Ethical Shopping on a Student Budget

Ethical shopping is hard. Trust me, I know. Between being a cruelty free makeup artist and swearing off fast fashion companies that don’t pay their employees a living wage, looking good as a (very recently graduated) college student seems financially unattainable. However, with a little (or a lot if I’m being honest) of extra effort and these six tips, you can still have the ethical wardrobe of your dreams without breaking the bank!

Tip #1) Say no to fast fashion

Forever 21, H&M, Charlotte Russe, Zara… Even their names bring back fond (or not so fond) memories of roaming the mall in middle school. Unfortunately, while they may be kind to our wallets, they are not so kind to their employees. The majority of labor from these companies is outsourced from impoverished countries where workers are paid far below a living wage and work in horrible conditions. Because the low price tags and on-trend pieces can be so tempting, I hold myself to a “blacklist” of stores that I refuse to shop at. Because I won’t let myself go into their brick-and-mortar stores or even visit their website, I am far less likely to fall into the trap of fast fashion. That being said, if you already have pieces from these retailers that wear well and feel good on you, don’t discontinue their use. The money is already spent, and wearing your current clothes for as long as possible eliminates waste and lowers the frequency of when you need to shop.

Tip #2) Stay away from trend pieces

Trends are fun. I get that. And I’m not saying you should never indulge! But running out to buy every hot new item that pops up on your Instagram feed is a sinkhole; chances are that you’ll only wear these pieces for a short time, and repurchasing on-trend items every season is REALLY expensive- even if you’re only spending $20 per item. Invest in classic cuts in a cohesive color palette and you’ll save lots of money (and avoid looking back on photos years from now and wondering “What was I thinking???”

Tip #3) Shop on Etsy

This is probably my favorite ethical shopping hack. Shopping on Etsy gives you the ability to really customize your wardrobe and supports women (and men) who are trying to make a living doing what they love online. Because Etsy has a built-in messaging feature, you can quickly and easily talk to sellers to determine how customizable your order can be. Also be sure to verify that the seller makes the clothing or accessory item that you’re thinking of purchasing, rather than outsourcing it from someone else (aka a cheap Chinese website). Most sellers make their products fairly affordable to reach the largest section of the market while still being compensated fairly for their time and effort. I love that creators on Etsy get to choose what they think a fair price for their skills is!

Tip #4) Go thrift shopping

Thrifting is a great way to make sure you aren’t supporting unethical fashion. Instead of giving your money to companies that make high-turnover clothing at the expense of their workers, support local thrift stores that reduce clothes waste by giving once-loved items a second home. While large chain secondhand retailers like Goodwill can be frustrating (except for home goods. 70% off brand new Target furniture? Yes please!) there are many smaller thrift chains that focus on a specific demographic such as teens or young adults- check out Plato’s Closet and Buffalo Exchange if you haven’t already! With a little patience and some time combing through the racks, you can get high-quality brand name stuff at deep discounts. And if you see something from a fast fashion retailer in a thrift store that you can’t live without- go for it! Even if it won’t last quite as long, you’re not supporting their business model because you’re buying secondhand.

Tip #5) Invest in staple pieces

I know you see this tip on every “how to shop ethically on a budget” post out there. And I know you’re thinking, “Megan. I work part-time for minimum wage- I can’t afford a $100 pair of jeans!” I was the same way when someone first gave me this advice. Then I started to track how much money I saved when I said no to a fast fashion purchase. $13 here, $10 there… it adds up! Now, rather than buying low-quality trend pieces that will only last a few months, I make fewer purchases of nicer items that last ten times as long. It’ll save you money in the long run. I promise.

Tip #6) Don’t treat shopping as  hobby

I am so guilty of this one. The thrill of finding the perfect piece or the 70% off sale, the exhilaration of swiping your card or entering your information online… all too real. Unfortunately, sometimes we get so caught up in the pursuit of a good deal that we buy things that we don’t actually need. Instead of shopping until you find something you like, only shop for specific pieces that you know you need. This will reduce the amount of wardrobe turnover you experience when you buy things you don’t need. It will also leave more money for versatile pieces that you feel good in and will wear over and over.

I’m not going to tell you that ethical shopping is easy. It takes a lot of effort and self-control and I still slip up way more often than I would like. Despite the difficulties, though, this is a journey that I am choosing to take because I want to know that I am contributing to a better world, and that makes it worth it.

What are your favorite ethical shopping hacks? Let me know in the comments down below!

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