How to buy ethical clothing on a budget

While they are more sustainable, ethical alternatives to fast fashion, ethical clothing brands are far more expensive. The reason for this is important though - people are being paid and treated fairly in the production of ethical clothing. However, this can make conscious clothing inaccessible sometimes. Here are tips to make affordable ethical clothing and dress possible for you.

There are plenty of reasons to avoid fast fashion. Brands like H&M, Zara, Pretty Little Thing, Boohoo and so many others produce clothes cheaply, pay their garment workers next to nothing, and contribute to a crisis of waste in landfill. There are reasons people like these brands though, one of them being that they are extremely cheap. This is only possible because of the unethical practises that go on behind closed doors. Did you know that only 9% of Australian brands pay their workers a living wage?

fast fashion


Paying for a liveable wage for garment workers, using sustainable fashion materials, and ensuring human rights costs money. Imagine you were to make a bag yourself. You came up with a creative idea, designed the bag, spent hours making it. You sourced a sustainable, ethical material and paid for it, too. When you went to sell this bag, you’d want to sell it for what it was really worth, wouldn’t you? This is what ethical fashion does. 

Some of our favourite ethical clothing brands include Dauntless, Noumenon, Unreal Fur, Beyond Skin, BHAVA Studio and Collection and Co. These ethical fashion brands are more expensive than any fast fashion brand ever will be. However, they are producing eco conscious and ethically made clothing and shoes. 

If you’re wondering how to avoid fast fashion, because you’re interested in making more ethical choices while reducing your environmental footprint, you might be wondering what alternatives to fast fashion are, and what affordable sustainable fashion looks like. We’ve put together some tips for your ethical shopping, on a budget. You can incorporate all or just some of these into your life today.

Bravia onyx vegan handbag

Buy well made clothes and accessories that last, for a capsule wardrobe

If you’re able to, save up for a core selection of more expensive, ethically made clothing. Clothing and accessories are investments, imagine the cost of your favourite pair of shoes if you divided the cost by how many times you have worn them. Investing in well made, fair and eco conscious clothing brands sometimes is a good way to lay foundations for a more conscious wardrobe. 

In your core collection of ethical, sustainable clothing you might have: a versatile vegan handbag, a little black dress, a great coat and jacket, a pair of boots and heels. These are pieces that you can wear all year round, and that you can match with all different types of outfits and styles.

Take for example, the Bravia Onyx Handbag above. You could wear this bag to work with your heels, and work clothes. You could wear it on a date night with your little black dress. You could wear it to create a more grunge-style look, with a faux leather jacket, jeans and your boots. So long as it’s cared for, this bag can go everywhere with you, for years to come.

The average person only wears 20% of their wardrobe regularly, so creating a smaller collection of quality pieces as alternatives to fast fashion, may be more cost effective than buying lots of cheap garments that won’t last.


capsule wardrobe vegan ethical clothing

Buy durable clothes

Clothes that are going to wear out quickly will never make for affordable sustainable fashion, because you’ll end up paying to replace them. 

High quality vegan leather or ethical bags like those from Kinds of Grace, A__C, or Gunas for example, are water resistant, won’t crack in the sun like animal leather, or be prone to discolouration. Similarly, buying pre-ripped clothes is a recipe for the need to replace them soon. Cheap sustainable clothing is only really cheap if it is made fairly, and made to last.  

You can see how well made your clothes are by looking at the details. How even and tightly stitched are the seams? Is the fabric in good condition? Does it look thin, scrappy, like it is shedding, pilling or balling? These are all things to consider.


trendy fashion 

Buy clothes that you love, not that are just on trend

Remember when transparent closed toe stilettos were everywhere? Or when holographic clothes were a thing? Fast fashion sees us having almost as many fashion micro-seasons as there are weeks in the year, when we used to only have the usual four. When we talk about how to avoid fast fashion, we have to be talking about avoiding trend-driven fashion. 

Everyone has their own unique sense of style. Style is something which is timeless, and what you like or how you dress doesn’t need to change week by week. 

When you buy ethical clothing that you really love and will wear for years to come, they become more cheap ethical clothing. Many mothers have jumpers, shoes, jackets, or dresses they have passed down to their daughters. These clothes are still stylish, still well made, and still loved. If the original cost of these clothes were divided, as mentioned, by the number of times they’ve been worn across generations, they’d be seen as worth the cost, affordable, eco friendly clothing.

vintage shopping

Buy vintage and pre-loved clothing, shoes and accessories 

Speaking of older clothes, buy them! There are so many clothes, shoes and accessories in the world already, and so many of them are extremely stylish. 

In fact, the market for second-hand clothing is set to surpass the success of the fast fashion market in a decade

As well as apps like DePOP, stores like ASOS Marketplace for vintage, and Etsy, there are plenty of vintage and pre-loved specific stores popping up. Between thredUP, Vestiaire Collective, and The Real Real, anyone can buy reloved and recycled clothing brands, luxury clothing and every style of clothing more affordably, and without being wasteful. 

On thredUP for example, you can select options to shop under $15, making affordable ethical clothing a total reality. If you love a specific brand making vegan goods for example, chances are you might find something from them there, pre-loved. This makes ethical clothing on a budget a reality.

On dePOP, we’ve found some of our favourite ethical clothing brands, at lower prices and with lower environmental impacts. We’ve found luxury brands like Stella McCartney, vegan brands like Matt and Nat, and more. 

Buying preloved clothing also means you can enjoy the designs and styles of fast fashion without supporting it! If your money is going directly to a person rather than to the brand itself, and you’re only buying what you really love, you’ve still worked out how to avoid fast fashion. You’ve helped keep landfills less full, too. Did you know that in Australia, charities that collect second hand clothes are forced to send about 60,000 tonnes of them to dumps each year?


clothing swap

Create clothing swaps with your friends and communities

Another fun way to make ethical clothing brands affordable, is to set up clothing swaps with your friends, or in your community. It’s normal to get a bit bored of your clothes sometimes, and to admire the clothes you see others wearing. They’re new to you, they’re fun and exciting. Well, what if you could wear them?

Setting up a clothing swap can be a great way to support circular fashion which reduces waste, and makes it easier to have affordable sustainable clothing. Some people create swaps just within their close circle of friends, others invite their friends to invite a few of their other friends. Some people pool a small amount of money to hire out a larger space, so lots of people can join in. 

Swaps mean clothes are technically free, as no money is exchanged, just clothing. However, setting up a clothing market is a fun idea too, and here people could purchase pre-loved clothes from each other, if that sounds more appealing.

hang drying clothes

Wear and care for what you already have 

You don’t need to have lots of money to wear ethical clothing. The most affordable ethical and sustainable clothing you can wear, are the clothes you already have! Everyone who has clothes can be involved in the eco conscious clothing community.

Many people don’t realise that the environmental impact of clothing care can be more significant than the creation of the garments themselves. Some tips for caring for your clothes in a way that is sustainable include:


  • If your clothes get worn out, or there is a hole in them, patch, darn them or embroider it closed. You could use a contrasting colour, texture or pattern to make it stand out, or you could find a closely matched material.

  • Wash your clothes when you need to. Do you really need to wash your jacket if you wore it over your shirt on a mild day? Do you need to wash your jeans yet? While being hygenic, consider what is necessary.

  • Wash your clothes with less water. Water scarcity is an important issue to consider. See if your washing machine has an eco-friendly mode, or consider hand-washing and spot-washing clothes that have a particular stain.

  • Leave your clothes to hang dry. A lot of energy goes into not only washing clothes, but drying them in a drying machine. Even if you don’t have access to an outdoor clothing line, anyone can buy a clothes horse to hang garments off of as they dry out. This is also better for the longevity of your clothing.

  • Keep your clothes and accessories in careful condition. Hang your clothes neatly, keep them out of sunlight, in dust bags they arrive in, and on soft surfaces so that they don’t get damaged while they are stored.

  • If your clothes are properly damaged, don’t throw them out unless you’ve seen if someone can mend them! Getting your clothes mended properly will be cheaper than buying something new.



Make your own clothes

Have you ever made your own clothes? Doing so can be a powerful way to realise the importance of ethical fashion, and to appreciate the clothes we already have. Why? Because making clothes is a great skill, and it takes practise to be good! 

Consider making clothes from fabrics that are sourced ethically. Lots of local fabric stores offer fabric that is ‘deadstock’ or surplus. This means that it is fabric created by a brand, that was destined for landfill before the fabric store rescued it. This is a great way to reduce your impact and avoid fast fashion. 

There are plenty of tutorials on how to make your own clothes, as well as free sewing patterns, virtual classes, and workshops you can attend. It could be a fun weekend activity for you and your friends. 

Knitting a scarf, sewing a ‘scrunchie top’ or a simple a-line dress are good ways to start off and develop your skills.


kinds of grace ethical fashion

The future of your wardrobe

Now that you’ve got some more ideas about how to buy ethical clothing on a budget, hopefully it seems less daunting, and more accessible. Everyone is welcome in the fashion revolution. 

Ethical fashion is important, in fact for many it is even the difference between peace and suffering, life and death. Far too often, garment workers are paid less than a dollar per piece of clothing they make. These exploited people are then unable to properly support themselves and their families. No one should struggle to feed, clothe and shelter themselves. Too, animals die for many fast fashion items, made from animal skins, wool, feathers and fur. Critically, the planet struggles to keep up with how much we take from it, and our carbon emissions continue to increase, warming the planet. 

There is no better time than now to begin consuming more consciously. Which tip will you take with you? 

Share this article if you think someone else may benefit from it!