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How To Stop Consuming Fast Fashion In College Without Breaking The Bank

We are often told that we should stop consuming “fast fashion” — a method where brands rapidly produce high volumes of clothing and offer items at an inexpensive price — due to its negative impact on wildlife, climate change, and human rights. However, with many people buying clothes just for the sake of following the latest trends, there is less of a focus on sustainability — plus, most college students cannot afford to overhaul their closets and avoid fast fashion altogether. So, how can you be stylish, cut back on fast fashion, and be budget-friendly all at the same time? Here are a few tips.

Buy quality over quantity

“Quality over quantity” is a phrase we often hear, and many assume that it means: buy something more expensive and high-quality. However, when it comes to fashion, you don’t need to break the bank to buy quality clothes. Take a classic t-shirt, for example. Sometimes, “quality over quantity” means that it’s more sustainable to buy one cotton white t-shirt for $20 instead of five t-shirts totaling the same amount. When considering quality, look at materials like cotton, viscose, cashmere, silk, and quality stitching. You can often find quality items in local thrift shops and even in stores that are typically considered “fast fashion” (I have a high quality cotton sweater from Zara that’s lasted me 6 or 7 years!).

Invest in basics

Investing in key basics is always a good choice. When you add key basics to your wardrobe that you can easily layer and wear across the seasons, you reduce the need to go shopping for new clothes over and over — plus, you get your money’s worth! If you have quality basics, you could end up wearing them forever, especially if they’re made of high quality material that won’t shrink or tear easily in your dorm dryer. If you need some inspiration, try this white button-down shirt from Madewell or this white cotton t-shirt from Zara, and watch how investing in basics can reduce the need to run to the mall for quick, lower quality items.

avoid polyester & GO natural

If you want a subtle way to avoid playing into fast fashion, look at the list of materials the next time you go shopping, and try to stay away from polyester (which is sometimes written as “acrylic polyamide”). Polyester can be harmful for the environment, mainly due to microplastics, so instead, opt for something that’s made from a natural, long-lasting material like cotton — it’ll be easier to recycle and won’t harm the environment as much. 

If you’re shopping and you notice that a brand claims to use “recycled polyester” in their garments, heads up: it is usually used in conjunction with new polyester, therefore, can still be harmful. Try to buy clothes with natural materials whenever you can, and if buying something with zero polyester isn’t an option, you can also opt for clothes that are 90% cotton and 10% polyester or elastane, which are still great in terms of wear and the environment. Buying clothes with more natural elements can be a small step toward avoiding fast fashion and prioritizing quality over quantity.

go thrift shopping

My favorite tip for cutting back on fast fashion is to go thrifting! It’s incredibly fun (especially if you go with your friends), plus you can find some real steals, and the clothing itself can be super unique. Thrifting is amazing for the environment — and a far better alternative to fast fashion — because you are not actually buying anything new; rather, you’re making use of something that’s already in existence. Plus, you can find one-of-a-kind pieces that’ll catch everyone’s eye on campus, but won’t make you go bankrupt

Don’t get me wrong: thrifting can be expensive if you’re shopping for luxury brands like Chanel or Hermes, but I’ve also seen brands like Balenciaga and Moschino listed for a lower price — and the quality is top-notch. Pro tip: Luxury brand clothing that is pret a porter* (ready to wear) rarely holds its value, so you can often find pieces at thrift stores that are listed for one tenth of what the owner originally paid for it! If luxury brands aren’t your thing, you can always peruse your local thrift store and still find great quality items.

prioritize personal style over what’s trending

Finally, in order to reduce buying fast fashion, discover your personal style or aesthetic. Be it kindergartencore, dark academia, or cottagecore, your aesthetic or style should match your personality and be functional for your daily life! Stick to what goes with your style and reduce the pressure to run to the mall and buy a bunch of things simply because you have to hop on a trend. As Chanel would say, ”Fashion changes, but style endures.” Your personal style should be true to you, and it will therefore always serve you — plus, it’ll probably be a lot more sustainable in the long-run.

Of course, we all love experimenting with multiple aesthetics and styles, myself included! In the past, I’ve wanted to dress like Blair Waldorf one day and Kendall Jenner the other. Over time, this led me to give clothes away frequently in order to make space for the new ones — and yet, I’d always end up regretting it later, because I would always go back to the style I liked the month before! Therefore, my advice is to stick to your personal style and have just a few key basics in your closet. This will save you a fortune in college, and you won’t have to go to the store every weekend to buy something totally new.

As a fashion lover, I know it can be hard to fight the urge to follow every trend and buy a billion clothing pieces each season. Nevertheless, since I’ve stopped over-consuming and started discovering my personal style, the ease I feel when getting dressed is indescribable. My wardrobe is now filled with classic, high quality pieces instead of logo-ridden ones that are “in-season,” so I can mix and match almost anything and still look stylish. After giving up overconsumption and doing my best to avoid fast fashion, I am much happier and I’ve never dressed better. Try it and see for yourself! You’ll feel great, look great and help care for the planet — because these don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

*Pret a porter: ready to wear, the term for ready-made garments that are sold in finished condition in standardized sizes.

Sara is a law student at King’s College London. While she loves law and politics, her main passions are writing and fashion, which is why she wants to pursue a career in fashion journalism. On top of this, she is a foreign language enthusiast who speaks 6 foreign languages.
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