23 Aug

Building a Sustainable Wardrobe as a College and University Student

It’s brutal out here. Keeping up with trends, shopping on a budget, saving the planet from imminent destruction, keeping up grades, internships, and everything personal in between. Meanwhile, SHEIN, NastyGal, and Zara keep taunting us with absurdly low prices and SUCH cute clothes designed to satisfy us for a month or two. But if you’re here, you’ve seen past their dirty tricks, realizing that truth be told—their -ish stinks.

Now that’s out of the way, the Good On You team is happy to report that you can have The Trifecta: sustainable, tasteful, and affordable. In line with this ethos, below you can find a treasure trove of brands that are tackling the trifecta, including ’80s retro sneakers by Flamingos’ Life (Spain) and ridiculously cool up-cycled handbags by Frankie (Canada). There are also some tips and tricks for making your money stretch further at the end. Phew, maybe building a college student-friendly sustainable wardrobe won’t be that hard, after all. With that, happy browsing.

Clothing

ISTO.

Rated: Good
Man in sustainable ISTO crewneck

Classic Sweatshirt – Ships internationally from Portugal

Offers

A white organic cotton t-shirt by ISTO.

ISTO. – 3-Pack Classic T-Shirts

ISTO. is bringing you the best organic cotton t-shirts you've ever worn for a great price. €6 off 3-pack classic t-shirts. (Ends: 25 OCT)

Shop now

ISTO. carries classic styles with a young twist. The brand’s mandate is simple: create clothes to transcend the seasons and work as staple items in your wardrobe all year round. This classic men’s sweatshirt is made to last, featuring beautiful organic cotton loopback fleece. The range is available in XS-XL.

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Shop ISTO..

LOCAL EUROPEAN

Rated: Good
Woman in sustainable cargo pants by LOCAL EUROPEAN

Le Cargo Pant in Black – Ships internationally from the US

Sexy and sustainable. LOCAL EUROPEAN’s oversized cargo pants are the perfect statement piece. Pair them with one of the brand’s bandeaus or your favourite tee. LOCAL EUROPEAN values sustainability, quality, and luxury. Its sophisticated edge is bolstered by its commitment to using eco-friendly materials. Find sizes XS-XL.

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Shop LOCAL EUROPEAN.

Whimsy + Row

Rated: Good
Woman in Valentina top by Whimsy + Row

Valentina Top in White Linen – Ships internationally from the US

The Valentina Top by Whimsy + Row is a classic, sexy staple that will surely be with you for years to come. Find it in a variety of shades—from a deep orchid to sheer white—to satisfy all of your ‘nice top’ needs. Whimsy + Row is an eco-conscious lifestyle brand born out of a love for quality goods and sustainable practices. It utilises deadstock fabric, and by limiting each garment to short runs, the brand also reduces packaging waste and takes care of precious water resources. Find most products in XS-XL. Love!

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Shop Whimsy + Row.

Shop Whimsy + Row @ Earthkind.

Boyish

Rated: Great
Woman in sustainable denim shorts by Boyish

The Cody | Sunrise – Ships internationally from the US

Love Levi’s, but hate their fast fashion business model? Boyish has all the quality, fit, and authentic washes that you could want without the harmful practices. The Cody is the cutest light wash, cut-off jean short without all the nasties. These sustainable shorts include OCS-certified organic cotton and TENCEL™ Lyocell, a natural raw material from eucalyptus trees that is responsibly produced to minimize environmental impact. Find sizes 2XS-XL.

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Shop Boyish.

Footwear

Womsh

Rated: Good
Sustainable rose sneakers by Womsh

Vegan Concept in White Rose – Ships internationally from Italy

Chunky sneaks, low top sneaks, vegan sneaks, and more. The ‘vegan concept’ is the brand’s historic and iconic model that has accompanied the brand virtually from its launch. Concept is a classic sneaker that is perfect for countless occasions with its subtle platform-style sole. The simple and clean design is elevated with a layering of contrasting materials and colours. Even better, the sneak is certified PETA-approved vegan. Find most styles in EU sizes 35-42.

Not in your price range? Check out Womsh’s online outlet store for the best prices and deals.

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Shop Womsh.

Shop Womsh @ COMOVITA.

NAE

Rated: Good
Sustainable block heels by NAE

Margot Black Mid-Heel Vegan Sandals – Ships internationally from Portugal

Need a heel for your next formal? NAE has got you covered. The Margot Heels are a vegan, mid-height block heel lined with OEKO-TEX STANDARD 100 certified microfibres, manufactured in a system free of carbon emissions. NAE is a Portuguese footwear, bags, and accessories brand using innovative materials to create goods with “No Animal Exploitation”. Find most of the shoes in sizes 36 to 46.

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Shop NAE.

Shop NAE @ Staiy.

Shop NAE @ Urbankissed.

Flamingos’ Life

Rated: Good
Vintage retro sneakers by Flamingos' Life

Old 80s All White Monocolor – Ships to the US and Europe from Spain

For my sneaker buffs, these retro kicks are seriously sick. Made from corn waste (yes, corn waste) and bamboo, they’re also 100% vegan. Flamingos’ Life works directly with its suppliers located in Elche, Spain, which is located approximately 40km from the brand’s headquarters, ensuring a smaller carbon footprint. Find the range in sizes 36-46.

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Shop Flamingos’ Life.

Will’s Vegan Store

Rated: Good
Classic white sneakers by Will's Vegan Store

Vegan Men’s NY Sneakers – Ships internationally from the UK

The perfect, classic white sneaker to pair with any outfit. These lovelies were created with vegan Italian leather made from plants using bio oil sourced from organic cereal crops grown in Northern Europe in a carbon neutral process. Along with its eco-friendly ethos, Will’s Vegan Store offers products at affordable prices! Find the women’s shoes in US sizes 5-10, and men’s in 7.5-14. Neat!

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Shop Will’s Vegan Store.

Shop Will’s Vegan Store @ Immaculate Vegan.

Etiko

Rated: Great
Sustainable sneakers by etiko

Sneakers Low Cuts in Black & White – Ships internationally from Australia

Like converse, but ethical and better for the environment. You can find these bad boys in white, red, black, and navy blue. Etiko is an Australian designer of organic, eco-friendly, and fair trade clothing and shoes. The brand constantly sets the bar for upholding and campaigning the human rights of people working in traditionally exploitative industry supply chains. Find the clothes in AU sizes 8-20, and the shoes in UK sizes 3-13.

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Shop Etiko.

Accessories

Frankie

Rated: Great
Reworked handbag by Frankie Collective

Vintage Rework Handbag – Ships internationally from Canada

Just WOW! Frankie is bringing us all the unquestionable uniqueness of up-cycled streetwear with ease. This reworked floral shoulder bag with pleated front detail is gorgeously crafted from an up-cycled, vintage windbreaker jacket. Like its other pieces, Frankie takes inspiration from ‘90s staples and reworks vintage garments to push the boundaries of contemporary style. Find most items in sizes XS to 2XL.

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Shop Frankie.

POLITE WORLDWIDE

Rated: Good
Sustainable eyewear by POLITE WORLDWIDE

TERRA – Ships internationally from the US

The sustainable alternative to Ray Bans. POLITE WORLDWIDE is an eyewear brand that believes in being polite to our planet and ourselves with positive vibes only. The TERRA collection is unisex and comes in a variety of colours, including this stunning black, and is biodegradable and recyclable. So cool.

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Shop POLITE WORLDWIDE.

BEEN London

Rated: Good
Ethical laptop case by BEEN LONDON

Dalston Laptop Case – Ships internationally from the UK

BEEN London is a London-based brand turning waste into timeless accessories you’d want to use every day. The brand’s sleek laptop case is the perfect accessory for your next job, internship, or school year. All its products are made of materials that have been something else in a previous life, including recycled leather offcuts and plastic bottles.

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Shop BEEN London.

Shop BEEN London @ Cerqular.

A_C

Rated: Good
Sustainable wallet purse by A_C

Heidi Slimline Wallet in Cactus Leather – Ships internationally from Australia

If you’re looking to invest in a sustainable going-out purse, stop right here. Sleek and elongated to carry cash, cards and devices, the Heidi is a slimline wallet finished with edging and topstitch details. Even better, no animals were harmed in the process! The Australian brand uses an amazing eco-fabric—Desserto Pelle AKA cactus leather. Its entire product range is vegan, and its use of eco-friendly materials limits the amount of chemicals, water, and wastewater used in production.

Not in your budget? No problem! A_C also makes the cutest totes in white, black, and green.

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Shop A_C.

GROUNDTRUTH

Rated: Good
Sustainable shopping tote by GROUNDTRUTH

Shopping Tote 1.1 – Ships internationally from the UK

Don’t we all love a good shopping tote. GROUNDTRUTH’s totes (1.1 and 2.1) are durable and sustainable. Aside from being totally functional, they are also directly removing plastic waste from our planet’s ecosystem. Neat!

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Shop GROUNDTRUTH.

Svala

Rated: Good
Sustainable wallet by Svala

Mia Card Case in Cream – Ships internationally from the US

Handcrafted from luxurious Italian vegan leather, the Mia card case has four standard credit card slots and a pocket in the center for folded cash bills. This mini wallet slips easily into your pocket or into your purse. Travel light and use it as a daily wallet or use it as an organizer for your evening purse or mini bag! Svala handcrafts pieces sustainably and ethically in LA with high-quality, premium vegan leather PU, cork, and Piñatex.

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Shop Svala.

Unrecorded

Rated: Good
Woman in sustainable blue bucket hat by Unrecorded

Bucket Hat Dusty Blue – Ships internationally from the Netherlands

Unrecorded is an independent clothing brand from the Netherlands that represents a new wave of unisex brands that are rebelling against the nature of fast fashion. This unisex bucket hat is epitomizing this fresh ethos, bringing the best of minimal, organic designs. Unrecorded is passionate about style, and produces apparel using eco-friendly materials. Its range includes items that are all year round essentials suitable for any wardrobe, available in sizes XS-2XL. Love!

See the rating.

Shop Unrecorded.

On tight budget? Try second hand

While shopping for new (sustainable) products is always thrilling, we also understand the limits and stresses of a college budget. Investing in quality, sustainable clothing can be pretty pricey and limiting—especially when you’re just trying to get by and living paycheck to paycheck. On top of that, ethical brands may not be as visible as big name brands, making the process of finding just what you’re looking for arduous.

But rather than indulging in a few fast fashion buys, if you wish to shop ‘on trend,’ we highly recommend purchasing second hand by going to your local thrift store or using an online platform like Depop. By doing so, you give a product another life, save money, and look good in the process.

Below are a few of Good On You’s best tips and tricks when it comes to thrifting, swapping, and everything in between:

Our Guide for Where to Buy Second Hand Clothing

The Ups and Downs of Online Thrifting

6 of the Best Vintage Clothing Influencers

How to Switch from Fat Fashion to Vintage On Instagram

5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Clothing Swap

Sometimes it just takes some practice and patience when it comes to buying second hand. If you’re feeling intimidated or overwhelmed, try making it a fun outing experience with your friends!

Well, that’s it! We hope this little guide provided some guidance on how to nail your ideal ‘on-trend’ look while building a sustainable wardrobe as a college student without needing to sacrifice your morals or bank account.

Editor's note

Feature image via nu-in, 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. We love to recommend some of the best sustainable brands, rated ‘Good’ or ‘Great’. We also encourage shopping pre-owned as another great way to reduce the impact of our fashion choices. Use our Directory to search more than 3,000 brands. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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