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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Bristol chapter.

Student Life vs. Sustainable Choices. Why is it that we struggle to shop sustainably?

Student life is undeniably hectic. Academic commitments, part time jobs, social activities, the list never ends – so when the time comes that we want to buy more clothes we reach for the most accessible option. Fast fashion giants like Zara, Urban Outfitters, H&M, and ASOS with their next day deliveries and affordable prices make it all too easy.

As students we have limited time and energy for conscientious shopping despite us knowing the importance of sustainable practices. It becomes even more difficult to shop ethically when we take budget constraints, convenience, advertising pressures, and the impact of microtrends into account. Limited accessible, sustainable options online also doesn’t help. The absence of return policies on sites like Vinted and Depop adds a layer of uncertainty for the student budget, making it somewhat unappealing to spend money if the clothes may not appear as we wanted on arrival. Similarly, whilst charity stores and vintage shops are popular for good clothing finds, they require additional time and effort.

Micro-trends propagated through fast fashion platforms like TikTok Shop and PrettyLittleThing also serve to strengthen the push towards unsustainable items. For example, the iconic House of Sunny Hockney dress, dubbed by Vogue as the ‘Dress of Summer 2020’ , had the fashion community in a chokehold. Not helped by lockdown, Gen Z consumers constantly scrolling on their phones were bombarded on social media with the green dress. Though, at a price point of £115, the cult favourite wasn’t exactly ideal for a student budget. However, when SHEIN and AliExpress were offering a dupe of the dress for a fraction of the price, it’s no question that students opted for these brands.

The impact of social media on our consumption doesn’t stop there – advertisements pressuring us to keep up to the latest trends encourage frequent and easy purchases, as well as influencers promoting unethical brands. Love Islander Paige Thorne is SHEIN’s latest brand ambassador amongst a large group of reality TV stars to partner with unsustainable companies who exploit workers, have rampant overproduction, and huge waste.

Despite this, the plethora of sustainable clothes shops in Bristol as well as increasing social media campaigns means that the student population is increasingly aware of the importance of shopping habits and their impact on the environment and labour force. We can take steps towards conscious consumption: supporting local and ethical brands, buying fewer but higher quality clothing, clothes swaps, kilo sales, and sharing wardrobes with flatmates. We can also unfollow fast fashion brands and influencers on social media. Simply not showing our support for these accounts can make a meaningful difference.

Nonetheless, shopping sustainably does not mean we must cut fast fashion out completely. It’s true that sustainable fashion tends to be more expensive – not ideal for a student budget. So, if we truly need to, we should mindfully purchase fast fashion clothing that will serve us well over the long term and avoid impulsive buys driven by microtrends. Sample sales are also a good way to work towards conscious consumption. These sales get rid of existing inventory – ASOS were selling clothes at just £5 in July. There are also a few affordable sustainable brands such as @HissyFitClothing which provide viable alternatives that rival fast fashion prices, whilst prioritising transparency in their supply chains.

It is important to consider the overconsumption of clothing, regardless of if it is first or second hand. Though thrifting and charity shopping is definitely stepping in the right direction, we should consider if the item we are buying is truly necessary, and take action towards building a capsule wardrobe.

In the journey towards sustainable shopping, every small step counts. Whether it is unfollowing fast fashion brands and influencers on social media or taking advantage of opportunities like the Bristol SU Vintage Fair, each action contributes to a more sustainable and responsible approach to fashion whilst aligning with the student lifestyle.

Check out the next Bristol SU Vintage Thrift Sale on the 18th October – prices from £2-£15!

Alexandra Lam

Bristol '25

Hi, I'm Alex, a second year English and History student at Bristol.