How to have a Sustainable Wardrobe on a Student Budget
I did a similar post to this last year on how to quit fast fashion on a budget, but after chatting to a fellow student I decided I needed to tailor this content to suit student lifestyles and budgets.
Fast fashion is by no means good for the planet or the people that make it, but it’s also no lie that sustainable and ethical brands are pricier than the alternative. But not all of us can afford to shop with these top-scoring brands—so where does that leave us?
Some of my advice is the same, but some of it is new. I hope it's useful to all the students out there—from one student to another!
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? What colours do you wear most? Get to know your wardrobe as it is before you add anything else to it.
2. Clothes swaps
Organising clothes swaps with friends is not only a great way to get new clothes, but it’s also a social way to freshen up your wardrobe and have some fun (and maybe a cheeky drink or cheeseboard) at the same time. Swapping clothes also extends their life and keeps them out of landfill for longer, which is always a good thing.
There’s also a new app from business students at the University of Melbourne called matchtee—it basically works like a dating app but instead of matching people, they’re matching clothes to swap.
3. Take care of your clothes and make them last
It’s amazing how many clothes end up thrown away because of stains or minor faults. You can find heaps of advice on YouTube for mending clothes and sewing on buttons or taking up/letting down hemlines. It’s cheaper to buy a sewing kit than it is to buy new clothes—you can usually find basic ones in the supermarket.
4. Wash Sparingly and Carefully
The way you wash your clothes can also impact their longevity. We often wash our clothes far more regularly than we need to. Denim, for example, can go unwashed for thirty wears or more—some people even advise not washing denim at all. Drying is another area that can muck up your clothes—knits should dry flat rather than hanging up to retain their shape, but on the other hand button-ups are great to dry on hangers. You should also wash like colours together to avoid discolouring. As a rule, I tend to avoid using a dryer if I can. But if space isn’t on your side, check labels before you buy so you know whether you can look after a garment ongoing or not. If it’s dry-clean only, do you really want it?
5. Shop at thrift shops and vintage stores
Ok, so now that the existing wardrobe is taken care of, we're ready to shop. When you’ve got your heart set on an item, chances are you can find something pretty similar 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. I recently found a pair of vintage pants that matched a jacket my mum bought in the 80s—same brand and fabric and everything! You can also find loads of bargains if you’re willing to take the time. Read more about second-hand shopping on my post here.
6. Shop quality over quantity
Can’t find it second-hand? One of the tricks of fast fashion is that they encourage you to buy cheap things, but in large volumes. 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 fewer resources. It's better to spend a bit more short term in order to spend less long term.
7. Dress for your style, not trends.
Trends come and go—fast fashion brands thrive on them—but you’re for life. So dress to suit your body, not some Pinterest or Instagram outfit that looks good on someone else. By shopping for our own bodies, we wear the clothes we have more, we feel good in them, and we’re more likely to keep them for longer.
8. If fast fashion is the only viable option for you?
Shop sparingly and make the clothes last - refer to my first four points and, if you can, shop from ethical and sustainable edits. A lot of the big brands do organic cotton tees, sustainably sourced collections and recycled edits. Let brands know your values with how you spend your dollars. Chances are if you're reading this post, you're already on the right track.