When sustainability became a buzzword a few years back, I associated it with people who weren’t like me. People like vegans, minimalists, those with huge budgets, and people who are hardcore about environmental issues. I care about the planet and have made changes that I think matter in my own life, but I don’t identify with any of the labels I just mentioned.
I figured those who incorporate sustainable fashion into their lives weren’t really my people, and by association, sustainable brands were for me either. But I was wrong. After researching and taking the time to learn, I realized that sustainable fashion brands do not fit any one particular mold in terms of style or the people who support them.
What it comes down to is that you don’t have to live or look a certain way to make better choices as a consumer. And we can all start a little at a time right now.
Why is sustainable fashion so expensive & how I afford it
Recently, I wrote about why I’ve made a shift to support sustainable fashion brands My eyes were wide open after watching The True Cost on Netflix and the Maya Angelou quote that goes something like this rings so true: “When you know better, do better.”
So let’s talk about how we can all do better — affordably.
For the purposes of this post, let me point out upfront that the word affordable does not mean fast fashion sale prices. Comparing clothes from Forever 21 to a sustainable brand isn’t a fair comparison because we’re not comparing apples to apples. They’re two entirely different categories of products.When making a shift to supporting sustainable fashion brands, we have to change our mindset and our approach to our closet.Click To Tweet
When making a shift to supporting sustainable fashion brands, we have to change our mindset and our approach to our closet. If you only spend $5 on t-shirts when they’re on clearance and buy 10, then you might get a case of sticker shock (although Everlane‘s t-shirts are a reasonable starting point, at under $20 each).
Why is sustainable fashion so expensive? Well, after learning about fair labor and environmentally-friendly textiles and manufacturing processes, I understood why these things cost money. It is expensive for brands to produce garments in a sustainable way.
I fully acknowledge that being an ethical consumer in general can be confusing. It’s hard to trust brands and to be educated on everything under the sun. So many factors go into why we shop ethically and why we choose to spend time (or not) caring about environmental issues.
Then, regarding fashion specifically, what makes a brand ethical? There’s not even a single definition that works across the board. Are we talking about ethical materials? Labor practices? Manufacturing itself? My head spins.
Let me also point out that for me it’s not about saving the world or single-handedly changing an industry. I’m not naive.
It’s about making personal choices that feel right and supporting what you want to see more of in the world. It’s not all or nothing. Little changes, even some of the time, count. You can start wherever you are.#Sustainablefashion is not about saving the world or single-handedly changing an industry. It's about making choices that feel right + supporting what you want to see more of in the world. Little changes, even some of the time, count.Click To Tweet
Also, I’m not here to shame anyone for their choices or force people to care about something I feel strongly about. I know sustainable fashion isn’t for everyone. Making people feel bad isn’t a way to get people to see what you see, so this post isn’t about that. It’s about education and showing you something that means something to me in the hopes that maybe you’ll find value in it too.
And if not, that’s cool. Trying to treat the planet better isn’t about destroying connections with each other and losing our humanity in the process.
How to make sustainable fashion choices
Just start with a small change. Start by educating yourself on slow fashion brands and the fashion industry in general.
Little changes in ways we’re comfortable with, even some of the time, is the way to start doing better. It’s overwhelming to think about doing all the right things all the time and to know everything about living a more environmentally friendly life. Trying to do it all paralyzes some of us from even starting. Been there.
How can the average person afford sustainable fashion? The easy answer is start slow. Why is sustainable fashion so expensive? It doesn’t have to be. Not all brands are the same when it comes to pricing.
I started a little at a time probably about 5 years ago now with an Everlane t-shirt and then bought more sustainable items when I was able to do it and when old things of mine needed replacing.
On privilege and some background
If you’re new here, this isn’t a fashion blog. I don’t write about hauls and I’m no fashion expert. But I am someone interested in sustainable fashion and doing better for our planet. And I try to be transparent.
Before I go any further, I know that I’m writing this from a place of privilege. To not acknowledge that would be missing half the story. It’s easy to think about being an ethical consumer when I’m not the one single-handedly trying to feed 4 kids in between my two jobs that net me 4 hours of sleep per night.
One’s privilege absolutely plays into shopping patterns and the brain space to even have the time to think about these things, let alone pay for them.
So yeah, I’d be a fool not to mention privilege. I’m not going to sit here and say anyone can afford to shop sustainably and ethically. It’s a privilege to be able to have a stable home/work life and live in a country that allows us to have opportunity and choice.
But on that note, for the record, I’ll also point out I’m far from rich. People assume, “Oh, you live in France. You must be rich and have family money or a rich husband who pays for everything.” Uh, no, no, and no. And yes, people have actually said that to me.
I work. No trust fund. No rich husband either.
I just make choices that make sense to me. I try to do the best I can for my situation and budget and go from there.
One more thing about privilege and transparency. It always surprises me when bloggers write about several hundred dollar hauls they go on weekly without any acknowledgement of the privilege of being able to do so or how they are able to afford it. That’s not relatable for many of us.
I don’t think any blogger owes their readers an explanation of their personal circumstances. But I do think that when it directly ties into their content and it’s influencing how readers spend their hard-earned cash, that addressing it is the right thing to do. For me, it comes across as more authentic and trustworthy when a blogger explains how they’re able to afford a shopping habit.
First, here’s a little bit about me: I’m in my 30s, am part of a dual-income household, child-free, and Tom and I drive a used car. I don’t have much of a social life locally and we don’t go out to eat more than once or twice a month, if that.
I like comfortable, well-made clothes that aren’t fussy. I shop when I need things and most of the time, I do so online. I don’t have a huge clothes budget and do 90% of my shopping in the USA. I resell things I no longer need/want (more on that below) and try to prioritize quality over quantity at this point.
Here’s how I make shopping for sustainable fashion more affordable when I’ve wondered why is sustainable fashion so expensive.
Let’s get into it.
Here are things that help me to afford clothes from sustainable fashion brands:
I cut back in other areas of my life
I’ve put a priority on buying sustainable clothing (or buying secondhand), so naturally I’ve cut back in other areas of my life. I am not into bars and nightlife and don’t go out to eat much, so I don’t spend money on drinks with friends or nights out.
We also drive an older car, have a house we can afford, live simply, and keep our household budget in check. It’s just a balance and a focus on prioritizing what’s most important.
I only buy what I need
I inventoried my closet and have become much more disciplined. I no longer shop for the sake of shopping and focus on buying only what I need. And no one needs 10 pairs of jeans — slow fashion brands or not!
In the past, I had an entire walk-in closet of clothes that barely ever saw the light of day and even still had tags on them. No more. These days, even if something is a good deal or a store is having a super sale, if I don’t need it, I don’t buy it. Would I pay full price? If not, I won’t buy the item when it goes on sale either.
I buy from a variety of brands
I like some sustainable brands more than others, but I’m not 100% brand loyal to any single brand. I diversify because cost is a factor. Some brands are more affordable than others, so I pick and choose what I buy from where.
As much as I might want something from a particular brand, the price does matter and I have to look at the big picture: Do I need it and am I comfortable with the price? Will I wear it enough to make the price worth it?
I save up
Back in the day, I’d be at the mall or shop online probably about once a month. Not every outing was an all-out shopping spree, but a top here, new workout pants there, and all of that adds up.
Now, I save up and shop only when I need something. Price points tend to be higher with sustainable brands so saving up might take a little while and that’s OK. I mention it below, but I waited 4 years before splurging on the Chrysalis Cardi from Encircled, which I love.
I wait for sales and search for promo codes
I like getting deals and only pay full price on items about half the time. Sometimes it means being patient or buying something in your second color choice, but that’s part of the game if you want to save a few bucks.
Everlane and Prana have markdowns relatively often, Encircled had a Black Friday sale and will do sample sales, and you can get 10% off Organic Basics by using my code OUIOBC at checkout. Some brands also announce special sales via Instagram only or their newsletter so be sure to follow and subscribe for deals.
I buy secondhand on Poshmark and sell things I no longer wear
Over the past year, I’ve become a big fan of the buy/sell site Poshmark. It’s a fashion and accessories focused site, like a higher end eBay and it’s super user friendly via an app. There are lots of slow fashion brands on there that you can buy used.
You can sell clothes that you no longer need with a few clicks and swipes and save the money to put toward sustainable fashion you’ve had your eye on for while. Get $10 off your first purchase with code OUIINFRANCE.
Here are some of my favorite slow fashion brands:
That’s me in the Chrysalis Cardi above. It’s a piece I had my eye on for 4 years before finally buying it over the summer. This must-have travel garment can be styled in over 8 different ways and comes in a bunch of colors. My favorite styles are the dress options.
I love it and what Encircled stands for so much that I became an affiliate for them. No, their stuff isn’t cheap but it’s important to me to support brands that care about things like human rights and the environment. I promise you’ll love them too if well-made, functional clothing is up your alley.
The OG. The brand that started it all for me. With t-shirts starting at $18, Everlane an affordable choice to start your closet off on a more ethical foot. Since their founding in 2010, the brand that prides itself on ethical factories and radical transparency has branched out to a full women and men’s line of sweaters, outerwear, shoes, accessories, and more.
This organic Danish brand’s underwear caught my eye and I’ve since discovered that their workout pieces are top notch as well. Everything is made ethically from high-quality materials, and the SilverTech line is stink proof and encourages more wears and fewer washes.
I can’t get enough of these shoes. I’ve written two Rothy’s flats review posts (here and here) and love these fun shoes made of recycled water bottles. The Loafer is my favorite style. Get $20 off via my link.
Sustainable clothing brand PrAna was the only brand I wore in the humid temps this summer in Haiti and Africa. They have winter wear as well. I originally fell in love with PrAna because of their ethics, but their high quality linen tops and pants have me sticking around.
This is a US-based organic and fair trade brand that’s one of the more affordable ones on my list. Their return policy is fab too. Pact has everything from cotton undergarments, to sweaters, dresses, loungewear and more. Shop Pact here.
To be transparent, I’m an affiliate for some of the slow fashion brands above and this means I may receive referral credit or a discount on personal purchases.
For me, the bottom line is this. It’s impossible to live a perfect life where we make perfectly ethical, sustainable, environmentally-friendly choices 100 percent of the time, but we can always try to do better.
Do a little bit here and there and build on it when you can when it comes to slow fashion. How and where we spend our money matters and sustainable fashion is no exception.
PIN my why is sustainable fashion so expensive post:
I linked this post up to Not Dressed As Lamb #ShareAllLinkUp. Check it out.