I used to pride myself on buying really inexpensive clothing. I’d feel very clever when someone complimented a dress that I bought for $10 at Target or Forever21, and thought that I was somehow beating the system. But in the end I realized the system was beating me. It was also beating down everything in its path, including the workers who made the clothes and the environment.
My cheap clothes would quickly fall apart or go out of style, and I’d have to be constantly be buying new things to keep up. I was on the fast fashion treadmill and I didn’t even know it. When I learned about poor working conditions in sweatshops during college (over 10 years ago), I knew something had to change. It took me 5 years to work up the courage, but in 2012 I decided that for a year I would only buy clothing if I knew where it came from. I’ve been buying second hand or fair fashion clothing exclusively ever since.
It was really hard at first, I’m not going to lie. Most of the sustainable brands back then were really expensive, and second hand shopping was a chore. Over the years, I’ve learned some tricks that have made shopping ethically easier – and more fun! Here are five tips to shop sustainably without breaking the bank:
- Shop Consignment
The easiest and cheapest way to shop sustainably is to go to your local consignment store. By shopping second hand, you’re making use of clothing that already exists rather than using resources to create something new. Consignment store chains like Buffalo Exchange and Crossroads have locations across the US, and are stocked with good quality and low priced clothes that are well organized. These stores hand-select the merchandise, so you have a lot of great in-season and often on-trend items to choose from. You can also shop local or online consignment stores (my favorites are Poshmark and Tradesy). After you make it a regular habit, you will wonder how you ever paid full price for anything, and you’ll feel good about rescuing clothes from the landfill.
2. Shop Thrift Stores
If you’re up for it, thrift shopping can be even more rewarding. Some people can’t stomach digging through a bunch of old stuff, but If you can there are gems to be found (usually for $7 or less at places like Goodwill). I recommend doing some research and identifying your favorite thrift store in your neighborhood, and finding out what days/times they restock the floor. Then, keep a running list of things you’re looking for, so you don’t walk out the door with a bunch of things you don’t need. For example, if you’re looking for a basket purse and vintage levi’s jeans, you can just check those sections and be on your way if they don’t have what you’re looking for. This will help keep your search time to a minimum.
3. Shop Online Vintage
Another favorite sustainable option is vintage shopping online. You can find some really amazing clothing from the 50s, 60s, and 70s that is still in great condition – and no one will have that piece but you. One of the best places for this is the vintage section of Etsy, especially if you’re looking for something specific. You can look up something like “gingham dress” and then filter by category, price, and color. They have almost everything, and the prices can be really reasonable. If you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, and would rather have a selection curated for you, check out online vintage shops like Fenix Vintage, Shop Exile, and American Archive. You can even shop via Instagram! My favorite is Na Nin vintage, which is super stylish and cheap!
4. Buy less, but better
If you’re not interested in shopping second hand, there are a growing number of ethical brands with high quality products that you can buy without going into debt. My favorites right now are Amour Vert, Everlane, Grana, Reformation, Urban Renewal, and VETTA. *VETTA is my brand, so I’m biased on that one. 😉 These brands are all fairly priced, but they’re not as cheap as fast fashion brands if that’s what you’re used to. Shopping from ethical brands requires a change in mindset, because you are paying someone a fair wage so it’s not going to cost $10 for a dress. Instead of buying things on a whim, you’ll need to think carefully about what your wardrobe needs. Make a list of what’s missing in your closet, and keep it with you on your phone. If you can forgo a few cheap impulse purchases, you will be able to pay more for something you really want (that’s higher quality and will last longer). In the end, your wardrobe (and the earth, and the people who make your clothes) will thank you.
5. Be Sale Savvy
Lastly, some sustainable brands offer discounts for their products, so you can take advantage of those special offers. Many ethical brands offer loyalty or insider discounts when you join their mailing list. For example, you can get 15% off at Amour Vert or 10% off at VETTA by joining the email list. Or you can tell a friend about a cool new brand, and get store credit that way – for example, you can get $25 at Everlane or $20 at Grana right now by referring a friend. You can also follow brands on Facebook or Instagram to be notified of special sales and offers. While most sustainable brands are moving away from the constant discounts of traditional brands, you can still find deals out there.
I hope these tips can help you build a wardrobe you love, and can feel good about! It’s a process, and it can take time to create new shopping habits. But I can tell you that the satisfaction of making a difference with every purchase beats the satisfaction of that $10 dress every time!
Founder, Vetta Capsule