If you’re striving to live a more sustainable and environmentally healthy lifestyle, it can be difficult to figure out where to start, especially if you’re on a budget. According to an annual survey conducted by Slickdeals, 64% of U.S. adults reported an increase in their impulse spending in 2022, and 35% of impulse purchases are spent on clothes. Your clothing shopping habits may be a good place to start.
The recent attention surrounding the dangers of fast fashion has spurred more people to change their shopping habits and start living more sustainably by avoiding the industry altogether. Here are some ways you can avoid fast fashion while sticking to your budget.
What Is Fast Fashion, and Why Is It Bad?
Fast fashion describes the mass production and selling of cheap, trendy clothing items to meet consumer demand and follow fleeting fashion trends. Companies like Shein, H&M and Forever 21 are considered fast fashion brands. A relatively new term, fast fashion contributes to overproduction and waste and, in many instances, may involve unethical business practices as well as unfair and unsafe labor practices, according to a research paper from the University of Alabama at Birmingham titled “Fast-Fashion: Unethical and Unsustainable.”
According to Fashion Checker, a campaign by the Clean Clothes Campaign, which is funded by the European Union, 93% of brands don’t pay their workers a living wage. The Los Angeles Times found that Forever 21 paid their factory workers a mere $4 an hour.
In addition to contributing to unethical labor practices, fast fashion can also be damaging to the environment. It is estimated that the fashion industry accrues 92 million tons of waste per year. A study from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe found that the fashion industry is the second-highest user of water in the world, producing 20% of global water waste. Producing a large quantity of cheap products requires the use of toxic dyes, dangerous chemicals and microplastics that pollute clean water, according to Business Insider. The factories where these clothing items are made also contribute to air pollution, deforestation and energy use.
Consumers have the buying power. Here’s how to avoid the fast fashion industry, even if you’re on a budget.
Start by Having a Shopping Budget
Having a budget specifically for clothing can clear up any questions on what you can and can’t afford. Jamie Ebersole, a certified financial planner and founder and CEO of Ebersole Financial LLC, says that clothing budgets vary depending on the individual and their needs.
“First, we need to cover basic living expenses such as rent, food, insurance, transportation, student loans, technology, etc.,” he says. “Then we look at savings, funding an emergency reserve and retirement savings. Once all of these areas have been paid for, we can then look at what is left over and split that up between the various buckets remaining such as shopping, entertainment, dining out, etc. This will give us a good sense of what we can afford to spend on new clothes.”
You can create your own clothing budget at home using budgeting apps or spreadsheets to make it even easier to track. Regulating your spending habits by sticking to a budget is a great way to hold yourself accountable and learn how to best save and spend your money.
Work With What You Have
If you want to start shopping more sustainably, it’s best to start with what’s already in your closet, says Tachelle Ting, a biologist and author of “Fast Fashion: Wearing Out the Planet.” The pieces you already own are the most sustainable items you have.
“It would be more wasteful to throw away all the stuff in your wardrobe and to get a whole new sustainable wardrobe. Start with what you have and truly go through the value of each clothing piece,” says Ting.
Sit down and take inventory of your closet, noting what clothes you wear regularly and which ones you wear less often. If you don’t get a lot of use out of a certain piece, then it may be time for you to give it to a friend or donate it. The goal is to get as much value and use as possible from every single piece of clothing that you own, even if you bought most of your wardrobe from fast fashion businesses.
Only Buy Essentials and Basics
The best strategy for establishing a durable and timeless wardrobe is investing in essential pieces, as opposed to buying trendy clothing. Trends are short-lived, and continuously keeping up with what’s in style contributes to the fast fashion industry.
Instead of buying cheap, fashionable clothes, find and purchase better-quality essential pieces, like plain-colored T-shirts, simple trousers and versatile shoes. If you have quality basics in your closet, then you won’t need to go shopping as often, saving you money in the long run.
Thrifting is one of the easiest ways to both avoid fast fashion and save money. From Goodwill to Plato’s Closet, there are many store options for consumers who want to buy secondhand clothes. These days, you don’t even have to leave the house to go thrifting; online thrifting services like ThredUp make shopping sustainably easier. You can even download apps like Poshmark and Depop to purchase and sell your own clothes online.
Avoid Going to Malls
If you’re trying to save money and stop buying clothing from fast fashion brands, avoid going to malls, even discount outlet malls. It’s easy to overspend on mall outings, even if you go there with no intention of purchasing anything. The quantity of products and merchandise available make it difficult to browse through a mall and walk out without a new wardrobe item. If you have trouble with overspending on clothes, try to cut temptation by avoiding malls, which mostly have stores that contribute to fast fashion.
Research Before You Buy
While fast fashion clothing brands make shopping accessible, it only takes a little bit of research to find more sustainable options and businesses to frequent.
Michelle Chavez, a sustainable fashion influencer and co-founder of the anti-human-trafficking small business The Tote Project, says that researching ethical businesses is easier than people assume. “The next time you need an item of clothing, take a couple extra minutes to Google ‘ethically made dresses,’ or whatever it is you’re looking for,” she says. “You’ll find there’s more options than you think.”
Ethical fashion is slowly becoming more and more accessible, especially as small businesses gain traction on social media. Researching before you purchase may sound like it draws out the shopping process, but all it takes is a few simple Google searches.
Buy Better Quality Clothes From Small Businesses
One of the issues of fast fashion is the low quality of the products, and thus the need to continue buying new clothes.
“Fast fashion fabric snags really easily — sometimes holes will rip after one wash — and oftentimes it’s sewed with thread that’s intended to snap and unravel. One shirt may cost $15, but you’ll have to replace it four times a year. This costs more in the long run than buying one $50 shirt that will last you years,” Chavez says.
However, smaller businesses that typically invest more time and better resources into the products tend to create clothing that is much higher in quality.
If you choose to invest in higher quality items, it may cost you more upfront. Buying a $50 shirt may be painful at the time, but higher quality clothes that are more durable will help you save money by not needing to purchase replacements very frequently. Just make sure to keep your budget in mind.
Who says more is better? Instead of buying a new wardrobe every year, get creative. Re-wear different pieces in different ways, borrow clothes from your friends if you need a specific item and spice up old pieces by reworking them and adding accessories.
Don’t be ashamed to wear your favorite outfits repeatedly or pair unique outfits by taking clothing inspiration from Pinterest or Instagram. It doesn’t have to be difficult to shop sustainably and avoid fast fashion while sticking to a budget. The key is simple: Just do your best to be creative and work mostly with what you already have.
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