When I started to practice a more environmentally friendly way of living, it was easy in most areas of my life.
Cutting back on plastic bags: easy. Taking public transportation over cabs: easy. However, there was one category that was a lot more difficult than I expected: fashion.
If you are a friend of mine, you’d know how much I love fashion. I love new styles, putting new pieces together, looking at beautifully designed mannequins. It’s a real passion of mine. When I shopped, I liked to buy with brands like Zara, Urban Outfitters, Free People. These brands made up about 80% of my previous wardrobe.
Then I watched the documentary, “The True Costs”. This film showed me the real costs of shopping for fast fashion. I learned how the fast fashion industry is depleting our planet’s natural resources and abusing workers for cheap labor. I was so disappointed!
I knew that if I wanted to stay true to my values, I would have to make changes. I was afraid, however, that by doing so I would have to give up my style and/or my paycheck each month.
But I was determined. I knew there was a way I could be environmentally conscious, have a good style AND stay within my budget.
So, I figured out some key ways in which I would haven’t to compromise on any of these tenets.
1. Shop at Vintage Boutiques and Second Hand Clothing Stores
Shopping at vintage or second hand boutiques can be a great way to shop more consciously. These shops are much more accessible these days. You don’t need to live in a big city.
Even if you don’t live near a vintage store, you can still buy this kind of clothing. There are plenty of online second hand and vintage boutiques that stock great brands.
I have tried both. In my local area, I love shopping from beacon’s closet and Brooklyn Exchange. Nonetheless, I also enjoy using online vintage sites like Poshmark and Depop — depending on what item I am looking for.
Shopping vintage also gives you the opportunity to sell back your used clothing. Many of the major vintage and second hand stores offer the option to bring back any clothes that don’t serve you anymore.
Be mindful, though. Most stores are particular about what they accept. They only want to sell the best pieces in the store (which benefits you). If your pieces don’t sell, it’s no problem. Most of them allow you to donate. If not, you could swing over to a Goodwill or Salvation Army and donate the clothes yourself.
The pros to shopping vintage is that it saves a lot of resources which are extracted from the environment during the production of clothing. According to author Stephen Leahy’s book, “Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use to Make Everyday Products,” it takes 2,000 gallons (7,600 liters) of water to make your favorite pair of jeans. That’s the equivalent to the amount of water that an individual drinks in 5-6 years! That’s a lot of water saved over one piece of jeans you can buy second hand.
Vintage greatly benefits your budget! When you start to shop vintage or second hand, you’ll find that you can buy great brands for a lot less. Vintage stores stock brands like Zara, Anthropology and Free People, as well as higher ends brands such as LaPerla, Gucci and Jimmy Choo. Because of this selection, I didn’t feel I had to sacrifice my favorite brands to maintain my consciousness. Even better, the costs are usually half the price because the clothing is used.
2. Wear Your Pieces More Often
I recently read that that the average person wears a piece of clothing only seven times before throwing it away. That is just the average person! I have friends who sometimes wear something once and then decide to throw it away. Other friends have so many clothes that they forget stuff and then decide to discard it after a season.
The trouble with this behavior is we’re becoming a culture that continues to accumulate more materials. The more stuff we make, the more resources we are extracting from the planet. The Global Fashion Agenda states that the average volume of water consumed by apparel production in one year is equivalent to 32 million Olympic pools.
You can reverse this trend by changing everything from your attitude to the number of times you wear clothing. Instead of wearing pieces a couple of times, try to make it last a little bit longer.
One thing I love to do is find items I can pair with different outfits, which allows me to wear them a lot longer. For instance, I’ll find a top that usually goes with a couple pairs of jeans. Then, I will rotate it and make different outfits. That way I don’t get very bored of the new item. Instead I find a lot of value in it. The skirt in the feature image of this article — I’ve had for over 3 years! And I still wear it and love it today.
This way of shopping can be great for your budget. The more you wear clothing, the less you buy.
3. Become a Minimalist Fashionista
Another way to make your wardrobe more eco-friendly is to simply buy less. We live in a world that tells us we need more. Fast fashion‘s entire marketing plan is to create an illusion that leads us to believe we’re missing out on the latest trends. They literally put a new collection out each week for this very reason. Because of this excess, the average American woman owns 30 outfits, one for every day of the month.
I get it, too. It’s easy to believe we NEED that extra pair of jeans or those cute red Prada shoes But once you start to embrace a more minimal way of living, you’ll see how much excess we consume.
To change this habit, you can start to ask yourself some questions when you go shopping. Before you buy something, ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” or “Do I already have something similar in my closet?”
If you feel that it adds a missing piece into your closet, then go for it! If you have something already like it, then maybe reconsider your choice.
You can also create a plan before shopping. Take a look at your closet before your trip and ask yourself, “What are pieces I am missing?”
Take inventory of what you need right now. Maybe you have the right amount of jeans, but you’re missing a going out top for it or you need to upgrade your shoes from two years ago. Write it all down.
Then when you go into the clothing store, take the list with you and buy the pieces that are on your list. Best part? You’ll come out with a shorter bill on your credit card.
4. Shop With Eco-Friendly Clothing Brands
An easy way to shop more consciously is to buy more clothing from sustainable brands.
We are so lucky to have so many amazing ethical companies to choose from. New sustainable clothing brands are constantly popping up!
This trend is great because it means we have plenty of options to choose from that go with our style. Also, the competition has helped make these brands more affordable for everyone. Today brands have figured out how to make their prices just as comparable to big brands.
For instance, Everlane‘s prices start at around $25 for tops — which makes their prices comparable to big names such as Gap and Ann Taylor. If you ask me, it’s probably as good — if not better — in quality.
There are many resources that are making this search more accessible. Ecocult curates different ethical brands from around the web. There is also a subscription styling service called WearWell that selects conscious fashion pieces for you. The difference between this and a similar service like Stitch Fix is that they only style you with brands that are sustainably made. This service can be a great option for those of us who are short on time.
When you go shopping, you’ll want to bring some questions with you to be sure the brands adhere to your values. You can take a look at this list of five questions to ask at a clothing store. Most of the sales people are very knowledgeable and can provide plenty of information.
5. Gather Friends For A Clothing Swap
Clothing swaps are another great option I have found on my journey. They are organized gatherings where friends and random folks meet to swap clothing. The pros to this are that you can get some great finds.
I once went to a clothing swap and received a free top from a name brand that normally would have cost more than $150. Now that’s a steal.
When you go to swaps, make sure the other people at the event are your size. If there’s a Facebook group or forum, post and ask if anyone will be your size. If everyone is a different size, it might not be the right swap for you.
Sometimes you don’t have to go to an organized clothing swap. Instead you could create your own unofficial swap. One thing I have done in the past is get a bunch of my friends together, bring some drinks and create a clothing swap at my home. This approach is super easy. Plus it’s a ton of fun when you get your friends together in this way!
Even easier, ask one of your friends if she wants to get rid of some of her stuff and do a swap with you. This tactic can be helpful for friends who live in big cities and have limited space in their homes.
Sustainability and Style
Remember, sustainable shopping doesn’t have to hurt your budget or your style. In fact, if you implement these techniques, the approach can actually improve your budget and net you some great finds.
Now, I would love to hear from you! Have you tried any of these tips? If not, what are some of the challenges you find when shopping for sustainably-made clothing?
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