Shopping Ethically and Sustainably is Hard When You're Broke

As society becomes increasingly more conscious of what we buy (I’m looking at you Starbucks sippy cups), consumers more inclined to look more into what we buy. This is certainly applicable to me. After watching various YouTube videos and the amazing documentary The True Cost, I too have begun to examine my own shopping habits. There just happens to be one problem, though.

The Problem: Ethical Clothes Are (rightfully) More Expensive

It’s no secret that the many ethical brand that are popping up are a lot more expensive. A simple dress from Reformation can range from $100 - $200, which for a broke college student like myself, that’s most of my bank account. However, I can’t be mad at the price given what goes into the making of the product. These products are made from fabrics and ingredients that don’t harm our environment. Also, these brands use ethical labor meaning that their workers are paid fair wages and work in safe environments. This a big deal considering what happened at the Rana Plaza. So, while the price makes sense, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m (and I’m assuming you) broke. What are we to do?

The Solution Part 1: Thrift Shop

To be honest, I thrifted before I knew about ethical fashion and I certainly thrifted after. Thrift shopping is a great way to get great clothes for cheap. Forewarning, it certainly takes a lot time and it has learning curve, but thrift shopping is a great alternative. You can’t just pop into Goodwill with one clothing item in mind and expect to find the perfect fit and style all in one visit. Thrifting does however, allows you to cultivate a wardrobe that is unique to your personal style. And you can reduce clothing waste while you do it!

The Solution Part 2: Evaluate Your Spending

            While ethical brands tend to be more expensive, when you compare them to popular stores like Urban Outfitters and even Zara, you might find that they can be in the same ballpark. So, while spending Christmas or birthday money on jeans from Urban might be your first inclination, consider checking out some ethical brands instead. You might find them to be in the same ball park. Another way to evaluate your spending is see how much your spending on clothes and how much you’re getting out of it. I totally understand and have been in the position of needing an outfit and quickly grabbing something from H&M. But as I reviewed my closet I realized that occasional $10-$20 I threw away on clothes wasn’t worth it. I either didn’t end up wearing the item too much or it didn’t last past maybe ten washes. I realized if I saved my money I could maybe buy one item that will last a long time and be a staple in my wardrobe.

The Solution Part 3: Sales, Sales, Sales

            Being a very important member of various email list have med me realize that saving plus sales equals a great way to shop consciously. These sales can make a pair of $70 equal $50, and while that still may be a lot for some, it’s still a markdown. Sales are a great of finding ethical clothes and being able to incorporate into your closet and your budget.

Shopping ethically is hard when you don’t have a lot of money. If you simply can’t afford to, you shouldn’t shame yourself. I recommend finding simple ways and habits to help the environment and know that every little bit can help.

Ethical Brands to Check Out:


ASOS Eco Edit:


American Apparel:

People Tree: