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09 Sep

Ethical Taste on a Fast Fashion Budget

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At 25-years-old, I realized that what you put on your body makes as much of an environmental and social impact as what you put inside it. Transitioning to a sustainable wardrobe is a decision that allows you to support ethical brands, while also maintaining your sense of style. So, why don’t more people do it? Often, they simply don’t know where to start. Ethical shopping still isn’t as highly publicized as it should be (though we are helping to change that), so to aid those who would like to make the transition, here are some tips that have been helping me as I take the sustainable route.


One thing I love about decluttering my wardrobe is discovering that the more clothes I get rid of, the more refined my sense of style becomes. Once I stopped filling up my closet and began to actually appraise it, I realized I had more clothes than I needed, and that what I kept equaled what I loved. You gotta get rid of the mess to make room for the best.

The main way I do this is through selling my clothing. Selling clothing is basically a win-win: you get some of your funds back on a past purchase, while also helping to increase the exchange of clothing and cut down on fabric waste. Got same popular brands you’d like to get rid of? ThredUp is your destination. Found yourself with a plethora of vintage garbs? Go by Etsy! There are plenty of websites catering to different styles, and hungry consumers willing to buy fresh threads (at least, fresh to them). And if you don’t want to declutter in bulk, do a “buy-one-give-one” system. Want to buy a new shirt? Sell one before you do. Soon, you’ll get so used to getting rid of wasted clothes, you’ll begin to do it without spending a single dime.

Beware of ‘on trend’ shopping

You know why it took me so long to go ethical? “On trend” shopping. The convenience of buying something cheap and cute that I would adore…for maybe six months. Fast fashion brands make their money on “cute”; the latest and most popular trends that are like sugar cravings for your wardrobe. These cravings can break you down, and keep you going back to these brands for a quick fix.

If you’re beginning to shop ethically on a budget, you have to beware of shopping “on trend.” It’s a bottomless money pit that keeps you in shopping season at least three times a year. Instead, start getting into the mindset that whatever your go-to brand is selling, there will always be an almost identical version of it at an ethical brand. In fact, you can use Good On You as a resource, where you’ll find an extensive fashion directory, as well as articles about everything from shoe brands to leather alternatives.

Better budget = better wardrobe

Let’s get down to it⁠—the “B” word. We all hate it, but we all need it. It’s no secret that slow fashion brands can be pretty expensive, at least compared to their unethical counterparts. But these higher prices are what come with basics like paying workers a living wage and using conflict-free materials. When shopping on a budget, this price point is actually a GOOD thing! Facing the dilemma of spending more money causes you to want less clothing. It makes you conscientious of the ethical brands you love, the items you love, and whether they’re worth the buy.

If you’re down to budget, start by making a list of the finances you take home every month, minus the necessary expenses (food, transportation, rent, etc.), and then calculate how much you’re realistically able to spend on clothes in a month. Instead of shopping once a week, shop once every other week, or better yet, once a month, to stretch your funds. Slow and steady keeps that money in your pocket (or your savings account) and allows you to accumulate it. Accumulation = affordability.

To-Buy List

Surprisingly, my fashion budget has been going better than expected! Most of the success is down to the budget, but a nice portion of it is because of my to-buy list. Since the clothes I’m buying are a tad more expensive, it takes a certain amount of proactivity to buckle down and really think about what I want to buy and when. So, I’ve started making lists. To-buy lists are a great way to narrow down your purchases, keep track of how much money you’ll be spending, and space out the charges accordingly. Depending on what’s more important to you, you could decide to buy your desired pair of shoes at the beginning of the month, and that adorable dress at the end. Here’s my current list:

Honest Basics

Rated: Good
woman wearing basic white t-shirt by honest basics

White T-Shirt – Ships internationally

Honest Basics is a GOTS-certified basics brand based in Germany. It's on a mission to make more sustainable fashion accessible to everyone, by keeping prices low, making quality basics that everyone has in their wardrobe, and constantly improving the sustainability of its products and supply chain.

The range is available in sizes XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Honest Basics.


Rated: Good

Roxy Super Skinny Jeans – Ships internationally

Established in 2001, Kuyichi is the first organic denim brand. With top-scoring labour and environmental ratings, the brand designs durable yet trendy and modern pieces that never go out of style.

Offered in sizes XS-L.

See the rating.

Shop Kuyichi.

Organic Basics

Rated: Great

Cheeky Briefs 2-Pack – Ships internationally

Organic Basics offers high-quality more sustainable fashion basics for men and women in organic materials. The Denmark-based brand puts sustainable thinking at the centre of everything—it only chooses fabrics that care for our environment, and only ever partners with factories that care about their impact.

Organic Basics' clothes are available in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Organic Basics.

Lucy and Yak

Rated: Good

‘Luna’ Organic Dungarees In Tie Dye – Ships internationally

Lucy and Yak really stand out with their hand-made, sustainable, and fabulously fruity fashion. They use eco-friendly materials including recycled polyester and organic cotton in their clothes and packaging, and make a point of visiting their suppliers in Northern India to ensure everyone is being treated fairly. The environment fares well, too - by making all of the garments by hand, the climate impact is greatly reduced, and the feel-good factor goes through the roof.

See the rating.

Shop Lucy & Yak.

Swedish Stockings

Rated: Good
sustainable dotted tights by Swedish Stockings for capsule wardrobe

Doris Dots Tights  – Ships internationally

Swedish Stockings creates high quality, responsibly-made black and patterned stockings, knee highs, tights, socks, and pantyhose. The brand also offers a recycling program to help clean up the hosiery industry—if you send in three or more pairs of synthetic pantyhose from any brand, you will receive a 10% discount code to use next time you purchase Swedish Stockings.

Find the perfect pair in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Swedish Stockings.

Shop Swedish Stockings @ Urbankissed.

Know The Origin

Rated: Great

Orli Modal Dress – Ships internationally

Style with nothing to hide. Fairtrade and organic responsible fashion for men and women. KTO is committed to a 100% transparent production process.

Find the range in sizes XS-L.

See the rating.

Shop Know The Origin.


Rated: Good

Venturi Hexamesh Gravel – Ships internationally

Veja is a French brand designing ecological and fair trade footwear, and is also a responsible fashion pioneer. The brand uses lower-impact materials, like GOTS certified cotton and vegetable-tanned leather. Veja pays its co-operative cotton growers and rubber tappers between 30% and 100% above the world market price. By not advertising, Veja is able to invest more money into strengthening its practices.

You can find Veja shoes in women's EU sizes 35-46, and men's 35-47.

See the rating.

Shop Veja.

Shop Veja @ Cerqular.

Shop Veja @ LVRSustainable.

Shop Veja @ Outerknown.

Shop Veja @ Threads 4 Thought.

Shop Veja Kids second hand @ Retykle.

Sales! Sales! Sales!

Fast fashion brands aren’t the only ones that have sales. Many ethical brands offer sales that are just as good⁠—if not better⁠—so be sure to check out the “Sale” or “Clearance” tabs first. Helpfully, Good On You rounds up Good Offers each week, giving you discounts at sustainable brands with a simple checkout code! Be sure to sign up to the newsletter to receive them straight to your inbox.

Do your research

Many slow fashion brands don’t have the advantage of widespread marketing like H&M, but that doesn’t mean you have a smaller selection. A simple search online will expose you to brands you would never have come across in a typical magazine. In fact, that search is what first lead me to Good On You! Discovering Good On You meant discovering a wide array of fashions. From the elegant Californian brand Amour Vert, to the quirky lingerie from la fille d’O, and the coziest jumpsuits from Lucy & Yak: jumpsuits that cost the same as anything from unethical chain Urban Outfitters, and even have free international shipping, mind you! I wouldn’t have been able to find these great brands—or Good On You for that matter—without doing a bit of research.

A lot of these brands have online stores, but if you’re not a fan of online shopping, I’ve found that many also have storefronts, or popups in different shops. Start researching the local boutiques in your area, and keep your eyes open. Many locally owned boutiques carry sustainable fashion lines, or are in fact sustainable themselves! So, dare to venture outside of your comfort zone. You’re sure to come across some diamonds in the rough.


Although transitioning to an ethical wardrobe has been a fantastic experience, I must admit, not everything has been easy. My love of cashmere sweaters has been compromised, considering its poor harvesting methods, and being proactive about buying sustainable workout gear is energy (and money) I’m not used to spending! But what has taken the biggest hit is my long and deep relationship with Converse. I love a fresh pair of Chuck Taylors, and although they have an “It’s a Start” rating on Good On You, it isn’t enough to consider them ethical. However, with these fashion heartbreaks comes a new sense of understanding. If you’re making this transition, your style also needs to evolve. Will you be buying a fresh pair of jeans from Levi’s? Not until they improve their score. But at least you’ll be introduced to brands that provide you with the same cuts, colors, comforts, and a conscience to boot!

What are you waiting for?

Author bio: Delilah Smith is freelance journalist, storyteller, and sustainable fashion advocate from Oakland, CA. After changing her career path from editorial to film, she balances her position at Pixar Animation Studios with her Good On You contributions, returning back to editorial to spread awareness on the environmental effects of fast fashion, and give readers more eco-conscious choices. When not writing, you can find her on an aerial silk, which everyone should try at least once! You can find her on Instagram @delilah.the.dahlia

Editor's note

Feature image via Unsplash, all other images via brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world's most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Use our Directory to search thousands of rated brands.

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