Where to find sustainable fashion on a tight budget
I grew up on welfare. In Australia, being a welfare kid does not disadvantage you as much as it does in the US. We still had a safe (rental home), access to fresh unprocessed food, and a good public education. But the budget was tight. We never ate out. We only went on camping holidays in national parks (which were free or close to free). We often shopped at charity stores. Both my parents had a penchant to finding good quality items second hand or on sale. I was very aware that we were poor. But I didn’t feel deprived.
I was 26 before I would ‘graduate’ from the welfare system. But I’ve never lost the valuable skills that my parents passed on. A talent for finding high quality items at affordable rates. And if I hadn’t grown from a tiny XS at 19 to a solid M now as a mama in my mid-30s, I would probably still be wearing some of those good quality garments that I found on sale as a dirt poor university student. There are beautiful dresses that I only reluctantly decluttered a couple of years ago, finally admitting to myself that I have a different body shape now.
If you take the search out good quality items on sale, then you can love and wear them for years (especially if your body shape stays reasonably stable). Even on a tight budget, it is possible to make a commitment to sustainable fashion. Perhaps not for everything (sustainable underwear and stockings will be out of reach when you have very little budget for clothing), but you can at least find some sustainable fashion for part of your wardrobe.
Before I launch into this how to, I just want to note this: I know what it is like when people don’t understand how difficult it is to be poor. Some of these strategies are out of reach for people living on the breadline. I know this. I will never forget how insensitive my middle class friends were to my situation as a welfare student. So please don’t feel that there is any judgement or insensitivity in these tips. If they don’t work for you, then they don’t work. If your poverty is such that you can’t take advantage of some of these strategies, then society has let you down. Just take what you can from this post, and ignore the rest.
(This post contains some affiliate links. Should you choose to make a purchase, I may receive a small commission. This helps to sustain my writing and my activism. Thanks for your support)
How to find sustainable fashion on a budget:
1. Shop Secondhand
Don’t be ashamed of shopping second hand. You are doing the environment a service by making use of other people’s waste. When I was growing up, shopping secondhand was a marker of being poor. But these days it is also a market of pride and environmental activism. You only need look at the song Thrift Store as evidence of this. With distressed denim, punk influences on modern fashion, and the resurgence of respect for the beauty of mending, worn clothing can look right at home with today’s fashions. You can shop thrift and be chic at the same time.
Vegan ethical fashion boutique Bead & Reel also sells good quality ethical garments secondhand with their rescued collection. This is a great option for affordable vegan shoes and other garments that might normally be out of your price range.
2. Attend a clothing swap.
If you have very little, you might not have anything to swap. But if you (or your family members) have outgrown some special garments, you might have something to swap. Some clothing swaps don’t mind if you turn up late and empty handed. Often there are more garments left over than are wanted by the contributors. Most clothing swap organisers are socially-minded and plan to donate the excess anyway. There is no harm in explaining your situation and asking if it is ok to attend after everyone else has had their pick. Because I keep my wardrobe a minimum, I have been in this situation too.
3. Save, save, save.
People living on a tight budget deserve to have good quality garments too. I remember what a tight budget was like. As a student I had $20 each fortnight, which was left after rent, food and bills. That means $10 a week to spend on luxuries like clothing (or coffee with friends)! $100 for a good quality tailored jacket on sale might seem out of reach in this situation, but it may be possible. Saving $2 a week for a year will get you there. As a credit card obsessed society, we seem to have lost the art of saving and planing ahead for special purchases. If you choose your garments carefully, you only need own one good jacket and it will last you a decade or longer.
4. Team up with your friends.
If you get together with your friends you can put in an order together and reach the order minimum to get free postage. If your friends are a similar size, you can swap or borrow each other’s garments to get a bit of variety. You only need own one or two special outfits, but teaming up with your friends will give you access to a few more.
5. Shop the sales
Know your sales and plan ahead for them. You can find sustainable fashion at deeply reduced prices if you look at the right time. End of season sales happen at least twice a year, and make items much more accessible to those on a budget. Many online boutiques have garments in their sale category most of the year round. Check out the sale collections of People Tree, Amour Vert and Bead & Reel for a reliable source of ethical fashion on sale all year round.
Here are a few of my favourite sustainable fashion bargains at the moment (click the photo to be taken to the garment.
2. Adina Dress Organic Cotton and Fairtrade by People Tree ($39.31)
4. Neve Ponte Sheath Dress in Organic Cotton by Amour Vert ($98)
And here are many more sustainable fashion garments on sale: