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How to Shop Ethically within Your Budget: 6 Money-Saving Ideas

Shopping ethically is expensive! For someone who is used to shopping sales racks at the local department store or scanning the racks of fast fashion at the cheaper mall stores, the sticker shock of high-quality items from ethical retailers can be significant. Most people immediately realize that they cannot possibly afford to continue their current consumer habits if they switch to eco or fair brands. After all, one of the key tenets of ethical shopping is the concept of sustainability: the idea that the production of our clothing does not deplete resources, whether environmental resources or the health and safety of the people who make our clothes. Naturally, our spending habits also need to be sustainable for our personal lifestyle and financial goals. Hopefully we can show in this article how to shop ethically while staying within your clothing budget.

Tip #1: Start thinking of shopping for clothes as a necessary task rather than a hobby or an end in itself. When you can buy a cheap top for the price of a latte, it can be easy to spend time browsing stores for fun and buying things you don’t need. Paradoxically, part of shopping ethically is not shopping, but instead cultivating a mindset of contentment. It is easier to shift your priorities to caring more about the environment and the people who make your clothes when you develop an attitude of thankfulness for what you already have. This is easier to do when you have a wardrobe that is well-thought out and actually flatters you and suits your needs (we will have a new post on how to do that soon). Either way, as learning about the ethics of clothing production changes the feeling of entitlement we have to cheap clothing, we can figure out how to make changes to our lifestyle to make it fit with our values . Learning how to make mindful purchases that you actually wear is the first start: anyone can afford to quit recreational shopping.

Tip #2: Maintain what you own. Few people today know how to take care of the their clothes properly. Learning how to correctly launder items (for instance, how to remove stains or which items should not go in the dryer) and store them is the first step. Mending items is another important and neglected skill, partly because many people don’t know how to sew. Those who do sew often spend so little on their clothing that they view their garments as disposable: it seems to be more efficient to buy new clothes than to replace that button or snap. A good challenge for someone seeking to change their habits of over-consumption of clothing is to consider learning how to mend. Pinterest and YouTube are full of tutorials on how to do this, and once you are open to the idea, it may not turn out to be as time-consuming as you thought. It often turns out that making a quick repair to a garment takes much less time than shopping for a new one, to say nothing of the environmental impact and budget savings. As you grow in confidence with sewing skills, it can be fun to alter clothing to fit and flatter you better, or to completely refashion a piece into something new. Many people don’t like the way they look in their clothes and are stuck in an endless cycle of trying to purchase new items to fix the way they feel, when the real problem is that they need a little customization to the clothes they already have, whether it be taking in the waist or changing a hemline. Sewing is actually pretty simple, but if it’s not an option, you can take garments to a tailor for mending or fitting, which costs more than doing it yourself but may still save money compared to buying new clothes.

Tip #3: Purchase with Purpose. Don’t buy things just because they’re cheap, but make sure they have a purpose in your closet and work well with other clothes you own. Ask yourself if you can wear the item multiple ways and to multiple occasions. Make sure it’s both flattering and comfortable to ensure that you’ll actually wear it. If you looked at your closet and saw only clothes that fit those criteria, you wouldn’t feel as tempted to stay on the cheap shopping treadmill. It’s a lot easier to justify a pricier ethically-made garment when you don’t buy clothing as often and you know it’s something you will get a lot of wear out of.

Tip #4: Think second-hand first. Thrift shopping is a fantastic way to buy inexpensive clothing that does not contribute to sweatshops. It is also an environmentally responsible choice as it rescues clothing from ending up in the landfill. Not only that, but many thrifts stores also exist to fund charitable causes. Some thrift stores have better items than others, so do your research (for instance, often Goodwills in wealthier areas have better quality clothing). There are all kinds of ways to shop second-hand online as well, with Ebay and thredUP being some of the more well-known options.

Tip #5: Choose quality over quantity. Even if you’re not buying something from an ethically-made shop, there is an argument to be made that you can still have a more eco-friendly lifestyle by purchasing good-quality conventionally-made items instead of low-quality ones. In this case, your wardrobe would be sustainable by virtue of being excellent quality: owning longer-lasting items results in the need for fewer items to be purchased over your lifetime, which results in less environmental impact and fewer clothes in the landfill. Of course it’s still better to choose those quality items from stores that sell ethically-made clothing, but when it’s not possible, this is something to keep in mind.

Tip #6: Share what you have. If you have a community of people in a similar stage of life, sharing clothing can be a wonderful way to save money. Whether passing along hand-me-downs to children in your life, hosting a clothing swap, or taking turns with maternity clothing, there are many ways to make clothing go a long way. You could also check out the many business that allow people to rent clothing, such as Le Tote or Rent the Runway.

We hope these ideas inspire you to think outside the ethical shopping boutique as you build your own affordable, sustainable wardrobe. If you practice these concepts you may save enough money from eliminating extra purchases and shopping second-hand to be able to buy the rest of your new items from ethical shops without losing much money. You may even find that you have more time in your life to spend on things that matter more to you than shopping.

This article is part 4 in a 4-part series on the What, Where, Why, and How of Ethical Shopping.

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