There are a lot of people who feel that sustainable fashion isn’t possible for them because the cost can be so high, so I wanted to share about how it works for me! I have only ever been gifted one item from a brand, and all my other slow fashion pieces have been bought by me or given by a family member.
I’ve always been on a tight budget for clothes, from the time that I had to slowly save up my allowance as a teenager to when I was a struggling barista to when my business was brand new to now. Aaron is currently not earning much since he just opened a brick-and-mortar business. My business has grown over the past year, and we’re just now beginning to make an income that’s considered ‘average’ for the city of St. Paul (and let’s be real - I freelance, so that could change at any time!). But prior to the second half of 2018, our shared income was far below average, and my slow fashion journey started while our funds were at their lowest. Here are the top ways I’ve been able to afford the wardrobe I have:
1) It takes time. I started investing in ethical and sustainable pieces three years ago. I still have a couple of pieces from Madewell, and everything else is made by small, sustainable, mostly women-owned businesses. But it’s taken me a full three years to get here! Because each item I buy is quite expensive, it takes careful planning and saving before making each purchase. This is one of the things I love about slow fashion: how carefully it makes you consider each item of clothing you choose.
2) I buy less and it lasts longer. As I mentioned in my last post, I used to impulse shop constantly and there were plenty of items in my wardrobe that I only wore a handful of times - or that fell apart after a couple of wears. The things I bought were cheap, but I bought them often. Now, I spend a lot more per item, but the number of things in my closet is drastically decreased. I have just over 50 pieces in total for all seasons. Since each piece is versatile and pairs with multiple items in my closet, I’m rarely bored and still feel like I have lots of options to choose from! That “I-have-a-full-closet-but-nothing-to-wear” feeling hasn’t been an issue for me in a long time. Each piece has also been made to last, and almost every single item I’ve bought in the past three years is still in great condition.
3) Creating a list for each season. I always make a loose list in my head at the beginning of each season change of which pieces I want to buy and then save for those. The list is usually very short - just three-ish items for each season - which keeps costs down. If I think carefully enough about the things I might need or want, I truly love the pieces I buy and feel content throughout the season.
4) Mix and match between lower-cost basics and higher-cost pieces. Elizabeth Suzann is my number one example of a more expensive brand I adore whose clothes are very functional, but also more special/more interesting than my most basic basics (some other examples of these brands are Only Child, Hackwith Design, etc). I buy my plain tees, jeans, sweaters, and most shoes from more affordable brands like Everlane. As another example, I am itching to buy some beautiful knits from Lauren Manoogian and L’Envers and I would also love to add to my one Babaa cardigan, but those items are expensive enough that I can only buy one per winter season. To fill in the gaps, I love purchasing from bigger companies that are still transparent and producing a high quality product, and that really helps balance out my costs.
5) Sample sales are amazing! As I just mentioned, I prefer to plan out my purchases. Sample sales are the exception to that rule because you can save so much money. At my first sample sale (Hackwith Design), I bought a pair of wide-leg pants for $25. I was able to save hundreds of dollars by purchasing items from the Elizabeth Suzann email sample sale over the winter. I also recently got an Only Child Tierra dress for 50% off from their latest sample sale. Everlane’s Choose What You Pay events are wonderful, too. Regular, non-sample sales are rare in the small business world, but when they happen, I sometimes take advantage of those, as well. For example, I picked up a pair of Aquatalia boots just before Christmas that were originally $400. I could never have afforded them full price, but they were running a 40% off sale that brought the price down lots! They were still an expensive purchase for me, but they’ve already been worth it because I’ve hardly worn anything else this winter and they are still in wonderful condition. I also want to mention that I try to avoid purchasing for the sake of a good deal (so tempting, but for me that often leads to impulsive purchases). I love sample sales because they enable people like me with average or low budgets to purchase clothing we many not otherwise be able to afford while still supporting amazing companies.
6) Gifts. Many of my ES items are gifts from my husband or my parents and most of the rest are bought with Christmas or birthday money. I always send my family several clothing items I love and have them choose from between those. That way there’s still a fun element of surprise, and the gifter also knows that I’m going to love what they get me. If I feel like asking for a piece of expensive clothing is too much, I like to ask for money gifts or gift cards, instead, and then I can pool those towards one piece of clothing.
7) Buying second-hand. Part of sustainable/ethical fashion is purchasing from brands who make new clothes in a way that is respectful towards its workers and the environment, but another part is buying second-hand. Shopping vintage, trading with friends, and purchasing from second-hand clothing Instagram accounts or places like Poshmark are all great ways to purchase clothing sustainably. I have gotten a couple of my favorite pieces from Instagram closet sales, and I also have a beautiful pair of shoes from a local vintage shop in Minneapolis. Thrifting is another wonderful way to shop, but I honestly haven’t had much personal experience with it since beginning my slow fashion journey, simply because we are so busy. Running two more-than-full-time businesses has meant that I don’t have much time, to the point that I’m even forced to have our groceries delivered - and thrifting is definitely time-consuming. Right now, online shopping is my jam because it saves so much time, but in the future I certainly plan to purchase more second-hand.
I also want to add that this is my own way of doing things, and I don’t want to come across as judgmental of those who do things differently. This is what works for me and isn’t necessarily what works for everyone! I wanted to share in hopes that this could been helpful on some level, but I am far from an expert and I have so much to learn!
Finally, I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite brands below. There are so many more brands to add to this list, but these are the ones that I have purchased from so far!
Elizabeth Suzann - my personal favorite for special, beautiful silk or linen pieces
Hackwith Design - gorgeous pieces in many lovely fabrics and colors
Only Child - more beautiful linen, tencel, and silk
Everlane - basics, undergarments, shoes, denim, cashmere
KOTN - high quality basics
Corinne Collection - the softest, coziest clothing
Vetta Capsule - unique, versatile capsule pieces
Jenny C. Brooks - gorgeous linen dresses
Open Air Museum - beautifully unique, artful clothing
Dallas Daws Designs - beautiful linen and silk crepe pieces
Winsome Goods - lovely, intentional clothing
Babaa - beautiful knits
Tradlands - high-quality staples
Paloma Wool - sweaters and statement pieces
Pansy - undergarments
Pact - socks
Hansel from Basel - socks and tights
Swedish Stockings - tights
Nisolo - shoes
Bryr Clogs - shoes
No. 6 Store - shoes
Aquatalia - shoes
Because linen is my favorite material ever:
And on my wishlist:
…..And many more! :)