I like to think of myself as a conscientious shopper. I care about the environment and the impact that clothing has on it as well as the people who make my clothes. That being said I don't live in a world where I can afford to spend $400 per piece of clothing because it is produced sustainably. Let's admit it, even $150 is pushing it. Nor is a lot of it my style. I get that flowing oversized, abstract shaped items make you look artsy and crushed French linen says " I care about fabric, but I'm to cool to worry about wrinkles", but it doesn't suit all body shapes. I am 5 foot nothin’, and that fantastic oversized dress makes me look like Violet Beauregarde after she has eaten the three course meal chewing gum in Willy Wonka’s factory. Where you should have a bit of leg and arms showing, so people know you are still skinny under all that fabric all you see from me is a head… a head bobbing in a sea of never-ending fabric. Cute if your style is African safari meets Elephant, not so cute if you are going for tall and slim.
Just because I don’t want to look like a cuddly mammoth doesn't mean I want to throw all my ethics out the window because that style of clothing doesn't suit me or it’s out of my budget.
So how do you shop sustainably, stylishly and within budget? Let me fill you in on a few tips I have picked up on my journey to living the most simple, yet stylish life I can.
Firstly, shop vintage. If you have heard it once, you will hear it again, any blog about sustainably will tell you to buy vintage. Why consume new clothing when there are great pieces already in existence? Don't get me wrong, I am 100% behind this idea, but do I do it myself? Hmmm, not really. Vintage shopping is great if you have an eclectic style, love mixed prints, aren't as caught up on fabrics and have lots of time to go through op-shops finding the right pieces. But for me, this doesn't work. I am tiny, small in height and small in frame, which means finding the right item in my size in an op-shop is slim pickings. I am also super picky about fabrics, I don't like wearing synthetics or cheap blends so if I do find something in my size quite often I put it straight back because of the fabric content. Lastly, I'm just not a prints kind of girl. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE prints. I even love mixing prints. I just don't love it on myself. It is one of my favorite things to style on other people but personally I find myself reaching for my plain t-shirt and jeans 90% of the time.
So what do you do if you want to shop conscientiously but your style and budget don't fit the norm? Let me fill you in on my little secrets.
1) Before you go shopping look into the brands, you like and see how sustainable they really are. I don't love fast fashion but many of the brands are within my budget. Some brands are better than others. Each year Baptist World Aid brings out a report giving stores a rating. A being the best going down to F. Based on forced labour, child labour, worker exploration. Petty must to get an F you just need to not give a crap about children, the environment, fair workers rights, improving living conditions for all or just not want to disclose any information about what your business is doing… wait are we still talking about clothing businesses or Donald Trump’s Campaign team? I digress. This isn't a soundproof list and there is more that goes into it. But it is a start. I know we would all shop in fully sustainable stores if we could, but if you can't this is an excellent beginning!
2) Even if you are shopping in a fast fashion store don't fall for the current trend. I shop in Cotton On as it has an A rating however I shop there for my essential T's, your black, white, grey T’s made from natural fibres, these items will last longer as natural fibers have a longer shelf life and as they are neutral wardrobe pieces wont go out of trend. I don't look at Cotton On’s current trending pieces as I know as soon as it’s in, it’s out. Try as hard as you can to build a capsule wardrobe, one were all of your items work together with each other to create multiple outfits decreasing the amount of clothing you need overall.
3) Look at fabric content! This is a huge one for me. Natural fibers such as cotton, linen, silk not only breathe easier so you will feel less hot but also last longer. Even fabrics such as rayon and modal with are technically synthetic yet derived from plants will last a long time. They will feel great on your skin, and you won't burst into a ball of flames if you go too close to a heater! Seriously, if an item of clothing says "highly flammable" don't you think it is best just to avoid it?
4) Try your hardest not to impulse buy. When I go shopping, I have put in place a new rule with myself. If I want an item, I need to walk away from it and think about it. If I am still yearning for it a few hours later or a day later I know I really want it. If not, I was buying on a whim. This is especially true for sale items. The number of things I have bought because they are cheap. Now I ask myself, "Would I buy this is it was full price?” More often then not I will buy full price. If I want something that is good quality I am willing to pay the full price for it, as I know I will get my wear out of it. This stops me buying sale items as I have filled my wardrobe with pieces I love by the time sales come around.
5) Build a wardrobe not individual pieces. Ok, this took me a while to learn. I love classic pieces, but I also like random prints/pieces that catch the eye. The problem with this is that they don't go with anything else in my wardrobe and I end up with an assortment of things that don't go together! So when you are looking at that new top think to yourself, do I have pieces at home that go with it? If not, back away from the rainbow sequined blouse. Do not buy a full outfit just to go with one piece. You do not need it.
6) Only buy replacements. I have created a capsule wardrobe, I love, with key staples in it. I shop when I have worn one out, and generally, I replace it with the exact same item because I still love it. I go to the shops with that item in mind and don't stray from the path. Buy only what you need, not what you want.
7) Save up for items you really want rather then buy four items you think are just ok, if you are purchasing that item just because its close enough, stop. Wait until you find the one! Whilst I don’t have the cash to splurge on that $400 day dress it doesn’t mean I don’t want to save my pennies for that $400 jacket I have been eyeing off. Instead of having a large wardrobe with excess clothing in it, save for the perfect item that is made from a more sustainable fabric or sold in a slightly higher rated store.
8) This last tip may be an odd one to some people, but hear me out! Myself, my sister and her best friend are similar sizes. When one of us goes through our wardrobe and is going to do a clear out we invite the others over to see if there is anything they want. Firstly, it saves that clothing going to landfill. Secondly, you get a bunch of clothing for free and lastly, lets be honest, it’s just a good excuse for a catwalk show. Don't be afraid to ask your friends to borrow a dress for that wedding you have to go to instead of buying yet another dress to be worn once. Alternatively, be the person that starts the trading. Have your girlfriends come to your house first when you do a wardrobe clear out and see if they want some of your pieces. You may be surprised by what trend you start.
Well, there you have it! How to be sustainably stylish on a budget. I leave you with this last word. No one is perfect. Don't beat yourself up if you buy that cheap top just because you thought the print was cute and you liked the current trend. We all do it. Just hold onto it and get your wear out of it. When the time comes to let it go, donate it to your local charity or invite your friend over for a Pretty Women shopping spree. Never forget, clothes are a representation of who we want the world to view us as, but they are just clothes. Being at peace with your self is more important.
- Lila Marie.
Ethical fashion guide: