It’s no secret: shopping according to your values can be difficult.
Add in the complications of budget, size accessibility, style availability, and shopping according to your values can feel like a reach. There are many valid concerns about this lifestyle change but the good news is that none of us are alone on this journey—and the industry is evolving to address these specific challenges head on. Here are five of the most common barriers and objections to shopping sustainably, and how to overcome them!
1. Shopping sustainably is expensive.
Purchasing all fair trade garments from sustainable brands absolutely costs more—just as shopping organic and local produce costs more. Brands that produce in a fair-wage environment pass on those living wages to their end consumer, rather than sacrificing their workers’ quality of life in order to make an inexpensive product. However, being able to purchase a nonessential t-shirt for $2 is not a more important right than basic human dignity. Someone, somewhere, has to pay the price for cheap fashion.
The good news is that there are a few tried-and-true ways to save money when shopping sustainably—the first and most important strategy being to slow it all down. Instead of adding half a dozen new pieces to your wardrobe each season, add one or two thoughtful garments and spend a little more on each one (you’ll still save money!) Shop for seasonless pieces that will last you 30 wears or more, and that you can see yourself wearing for years to come, so you don’t find yourself always needing to replace your wardrobe staples.
Another way to shop sustainably on a budget is by shopping secondhand and vintage. While this comes with more options, it also comes with a time cost to find the perfect piece. Sites like eBay, DePop, thredUP, and Poshmark all come with varying degrees of curation, but are treasure troves of gently used styles. If you’re seeking the thrill of the hunt, look beyond just your local thrift stores and explore garage sales, estate sales, and keep an eye out for local clothing swaps.
There are valid concerns surrounding the trendiness of thrift shopping causing higher (and less accessible) prices for secondhand clothing, especially in gentrifying communities. Pairing secondhand shopping with a slow fashion mindset is the ultimate way to cut your costs and avoid contributing to rising costs for people who rely exclusively on secondhand stores.
2. Ethical fashion is not available in my size.
Ethical fashion, and fashion as a whole, is slow to start on size diversity. While there are some sustainable brands creating clothing with more inclusive sizing, this accessibility isn’t always considered from day one. This sadly isn’t a concern that can be easily fixed with alternative approaches, since even thrift shopping isn’t always a consistent option for a wide range of sizing. While sites like thredUp and eBay allow you to sort through secondhand garments easily by size, there’s still the issue of brand, style, and product availability in those sizes.
This is where a grassroots approach is more than appropriate—email the brand you’d like to see with expanded sizing directly, tag them on social media, and encourage them to not only diversify their product offering but to diversify their models. Representation matters—and it’s important for all women to speak up about it even when they’re not part of those who are underrepresented. See a brand doing great work in this space? Share about it, write about it, and challenge others to step up to the plate and do it too.
3. I don’t have time to research every brand’s sustainability initiatives.
Thanks to the internet, this one is easy to overcome! Yes, ethical fashion can be overwhelming—there are so many values to consider and it can feel like a treasure hunt when finding brands that meet all your criteria. But there are so many resources (like our list of ethical fashion brands) and bloggers (see some of our favorites here) in the sustainable and ethical fashion space that it’s easier than ever to access brands that match your values.
If you don’t have the time to research each brand individually, find a handful of ethical fashion bloggers and Instagrammers whose style and values match your own. That way, when it comes time to update your wardrobe with a new piece, you can hop on to their pages and see what their go-to brands are. The beauty of social media is that you can even reach out directly and ask them what they think of a particular garment or brand. *If you do wind up seeking personal advice from bloggers directly, you can thank them for their time by shopping through their affiliate links—the vast majority of sustainable fashion bloggers only support brands that do truly align with their values.
4. My purchase will have no effect on the behemoth fashion industry.
Once you learn about the injustice and heavy environmental impact involved in the fast fashion industry, there’s no unlearning it. The facts are staggering—and just as overwhelming as trying to find the perfect ethical brand to support. To be paralyzed by it is understandable. But, the most important thing is to not throw out the whole concept just because things get heavy or difficult.
Sure, H&M won’t cry itself to sleep at night because you didn’t buy a miniskirt from them. But, by supporting a truly conscious brand instead, your actions will have ripple effects. Tell the story about why you bought this skirt instead of one from a fast fashion retailer, share the brand with your friends, show the brand some love on social media, and let your style choices advocate for better labor and environmental standards.
Try to do a little something good with each purchase—and when you inevitably have to make a more compromised choice, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and do better the next time around. We’re already seeing more sustainability initiatives cropping up in mainstream brands’ mission statements thanks to years of vocal support for environmentally conscious practices, and the movement for fair and safe labor practices is following suit. You are powerful, and your behavior as a consumer is contagious.
5. Ethical fashion restricts my style.
Fashion is a daily form of visible self expression and artistry—and many of us, like me, like to mix it up more frequently than the minimalist approach deems “appropriate”. The beauty of slow fashion is that there is actually no magic number that creates the perfect wardrobe: it’s all about how, and how often, we consume.
One of the best things about starting to shop more consciously is that there is no rule about getting rid of what we already own, so start there! Freshen up your existing wardrobe by mixing and matching what you already have, repairing or repurposing your favorite pieces, and tailoring anything that’s cute but not quite right. Challenge the seasonal trends by wearing and layering your most well-loved garments year-round and experimenting with accessories to create different looks.
If you’re having trouble finding responsibly-made or secondhand clothing in your style, it may be time to get creative: consider this your permission to dye and sew what you can. If you have extra money in the budget, commission pieces from local seamstresses that you’ll treasure for years.
Most importantly, get really in touch with what your aesthetic is and hold that up against potential new purchases, so that even when you add those secondhand sequin pants to your wardrobe, you can trust that you’ll wear them dozens of times.
A Final Note On Creating A Thoughtful Closet
When it comes to shopping for ethical fashion, most barriers can be overcome by slowing down the pace at which we bring new clothing into our closets. So if you’re hoping to pull in regular shopping hauls of brand new ethically-made fashion at fast-fashion prices, unfortunately there is no answer. But by exercising some self-knowledge and becoming more thoughtful about how and why we purchase new clothing, we can start making purchases that are seeds of change in the fashion industry.
And if your friends, loved ones, or strangers you see on the internet make fast fashion purchases that you disagree with, consider the barriers that may be preventing them from shopping for more responsibly-made clothing. Maybe it’s because they don’t yet know about the negative effects of the fast fashion industry, but it could also be a budget or sizing restriction. Give them the kindness of not jumping to conclusions and take the time to listen to their concerns—because that’s the most direct way we can create real, authentic change.
We do sometimes have to compromise—on price, ethics, availability, frequency, sustainability—but the essential piece is that we don’t give up. Take it one baby step at a time if you need to, and remember:
Slow Down. Shop Smart. Buy Less.
Emily Torres is an Editor at The Good Trade and the writer behind Ennaree, a blog dedicated to intentional, colorful living. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the hot yoga studio.