It is no secret that sustainable fashion can be pricey. While we all want to be more environmentally conscious, figuring out how to make sustainable fashion affordable can seem like an uphill battle.
Our desire to live more sustainably is evident. Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important factor in consumer decision making and this has only increased during the pandemic. A survey of UK and German shoppers in 2020 found that 67% thought sustainable materials were an important factor when making a purchasing decision.
This inclination towards prioritising sustainable clothing is even more prominent in younger generations. While currently, surveys have found that less than a third of buyers are likely to put their money where their mouth is and pay more for sustainable styles, this is likely to change as a younger consumer market takes over.
54% of Gen Z consumers say that they are willing to spend 10% more on sustainable products, this is compared to only 23% of Baby Boomers. As the purchasing power of younger markets increases, it is likely that so will sustainable spending.
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Why Does it Cost so Much?
There is no escaping the fact that sustainable clothing generally costs more. However, there are legitimate reasons for this price increase.
Sourcing and making products responsibly is often more expensive than its unsustainable alternative. Small batch manufacturing costs more per item than overproducing excessive amounts of product (see more on that here). Similarly, sourcing products from farmers or manufacturers that pay their workers living wages and act in ways that protect the environment can more than double what a brand pays for materials.
As the sustainable market is smaller, availability of organic and eco-friendly materials can be more limited, meaning that the amount brands pay for materials can be higher.
A Fair System
Treating workers fairly and paying them a living wage costs money. Many of the companies out there selling clothes for rock bottom prices can only do this because they have paid the people that made these clothes rock bottom wages, or worse not paid them at all.
When companies act responsibly and pay a fair wage at every step of the supply chain, a product costs more to make. This is reflected in the final price tag which must be higher to still make a profit. For our list of brands that pay a living wage, see our article Making Fashion Fair: 21 Brands that pay a Living Wage.
The prices we have grown accustomed to in the mainstream fashion sector are sadly built on exploitation. Studies have found that an incredible 93% of surveyed brands don’t pay their workers a living wage.
The cheaper the materials in an item, the cheaper it is to make and, often, the faster it falls apart. Buying high quality materials costs brands more than buying lower quality fabrics. This means that companies have to sell products for a higher price to be able to make a profit.
However, as these products last longer and don’t have to be replaced as often, they may actually end up saving you money in the long run.
How to Make Sustainable Fashion Affordable
So, making sustainable fashion for the staggeringly low prices of the fast fashion sector may be an impossible task, but there are some clever ways that we can still shop sustainably even when we are strapped for cash.
1. Invest in Versatile Quality Pieces
Some clothing items are heralded for their versatility and can be mixed, matched and repurposed for a variety of settings. Investing in quality basics to build a capsule wardrobe will carry you through multiple seasons and can be used to create a whole array of different looks.
Being able to use the same items for multiple outfits also brings down the overall cost of your wardrobe without taking away from its unique style.
Versatile minimalist essentials include:
- A blazer
- A basic t-shirt
- A white button-down shirt
- A neutral dress
- Slim fit jeans
2. Buy Second-Hand
Thrift shopping has seen an increase in popularity in recent years and with good reason! Buying second hand clothing extends a garment’s lifecycle, offers a unique piece, and can even reduce the microplastics that are shed in your laundry cycle.
Thrifting is also great for shopping sustainably on a budget with many second hand treasures, often hardly worn, 50-80% cheaper than a full-priced new garment. Whether you prefer the in-store experience or armchair shopping, thrifting has an option for you. Check out our guide to the best second-hand platforms to score a bargain!
3. Upcycle Old Styles
We all have some old pieces in our wardrobes that we simply don’t wear anymore. Give these clothes a new life and upcycle them into something new that you love. Whether this is putting a funky patch on some jeans or completely re-inventing an item, you can get creative.
Save a product from becoming fashion waste and make a new favourite garment in your own personal style.
4. Clothes Swap
Have some friends that have awesome styles? Why not try a clothes swap? This concept is simple and sustainable. Instead of buying new clothes, periodically swap clothes to change up your wardrobe, without the carbon emissions of buying new. This saves on creating fashion waste, ensures clothing bought is clothing worn and provides an eco-friendly and wallet-friendly way to be creative with clothing.
This guide on how to host your own clothing swap party has some great ideas including who to invite, what to swap and even how to create a changing area!
5. Hire Clothes
If you don’t have anyone to swap clothes with then clothes hire companies may be the answer. Companies now offer clothing hire for everything from formal attire to everyday wear. There are even subscription services that offer continual rental and return programs.
6. Invest in the Sustainable Fashion Sector
Quality sustainable clothing may often cost more, but it also often lasts longer. Investing in quality garments reduces the need to rapidly replace products and as such, may end up costing you less in the long run. A £20 dress that needs to be replaced every six months soon starts costing more than a £100 dress that lasts for over five years.
Furthermore, the more common sustainable fashion brands become in the market, the lower the prices are likely to become. Buying from sustainable brands and investing in the sustainable market helps to move the industry away from the niche sector, and in turn stabilises prices. Simply investing in sustainable fashion brands can help to make sustainable fashion affordable.
7. Shop Affordable Ethical Brands
Now, while these brands may be hard to find and sometimes don’t cover every aspect of the fashion industry, there are some great ethical fashion companies out there that are highly affordable. One such brand is Yes Friends which specialises in t-shirts and hoodies with t-shirts starting at £12!
When searching for sustainable fashion brands that offer an affordable price, be sure to check if they have any certifications or are rated on any external fashion checkers such as Good on You to make sure you don’t fall victim to greenwashing.
8. Campaign for Your Favourite Brands to Become Ethical
The reality of the modern fashion world is that where we buy from and how we communicate with brands has power.
If you have a favourite brand that you can’t live without, advocate for them to change their practices to become more transparent and sustainable. The more people that support sustainable initiatives and show the desire for a cleaner sector, the more sustainable the fashion industry will become.
Social media is a great way to reach brands these days. Alternatively, you can use platforms such as The Ethical Fashion Guide 2021 who have a Speak Out to Brands tool to make it easier to reach your favourite brand.
9. Take advantage of our exclusive discounts!
Sustainable Shopping on a Budget
While sustainable clothing may come at a premium, there are ways to find sustainable clothing on a budget. Whether it is swapping with friends, investing in quality pieces or finding affordable brands, knowing how to make sustainable fashion affordable makes it an accessible industry for everyone. The more people that can engage with the sustainable fashion market, the faster the fashion sector will embrace a sustainable future.
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