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  • Writer's pictureThe Mindful Materialist

Six Steps to Quit Fast Fashion on a Budget

It’s no lie that producing clothing the ethical and sustainable way is more expensive, and therefore these clothes cost more. There’s a reason places like Boohoo and H&M are so cheap… Humans have been wearing clothes for about 170,000 years, but it’s only in the last few decades that offshore manufacturing has become the norm. This fast fashion production model, put simply, enables brands to increase their profit margin by reducing costs.

According to fashion journalist Besma at Curiously Conscious, fast fashion needs to be avoided for six main reasons:

  1. Fast fashion is poor quality and designed to be replaced

  2. Unethical treatment of workers in supply chains (who are mainly BIPOC and women)

  3. Lack of transparency about materials, environmental footprint, anti-slavery practices

  4. No responsibility or accountability for the cost to people and planet

  5. No support or encouragement for sustainable alternatives

  6. False messaging around feminism, anti-racism, mental and physical wellbeing and body positivity

There’s no question that the growth of fast fashion has been a detriment to both people and the environment. With over 20 new ‘seasons’ every year, it’s impossible to keep up with the latest trends without constantly shopping. But this only leaves us feeling insecure and pressures us to ‘fit in’, which keeps us going back to satisfy our mental wellbeing while trying to look our best – inevitably failing at both with less money than we started with! I’m feeling anxious just writing this, let alone partaking in the cycle. As sustainable fashion advocate and writer Lucy Seigle commented, ‘by the millennium, the UK’s mainstream fashion industry was more about the selling of clothes than the making of them’. I would argue this is the case not just in the UK, but in Australia, the US, and various other consumer-driven economies.

But clothes are an essential part of life, regardless of your budget. We need clothes to stay warm, dry, comfortable and protected. They have also become part of our identities; we use them for self-expression and artistic purposes. They have recreational, professional and personal uses which are endless.

It’s a particularly difficult thing to break from mainstream culture. Fast fashion is convenient and easy, but I really believe that quitting fast fashion is necessary for a sustainable and ethical fashion industry. So whether you’ve been hit by COVID, study full time or have other expenses which take priority, I’ve put together a list of ways you can quit fast fashion without breaking the budget.

My Six Steps to Quit Fast Fashion on a Budget:

1. Wear what you already own

It sounds so obvious, but the most sustainable, ethical and affordable place to start is in your own wardrobe. Take everything out (and I do mean everything), pile it on your bed and step back. You’d be surprised at how big that pile is when it’s not neatly (or messily) contained in a wardrobe and draws. Before you purchase another thing, take stock of what you already have. What do you wear most? What do you regret buying? Get to know your wardrobe as it is before you add anything else to it.

2. Shopping ban

On average, we wear 20 per cent of our clothes 80 per cent of the time, and this means there’s an awful lot we are buying and hardly wearing. As some of you may know, I’m doing a shopping ban this year to take the time to reflect on what I need vs what I want. Six months in and I’m already feeling far more confident in my ability to tell the difference. A year is a long time though, and I made the change from fast fashion gradually over the last few years. Maybe you just do a week? A month? Three months? Whatever amount of time is realistic for you.

3. Clothes swap

Why buy when you can trade? I’ve swapped clothes with friends, my mum, my aunt and even the daughter of a colleague of mum’s. I’ll take free clothes any day, and if it gives them a second life then that’s even better. Also if I’ve decided an item in my wardrobe isn’t for me anymore, or my body shape has changed, then I pass that item onto someone who can appreciate it and extend its life.

4. Second hand/op shops

When you’ve got your heart set on an item, chances are you can find it second hand. Op shops and vintage shops are a treasure trove of preloved clothes. Vintage fashion is often better quality too, having already stood the test of time. You can also find loads of bargains. Read more about second hand shopping on my post here.

5. Renting

If you’ve got a special occasion or event coming up, why not rent an outfit? It’ll cost you a fraction of the price of new clothing and you don’t have to worry about outfit repeating (though I am a proud outfit repeater myself). Renting is a great alternative for those items taking up space that are only worn a handful of times (bridesmaid dresses, suits, formal dresses to name a few). Clothing rental is also a great choice if you like to change up your wardrobe frequently but don’t want to damage the planet or your savings account in the process.

6. Ethical brands

Can’t swap it? Can’t find it second hand? Want to support a small business? Then this is the final step. Yes ethical brands cost more, but they’re better quality and made to last. So hypothetically you could spend $10 on a t-shirt from a fast fashion label and get a year out of it, or you could spend $30 with an ethical brand and get three or more years, meaning you’ve got more value for the same price while using less resources. Many ethical brands are also local, small business that support social causes. For example, HoMie is a Melbourne streetwear label supporting those at risk of youth homelessness; Justice Denim is fighting against child slavery through funding education; Outland Denim prevents human trafficking by providing training and employment. By supporting these brands, you’re also supporting humanitarian work which makes your purchase a lot more worthwhile.

See full ethical brand directory here.


Here's some items I've swapped, found in vintage shops and op shops, and bought from ethical brands.


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