How to give life to your closet without taking it away from the planet

Uptown Cheapskate, a new thrift store in College Park, now allows patrons to buy and sell lightly-used clothing. (Dylan Tan/For The Diamondback)

Fast fashion is the latest dirty buzzword circulating the retail sphere. You know you should avoid it, but all the most eco-friendly brands look too expensive. It seems like an impossible situation, especially when you’re staring at a pair of the cutest $25 boots. Thankfully, here are four expert-approved tips to help you dress sustainably on a budget.

Wear hand-me-downs and shop at thrift stores

Don’t let your friends and family throw away old clothes! Taking clothes from those who don’t want them anymore is a perfect way to recycle fabric. This is a totally free way to dress sustainably.

Youmé Diallo, a social media content creator for Rendered Inc. says her favorite source of inspiration is her mom, whose shoes she was wearing when we spoke. Plus, as someone who works for an online thrift store, Diallo is all about second-hand shops.

“A lot of the times I wear my clothes until the wheels fall off. Unless my clothes are literally falling apart, I’m not going to stop wearing them,” says Diallo.

One of her favorite thrift store finds is a good pair of Tommy Hilfiger jeans, because she knows they’re durable and long lasting. She suggests shopping at Goodwill, Savers and Value Village to snag high quality items. 

Shop intentionally

It’s so easy to give in to the latest trends and buy the newest items impulsively. One of the greatest appeals of fast fashion is the constant low price of clothing. However, it’s unlikely that these pieces will survive multiple washes. These items eventually find themselves in landfills, adding to an already high level of waste.

According to Susan Stevens — founder of online sustainable retail store Made With Respect — 80 million pieces of clothing are consumed around the world annually, but most people regularly only wear 20 percent of their wardrobe. Instead of buying impulsively, she suggests buying key transitional pieces, like a high-quality camisole or jacket, that you can style differently and wear over and over again.

Spending more money upfront may seem counterintuitive, but Stevens sees it the other way around.

“[When] spending a whole lot of money on cheap clothes, you’ll actually end up spending more than if you spend a little bit more money on quality pieces.” 

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Find your own style

Getting in touch with your own unique approach to fashion is a major key to dressing sustainably. “A lot of the time at thrift stores … they’re not going to have what’s at Forever 21 or what’s at Zara,” says Diallo.

Recently, retailers have released upwards of 50 micro-seasons a year. That means new trends are coming out about every week. It’s impossible to keep up without wasting what you already own.

Diallo feels that the trendiest thing you can do is become more sustainable. She says feeling confident in what she wears is most important to her. Plus, this is a great opportunity to become a leader among your friends! In Diallo’s experience, when she dresses sustainably in her own style, her friends feel more inclined to do it too, creating a greater positive impact on the environment. 

Do your research

Both Stevens and Diallo can agree that doing brand research is crucial to finding sustainable deals. Stevens says some companies, like H&M, will try to pass off $5 T-shirts as part of their sustainable line.

The unfortunate reality is that if a T-shirt is actually sustainably made and still that inexpensive, the company has probably cut costs somewhere else, like in labor wages.

“It’s always good to do your little part in saving the world,” says Diallo.

Spending an extra ten minutes in the store to check up on the brands you love can make all the difference.

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