What if I can’t afford sustainable fashion?

Abiding by Vivienne Westwood’s rule to “buy less, choose well, and make it last” is a great place to start on your journey to shopping more sustainably.

Not only will buying less save you money, but it will also allow you to choose well – with more time to carefully consider your purchases. And you can save up for more ethical, sustainable, and high quality purchases that often come with a higher price tag. These qualities can morally justify their sometimes higher cost, especially when you consider the higher price trickles down the fashion supply chain so those making the clothes “may” be better taken care of. But this does not resolve the fact that for many of us who already buy less, we still cannot afford to support and purchase from sustainable brands as often as we’d like. 

Fortunately, being a sustainable shopper is not exclusive to buying only from sustainable brands. There are habits we can adopt that make us generally more sustainable with or without a purchase. Below are various practices that make affording sustainable fashion easier over time, and make your current habits more sustainable.

  1. Evaluate your closet to learn about your current shopping habits and long-term wardrobe needs.

Identify your successful fashion investments from the past, as well as the decisions that have led to purchases that have proven not to stand the test of time. For each item, ask yourself: 

a) Do I wear this often? If yes, why? If no, why not? Consider your daily lifestyle (ie. workwear, casualwear, etc). 

b) Why did I buy this item in the first place? What need/gap in your wardrobe does it fulfill? 

You may realize that you’ve been continuing to buy collared shirts during lockdown out of habit, which are all but useless in today’s reality of WFH. As your needs change, so too should your purchasing habits. If you continue to buy items you don’t need, the chances of them eventually getting thrown out due to lack of use increases. Instead, hold off or reconsider what pieces are entirely missing from your wardrobe. Fill a need that really exists so that you get a lot of use out of the item that satisfies that need. And it’s always important that you keep in mind the items you already own prior to making a purchase, so you don’t repeat purchase (another argument for keeping your wardrobe to a manageable size!). 

  1. Avoid shopping sales and plan your purchases. 

Ideally, only buy the sale item that you need, rather than buying it because it seems like a “deal”. If you end up wearing it once, the cost per wear could be higher than a full-priced item that you carefully considered and saved for. 

Make a shopping “wishlist” that consists of items that both fulfill your needs, and that align with your past approach to own pieces that become long-term staples in your wardrobe. Once it makes it onto the list, take your time before purchasing to research quality, styles offered, price points, and social and environmental practices. By taking your time, what you want might even appear in a thrift store. By avoiding unplanned purchases (ie. items on sale), you can save up for an item from a sustainable brand that you will wear for years to come. And during that consideration period, you may even decide that you don’t actually need the item, which means you can take it off your list. Regardless of the outcome, taking your time leads to a more thoughtful purchase and a greater return on investment.

  1. Try the 10X10 challenge.

The 10X10 challenge by @levosburgh and @myclothesmyworld on Instagram not only helps you find new ways to re-wear what you already own, but is another way to discover what works well in your wardrobe and what you’re missing. It can show you how to make the most out of what you already own (ie. can you create more outfits with neutral pants vs. something brightly coloured?). These discoveries can also be added to your wish list. 

  1. Use the GoodOnYou App.

If you are unable to thrift your wishlist items or purchase from a sustainable brand, use the GoodOnYou App to research all the brands you currently buy from to make more informed purchase decisions. Some brands are making great strides to be more sustainable so they could still be in the mix of who you shop with. 

  1. Don’t feel guilty.

Making a purchase that suits your style, wardrobe needs, and budget can be difficult. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t afford sustainable fashion all the time. Do your best to slow down your purchase decision-making process and make do with what you have, because simply being conscious is the first step towards becoming a more responsible shopper.

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