Do You Want to Shop? Let’s do it sustainably.

Are you environmentally conscious, but can’t always afford sustainably-made clothes? Ethical fashion is a means of combating the detrimental impacts of fast fashion on the environment, but a $200 pair of jeans sustainably sourced by a local designer isn’t necessarily accessible, especially for young people. 

But shopping sustainably doesn’t have to mean spending a lot of money. There are plenty of affordable options for maintaining a sustainable wardrobe, so I have put together some tips and tricks that have helped me avoid the excesses of the fast fashion world. From DIY projects to scouring op shops, these creative ways of sourcing items aren’t limited to clothes—they also apply to homewares, books, food… and the list goes on. As we approach the end of the year and gift-giving season has well and truly arrived, it’s a good time to reflect on how we can shop for ourselves and others with a more eco-conscious mindset. 

The urgency of addressing climate change has become prevalent in light of recent discussions held at the UN COP26 Conference. Fast fashion is a system that maximises output by exploiting factory workers and polluting the environment, but there are ways to slow down, recycle, and make choices that contribute towards a healthier and happier planet. 

Ask yourself: do I really need this?

Photo by Alex Quezada on Unsplash.

Reflecting on the answer to this question is simple, yet surprisingly effective.

A lot of the time, purchasing a new item of clothing can be an impulsive, spur-of-the-moment decision. Advertisements like to draw you in, and the excitement and instant gratification of buying something new feels great. However, not thinking clearly about whether you really need, or even want, this new item can often mean that you probably won’t get much wear out of it. In fact, the majority of people wear only 20% of their wardrobe 80% of the time.

I often find it helpful to give yourself some time to think. When I’m about to buy something, I ask myself: Do I really need this? Do I have other clothes that are already like this? Have I gotten much wear out of them and if so, will I get much wear out of this?

If I then come to the conclusion that I do want to buy this item, I first check my local op shops or secondhand platforms to see if I can get it there.

If yes, fabulous! If not, then I go ahead and buy it—prioritising locally-made brands over fast fashion labels.

Buy second hand

Photo from The Urban List,

Buying from local op-shops, garage sales, vintage stores or second hand online platforms such as Depop can be a great way to shop.

Advantages include: 

  1. Secondhand items are usually one-of-a-kind and will compliment your individual fashion identity.
  2. Op shops such as Vinnies, Brotherhood of St Lawrence and Sacred Heart are charities. They put the profit they make towards helping good causes such as homelessness and poverty. 
  3. Op shops are the best place to find a bargain! 
  4. By giving clothes another life, you are using materials that are already out in the world rather than contributing to ongoing mass production. In other words, you are doing the environment a favour.

Try out clothes hire

Photo from green queen,

For special occasions such as a birthday party or formal, instead of spending a lot of money on something you will only wear once, you can simply rent something from clothes hire companies for a fraction of the retail price. This is a great way of reducing fashion waste, as one garment can get more use by being circulated to many wearers.

Some local clothing hire companies you can check out are:

Avoid sticking to the trends 

A pile of unwanted clothes discarded in Chile’s Atacama Desert. Photo from Bangkok Post,

Fashion trends are called ‘trends’ for a reason… they don’t last, and are therefore impossible to keep up with unless you are constantly buying new clothes.

In the past, clothes were viewed as a luxury good—you would buy something new and wear it until you couldn’t wear it any longer. But now we have ‘fast fashion’. Fast fashion refers to an industry that seeks to maximise profit by producing thousands of clothing items at a very low cost. These items often mimic the look of expensive clothing, but can be sold at a much lower price due to lower production costs. This low price is what contributes to trends changing so quickly, because it allows us to think “well if I don’t like this, I can always buy another one”.

Yes, fast fashion is a bargain, but unfortunately it comes with a human cost. Garment makers are often paid an inadequate living wage and work in dangerous factory conditions, resulting in catastrophes such as the Dhaka garment factory collapse. Fast fashion comes with an environmental cost too, as clothing production emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and uses up a lot of the world’s resources, including water. Staggeringly, it takes the same amount of water that a human would drink in 2.5 years to make just one cotton shirt.

Choosing to buy clothing items that suit our individual style ensures that they will never go out of fashion and will be worn time and time again. What a win!

Make, mend, and up-cycle 

Photo by Viktar Savanevich / Eyeem / Getty Images

Making your own clothing is a fun way to ensure you have a sustainable wardrobe. If you need some inspiration, there are hundreds of video tutorials on YouTube dedicated to learning how to sew, both with or without a sewing machine. 

If something is stopping you from wearing the clothes you already have, like if an item of clothing is too big for you or the zip is broken, it may be easier and cheaper to pay for your local seamstress to mend them instead of buying another one brand new.

Another DIY alternative is to up-cycle clothes from the op shop or that you don’t wear anymore by dying, cutting, or embellishing them. This is a great way of adding a personal touch to your clothes, and it happens to be sustainable too!


I hope that with these tips and tricks you can now make conscious choices as a consumer, save money, develop your style, and shop for gifts while helping the planet thrive.


Lily is in the final year of her Bachelor of Arts Degree at Melbourne University, where she has majored in Politics and International Relations. While Lily is not yet set on one particular career path, she has a drive to make a difference by continuing to critically analyse, interrogate and improve the current state of affairs in Australia.

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