It is really encouraging to see that young people want to engage in an active conversation about where their clothes come from and how they can change clothing habits to become more ethical and sustainable, whatever their budget. So while I advocate ethical buying, I do so on a student’s budget and I think it is important to highlight this. Although I’m yet to experience the crippling debt of being a university student, I still have to budget and save and try to ensure that the money I spend on clothes is money well spent. In fact, I’m probably hyper aware of the money that is spent on everyday garments. But the big question I’m asking today is can you actually buy ethically as a student?
The answer that is staring me in the face is probably no. Sustainable fashion from new brands can be expensive and while the People Tree sales are incredible, most of my clothes are thanks to Depop but when assessing the clothes in my wardrobe they’re largely from charity shops and not new; which I admit is nice sometimes. It leads to the argument that to buy ethical clothing can be only equated with privilege which to a certain extent I think is true if you chose to focus on those who only buy new items from clothing brands.
The pessimism needs to be quickly dissipated though because if I came to looking at buying ethically as just thinking about the ‘new’ items that I want to buy then I wouldn’t be writing an ethical blog and trying to buy ethical fashion on a budget. But if I think really simply and to what I try to do on a daily/weekly/monthly basis then hopefully I can guide you in the right direction, however candid that might be.
My tips for buying ethically as a student :
- ’tis a mindset. I always say the first thing is to educate through videos, articles, blog posts but ethical fashion is one of those things that you learn about and you’re not really sure what to do. Do I feel guilty for buying fast-fashion? Yes. But what can I do about it? I found a lot of the documentaries didn’t help me with this so I turned to books and articles for the positive things I can do. If I didn’t do that I’d have been left in this limbo of having no direction (kind of like an existential crisis but with clothes.)
- try doing a ‘clothing ban’ and use the clothes in your wardrobe, experiment with things. I have a wealth of posts about how you can make something with the clothes that you already have in your wardrobe but a clothing ban is the perfect way of saving up some money (for some ethical clothing or something else). It is great if you don’t know where to start with buying ethically but know you need to get out of the fast-fashion mindset. Breaking up with fast-fashion brands on social media is seriously beneficial if you want help getting out of a ‘trend-led’ mindset as well because you’re no longer constantly seeing what you feel you should be wearing and you’re perhaps more likely to develop your own style as a result.
- Don’t beat yourself up about buying something that isn’t ethical. It is a process, you can’t go from buying fast-fashion to buying completely ethically. I’ve got to keep it real and say that it was HARD at the start not to go into Zara and not buy something that I liked but now I don’t consider it to be an option.
- for a while, try just buying new clothes from charity shops and Depop. You’ll save money and probably won’t realise it.
- Likewise, when you’re thinking about throwing your old clothes away… don’t!!! Again you can sell them on Depop but a new initiative by Love Not Landfill is something that I had to share. They have set up clothing bins being in and around London to enable people to recycle their own clothes. Unfortunately it isn’t a global initiative but I’m sure there are ways in which you can recycle in your local area. This is one tip I think I’m going to do a more in-depth post about because what do young people or students do when they grow out or no longer love their old clothes? The nationwide poll released by #LoveNotLandfill highlighted that at least 35 million items of clothing owned by 16-24 year olds in the UK end up in landfill every year which is a shocking figure to think that it could be recycled in some form.
- Save up for one off pieces. There is an ethical difference between a coat from Topshop and a coat from People Tree BUT if you’re a lil’ short of cash and you know you’re going to wear the coat more than 30 times and it will be a piece that will last a long time in your wardrobe then go for the Topshop coat. Like I said, next time if you buy a coat you might want to save up and buy one that will last you from an ethical brand. As a student you’re of the age where your style is still changing so it may make sense to buy a £70 coat over a £300 coat when you’re 17, I mean who wouldn’t?
- With regards to buying a more expensive piece of clothing of an ethical nature, work out your clothing budget per month and see how long it might take you to get there. For example, the coat I mention above that costs £300, if you had £50 a month to spend on clothes per month and didn’t buy any new clothes for 6 months then you could buy the coat. It may seem like a sacrifice but that one purchase may last longer than all the other items you might have bought during those 6 months; or at least that’s how I see it.
- Think about what you want to buy and why. If you do want to treat yourself to an ethical purchase then save up, think about it because these things are expensive and I would much rather spend the money on a day out. With regards to wishlists, I also use them to make me think about if I really need something and I spend about a month. Let’s be real, I am not about to buy a £300 coat nor do I spent £50 a month on clothes. I might have used to but now I buy from charity shops, steal my mums wardrobe and save up for the things that really matter to me, for example food and saving up for travelling next summer.
Beyond tips, tricks and philosophical musings about what ‘ethical’ really means to a student, these outfit photos were kindly taken by Jasmine, who I met in Geneva for the work experience. To find someone to take photos of you after less than a week of knowing them was risky but she was very compliant and actually *shock* very willing to take them. It’s so weird to think that I was there over a month ago and I feel like if I left these outfit photos any longer then it would be weird to post them, given we are entering the transitional period of not quite summer not quite wrap up like a Michelin man. A striped top that I bought from a thrift shop when I was in Stockholm and a skirt that I managed to snag for £2 in my local Age UK, alongside my beloved Stan Smiths makes this an ethical outfit that definitely doesn’t break the bank or my student budget.
Do you have any tips for buying ethically as a student and are there any posts you want to see about buying ethically as a student, on a budget? If there is anything in this post that you would like me to expand more on then definitely let me know 🙂
lots of love, eleanor xx