Sustainable fashion tips and techniques on a budget

The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world and the amount of waste from fast fashion overwhelms landfills left and right. Though buying clothes from sustainable brands is a great ethical option, cost remains a significant hurdle for many clothing consumers. A plain white shirt from Patagonia, a brand known for its sustainable practices, is $40, while H&M’s fast-fashion equivalent goes for half of that. Sustainable fashion seems like something that is not accessible for those on a budget, but it can be. Here are some tips on achieving sustainability while serving looks on a dime.

Consume less fast fashion

Fast fashion is super affordable, so it’s hard to cut it out entirely. You don’t have to completely give up Uniqlo and Shein, but if you’re trying to be more sustainable, buying less from fast fashion brands is a great first step. Instead of a monthly haul, buy a few clothing items every couple of months. This forces you to play with the clothes in your wardrobe while periodically adding something new. Additionally, many fast fashion brands have sustainable lines made of better-quality fabrics and ethically sourced materials. They are a bit pricier, but buying these instead means these pieces are a bit more sustainable and the products won’t disintegrate after the first wash.

I also ask myself these questions whenever I shop at fast fashion stores: Do I really need this? Do I have something similar at home? Will this be something I wear often or once in a while? Will this fashion trend be over in a month? Usually, I will talk myself out of buying fast fashion after I go through a couple of these questions. However, if it’s something I really want, I haven’t bought anything in a while and I know I will wear it, I’ll buy it because consuming less is better than constantly splurging.

Learn how to sew

Sewing is a great skill to learn in case your pants rip or the seams of your shirt fall apart. But even if you don’t have a clothing emergency, sewing is a great way to refresh some of the clothes you already have. Turn an oversized shirt or sweater into a crop top or make a skirt into a cute pair of shorts. This allows you to change your style while not buying more clothes.

I highly recommend buying a basic sewing kit for beginners from an arts and crafts store, along with some different colored threads. You don’t have to buy a fancy sewing machine — you can start with hand sewing and invest more if you find you’re enjoying it. I learned basic sewing techniques from watching some videos and getting tips from my friends, which gave me enough confidence to try these techniques on my clothes. But before you go all out on one of your best items, use some fabric scraps or old shirts to practice. You might end up like me and botch one of your favorite shirts.

Swap clothes with someone

Sometimes your friend or sibling has a cute top that you want to steal while they sleep. Before you’re charged with breaking and entering, ask that person if they want to do a clothing swap. It’s best to do it with someone who is a similar size or has the same proportions as you. Even if you’re different sizes, you can always use your sewing skills to tailor those clothes to yourself.

For the clothing swap, look through the clothes you rarely wear. Keep in mind what your friend or sibling wears and pick clothes that suit their style. Don’t try to trade your One Direction shirt if you know the person isn’t going to wear it. Find a balance of clothing items that you don’t wear but that you think they’ll like. Fill a garbage bag or laundry basket and go through those items individually. Keep the clothes they don’t want and donate them if you don’t see yourself wearing them. This is a fun way to get new clothes while getting rid of the clothes you never wear.

Raid your parents’ or siblings’ closet

Trends often repeat themselves every 20 to 30 years. Right now, the Y2K aesthetic and early 2000s are the biggest trends in fashion. You’ll see people that dress like they just walked out of “Legally Blonde” or “Mean Girls.” But before you go to Forever 21 and buy its stock of miniskirts and bucket hats, the biggest inventory is already in your home: your parents’ wardrobe.

Parents love to cling to clothes from years and years ago that they never wear. They also keep most of their clothes in good condition, too. Ask them if you can take the clothes they rarely wear. They’ll usually say yes, and you might find some gold among the sea of rubble. I was able to find some vintage shirts and jackets from my mom and dad that didn’t fit them anymore. Now I rock them and tell people that I thrifted them. This also works on grandparents, uncles, aunts and even family friends!

Though thrifting and resell sites are sustainable, these other unconventional methods maycost you less money. You’ll be able to be sustainable but fashionable at the same time.

Contact Nicholas Clark at [email protected].