Shopping Sustainably for Beginners (Even if You’re Broke)

I’ve spent a long time ignoring that nagging voice in the back of my head reminding me how important converting to a more ethical lifestyle and shopping sustainably is. Truth is, I’ve been comfortable ignoring big issues and living my life worry free. As I get older I realize how irresponsible that is.

A few big realizations I’ve had are: my decisions has consequences, my decisions do make a difference, and I am responsible for making decisions to live my life in a way that causes as little harm to others as possible.

And a big slap in the face was realizing how damaging my consumer habits have been.

As a blogger, I fell into the trap of buying all of the clothes and shopping all of the trends. I was doing my best to keep up with the Joneses and stay “relevant” in the fashion niche.

As I learned more and more about the implications of my shopping habits, I had a legit blogging identity crisis. I wasn’t sure how I was going to continue blogging the way I was with the realizations I’d had and…. I took an entire year off blogging. 

Now that I’m back, I’m still trying to balance social responsibility with my content creation.

I’m not perfectly sustainable, I am in the process of learning to be better. I don’t want to fall into the trap of trying to come off as a perfect authority figure when it comes to ethical and sustainable living because I’m still learning and I still make mistakes. 

With that said, I do want to share some of the things I’ve learned in the past year. The number one lesson? Shopping sustainably is accessible for nearly everybody and is actually cheaper than shopping fast fashion.

When I got started I thought I was going to need to start selling my soul to afford Everlane and Reformation everything, but I quickly learned that was not the case. 

Here are a few quick tips I’ve got for starting to build a sustainable and ethical wardrobe on a budget.

Shopping sustainably secondhand 

This is likely the most obvious tip, but it’s important. Secondhand shopping is great for the environment, and it’s great for your wallet, too. I’m a huge advocate of thrift shopping. I buy 90% of my wardrobe at Goodwill and the Salvation Army and I doubt that anyone would be able to guess that by looking at my closet.

Shopping sustainably for beginners on a budget.

Thrift shops have gotten a bad rep as a graveyard for grandma sweaters and worn out jeans, but I’ve found some of my favorite (high-quality!) pieces at the thrift store. 

I’ve got an entire blog post with my thrifting tips, so I won’t go too deep into that here. I highly recommend you check that blog post out if you want to begin building a thrifted wardrobe. 

Shop sales

There is no way that I could afford Everlane or Madewell at full price. But at the end of seasons they have great sales as they clear their inventory for the new season. I don’t have too many sustainable pieces that I’ve bought brand new, but the pieces I do have, I bought at a steep discount. 

Get in the habit of checking the sales page first, sign up for email lists so you know when the sales are, and keep checking back on your favorite pieces.

Honestly? Ever since I began my sustainable and ethical fashion journey, it’s turned me into a cheapskate. I am so used to finding beautiful thrifted pieces for under $10, that spending much more than that on clothes feels crazy to me. 

Buy well constructed pieces

You don’t have to only buy from thrift shops or ethical and sustainable brands. A great goal to have is to reduce the money that you spend at fast fashion or ethically ambiguous shops. One way to do that is by purchasing pieces that feel like they’re going to last more than a season or two. 

I used to exclusively buy my camis at Forever 21 because I loved the price point. I found myself repurchasing them every 6 months because I’d get holes at the bottom where I’d tug them down, or the stitching at the strap would snap.

Ultimately, I ended up getting a bit crafty and buying fabric and making my own (I’m a closet sewer!), but if I were to purchase camis again and couldn’t thrift them, I’d try shopping at a slightly higher price point and finding ones that felt less flimsy than the Forever 21 ones. 

Fix what you already own

Decades ago before the days of fast fashion, people fixed their clothes instead of tossing them and buying new. I’ve been learning to do the same and it’s been a game changer. 

Whether it’s fixing snags in sweaters, patching holes in jeans, or darning wool socks , learning how to maintain my clothes has helped stretch my dollar a lot further. It’s also satisfying to be able to use my hands to keep the things I own nice.

Another quick tip? Take your shoes to a repair shop before buying new ones. I bought a pair of leather Steve Madden boots when I was a wee little teenage babe, and I’ve worn the heck out of them (I’m wearing them now!). Last year I was on year 8 with them and ready to toss them because they were so uncomfortable from the soles being worn down. $14 later, they were resoled, cleaned, and buffed. 

Remember, shopping sustainably is a journey

You don’t have to pick up a 100% ethical and sustainable lifestyle overnight, or ever if you don’t want to. What is important is that you’re making changes and decisions that help people rather than hurt them. 

It can be challenging to get into the mindset of thinking through the implications of your shopping habits. Once you get there it’s satisfying to begin making decisions that help mitigate these huge global issues. 

Have you dove into the world of sustainable fashion? What are your favorite tips?