Fashion and Sustainability on a Budget

As our world becomes more and more sustainably-conscious, it is important that we keep striving to change many of our not so environmentally friendly habits and norms.  This includes everything from the foods we eat to the threads on our bodies. 

I love clothes.  As someone who has been studying fashion the past 3 years, I have contributed my fair share to fast fashion and impulse purchases on unnecessary items – like a cheap sweater I’ve only worn once, shoes that lasted me two wears, and many other items that have hung in my closet untouched for months (some, I’ll admit, even with the tags still on).  The fashion industry remains the second most polluting in the world – and while many brands are beginning to launch their “eco-conscious” and “sustainability efforts,” is it enough?  Can we be sustainable so long as fast fashion lives?  The answer is no.

Fast fashion is defined as “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.”  These clothes are often mass-produced at extremely low costs, depleting non-renewable sources, emitting massive amounts of greenhouse gases, and using extreme amounts of water and energy.  The average cotton t-shirt takes about 2,700 liters of water to produce.  That is enough water to last a human 900 days.

The fashion industry already moves at a rapid pace.  With fashion weeks happening bi-annually around the globe in addition to resort collections, pre-fall, pre-spring, and many more marks on the calendar that brands release their new lines – some even every single week, it entices us as consumers to keep buying the next “new and shiny” thing.  And when these clothes are at such low costs, how can one resist?  Clothes from fast fashion brands such as Shein, Forever 21, and H&M are so affordable even I, a broke college student, could purchase an entirely new wardrobe each season.

So, how can we be fashionable and eco-friendly at the same time?  Sustainably-minded brands have been developing left and right – from Reformation to Everlane, Whimsy + Row, and more – but still may not be in a practical price range for us college students.  And while thrifting has become popular in recent years, prices are being driven up in some of the more sought after thrifting destinations.

Be aware of fiber content

My first piece advice, as a fellow student on a tight budget, is to always start with being aware of the fiber content which can be found on the tags of your garment.  While it is best to avoid fast fashion brands altogether, natural fibers are at least biodegradable and won’t release micro-plastics into the ocean after each wash.  Look for garments made out of natural materials like cotton and linen as opposed to synthetic such as polyester, spandex, acetate, and nylon. 

Reduce, re-use, re-sell

Reduce the amount of clothing items you’re buying, only buy what you love and know you will wear over and over again.  And when the lifestyle of your clothes do come to an end, don’t throw them away!  If they are still in decent condition, donate them to a local shelter or donation center.  See if there are any clothing recycling programs at your local stores (H&M has a garment collection program that accepts any brand, condition, and material).  Or, if you’re looking for some extra cash, sell them to a loving new home on platforms such as Depop and Poshmark or bring them to your local second-hand shop.

Invest in quality, not quantity

Invest in high quality pieces that wont disintegrate after a few washes.  For example, for many of my closet staples, I don’t mind spending a little extra on a great quality, 100% cotton denim pair of jeans I will wear over and over again for years to come.  And if you think about it, you’re probably saving money down the line.  Instead of buying $10 pants from Shein that will only last you 3 times in the washing machine, look into a higher quality pair that you won’t need to keep replacing.

Avoid trends and adopt a more minimalistic style

Trends are super fun and exciting.  However, they can contribute to a lot of waste and unnecessary purchases.  As someone who has devoted their entire career to studying trends and staying on top of the latest and greatest new styles, I know how tempting it can be.  Only purchasing pieces we know will outlast the newest craze can ensure that we’re being eco-conscious.  Classic pieces like a simple white cotton button down can be styled in all sorts of ways and will never go out of fashion.

Sustainability doesn’t have to be expensive or out of reach.  By being more aware of the clothes we’re buying, we can not only contribute to a more eco-friendly world, but also save so much money down the line.  

10 thoughts on “Fashion and Sustainability on a Budget

  1. I’m seeing a growing trend of people buying second hand clothes which would be a great thing for the environment. I’d also like to see more transparency in so-called “sustainable clothing”. When I tried to buy a new jacket I went looking for a sustainable option but there was a surprising number that claimed to be sustainable but in reality was barely better than regular fast fashion. Buying new clothes sustainably right now is quite difficult just because of the lack of honest info!

    1. Hey Jake! Yea, I agree. It’s hard to buy anything sustainably as it is such a buzzword right now. I think consuming less and consuming good quality items will always be the better option to living a more eco-conscious life.

  2. I totally agree with your 4 way solution.
    I think the most important thing in sustainable fashion is will and practice. Pursuing a sustainable brand but practically 100% is it working well? One of the ways to reduce the negative impact of the fashion industry is to sell discarded clothes to secondhand goods or to reduce donations and impulse buying. I want sustainable clothes, but I have a lot of price conflicts when it comes to purchasing them. Teenagers and 20s have no choice but to buy cheap clothes because they have to save money. Then we have no choice but to buy a fast fashion brand, right? Is there anything can make clothes that are cheap and sustainable?

    1. Hey! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us 🙂 I agree as a newly graduated student that oftentimes buying cheap clothes seems to be the easiest solution. However, thrifting and buying secondhand has been very helpful for me~ I find amazing quality clothes for a fraction of the price. If you don’t have enough money, I also suggest buying high-quality clothing items that have expected longevity to reduce the need to buy more than one in the near future. Hope that helps!!

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