*Originally published in 2020. Updated for 2021.
I feel like the biggest reason why people aren’t interested in shopping ethical fashion is because they think it’s too expensive. And they would be right…and wrong. So I’m here to share a little bit about why the prices are higher than fast fashion and how you can afford ethical fashion – even on a budget!
How to Afford Ethical Fashion
I think we first need to remember why ethical fashion is generally more expensive. To produce clothes ethically means that brands are paying workers a fair wage in safe working conditions, and using sustainable fabrics that cost more to produce. Ethical brands are often producing clothes in smaller quantities which means manufacturing costs more. This infographic from the sustainable/ethical clothing brand Christy Dawn breaks down why their clothes are priced a certain way.
One of the things that stands out to me is that Christy Dawn pays their workers a LIVING wage of $20.52 an hour. To create one dress the labor cost is $51.30. That’s already more than the cost of a dress from H&M. After calculating all of the other costs like fabric and overhead, the final cost of the dress is $70.56. Christy Dawn obviously has to make a profit on the dress and they mark up the cost 3X (which is lower than the average of 5X or more for other brands). Now that we understand what it really costs to make a garment and why it’s important to pay people a fair wage in safe working conditions, hopefully we can agree that it’s worth it to spend more on an ethically produced piece.
Tips for Affording Ethical Fashion
Change Your Mindset
This is probably not the answer that most people want to hear but in order to afford ethical fashion you need to change how you think about fashion. We are so used to living in the “fast fashion age” where people buy A LOT of clothes. YouTube clothing “hauls” are a thing and it’s not uncommon to go into a fast fashion store and come out with 5 pieces that cost less than $100. The average consumer bought 60% more clothes in 2014 than in 2000. We are used to seeing people buy “trendy” clothes that are only good for one season and then discarded because they are no longer in style.
This is not how it always was. Clothing used to be a commodity that was expensive so people had to buy quality pieces that would last. I’m reminded of my favorite Jane Austen period movies where you see the main characters wearing the same dress throughout the whole movie. They might have one change into their “fancy clothes” for a ball but then it was back to one or two “everyday” outfits. It was a big deal to get a new piece of clothing! Of course, we don’t live in those times anymore but I wish we had a similar mindset. At the end of the day we really don’t need as many clothes as we have.
Shopping ethical fashion requires more of a “slow fashion” mindset. If we really took inventory of our closet and bought less based on trends and more based on versatile pieces, we’d realize that we can buy less but spend more on each item. And believe me – as a fashion blogger this is REALLY hard to do. I love to showcase the latest styles and trends. But I’m trying to change my mindset and be more mindful of the things I buy.
Take Inventory of Your Closet
The key to affording ethical fashion is to figure out what pieces you really need in your wardrobe and save for it. You really have to sit down and think about what pieces your wear and what pieces you don’t. Basically, you need to KonMari your closet. I think you’d realize that you end up wasting a lot of money on clothes that you don’t actually wear. That’s the trap of fast fashion. You think you “need” an item because it only costs $10. But then you end up buying 10 of those $10 items and you’ve spent $100 on things you don’t love or need and you could have spent that $100 on a top that you LOVE.
I highly suggest thinking about Capsule Wardrobes. A Capsule Wardrobe is a curated collection of items that can be mixed and matched with each other (and other items in your closet) to create a ton of outfits. I currently have a Fall Capsule out right now with 23 pieces that will create 30+ outfits. This capsule is a collection of basics that will last you for years and even through several seasons. A capsule wardrobe helps you to figure out what you still need in your closet so you can start saving for items that you want.
Download the Fall Capsule Guide Now!
Shop Ethical Fashion Sales
Now that you’ve figured out what items you need in your closet it’s time to stalk those ethical fashion brands! This does require patience because ethical fashion brands don’t often have sales. The whole point of ethical fashion is to try to eliminate waste so ethical fashion brands try to prevent over production and therefore don’t have to have sales to get rid of excess inventory. However, due to COVID a lot of ethical fashion brands have been forced to have sales to stay afloat. So now is actually a good time to shop ethical fashion brands. Also, the holidays are coming up which means even more sales!
Not sure where to find ethical brands? Sign up for my Ethical Brand Directory Below! You’ll get access to 50+ (and counting) ethical brands at ALL price points!
Sign up for Newsletters
Always check to see if brands offer a discount for signing up for their newsletter. It might only be 10% but anything is better than nothing! Also, you’ll be one of the first to know if the brand is having a sale because they’ll usually alert their email subscribers first. You’ll also want to follow the brand on Instagram for the same reasons.
Shop Warehouse Sales and Sample Sales
Even ethical fashion brands sometimes have to get rid of excess inventory and I’ve seen them have Warehouse Sales where they offer pieces at a huge discount. For example, DÔEN just had a warehouse sale where their pieces were at least 50% off. Some of their dresses cost $300+ and they were priced at $150. That’s an amazing discount! It just requires patience because these sales don’t happen often.
If you live in a major city like Los Angelos or New York you might also be able to take advantage of in-person sample sales. I’ve been to a few here in Los Angeles for Reformation. I believe DÔEN also had a sample sale here at one point. You can stay up to date on sample sales by following Chicmi. A lot of brands will also have online sample sales as well.
Sometimes ethical brands will sell their items at larger stores like Nordstrom or Net-A-Porter. So while the brand itself might not have a lot of sales, Nordstrom might have a sale where you can get the pieces at a discount. For example, Reformation is also sold at Nordstrom, Net-A-Porter, and Shopbop. I’ve seen Reformation items on sale at all of those retailers! DÔEN is also sold exclusively at Net-A-Porter and I’ve seen those pieces go on sale as well at up to 60% off at the end of the season! A quick google search of the brand will often show you what retailers carry the brand.
One of the best things you can do is shop secondhand for ethical clothing. This gives clothes a new life and prevents them from being thrown in a landfill. You can check out apps like Poshmark and Depop where people can list items themselves. You’ll also find a lot of bloggers selling their clothes on Instagram. If you are looking for higher end items you can shop The Real Real or Vestiaire. And finally, make sure to check your local thrift shop for finds! Shopping secondhand is a great way to shop fast fashion ethically. If you love the styles you see at H&M and Zara but are trying to avoid shopping at those stores, you can always find those styles secondhand!
There are also Instagram accounts dedicated to re-selling brands like DOEN and Christy Dawn! Follow @doensecondhand, @christydawnsecondhand, and @shopyoushe to find ethical pieces at a discounted price!
Shop “Conscious” Pieces from Fast Fashion Brands
I know it’s hard to give up fast fashion. And at the end of the day ethical fashion brands might still be out of your budget – even with sales. But there’s still a way you can be more conscious with your purchases while shopping at fast fashion brands.
Fast Fashion brands are trying to be more eco-friendly and sustainable so a few have come out with “Conscious” pieces or “Sustainable” styles within their collections. H&M has a Conscious Collection which is made from recycled or sustainable materials. Zara also claims they are working towards sustainability through their Join Life Collection. Madewell has a Do Well collection made from more sustainable materials. It takes a little bit of digging but a lot of fast fashion brands are offering these more sustainable options. HOWEVER – don’t forget that just because an item is made from more sustainable materials doesn’t mean it was made ethically. Brands like H&M and Zara have been accused of “greenwashing” and making it seem like they are producing ethically made/sustainable clothes but in reality, they aren’t. But I’m all for taking baby steps wherever you can and if shopping fast fashion more consciously is your only option right now then that’s fine too!
Do you have any tips for how to afford ethical fashion?