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Going Green on a Budget? How to Find Affordable Ethical Clothing

Key Takeaways

Fast Fashion? Yuck.

It’s destroying the earth AND your wallet. Buying a $5 shirt isn’t cheap if you have to replace it all the time!

The Solution?

Affordable ethical clothing. (Yes, it exists.) It’s better for our planet and it’ll save you money in the long run.

Shop Smarter

Stop the impulse buy! Finding a few items you LOVE rather than many items you LIKE is key to saving $$$ and being ethical.

With forest fires, severe weather and temperatures on the rise, climate change has become an undeniable focal point of existential crises everywhere. Especially for younger generations, because we would love to retire on a planet that can actually sustain life.

Is that really asking too much?

But with 71% of global emissions coming from just 100 corporations, our individual efforts to go green can feel completely pointless.

When it comes to reducing our carbon footprint, the power of going green is in sheer numbers. Think about this: clothing production has nearly doubled since 2000, which is a direct result of consumer trends and the growing demand for fast fashion.

It’d be nice if the corporations would, you know, take responsibility for their own actions, and hopefully they will with enough pressure, but until then, we can try to make a dent in the industry ourselves.

Listen, I get it. It can be hard to resist the urge to buy cheap clothes. After all, most of us under the age of 35 are broke af. Thank you, student debt and absurd housing costs. To make matters worse, we’re inundated with fast fashion ads on social media day in and day out. But, we as consumers have the collective power to shut down fast fashion by investing in ethically made clothing brands.

And it may be more affordable than you would think.

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Fast Fashion is Killing the Planet

Fast fashion isn’t solely responsible for climate change, but it is a big contributor, producing 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions. Fashion is the second largest consumer of the world’s water supply, and a whopping 85% of all textiles go straight to the dump each year.

Cheap synthetic fabrics like polyester release microplastic pollutants into the ocean every time we wash them. And our obsession with low-dollar fast fashion brands, like Zara and H&M, have created a higher demand for more cheap garments. In fact, the biggest fast fashion brands release up to 52 collections per year, claiming that each week is a “micro-season.”

affordable ethical clothing

This churn-and-burn approach to clothing not only sacrifices quality (and our precious dollar bills), it leaves no time or money for manufacturers to prioritize ethical environmental practices or good working conditions for factory employees. Which means that your $5 tee in every color is not only terrible for the environment, but was likely made by a child, human trafficking victim, or grossly underpaid woman in terrible conditions. It’s not a great look.

Tips for Reducing You Clothing Waste

Have you ever stood in front of an overflowing closet and muttered the words, “I have nothing to wear”? If so, repeat after me: the problem isn’t that I have nothing, it’s that I have way too much to choose from.

So, what can you do to reduce your clothing consumption? It’s not easy, but it’s pretty simple: shop less. If you just fell out of your chair, I promise it’s going to be okay.

pass out gif

Minimizing your wardrobe doesn’t mean you have to walk around in a potato sack. It just means culling down your closet to durable, ethically made pieces you actually love and will wear all the time. And the good news is that minimizing your wardrobe is not only better for the environment — it’s also better for your budget, leaving more money to purchase higher quality, ethically made garments that will hold up over time.

Here are a few beginner’s tips for minimal fashion:

  • Only shop for clothes when you need something. Walking up and down the aisles of Target with your iced Starbucks frap is not a real hobby. Shopping for fun will usually just lead you to purchase things you don’t actually need.
  • Avoid buying new outfits for parties and special occasions. Embrace rewearing outfits, because honestly nobody cares enough to notice. If you do have a special event but don’t want to buy something you’ll only wear once, rent it! Rent the Runway offers amazing formal wear at discounted prices.
  • Wash your clothing less often. Don’t take this one too far, but you don’t need to wash certain clothing items every time you wear them. If it passes the tried-and-true sniff test, save the water and hang that puppy back up in your closet.
  • If you purchase high quality, ethically made clothing, you can keep pieces for longer, and then donate them when needed. Ethical clothing can come at a higher price point than fast fashion, but there are plenty of affordable brands that offer much more bang for your buck.

Ethical Fashion Brands You Can Actually Afford

Ethical fashion combines principles of Fair Trade and sustainability, meaning that ethical clothing brands focus on both the social and environmental impact of their clothing. While the cost is slightly higher than that of fast fashion brands, your extra money is going towards fabrics that won’t pollute our water, sustainable manufacturing, and better working conditions and pay for the real humans making your clothes.

And because ethical clothing is made better, you won’t have to replace it as often. Which will likely save you money in the long-run.

But times are hard in this economy, and I get that even great principles won’t make it feasible to drop hundreds of dollars on a sweater. So, here are my favorite ethical clothing brands for men and women that offer affordable options to make Mother Earth and Father Bank Account both happy. You’re welcome.

  • Everlane – With a selection of modern basics, Everlane’s mission is clear: make ethical clothing that’s built to last and only charge what you have to. I mean, their sales section can have my paycheck.
  • Kotn – If you couldn’t tell from their name, Kotn produces ethical, authentic Egyptian cotton clothing that is equal parts chic and cozy. Polyester? We don’t know her.
  • Pact – A one-stop-shop for “Earth’s favorite clothing,” offering organic cotton basics for the whole family, plus bed and bath! It’s like a sustainable Target, and truly I cannot cope.
  • Boody – Um, hello bamboo fabric! Boody offers a selection of versatile basics made from bamboo yarn. Their clothes are super soft and luxurious, plus they offer discounted bundles and reasonable sales.
  • Happy Earth – Organic cotton, vegan clothes sent right to your door in zero waste packaging. Happy Earth has prevented more than 2.8 million pounds of GHG emissions, planted more than 250,000 trees, and removed more than 3,500 pounds of trash. Like okay, we see you!
  • tentree – For every ethically made clothing item you purchase from tentree, they plant ten trees. And they have a variety of cute and comfy pieces perfect for the outdoorsy tree hugger in all of us.
  • Alternative – Soft, simple, recycled materials, like cotton and hemp, make for the coziest basics. Alternative offers high-quality leisure wear on a mission to do good and feel good.
  • Girlfriend Collective – Offering ethically made activewear sourced from recycled garbage and textile scraps, Girlfriend Collective is reimagining how workout clothes impact the environment. We love to see it!
  • Your local second-hand shop – the number one most sustainable way to buy clothes is to buy second-hand. No extra production and no extra shipping — even the most ethical brands can’t do that!

I’ll leave you with this: things that are too cheap to be true almost always come at a price. And we just can’t afford for the planet to keep paying the difference on fast fashion. So while we should all be calling on brands to take responsibility for their own actions, we can also make a small impact ourselves.

Ethical fashion can be affordable if you know where to find it. And if you minimize your wardrobe and shop ethical brands, you’ll not only save money over time but invest in a planet we can actually live on for the foreseeable future.

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