How to shop ethically for less money

Can we fill our wardrobe with sustainable clothing on the cheap, or this just a hobby for the elite?

How to shop ethically for less money

We love fast-fashion. It’s cheap, it’s accessible, and it’s… well, fast. Quickly made clothes for hungry customers, complete with next-day delivery. What more could you want?

People in the UK spent £61.2 billion on clothing last year. Most of this comes from the staple stores of any highstreet, like H&M, Primark, and Urban Outfitters. But should we really be shopping at these places? 

After all, H&M might sell feminist-friendly clothing, but don’t they also pay many of their workers below minimum wage? And while Urban Outfitters may set the trends, haven’t they also sold a tonne of controversial clothing, such as a T-shirt saying ‘eat less’ and a bloodstained Kent State sweatshirt which referenced the mass shooting which occurred at this school? And Primark – didn’t they have workers in the Rana Plaza, a factory in Bangladesh which collapsed and killed 1,129 people? And all of these clothing brands make up an industry which emits more carbon than all international flights and maritime shipping combined

But if fast-fashion is so problematic, why do we love it so much? Because it’s cheap of course. It’s low fuss and low cost, whereas we picture the alternative to be mega-expensive eco-friendly brands, whose luxurious organic clothing costs more than our monthly wage. 

But actually, this isn’t the truth. In fact, it’s pretty easy to shop ethically and it doesn’t have to break the bank.

1.     Use apps and online marketplaces

Rather than buying more fast-fashion, use second-hand clothing to replenish your wardrobe. This lengthens the life of clothes which have already been made and stops them going to landfill. And it tends to be cheaper! Depop, eBay, Vinted, Vestiaire Collective, Facebook marketplace – there’s plenty to choose from. 

2.     Visit charity shops and vintage stores

Charity shops are generally considered dark and dingy places, full of frumpy clothes for OAPs. But actually, you’d be surprised what you can find in your local one, especially since so many of us have cleared out our wardrobes during the Covid lockdown. And not only are the clothes cheap as chips, but you’re giving money to a good cause and earning some karma while you shop.

3.     Sign up to the good guys mailing list

If you’ve found an ethical clothing brand that you love but is way beyond your budget, don’t worry. Wait for a sale event and sign yourself up to their mailing list. They might send you special offers and discount codes.

4.     Invest

You might prefer buying from cheap and cheerful stores, but remember, these products are quickly made to meet consumers’ demands using poor quality materials. They aren’t designed to be worn over and over again – they want you to come back to buy more, after all. So actually, although more sustainable brands might have higher price tags, it often works out cheaper to buy something that’ll last you 10 years, rather than 10 wears. 

5.     Swap with others

If you’re bored of your wardrobe but don’t have the money for a shopping spree, meet up with some friends and swap clothes instead.

6.     Use what you have

On average, British people buy 972 items of clothing in our lifetime that we never actually wear. We all do it. I bet you’ve forgotten about that nice coat hiding at the back of your wardrobe, or those trousers you said you’d save for ‘special occasions’. Sometimes we don’t need more clothes – we need to take a look at what we already have.

7. Take a stand

Ebay says that 70% of “UK fashionistas want to shop more sustainably” but the cost of doing so puts us off actually doing it. But this won't change unless enough of us demand it. If we’re all prepared to sign petitions, shop wiser, and educate others, fast-fashion brands have more pressure to change for the better. And as this happens, the playing field is likely to level out and, eventually, the gap will close as ethical clothing becomes more affordable. We know it can happen - take a look at organic food, for example, which has dipped in price since more of it has entered mainstream food stores. 

8. Have some perspective

It’s worth remembering that, yes, in order to shop ethically there is a chance you’ll have to spend a little more money. But if you want the people making your clothes to be paid a living wage, to be working in safe conditions, and to be making a product which will actually last, then this is the price you have to pay. That’s not to say there aren’t other ways we can cut down the costs. But in order to take, we also have to give. 

Header Image Credit: Pixabay


Juliet Sawyer

Juliet Sawyer Contributor

Juliet is a tea drinking, procrastinating, cat lover based in the south west. Since studying journalism at uni, she works as a rope technician and marketing assistant by day, and runs a blog by night. You might spot her in the wild at her local climbing wall... or down the pub.

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  • Beth Hurrell

    On 3 December 2020, 20:51 Beth Hurrell commented:

    I’ve been looking for this type of article for ages. A good read and v interesting. Thanks:)

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