How to Shop Sustainably with a Small Budget

This is the main question that has held me back from turning to a fully sustainable wardrobe.

I came in to this world of sustainable fashion with the same mindset I had about fast fashion. I wanted to stay up to date with the latest trends, which meant buying new pieces once or twice a month as new pieces came out with that week's or month's latest fashion forward items.

But, let me let you in on a secret, the sustainable fashion industry is not built on this mindset. Sustainable fashion, when done right, is slow fashion. This new mindset can be seen in a variety of ways when you look deeper into this growing niche industry.

  1. There are not new pieces coming out every couple of weeks. Most sustainable fashion companies have a slower turnaround with their pieces. They release seasonal collections or even multi-seasonal pieces that are meant to be worn year round.

  2. Clothing from sustainable fashion companies is higher priced because it is made ethically, often locally, and with higher quality products. We are able to stay on trend in the fast fashion world because clothing is made cheaply, quickly, and price lower so that you have to come back in two weeks for the next piece when the first piece starts falling apart. The total mindset shift of sustainable fashion can ben seen in their higher priced items. They want to you to come back in a few months or next year when you have found that your piece of clothing is good quality, designed to last, and transcends above the ever-changing trends. This leads to my next point.

  3. Sustainable clothing pieces are not made to follow the frilly details of the latest trends. While I do think that the sustainable clothing industry has room to grow and diversity and become more interesting when it comes to design elements, I also understand that most designers from sustainable fashion companies are not following fashion trends the same way that fast fashion companies do. They are looking for trends that last beyond one season and make a piece of clothing hold its own and speak "fashion" for years to come. They are creating pieces that can give you personal style instead of trendiness.

This mindset shift is the first thing we need to come to grasp when shifting our eyes from the massive fast fashion industry to the slower sustainable fashion industry. Once we recognize this, then we can talk about how to approach shopping sustainably on a small budget.


SHOP LESS is the key. The same amount of money that you used to spend per month on 5 to 8 fast fashion pieces that costed around $20 each can be spent on one great quality and long-lasting sustainable item. Yes, this requires a lot of restraint and patience. (I had to stop going to the malls and unsubscribe from all my favorite fashion retailers to help me stop buying things!) But, I promise that one piece of clothing will be so much more meaningful to you than the 8 low quality pieces that you might have worn a total of twice each.

BE PICKY. Don't impulse buy; plan ahead. Create a shopping list of items that you want and shop around until you find the perfect piece. Don't settle for something that only halfway meets your criteria because in reality this means you will only like it half as much and want to wear it half as much.

DONT BE AFRAID TO LOOK SECONDHAND. This is an area that took some stretching for me after being so used to getting all my clothes new and cheap. Why would I want them used for similar prices? Secondhand shopping is one of the best ways to shop sustainably on a budget.

STICK TO YOUR BUDGET. This applies to so much more of life than only our clothes, but is so helpful when shopping sustainably. Just because sustainable items cost more does not mean that we should start spending outside of our budgets. Save up, wait, and then spend.

At the end of the day sustainable shopping does not come easy. And so to help you get started, I've save the best advice for last. STOP SHOPPING. I'm serious. Give yourself an amount of time, two months, six months, a year, and don't buy any new clothing items. There are so many good things that can come out of a season of purposefully halting out spending, and one of those things is that it can help transition a fast fashion mind to a sustainable shopper mind.