Affordable sustainable clothes exist, and there are many ways of acquiring them!
If you’re new to the sustainable lifestyle, one of the most appealing aspects of living life without waste and reducing your resource impact is almost certainly an economic one. By making choices based on quality and ecological impact, you often inherently choose items that are designed to last or can be easily fixed.
The same goes for clothing, However, it can sometimes seem like sustainable clothing made from environmentally sound materials can be quite expensive – almost 5 times as expensive as the same item made from a “fast fashion” house that likely incorporates plastic, heavy metal dyes, and non-recycled polyester.
So why would anyone choose to source affordable sustainable clothes? Well, the sustinable choice for many people, is not one they can actually make – many people across the world live minimally because that is all they can afford, in reality.
For privileged nations, many live in a place which offers an overabundance of clothing and convenience. That abundance doubles when you have access to the internet: roughly as of 2021, only 50% of the world is connected online, and if you’re connected, you’re going to be subject to even more options for endlessly shopping.
It is easy to shop – but not so easy to motivate yourself to go no-landfill.
Sustainable clothes starts with mending your own clothes
Mending clothing has lost a lot of popularity in the latter half of the 20th century, although notably the DIY community is forcing this back into public consciousness, which is only a good thing. Mending your own clothes empowers you to have a personal relationship with the clothing that you own, helping you to understand why you value that item and why fixing it is not only meaningful but beneficial.
Where I’m based, in the North of England, “darning your socks” in the late 19th century and early 20th century was the done thing. I believe this is rare now, even though mending socks is a fantastic way to slowly begin your journey into choosing more affordable sustainable clothes and clothing options, and a more sustainable lifestyle generally.
Mending your socks also helps you to tap into making material and design choices that are kinder to your skin as well as the planet. For example, organic and recycled brushed cotton are materials that are lightyears ahead (and yet so historic to us as humans) in comfort, away from polyester and plastic threads that grate away at your shoes and end up chafing your toes and heels.
Scrap busting to create patchwork, sashiko and more to get mending
There are many ways you can mend your own clothes. You might even want to update clothing and upcycle it into a brand new item, or items. It really is up to you.
Yes, it might seem laborious and therefore “quicker” to just go to that cheap shop always being advertised – but in reality it’s not. Buying a fast fashion item over something you can feasibly repair is only quicker at harming the planet, and the people who make those clothes. The bit that isn’t quicker is mustering the courage to be creative, to not be afraid to look for the inspiration, and simply get on with it.
From patchwork, embroidery, sashiko, fabric painting and textile art: there are a multitude of ways to mend and make do. Check out these links for some inspired scrap busting projects. Recently I completed a raft of sustainable Christmas gifts using scraps as well as specifically sourced sourced sustainable materials. I also made Christmas decorations and some bric-a-brac using scraps.
If you can't stop shopping, then shop for affordable sustainable clothes by shopping second hand
Sustainability can be a simple choice to make – and you can do it on the high street and online.
So why not give a donated item another home, and donate to a good cause while you do it? Charity shops, flea markets and vintage upcycling stores have reached a new peak in their popularity once more. ThredUp, based in LA, is one of the world’s most popular second hand stores online, helping to buck the more common ‘dropship’ clothing ecommerce trend which arguably takes fast fashion to an even more destructive level. One of the great things about charity shops is that they take care of textile recycling for you – if an item can’t be resold, or mended and then resold, then it almost always goes to the recycling plant (in the UK and much of Western Europe, this is the norm and in some countries, it is legislation).
The trend of charity shop support is perhaps none more so popular than it became at the beginning of the 2020s in lockdown, as people look to reduce their outgoings and shop frugally. By helping to increase the footfall in second hand stores (and keeping that item to mend or create something else when you’re done with it), you are helping to increase the demand for a circular economy, which, in the end – only benefits us all.
The 'slow fashion' approach to sustainable clothes shopping
Slow fashion is all about buying clothing items that are durable, sustainable, and designed to be of a high enough quality to last for a long time.
‘Slow fashion’ is the opposite of ‘fast fashion’, because the motivation for buying the item is not to follow a trend, but to purchase something of quality which lasts for years – sometimes even longer then the person wearing it!
‘Slow fashion’ has never actually been labelled as such, but all clothing is designed to be handed down, and it remains accepted tradition and to use the royal proverbial, just the way we do things in most royal and regal families.
This might be where it gets tricky: you are spending a higher outlay on an item – but with the understanding that this item will stand the test of time, and then some. When you calculate cost per wear (say 10 wears out of a £20 fast fashion item before it bobbles, versus 300+ wears out of a £120 item: suddenly the maths makes complete sense).
As a result, slow fashion forces the consumer to slow right down when making their purchases on a number of levels. Before buying something, you are considering everything from the product lifecycle, and ideally dispensing with any idea of disposing a garment. It forces you as a consumer to make a conscious choice rather than “mindlessly” buying something that you may grow bored of in 6 months’ time. Slow fashion is also, usually, ethical – look at the whole supply chain of a product, and the connections between them: the environment, chemicals, people, land, water, waste.
Affordable sustainable clothes - make your own
Making your own clothing is hugely satisfying. By taking your own measurements and customising everything to yourself, you can be sure that you know how that item of clothing will fit – and fit you perfectly. If you’re making more positive environmental choices, you probably want to be using sustainable textiles which are natural fibres, or may even be artificial fibres; as well as natural dyes and exploring natural dyeing methods from communities around the world (- at The Haberdasher Bee, I picked Peru as my natural dye muse! You can read more on that if you like).
By making your own clothes, you put yourself into the shoes of a product designer, a trader, a resourcer and of course the sewing machinist (or handsew if that’s your style) who all work together to turn that item of clothing into a reality. It enables you to stop being a consumer, but to be a creator: and in that moment, you might suddenly realise why sustainability is so important. There is a chain of people, and a chunk of the Earth that is used every time you buy something. By making something yourself, you can literally be the first and the last in line who decides on that damage control to people and the planet.
That’s why choosing sustainable tools is just as important. By removing plastic from the equation completely (and often disposable plastic items – even things as small as awls and point turners can count if you’re throwing one away every year or so because it breaks). Of course, that’s why The Haberdasher Bee’s shop exists – helping people to make better choices just as easily in the creation of a textile product, and at an affordable price. The last thing I want is for people to be stuck in a loop of not being able to afford sustainable tools, but the tools shouldn’t be so cheap that they’re easily broken and/or seen as disposable either. It’s a fine line to tread when trying to produce anything which is good quality yet affordable. I curate high quality materials and makers (as well as creating things myself) to produce sustainable crochet hooks, knitting needles, fabric shears, embroidery scissors and threadclips – so that the making-part of the sustainable product process is in itself, sustainable too.