How to Build a Sustainable Wardrobe on a Budget

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I don’t know where it came from, but there is this idea that a sustainable wardrobe or conscious closet is expensive and hard to build when you’re on a budget. While I understand and appreciate that ethical and conscious brands have higher price points because they are reflecting the true costs of human labour and responsible textile sourcing and production, there is no rule book or slow fashion police telling you to fill your closet with these pieces in order to build a sustainable wardrobe. 

In fact, I believe it is marginalized and poor communities whose actions are most aligned with a slow fashion mindset. My parents grew up in immigrant households, and the attitude of using and loving what you have until you can no longer repurpose or revive it was (and still is!) a strong tenet in our household. I grew up very privileged, but that attitude was an undercurrent that shaped all of our consumption decisions. 

The retort I remember hearing most often when I was young and wanted something (not just clothing, it could have been pre-made cookies at the grocery store) was: “why buy it when we can make it/recreate it ourselves with what we have at home?”

This is why I focus so heavily on harnessing creativity over consumption. Because we can’t buy our way into slow fashion or sustainable wardrobe. Building a sustainable wardrobe starts with a mindset shift. 

But I’m human! I really enjoy adding new pieces to my sustainable wardrobe, so hopefully this list of building a sustainable wardrobe on a budget will prove that slow fashion has nothing to do with your income, your body shape, your style, or your instagram aesthetic. It’s about finding alternate solutions and using creativity over consumption. 

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Table of Contents

This one is so obvious if you have been around for a while, and for that I’m sorry – but it’s SO true. Finding abundance in the wardrobe you already have – no matter what kind of garments are in there – is THE fastest way to start your sustainable wardrobe journey. If you need ideas for how to shop your closet, I share my top 5 methods here, or I have a playlist full of videos that help you recreate outfits using what you already have. 

Did you know that if we extend the life of our garment by 9 months its carbon footprint is reduced by 20-30%? Learning how to make small repairs, or skipping the dryer (which can reduce the strength of textiles after too many cycles) is a wonderful way to care for our clothes and connect with them. Although it seems a bit weird, the more I care for my clothes, the more I love them and want to put them on. I did a video about how I care for my garments and make them last longer here

Shopping secondhand, whether its thrift, consignment or vintage, has become very popular and is one of the best ways to find high quality pieces or designer items for a fraction of the cost. It can also be a great way to snag some items from ethical brands and test them out before investing in them. Some of my most cherished high end items were found secondhand. If you’re new to shopping secondhand, I have a video with my best thrifting tips here

I think the art of saving is completely lost on my generation. It also doesn’t help that brands force a scarcity and urgency narrative on us, and rarely repeat styles to heighten this problematic message. True slow fashion brands will come out with classic styles that only vary slightly season after season. This means that saving for that piece you really love is a possibility because you know there will be a restock or you’ll be able to find something similar. I think this also helps challenge the mindset that fashion is cheap and disposable. 

Another mindset that helps is calculating cost per wear. It is so much more economical to save and buy a high quality piece once, rather than spending money on cheaper items that don’t last more than a year or two. It’s also a mindset that is more conscious and mindful of our resources and living in a regenerative, gentle way. To calculate cost per way, take the total cost of the garment and divide it by the number of times you’re going to wear it. My $1200 parka is a great example of this – it has come out to about $1 per wear since purchasing it. 

I love the idea of clothing rentals, as it is a great use of clothing that would otherwise go to landfill and revolves around a circular design. It’s also a great way to inject style into your closet without paying a hefty price tag or realizing it’s not for you after all. 

I hope you find these tips to build a sustainable wardrobe helpful. There truly is no right way to build a sustainable wardrobe – it is something that all of us can do, and we each do it at our own pace, in our own way. 

As always, thank you for reading!

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