.
Please, if you're only going to do one thing from this list to be more sustainable: go thrifting!
2. Repair it before you throw it out.
I feel like in our culture, it's become a habit to throw clothes away as soon as they get a teeny tiny hole in them. If a piece of clothing you own starts to rip or tear, there's nothing wrong with sewing it back together. In fact, that's exactly how our mothers and grandmothers would handle the situation, and it's the sustainable way to be.
Instead of replacing or throwing out clothes that have rips or holes, use your sewing skills to repair them. All you need is a basic sewing kit including a needle as well as a few spools of thread in basic colors to match your wardrobe. To learn how to sew, you can visit YouTube tutorials.
3. Simply buy less clothes.
We don't need to extreme minimalists to have a more sustainable wardrobe, but one thing's for sure: most of us are buying too much crap.
Fashion trends come and go, fast fashion stores are stocking and restocking their products faster than ever, and we're getting suckered into always buying more, newer, trendier.
Putting an end to this behavior is harder for some than for others, but if you're someone who struggles, perhaps the best way to tackle the issue is to try to replace the habit of shopping with something else.
Speaking from personal experience, since last year I started spending less time at the mall, and more time in nature. I realized that being in nature is so much more fulfilling, meaningful, and energizing to me, to the point where I don't really miss shopping that much even though I shop way less frequently nowadays.
If you're an online shopper, the same principle can be applied: find a better, more meaningful replacement to your shopping habit. It's the perfect opportunity to pick up one of the good habits you might be putting off, such as reading or learning a new skill.
4. Shop affordable ethical brands.
Sometimes, we can't thrift everything. So when purchasing from clothing brands, I like to make sure that they're ethical, but also local. Even though most ethical brands are on the pricier side, you can still find affordable options, especially if you shop locally.
For instance, I mention a few affordable brands in my Ultimate Guide To Ethical Underwear.
Here are a few more examples of ethical fashion brands that are affordable, or on the affordable side:
I hope this gave you a few ideas on how to transition to a more sustainable wardrobe while keeping it affordable, and I can't wait to hear your tips as well.