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Conscious Consumption: Making a Difference Through Fashion on a Budget


by Marie Heffernan

With all the current attention on the effects that the fashion industry has on the earth and its inhabitants, many of us are looking for better ways to shop. The question many of us are asking, however, is, how can we support eco-friendly and ethical fashion on a budget?

Photo: Marie Heffernan

It’s true, sustainability comes at a certain price point. Designing things responsibly costs more, for many different reasons. At the mill or textile level, added costs come in the form of using organic fibers, or paying to have water treatment systems in place to ensure no chemicals are leaked into rivers or ground water. At the factory level costs come into play through output and waste management systems. Another cost is fair labor – no matter what new technology or machinery a designer uses, in the end a pair of human hands is always needed to assemble the garment. That human being deserves to be paid a living wage for their work.

Another cost that comes into play is the cost of creating something quality, which will last. It is a lot cheaper to follow the fast fashion model of constructing something as quickly as possible, without regard to whether the customer will have to purchase a new one in a few weeks. This will require a shift in mindset on our part, as the consumer. Understanding that there are reasons a certain blouse has a certain price tag. It will take a shift in thinking, for us to understand that quality is better than quantity.

That being said, we still have our budgets to consider, and we cannot always afford the best quality organic and eco-friendly clothes. So we throw up our hands, in exasperation, thinking that there’s no possible way to fix the countless flaws in the industry. We may think, “How can I, just one person, with a limited budget, possibly make a difference?”

Luckily there are many answers to this question. While at first making a difference in such a global industry may seem daunting, every one of us plays a part when we go shopping. Rather than buying something new, consider thrifting, attending a clothing swap, or even organizing your own among your friends. Shopping in vintage stores outside of large cities is also great way to find value at low prices as well.

Vintage finds in Cape Cod, MA. Photo: Marie Heffernan

Another answer is to recognize that less is more. This will require another shift in thinking, as trends and fast fashion tell us, that having more and trendier clothes is better. However, it might be a good time to experiment with a closet cleanout. In this cleanout, the aim is not to create space for new things. Rather, see what it’s like, just for a little bit, to have less. We may find a sense of ease in navigating our drawers, as well as a sense of ease in our minds.

If we are still looking for newness in our wardrobe though, it could be a really fun option to alter some of our clothes. Beading, bedazzling, studding, overdyeing, creating fringe are just some ways to alter an existing piece of clothing to fit a new style.

Beading to patch holes in a favorite jacket. Photo: Marie Heffernan

Some products, for example, underwear, are a very hard second hand sell! So if we just need to have something new, one of the best things we can do is research, look into the brand we are considering purchasing and their values and practices. Look into the fabrics, whether they are sustainable, durable, and easy to wash and care for. In the meantime, as research takes some time, we can rest assured we won’t be making an impulse buy. Rather, we have given ourselves the time to ask the question, is this garment one that I really need? Does it serve a purpose in my wardrobe, and will I continue to love it in a few weeks’ time? During this time of taking a moment to pause and consider the clothing in question, we can also be saving money to make our eco-friendly purchase. Having to save to buy something will also make us cherish it even more.

Designs: Naturae by Lola & August, Photo: Andi Marie Photography

Thankfully this shift toward sustainable fashion from designers is really growing. But there needs to be a shift on our end as consumers as well, a shift in mindset, a shift in what we value, a shift in habits. We have the power to create change. Every small decision we make is one that contributes to the buying trends of retailers, which in turn contributes to the way clothes are designed, from initial yarn to fabric to finished product.

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