The landscape of retail and consumer habits has evolved drastically over the last ten years or so with the continuous rise of online shopping, social media, and rocky economies. Fast fashion, a type of production model that focuses on pumping out as many new designs and styles at a rapid and continuous rate, allowing for low prices on very trendy clothing, uprooted the fashion world with popular brands such as Zara, H&M and Forever 21. Popular with teenagers and young adults, these stores allow consumers to buy eye-catching outfits that they can flaunt on their Instagrams for a tiny fraction of the designer prices that the clothes copy from. In recent years, many fast-fashion companies have faced scrutiny over environmental and human rights violations. The cheap clothes come with an expensive ethical price as many companies use fossil-fuel materialized synthetic textiles produced and sewed in a hazardous factory where workers earn cents a day for their dangerous work. Infamously back in 2013, a Zara factory in Bangladesh exploded, killing over 1,000 people. The waste has also become a problem. Companies produce their clothes at such a fast rate that anything that isn’t sold off the shelves within a couple of months goes straight to the landfill, not to mention the rapid pace that the consumer clothing gets throw away because fast fashion isn’t supposed to last.
While fast fashion still has its merits, Covid-19 and resulting economic changes are causing people to reconsider how they purchase their clothes while companies ponder how they can make their product more sustainable. The prices of fast fashion are currently appealing, but there are other ways to shop smartly on a budget. Thinking about how much you’d wear an item or how to wear it is a good start to smart shopping. Looking at the sticker price might not always be the most fiscally responsible way to determine whether to buy the item. Instead, “calculating” cost per wear helps to determine the use and money that you would get out of it, helping to save yourself while also contributing to a better green economy.
Online only and a cult favorite, Everlane is a sustainably responsible brand that focuses on neutral and basic clothing for a reasonable price. They are practically the opposite of fast fashion since their business model involves maintaining a wide array of fashionable styles for a while to last a long time. Though maybe not trendy, their clothes are well made and easy to wear, especially for casual occasions and the workplace.
Outlet stores, in general, are great for budget shopping. Nordstrom Rack is one of the most prominent and most well-known outlets of a department store. The concept feels sustainable itself with overstock items getting a new chance at a new store, along with outlet designed styles that designed in designer studios, albeit with slightly cheaper fabric or trimmings. Jeans or a fun pair of shoes can always be found for a fraction of their original price at places like Nordstrom Rack.
Recently, American Eagle has really tried to rebrand themselves from the young teenager mall staple with a California vibe that they once were to a size-inclusive, women empowerment young adult brand that makes all sizes accessible at reasonable prices. Aerie Movement has done wonders from a PR standpoint, making American Eagle a place you can feel good about shopping at.
While more expensive and at-a-glance not budget-friendly, Reformation continues to be the leading brand in a sustainable fashion. Their dresses are pricy, but their Ref Jeans line is a more casual alternative with basics that feel good to invest in. Their jeans remain under 100$ and will last seriously forever with a tiny carbon footprint while their simple organic cotton tee-shirts average around 25$. Reformation is a great place to shop smart and make a decision about purchasing ethical clothes that are fashion-forward and will last.
ThredUp (Thrift Stores)
Thrifting remains one of the best ways to shop on a budget responsibly. By buying second hand, the items are given a second life outside of a dumpster to be worn with love once more. Companies such as ThredUp are making it easier than ever to thrift with their online stores selling a variety of well-curated and washed items that people send in from all over. Selling to places like ThredUp is also a great way to get some money while doing some good for the environment at the same time.