Ask Kate: How Can I Buy Ethical Clothing on a Budget?

By Kate | News
Posted May 9, 2016

Dear Kate –  I am a 2nd year student at Messiah College. Lately, I’ve been concerned about my clothing choices and really want to make more sustainable and ethical choices. However, my budget is pretty limited due to being a student! Do you have any suggestions for where to shop for more affordable, yet ethically-minded clothing on a budget? – MK

Dear MK,

This is a fantastic question and you are not alone. It’s not just college students who are struggling to dress with more ethics on a budget, did you get a chance to read the BuzzFeed article earlier this week: The Urban Poor You Haven’t Noticed: Millennials Who’re Broke, Hungry, But On Trend? The piece highlights the dressing challenge that continues after college: “We dress for the jobs we want, forgetting that most salaries are tailored to afford dressing for the jobs we have.”  Many people are struggling with the fashion/budget dilemma (that’s why fast fashion brands, with their cheap offerings, are so ubiquitous and profitable), but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Ethical fashion, and it’s associated price tag, may seem out of reach, but there are plenty of ways to stay on trend, on budget and match your ethics. The key is to buy classic, well made pieces that you can wear often and that will stay with you for the long term. Finding those great pieces, affordably takes a little sleuthing, a little patience and some traditional ‘sales’ strategy, but can be done. Here are my tips:

Fall in love with resale: There are over 25,000 resale, consignment and charity shops across the country, start including them in your search. Our collective closets are overflowing and often nearly new pieces end up for resale at a fraction of the original cost. I have found some incredible deals at the Goodwill in Chelsea – including a pair of Frye boots (barely worn) for $25. Prefer to shop online? Try any one of the online resale shops: ThredUp, Postmark or The Real Real. Even Instagram has gotten into the act and you can find gently used, on trend pieces on @Noihsaf.Bazaar and @FoxandFawn.

[Permanently] Borrow: Research shows that most closets contain up 20 percent of clothing that is never worn. Take a peek into the closet(s) of your most fashionable family member(s) for great classic staples: blazers, jackets, trench coats, special occasion dresses, shoes – you name it. My mom has great taste, and a budget larger than mine, and there are always a few gems hiding in there that she never wears. We usually start with me ‘borrowing’ it until she’s decides she was never going to wear it and permanently gifts it to me.

Maximize your gift [card]s: Pick an online ethical fashion site that matches your style (Gather & See, Kaight, ASOS, Garmentory, etc.) and on every gifting occasion (birthday, graduation, etc.) ask for a gift card and use the gift cards to offset the price of a great investment piece.

Use social for specials: Have a favorite brand or covet a piece from Zady or Study NY? Get in their social tribe: join their mailing list for an immediate discount and like their pages so you can be first in line for specials, sample sales and exclusive discounts.

Stalk the sales: Ethical fashion still follows the traditional ‘sales’ cycle. You can maximize your purchases by shopping mid- or end-of-season, shopping on the traditional ‘sale’ dates (Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, etc.) and regularly popping onto the ‘sale’ section of your favorite brands.

Remember, you are not alone. Well made fashion, made by people paid a living wage and made with materials that don’t harm the planet, is not cheap. But if you have a bit of time and a bit of patience, you can dress with your ethics and your budget in tact.


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