How to build a sustainable wardrobe without breaking the bank

Four top tips for breaking the fast-fashion cycle

Reading Time: 4 minutes

If you’ve ever Googled (or Bing’d, Yahoo’d or whatever else you use) ‘ethical fashion brands’ you’re going to think the title of this piece is lying to you. I feel ya. When I first started getting into sustainable fashion I thought the best way to go about it was to get rid of a whole bunch of things in my closet and buy some new sustainable garments. That plan soon went out the window when I found out how much more expensive sustainable fashion can be, it puts you right off, even if you’re an environment geek like me.

Here I should note that there is a reason for that price: this clothing costs more because high quality fabric and embellishments have been used to create them, they’re designed to last much longer (meaning your price per wear is still minimal) and the person who made these clothes was paid fairly. It’s also likely that the brand you’re buying from is small, so they don’t get to benefit from the low prices of bulk ordering.

So where do we begin? Not with cracking out the credit card that’s for sure.


Tip 1: Re-wear, even the fast fashion stuff

Often the most sustainable wardrobe is the one you already have, if you’ve got clothes you love to wear then there’s no need to replace them with ones that are more ethical right now. If you know you’re going to get a good few wears out of what’s in there, no need to shop! Consumer studies show that on average we’re only wearing our clothes 7 times before we consider them dated; this might not be you but a good principle to follow is ethical fashion legend (and wife of dreamy Mr Darcy) Livia Firth’s fashion rule: the 30 wears challenge. This challenge has the goal of re-wearing items at least 30 times, whether it be in their original form with a different top or trouser, or adjusted to match with something else i.e. cutting the legs off your jeans to make shorts – we’ve all been there, I’ve even tie-dyed mine #90s.

Tip 2: Take a break from shopping

We have all given in to a delightfully styled shop window, a big ‘SALE!’ sign or a mannequin wearing something bright and colourful that might be a new style you’re tempted to try. If you can resist temptation and think about re-styling something you already have then you’ve already saved yourself at least £30, guaranteed. Often tailoring or upcycling older garments will bring you much more joy than an impulse buy. If sewing isn’t your forte, the Love Your Clothes website is great for tips on mending, re-purposing and taking care of your clothes.

Tip 3: Don’t be turned off by someone else’s clothes

Searching the abyss that is eBay or Etsy, or Preloved, or Gumtree can be daunting and it’s true there is a lot of pre-loved clothing that is definitely over-loved but it’s a good place to find vintage or the unloved pieces of current fashion that those less-than-7-wears people have decided to trade in. This is also the place to look for accessories to get an on-trend look at a fraction of the price (Kate’s Basket Case feature has some great Etsy finds for getting in on the trend for basket bags). This not only enables you to add few new pieces to your wardrobe, but also means you don’t have to spend anywhere near as much money, or buy something new – giving new life to something that would otherwise be off to landfill. If you’ve got a special occasion and you’re feeling like your wardrobe isn’t very inspiring, you could check out renting an outfit, an increasingly popular way for people to have something “new” to wear. Companies like Rent the Runway, Chic by Choice or Wear the Walk offer one off rentals or a monthly subscription service for borrowing clothes.

Tip 4: S l o w l y replace your wardrobe sustainably

Eventually even the best of garments can no longer be worn, so when your jeans have finally burst that seam on the inner thigh, which always seems to be the first to burst, now is your time to look for something sustainable. A caveat here: it will cost you more than your bog-standard piece of clothing, but with all the money you have saved from embracing hacks 1-3 you can now afford it. To help you on your quest, here’s a couple of affordable ethical fashion pit stops I can thoroughly recommend:

For tops: People Tree is a great go-to for sustainable clothing of any type, but the current collection of tops is dreamy, from cute tees to embroidered blouses there’s a little bit of something for every occasion.

For bottoms: MUD Jeans call themselves a ‘circular denim’ company, all their jeans are made from organic cotton and produced in fair factories. They have two unique sustainable concepts, first you can return your worn-out jeans to them to be recycled into new cotton fibres meaning when you’re done with your trews, they don’t go to waste. Second, they have a Lease A Jeans programme where you can subscribe to pay monthly for your jeans. Simply commit to a pair and when they’re worn switch them for a new pair and let your old ones be recycled into something new.

For undies: Thought Clothing is my favourite place to shop (for all types of garments actually), their soft and comfy pants and camisoles are great for every day wear. For something a little more fancy, Luva Huva make some gorgeous ethical lingerie sets.

As always, the sustainable life hacks and ethical brands are better shared so if you have any tips of your own please let us know in the comments.

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