6 Hacks for Creating an Ethically Conscious Wardrobe Without Blowing Your Budget

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Quit the fast-fashion game.

Two women in bright coats holding numerous shopping bags

A lot of people think ethical and sustainable fashion is a luxury relegated to those who can afford to drop $350 on an organic cotton raw-edge T-shirt. A few years ago, this might have been the case, but things have changed. Now you can wear leggings made from recycled water bottles, jeans sewn by survivors of trafficking, and buy a pair of shoes with another pair given to a kid in the developing world without going broke.

In the last seven years, I personally have turned my wardrobe from a fast-fashion nightmare to an ethical and sustainable haven, without taking out a small loan or blowing up a credit card. And do you know what? It’s not actually that hard or expensive to buy ethically and sustainably.

Here are the best (and most cost-effective) ways to build an ethical wardrobe:

1. Know what clothes you have and what you need to complete your wardrobe

One of the keys to an ethical wardrobe is having clothing that works together and complements each other. So get to know what’s in your wardrobe. Ascertain if pieces match your style and determine what you’re missing, and focus on a few key items that will really pull it together.

Don’t throw your wardrobe away at once. If you have something from a brand you don’t think is ethical, but you still get good wear out of, don’t stop doing so. You’ve already bought it, so the best thing you can do is get your money’s worth and don’t waste the work that has gone into it.

2. Invest in quality over quantity

The most important thing you can do to be sustainable is reduce how much you throw away. On average, we throw away 30 kilograms of waste each year in Australia. Even if you donate it to charity, not all the clothing is good enough to be reused. Did you know that three out of four garments end up in landfill?

When you buy clothing that you love and is made to last, you’ll wear it for years. And when it does come time to move on, when you donate it to a charity or give it to a friend, it won’t be thrown in the bin or used as a rag. Consider this your permission slip to spend more on less items.

3. Take care of what you have

Often we have to discard clothing we once loved because it’s looking old, tatty or has shrunk in the wash (another case for buying quality). Look at the care labels before just chucking a cashmere jumper in the washing machine. Water-proof your new leather boots before you take them out for a spin in the rain. Take your beautiful white coat to the dry cleaners each season to keep it looking fresh.

4. Buy from ethical (and affordable) brands

In the last few years, new ethical, sustainable and affordable brands have hit the scene. Some of my favourites places to shop ethically are Thread Harvest and Ecomono, online retailers who stock a range of ethical brands.

For jeans, Nobody and Nudie are great, and for basics I wear Boody, Etiko, and Bon the Label. For work and everyday wear, try Kowtow, Carlie Ballard, Alas, Reformation, Everlane and Citizen Wolf.

If you want to discover how ethical some of your favourite brands are, there’s an app called Good On You, which lists ratings for more than 1,000 brands. It’s a great tool for learning which brands align with your values, and avoiding brands that might use child labour or harm the environment.

5. Upcycle or tailor old pieces

Some of the pieces in your wardrobe could probably be given a new life (especially if they’re quality). Take a favourite dress or pair of pants to a seamstress and see what they can do for you. A winter dress could become a top or summer dress. And those pants that you love but don’t quite fit could be easily solved with a $20 nip and tuck. One of the worst things you can do is stop wearing something because it needs a new button or a quick hem.

6. Hire or borrow for an occasion

Do you really want to drop several hundred dollars on a new dress for each occasion? You could use that money to buy quality clothing you’ll wear a hundred times, and hire or borrow a dress instead. Hiring dresses for special occasions like charity balls and weddings is becoming much more common and there are some great sites that offer fantastic services.

7. Don’t be afraid of pre-loved

Haven’t you heard? Vintage is in. And don’t think you need to go trawling through Vinnie’s if it’s not your thing (although that’s the first place you should start): consider Etsy for vintage wares or the perfectly curated likes of Claire Inc and Details for designer finds.

8. Slowly replace your wardrobe

Don’t feel you have to do it all at once: take time to swap items out as you need to. Next time you buy new underwear, you could buy from Boody or Mighty Good Undies and start replacing your clothing bit by bit.

All this effort goes into building yourself a wardrobe with a tale to tell. If you’ve got any tips of brands we missed, we’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.

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