I remember learning about the human digestive system in grade 11 biology, and suddenly being unable to eat without picturing each step of the process that was occurring just inside of me. Thinking about the supply chain of the $15.99 Forever 21 dress I have on sometimes feels like a twisted version of that experience, and gets the First World guilt flowing quicker than I was able to cash out that purchase.
Living in this whirlwind of big brand advertising and semi-annual clearance sales creates an alluring environment of cheap-thrill shopping, this accessibility in turn, leaves a disconnect between the buyer and the product. This narrative becomes even more seductive when placed within the context of a student budget, as looking at the not-so-affordable prices of many eco-friendly clothing companies can get to be disheartening.
However, shopping sustainably and ethically can still be done on a budget, so here is a list of ways you can stay fashion forward and still be able to pay rent, all while reducing your eco-footprint:
1. Buy second-hand.
Buying second-hand is a classic way to shop responsibly, with the added bonus of being just as affordable as the big brand stores, minus the mass produced feeling of the pieces. Toronto is jam-packed with amazing thrifting opportunities, from vintage and consignment shops such as Tribal Rhythm and Kind Exchange, to the vintage hub that is Kensington Market. However, you don’t need to live in the downtown core to score some sick second-hand. Spend a free afternoon checking out your local Salvation Army or Value Village – it can be frustrating wading through all those racks and piles, but chances are you’ll find some cool pieces by the end. You can also browse second-hand products by looking through online markets such as Ebay and Amazon.
Kensington Market in Toronto. Image Source
2. Utilize swap and sell pages.
Many universities and communities have swap and sell pages on Facebook, where members can post or bid for their unwanted items. The women’s swap page at my university has served as a way for me to make some money for food by selling my preloved clothing, while also being a good alternative to thrifting (if vintage isn’t really your game).
3. Buy from the “green” collection of chain stores.
Urban Outfitters’ Urban Renewal, ASOS’s Green Room and H&M’s Conscious Collection are a few examples of bigger name companies providing green alternatives through selling vintage or using organic and fair trade materials. Though I agree that there is an undeniable hypocrisy surrounding the large companies that operate on the fashion industry’s unsustainable business models to profit off being “green,” this best-of-the-worst situation can still offer some inexpensive and responsible fashion options.
4. Cut down on your textile waste.
The demand for human-made textiles (such as polyester, which is made from petroleum), almost doubled in the past 15 years, with the average Canadian throwing away about 30 lbs of textile waste annually. The majority of this is not recycled, creating a huge strain on our landfills and polluting the atmosphere (creating 1 lb of textiles emits around 7 lbs of carbon dioxide). Donating your gently used and unwanted pieces, while also recycling unwearable textiles to thrift stores and drop-off centres, can help curb this waste and potentially earn you a few bucks as well.
5. Shop Eco-friendly fashions.
Sometimes I like to browse through the beautiful websites of sustainable fashion companies and weep at my inability to afford any of their pieces. I stop myself before becoming too hyperbolic and unnecessary, however, it is definitely possible to find environmentally conscious suppliers that won’t burn a hole in your wallet. Some of my favourites include Everlane, Helpsy and Alternative Apparel. These are still pricier than your average Forever 21 shopping spree, but buying quality pieces for a few more dollars ensures you won’t be tossing their ripped hemlines out in three wears.
This era of ever expanding globalization and trade has made it extremely easy for us to forget where our products come from, and extremely difficult to truly trace back. This means we have a bigger responsibility as consumers than ever before to make conscious decisions and seek out sustainable alternatives.