So, we know that ethical fashion can be expensive. And we also know that in humanitarian and environmental terms, those higher prices are worth every penny. If you can buy solely from ethical and sustainable brands, well done, full points, you are fantastic and can I borrow that nice dress please? But, if you can’t (just as I can’t), you’re not doomed to spend eternity racked with guilt; tearfully and begrudgingly handing over your card to the person behind the till at Primark because you have no other choice. I’m not here to offer a single, niche solution to a specific, wealthy demographic. I want every single person I know to be able to make ethical choices and fill their wardrobe with sustainable fashion.
It’s the reason I let you delve into my own spending and why I waxed lyrical about buying second hand. You can absolutely make ethical and sustainable choices when you’re on a budget. Like literally everything else on the planet, the process is undoubtedly much easier if you have Coutts money, but I don’t, you maybe/possibly/probably don’t and still, we can totally do this thing. Here’s how:
Buy Second Hand
Admittedly this isn’t for everyone. I’m weirdly protective of my clothes. One time, I asked a friend what she was wearing to a particular night out. When she then said, “I don’t know, what do you have?”, I looked at her with such horror that she never asked to borrow anything again. BUT, if you are more generous than me when it comes to opening up your wardrobe to others, you’ve got an endless fashion mine just waiting to be excavated.
Sharing clothes widens the pool so that if, for instance, you don’t have the right dress for an event, you can raid three or four other wardrobes without having to buy something new. Money saved and another once-worn dress avoided. The key here is that it has to work both – or multiple – ways. You can’t borrow whatever you like from your friends and then conveniently misplace your phone when someone messages you about your favourite denim jacket. What I’m basically saying here is, don’t be like me.
If opening up your current wardrobe is a bit too much like torture, considering swapping instead. Round up everything you don’t wear anymore, grab a group of friends and set up a swap shop (Noel Edmonds optional, preferably prohibited). If your friends’ styles don’t align with yours (i.e. you think they have terrible taste), there are loads of cooperatives, bars, studios and collectives that hold open clothes swaps on a regular basis. Just make sure your clothes are clean, obvz.
You don’t have to know anything fancy, but being able to reattach buttons, stitch up seams and repair small tears is an invaluable skill. Our tech now comes with built-in obsolescence and we treat our clothes the same way. The amount of garments that end up in landfill because of tiny, completely fixable issues is staggering. Extending a garment’s life is always better than replacing it with something new.
Make Friends With a Tailor
If you don’t have time to repair your own clothes or need someone to tackle the more complex jobs, you’ll need a tailor. Once you’re on the look out, you’ll notice them all over the place and they can work their magic on just about anything: repairing zips, altering hemlines, taking in or letting out seams, even completely reworking a garment into something new. Plus, saying ‘oh, I’ll just send it to my tailor’ will make you sound fancy AF.
I know this seems patronisingly obvious but out and out consumerism is so ingrained in our culture that buying is a default setting. The rise of fast fashion has seen a huge shift in our collective attitude and we now consume 400% more clothing than we did 20 years ago yet wear only a fraction of our wardrobes. I spent years mindlessly buying cheap clothes without any sort of purpose only to barely wear them or not wear them at all. Step back, take a break and reassess the divide between want and need.
Follow Influencers (sorry) for Discounts
If you love ethical fashion but can’t afford to pay a premium for it, follow ethical and sustainable influencers (I will never not shudder at that word). They often partner up with brands to offer exclusive discounts to their readers on their websites, newsletters or social media. If it’s an investment purchase, 15 or 20% can make a sizable dent in the price.
I will say this until the end of time: ethical fashion doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive. In fact, once you’re engaged in the whole cycle, you might just find, like I did, that you’re spending less than ever.
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Clothes swaps are fun, especially if adult beverages are involved.
There is always that option!