A common complaint I hear from people is that they can’t find affordable Ethical Fashion. Admittedly the sticker shock can be pretty daunting. But if more people knew the actual price of what it costs to make clothes, paying everyone involved in the supply chain fairly, they would realize why Ethical Fashion is priced higher than fast fashion. We’ve grown up in a culture where clothing has been, for the most part, made cheaply and the people who make it have been exploited.
The large companies selling you the clothing are really the only ones getting any profit out of this disposable fashion cycle. This cycle encourages us to wear an item a few times, toss it and buy more to keep up with trends. So, while I’d argue that the prices you’re seeing in Ethical Fashion are actually fair we are just not used to them.
I’d also argue that the more Ethical Fashion we buy, the more consumers support Ethical Fashion companies, the larger volumes they’ll be able to produce and larger volumes equal lower prices all around. So, basically if you can afford it, please do support Ethical Fashion designers. HELPSY has an under $100 section with a ton of reasonable options. And many of us who really can’t cough up $300 and up for a dress, here are some easy ways to get an ethical wardrobe for dirt cheap and free.
Technically no one on the planet needs to buy new clothes ever again. There already is enough clothing and textiles in circulation to halt all production for our lifetimes and just share what already exists. It’s unreasonable to expect this is actually going to happen — people love new things and this isn’t going to completely change.
Also, this would be really terrible for the economies and household incomes globally — much of the world’s labor force is linked and employed by the fashion industry. To stop creating fashion all at once would be catastrophic. We can do our part, however, to contain and manage wastefulness by buying more things second hand. Plus it’s damn cheap.
Some might argue that thrifting, while technically ‘zero footprint’ also encourages the fast fashion industry to continue their evil ways by proxy (or negative footprint, saving garments from landfills). This doesn’t have to be the case. When armed with a little garment construction knowledge and a knowing eye you can avoid the fast fashion re-buy pitfalls. Simply put — buy stuff that was made well to begin with. Look at tags, seams and judge fabric quality. After all, just because you are buying second hand, that doesn’t mean you also don’t want it to last you a really long time.
Another tip is to buy with the same exact mindset you would bring to shopping new and ask yourself some helpful questions: do I really need this, do I already have this, will I really wear this on a regular basis? Not buying something is the cheapest way to Ethical Fashion.
Vintage is different than thrifting in that the garments have often already been culled and carefully curated by a knowing buyer for their intrinsic value and quality. They are usually historically important in the fashion landscape. For all of these reasons shopping vintage is more expensive than thrifting. To be sure, vintage clothes can be found in thrift stores but you have to know what you’re looking for and spend the time to find that needle in a haystack.
Shopping vintage clothing, while more expensive than thrifting, is often way less expensive than buying current designer pieces. Like much, much, much less expensive. Also, if you have an affinity for a certain past decade, this can be a great way to really get into fashion history and feel connected to what you buy in a whole new way. Feeling connected to your wardrobe gives every hanger in your closet a reason and you’ll think of your clothes in a less disposable way. The shift from disposable to lifelong garments is a notion that takes practice. Most of us were brought up during an era where the next, trendiest, fastest, cheapest fashion was the goal and unlearning is a process. Be easy on yourself.
- Clothing Swaps.
As it sounds, a ‘clothing swap’ is when you get a group of people together and everyone lays out clothes they are willing to part with and you swap them free of charge. Depending on the size and intimacy of the, these can be totally free. Sometimes an entrance fee may be charged if the event is larger and took a bit of man hours to arrange. But if it’s just a group of friends, drinking beer and swapping clothes on a Saturday night, that’s as cheap as you can get.
- Closet Share.
Now this is something I sort came up with right now and haven’t worked out the logistics. It already happens between sisters and roommates consistently so I propose friends of similar clothing sizes and style affinities consider closet sharing on a more formal basis. Why not buy clothes with a friend? She gets it for 6 months then you get it. Or something like that? This can keep your wardrobe in rotation and fresh and half the price!
- Clothing Rental.
I really adore this concept. Since most of us are used to the thrill of ‘new’, clothing rental can provide you you the rush while not having to buy a bunch of stuff that you’ll only wear once, only to make it’s way to the dark corners of your closet. With clothing rental you can wear it once and then it goes to someone else to wear once. Guilt free! Absolutely brilliant.
I did the Rent The Runway ‘Unlimited Plan’ for a few months this year, when I was employed full time and could afford it. The $150 a month is super reasonable considering you literally get an UNLIMITED amount of clothing. They send you three things and, whenever you’re ready, you can return them for another three things, ad infinitum. The amount of compliments I got on my clothing during my Rent the Runway era made me feel like one of those girls who did-all-the-right-things-in-life-and-married-someone-with-a -good-job instead of, you know, who I am. Which is not that. I even started indulging in blowouts during this time. It was a whole moment.
Anyways, basically for $150 a month, I felt RICH.
I know it is so easy to say, ‘Oh shit the lining ripped, it’s time/excuse to buy a new coat’. But tsk tsk, please ask yourself if what you are about to coldly kick to the curb is worth repairing. I have given SO many shoes new lives by giving them the gift of new souls for just $20.
And let me tell you, there is something really smirkily self-satisfying about not having to drop ANY cash, while basically getting a new pair of shoes.
Make your old stuff new. Turn old t-shirts into bags etc blah blah. If you don’t have DIY patience as I don’t, you can instead do as I do. I’ve been full on turning into my mom by creating rag bags. I cup my old cotton sheets and soft tees, turning them into rudimentary handkerchiefs — basically just cotton squares that are totally unfinished. You can make them prettier and more finished if you have the patience and a functioning sewing machine. Mine broke years ago and I never fixed it because lazy.
Now. Handkerchiefs. I have to warn you. Get ready for snyde comments when people see you blow your nose into fabric because for some reason our throw-away society thinks blowing your nose in a handkerchief is a barbaric, nee rebellious, act. Just as, if not more gross, than full on blowing your nose in your hand, even though I’m pretty sure handkerchieves were used since the beginning of time. Up until 30 years ago, when the Kleenex conglomerate made you think throwing shit away was more sanitary and chic, everyone survived just fine. But haters gonna hate.
For the faint of heart, just use the cotton squares as plain old rags, and in place of cotton swabs etc. I’ve been reusing a rag to take off my nail polish and it’s like insane to think of the amount of cotton balls I used to go through when one little rag will do the trick and it can be used over and over.
- Your Own Damn Closet.
Seriously, cleaning out your own damn closet so that you know what you actually own can save you SO much money.
How many times have you bought that one thing over and over because you loved it so much but forgot you already had, like, four of them? My reoccurring thing one year was this periwinkle shirt I bought upwards of six times. I was a moth to a flame for this particular color and my teeshirt drawer turned into a sea of periwinkle.
If you get rid of stuff you don’t wear (don’t throw it away please — donate, sell, give to friends, repurpose) you will actually know what you own! When you know what you own you will not re-buy the unnecessary! Also, you’ll get more use out of things that used to be hiding.
Try it. You’ll feel like you have a whole new wardrobe. For free.
Rachel Kibbe is an ethical fashion activist and founder of HELPSY, an online store for ethical fashion that’s dope. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her cat Emilia Pucci.
You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on Instagram @helpsy_
Some under $100 items from HELPSY: