This Is How You Afford Ethical Fashion
Because we're tired of the excuses, k?
If you buy a full-price pair of jeans for fifteen bucks then something’s wrong somewhere. There’s just no way around it.
Gone are the days where we can pretend that clothes from retailers like H&M (don’t be fooled by the clever greenwashing they’ve done in the past) are mass produced by machines like M&Ms. Whether it’s a made-in-Italy/France Chanel bag or a dupe from the High Street, fashion is produced in factories all over the world by humans. Yes, people make your clothes, shoes, bags and everything in between with their hands, not apparatuses. That means in order for a retailer to sell something’s product and make a profit, they’ve got to not only pay for the materials to make the actual piece, but also cover their laborers’ wages.
If you don’t pay a decent price for something at the register then somebody paid for it somewhere down the line (typically in Bangladesh, Indonesia, or China) in blood, and a lot of times, it was a child. No one like to hear stuff like this, but fact is fact. There’s just no way a person can be paid a decent wage when the t-shirt they sewed is sold for only a few bucks. It’s simple math. And that’s only the human rights side of things. Have you heard about the environmental impact of fast fashion? You know, like how the average consumer now buys 60 percent more clothing items a year and disposes of them twice as fast as fifteen years ago? And what about other unethical practices these big retailers do to keep costs low like serially copycatting designs from real fashion designers? Or blatant discrimination, including sexism, racism, and firing employees when they fall ill and need a heart transplant? What about the other lives at stake here? You love animals? How much? Enough to cringe at an honest video like this and consider giving up leather, fur, wool, shearling, down, and silk?
Between human rights, environmental impact and animal welfare, the negative effects of fast fashion has to affect you in some way. If not, then you can stop reading here.
Seriously. If you’d rather support brands like Zara whose owner has a nervous worth north of $70 billion yet pays his laborers (majority are women and children) less than $100/month, go right ahead. If you’re cool with steadily contributing to the world’s third most polluting industry, do you. If your idea of compassion towards animals is as simple as not buying a $15,000 mink coat, hey, whatever floats your boat. To us, there is no way to wear animal skins and be truly ethical.
At the end of the day, what we’re really asking is for you to have some empathy. If it were your sister or mother or daughter or uncle in those factories slaving over sixteen-hour workdays for a hundred dollars a month, we bet you’d feel a bit differently about that $10 off-the-shoulder top in Target.
If you do care and you’d like to do your part – no matter how big or small – then curating a more conscious closet is the optimal starting point. This doesn’t mean you have to throw away all your past fast fashion purchases at once, or never shop again (although this should be your goal). This isn’t about going from one extreme to another. This can mean strategically curating a wardrobe based on minimalist principles. (Psst: everything step is broken down here in our free 10-day email masterclass.) This can also mean reading the labels when you make a purchase to see where the item was manufactured.
Problem is, ethical fashion is expensive as hell, right? Well, not really. Of course there are plenty of designer brands, ethical or mainstream, where everything is overpriced and you’re paying more for label than the clothes. But you get that, right? That’s not news.
Generally, when you start perusing collections by brands who practice good ethics and make high-quality clothing that’s meant to last, everything is going to seem unattainable at first because you’re comparing it to the minuscule prices you’re used to spending on clothes. You’ll probably be like, “Okay, this is cool and all, but who tf has $200 for a pair of jeans? Right? So, the first step is to get comfortable with seeing numbers that are a little higher simply because real clothes cost more than the price of lunch.
It’s kind of funny. A lot of people, including bloggers, who get into ethical fashion do it for, well, ethics. Yes, we definitely care about the environment and are extremely passionate about supporting (small) businesses that use correct labor practices. But honestly, the initial reason we turned to ethical fashion was money. It seems backwards because of the higher prices, but we realized how much money we were purely wasting by consuming fashion that only lasted us a season or two. Not to mention how frustrating it was to constantly have nothing to wear. Literally. And that, of course, led to shopping more cheap fashion on a whim to actually have something to wear. There became a point when we could no longer afford disposable fast fashion, so we took the plunge and broke the nasty cycle by investing in high-quality seasonless clothing.
You can’t afford cheap clothes either
You think it’s “affordable” because it’s cheap, but fast fashion is actually pretty expensive. It’s ironic how spending $200 amount on a single pair of jeans isn’t justifiable, but spending that on a handful of pairs that will be disposed of in about 2.5 seconds (AKA until the next shopping binge, which is usually at the start of the next season) is somehow justifiable? Oh yeah, that’s right – fast fashion (and the celebrity-inspired wall-to-wall closet obsession) has us all stuck on the skewed ‘more is better’ philosophy. We’d rather have a bunch of cheap junk than a few high-quality pairs of jeans that will fit to perfection and age better than a bottle of Prosecco.
Reality is, one $200 pair of jeans (considering you’re paying for quality not only a label – you have to be careful and recognize what you’re paying for) will outlast more than a handful of $20 jeans that you casually pick up at a fast fashion shop or big box store in terms of durability. They’ll also be much more comfortable because of the higher quality material used, fit better because of the craftsmanship, and easier to manage since fast fashion is infamous for shrinking in washing cycles and let’s not get into the flimsy hardware and buttons that also dwindles the cheaper options hanger life.
Unless you prefer to spend, spend, spend on having new, new, new and more, more, more. In other words, unless you like the idea of spending without retaining, then fast fashion needs to go.
Stop being a size queen
Okay, why are we so afraid of spending more on individual pieces? We’re terrified of having a smaller wardrobe, which is inevitable when you start spending 3x, 4x, 5x the amount you’re used to spending – at least in the short term. A pivotal step in curating a better and more ethical wardrobe is giving up this vision that your ideal wardrobe is not only massive, but also stuffed to capacity with hundreds of pieces you barely ever wear (or even see).
In the long-term, which is arguably more important, the less you dispose, the more you retain. Therefore, over time, your wardrobe will grow. Yes, it will definitely take a few months or years to curate a fully functional wardrobe, but it’s not about speed; it’s about steady growth.
Because fashion has become so cheap, it’s also become something that we consume more often and with less thought. We’ve gotten accustomed to acquiring more and having more, both for no apparent reason. You probably don’t even know why you want another black t-shirt to add to your collection of twelve plain black t-shirts, other than you’ve recently seen one in a shop or on Pinterest. We’ve gotten to a point where we associate a larger closet with having more style. Spoiler: it doesn’t matter how much fashion you consume, you can’t buy style (more on this below). FYI: the best closets are not compilations of bargains, trends, and impulse buys. They’re a well-curated edit of strategic purchases.
If you know you want to do your part to shop more ethically, but not sure where to start, then simply shop less. The math is basic: the less you consume, the less you potentially waste. Of course, the less you add to your wardrobe, the more selective you need to be about what you do choose to add to your wardrobe. As we always say, the answer is to shop better so you can shop less.
A simple change in philosophy will do the trick. Instead of shopping just to have something new to wear, strategically add to your wardrobe and only bring in pieces because they fill in a gap or hole within the structure of your wardrobe.
If shopping is a habit, break it fast
You’ll never be able to 100% commit to maintaining an ethical wardrobe until you let go of the idea that new is always better. If you’re after a fully functional wardrobe with high-quality pieces that you don’t dispose of at the end of every season, shopping can’t be something you just do because you’re bored, or even worse, because you *love* shopping. We all love shopping and adding something new to our closets. But does that improve the overall function of our wardrobes? Most of the times a new purchase only helps when it’s a strategic, premeditated purchase.
We stand firmly on the belief that you should only add to your closet to fill wardrobe voids. It helps to see all the areas where your wardrobe is weak by laying out the entire structure of your ideal wardrobe. (There’s an entire module dedicated to mapping out your wardrobe in New Wardrobe, 90 Days, our comprehensive wardrobe-building online program launching very soon. You can join the pre-launch list here and get exclusive updates.)
Let’s pause and review: no more mindless midnight or lunch break scrolling. If a piece isn’t going to enhance the utility of your wardrobe, then there’s no point in adding it. Got it?
Quit buying clothes you’re only going to wear once
We’ve all been there. We’ve got a wedding to go to, or we’ve planned a trip to Cancun and you need a special outfit for the occasion. Thing is, when you know you’re only going to wear something once, you rationalize going for something cheap or sometimes not even your style without considering the ramifications. Think about it, though. You buy something that someone literally got paid pennies to make and then only wear it once? Is there not something terribly off about that situation?
And that’s not even the end. After you toss this piece because you have no other place to wear it, where do you think it ends up? If you guessed an overflowing landfill, perfect, because that’s exactly right. Cheap, low-quality clothes are typically made out of synthetic materials, it’s not going to be biodegradable. That means it will sit there for a while, like a really long while and can even cause harm to the local population, including land animals. At the very least, the item is going to linger in the back of your closet, yet another piece of clutter collecting dust. Clutter adds stress and we’re guessing you do not need any more stress.
So what do you do when you have a special occasion or trip? With the exception of being in a bridal party, make sure the purchases are not only high-quality pieces, but are also in line with your usual aesthetic preferences, and are appropriate for other potential events. In other words, make sure the piece is versatile. This way you won’t buy anything just because you need it for so and so. You’ll buy it because you need it for so and so, but you can also style it for here and there and you actually love the way it looks on you.
Bottom line, the less you waste, the less the planet suffers. (BTW, if you would like to take a shopping detox challenge, go here and read this.)
Curate a minimal wardrobe
What is the point of having stuff you don’t wear? Seriously?
A lot of people get the entire concept of a minimal wardrobe wrong. It is not to be used synonymously with a capsule wardrobe. Unlike the latter, a minimal wardrobe is not an extremely edited collection of clothes consisting of a fixed number of pieces that you update every season. People don’t realize it, but by following this formula, you are actually purchasing much more than if you maintain a minimal wardrobe, which means you are spending more and disposing more, which is not all that ethical, huh?
The best way to go about curating your wardrobe is to only buy clothes that you know you are going to keep on constant rotation. This means buying clothes that you’re going to feel confident and inspired in, clothes you love and are excited to wear. Nothing else. Your guidelines should be three factors: whether they fit in with your lifestyle, fill in some sort of wardrobe gap, and align with your aesthetic preferences.
If it’s a trend-based piece that’s really cute, but doesn’t really match your personal style, guess what? You’re probably not going to wear it. If you spend most of your weekdays at and commuting to work where the dress code is business casual, but your shoe closet is filled with strappy stilettos, then you have a problem. When what’s in your closet is directly in proportion to your lifestyle and personal style aesthetic, you get the proper wear out of your wardrobe.
No more impulse purchases
Nine times out of ten, an impulsive buy is going to lead to some form of regret. (ICYMI: we have a full dossier on how to regret-proof your wardrobe.) On the other hand, purchases that are well-thought out are the ones that will most likely end up staying on constant rotation in your closet, which is a great thing because you’ll get good wear out of them. Remember, that’s the point of buying clothes – wearing them. That the only true way to get your money’s worth.
Because fast fashion is so cheap, there’s not really much to consider before going up to the counter. You spot something cute, you decide you’ve got to have it, and you proceed to checkout. Done. If you don’t end up wearing it for whatever reason, it doesn’t matter too much because it was the price of your last Starbucks purchase, NBD.
Except it is a big deal when more than 500,000 tons of textiles and leather end up in landfill each year.
When you start putting more money into your purchases, you’re not only going to take proper care of them once you have them, but you will also carefully consider each purchase before you make them to ensure that it is a smart purchase that will add utility to your wardrobe. This will reduce the amount of poor purchases you make and thus reduce how much you contribute to landfills with the clothes you throw away.
Budget for specific purchases
Now, onto the practical side of things, because we’re sure by this point, you get it: you need to shop less and retain more, and you’re going to do this by giving up fast fashion and carefully considering each purchase you make from this point on. But the fact still remains that well-made, locally-made clothes are expensive in relation to what you’re used to spending. Fact: you can no longer maintain the quantity of purchases you’ve been making. This means you not only have to be more strategic in terms of which pieces you buy, but you need a plan for how to actually pay for your purchases.
No credit cards. Guys, you are not going in debt. If you don’t have it, don’t spend it. This is where the B word that makes everyone uncomfortable comes into play. Yes, guys, you are going to have to set a budget and stick to it. And where is this budget coming from? You’re going to do some good old fashioned saving up.
You can decide to save up piece by piece or you can pool your earnings from a season or two or four and do larger, bi-annual hauls (who doesn’t love a good haul?). It’s really about what’s more your vibe and what your indispensable earnings allows, but in both scenarios, you are strategically saving up for specifics purchases. It works out perfectly because while you’re saving you’ll have just the right amount of time to contemplate what you will actually purchase. Well-thought out purchases coincide with budgeting. Win.
And don’t forget that you can always sell some of your closet to fund new purchases.
Change your wardrobe goals
Being fashionable is like being a prima ballerina whereas having style is like being Beyoncé. Both sound dreamy, but here’s what we mean: ballerinas master the art of perfecting beautiful, graceful moves that have been done for centuries. The more you can look like everyone else, the better of a ballet dancer you are. There is no doing your own thing. Your goal is to emulate, not innovate. And while that’s beautiful to watch, it’s so much more fun to add your own flavor, to interpret moves and add your own personality to each move the way Beyoncé does when she’s killing it on stage.
Fashion is all about ascribing to what fashion editors say…editors who work for publications that only exist because advertisers pay them…which means what they say is, in every way, influenced by their need to keep their publication alive. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, guys, because guess what? Fashion is a business. An extremely lucrative multibillion-dollar business.
But what we’re saying is if you focus on expressing yourself through your own person style instead of taking every single cue from people who are paid to tell you what to wear, if you shift your value from looking relevant to looking like you, you will almost instantaneously eradicate the need to constantly shop and consume more and more fashion. Your focus will be on curating the perfect wardrobe that is functional in every aspect instead of being a slave to seasonal trends.
In short, you will create your dream closet (finally), save money, help the planet, and show compassion to the human and animal suffering caused by the fast fashion industry. Good barter, huh?
Whew. This is a *big* topic for us and we would really love to hear your thoughts. Do you still have any reservations about being able to afford a more ethical wardrobe and giving up fast fashion for good? Because as you see, it’s not so much how much money you have to spend, but changing the way you view shopping and your wardrobe as a whole. It’s less about accumulating a bunch of stuff you half-like or wear begrudgingly and more about buying less and essentially having more.
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