How to Shop Ethically on a College Budget

Is it possible to shop ethically on a college budget?

This is a question I get all the time and honestly something I’m still struggling with. It can be so hard when many of your friends go out shopping or show up with the newest trending outfit and you feel a little on the out. I totally get the struggle and I’ve often let myself fall into the lie that I’ll start shopping ethically when I’ve got a real job. But the thing is we have to start getting into the habit of shopping ethically now. Yes, you heard me – shopping ethically is a habit that we have to work on because we weren’t raised to think about this things. We have to work on it now, even if we aren’t perfect in the beginning, if we want it to become a part of our life-style.

I’m not saying shopping ethically on a college budget is easy, but it can be done – here are some tips for you.

  1. Be okay with not having the ‘Trending’ closet – This one has been especially hard for me because I love fashion and I love trying out new things and being fashion forward. It is true that when you are shopping ethically on a small budget your wardrobe will shrink in size (at least in the beginning) and we have to remind ourselves that there is a greater good (aka human dignity) at stake. Our world tells us that our worth lies in whether we are the most fashionable person or by how much we can afford but this is a lie that we must fight. A tip for this is keep a list of things you want on your phone and wait a month before looking into buying it to make sure you really want the piece instead of it just being an impulse buy.
  2. Invest in Quality Products, Not Quantity – Many people don’t realize this but ethical and sustainable fashion can actually save you money. While the up-front purchase is more in the long term you are spending less money. While one shirt at a company like Everlane may cost you 25-50 dollars verses the 5-10 dollar shirt at Target, that $5 shirt will only last you a couple of months before you need to buy a replacement whereas the Everlane shirt will last you multiple years. Many of you ask how I afford so much Madewell the truth is each Madewell piece has lasted me at least 4 years meaning I never replace it.
  3. Swap Clothing with Friends – Marie Kondo has inspired all of us to empty our closets of everything that brings us joy, but maybe what doesn’t bring you joy will bring your friend joy! So much of my wardrobe is hand-me downs from my mom, my sister, and my best friend. In the pictured outfit, half of what I’m wearing belongs to my friend and she is letting borrow it. This is especially good for dresses at nice events. It might not be socially acceptable for your friend to re-wear a nice dress, but no one at your brother’s wedding has seen your friend wear that dress if you catch my drift. Take advantage of the clothing that other people no longer want. (especially at the end of the year clean-outs in college dorms)
  4. Buy off Season – This tip has changed my life. Buy winter clothes at the end of the winter season or bathing suits at the start of winter. Companies are trying out clear out their warehouses and often do huge sales at the end of each season. The only reason I was able to afford my expensive Kortni Jean bathing suits and Patagonia coat were because I bought them during an end of season sale.
  5. Start with the Basics – This is key. So many of us look in our closets and feel like we have nothing to wear when we don’t regularly buy new outfits but that is because we don’t have basic pieces that can pull together every outfit. A nice white tshirt, a black dress, black and navy jeans, a jean jacket, and a solid pair of booties. If you invest in these pieces from a high quality company you can have them forever and build an entire wardrobe from them.
  6. Thrift Shopping is your New Best Friend – Thrift shopping can be a lot of work (and I will be doing a post dedicated solely to thrift shopping tips in a bit) but I have found the best pieces in my closet at thrift shops. Thrift shops give you the ability to find really unique pieces or even high quality brands at incredible prices. I’ve gotten multiple Rag and Bone jeans from thrift shops and Zara healed booties and Madewell dresses just by perusing thrift shop isles. Online thrift shops like Poshmark and Thred Up allow you to buy and sell clothing online that are second hand and just as convenient as online shopping! Want to buy a pair of mules but no ethical leather shoe company is affordable? I just found two beautiful pairs on Thred up for $10 dollars each!
  7. Follow Ethical Fashion Blogs – Last but not least follow ethical fashion blogs. Things like Good Trade post weekly featuring different ethical fashion bloggers who are constantly talking about shopping ethically on a budget and recommend different brands who they have already approved as ethical for you in everything you can imagine. Following people who have dedicated their lives to living out sustainable and ethical shopping inspires you to keep up the fight when the desire to just shop becomes real.

You will not be perfect in your transition into being an ethical shopper. I for sure am not. But it is essential to recognize that when you shop at a company that isn’t specifically ethical don’t just feel guilty and then say it is impossible and give up. Keep re-committing yourself to shopping ethical brands because it is worth it.

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