How to build a sustainable wardrobe on a budget

This article originally written for Prynne Magazine. Illustration by Kirk Johnson.

While buying brand new garments that are sustainably and ethically-made usually means paying a substantial amount of money, (after all, paying workers a living wage and sourcing sustainable materials has its price), you don’t have to break the bank to build a sustainable wardrobe. If you’re on a budget or just frugal at heart, here are 4 ways you can build your sustainable wardrobe without breaking the bank.

Second-hand stores
Growing up, my dad and I loved to frequent our favorite second-hand store. We’d get such a high when we found a vintage sports jersey in mint condition or Patagonia jacket for a few dollars. Visiting your local second-hand shop is a great option because you get something new for your closet, while no new waste is being produced, and if the organization is a non-profit, proceeds will go to a worthy cause.

Clothing swap
Perhaps the best part about sisters or roommates is virtually multiplying the inventory in your closet by getting to share. For those of us who are not as fortunate to have this luxury, organizing a clothing swap with your friends or local community is the next best thing. Send an invitation to a dozen friends to sift through their closet for items that are in good condition that they never wear. Instruct them to bring the items washed and on hangers, and display the items on window or shower curtain rods, tree branches or tables, set out some snacks, and encourage people to swap away!

Women’s bodies are ever-changing, and they may change faster than our style. This leaves us with items in our closet we still love but no longer fit us. Instead of getting rid of these items to be replaced, a great alternative our generation has forgotten is the art of tailoring. Our parents’ and grandparents’ generation would frequently bring beloved garments to a tailor to be altered to fit them personally. This could include taking the sides in or letting them out, or adjusting the length or sleeves. As cropped tops and sweaters are currently on-trend, you could even have the style altered completely to have a fresh look altogether. Investing in altering a piece rather than discarding or replacing it is beneficial in reducing waste, and is usually less expensive than buying brand new.

For those who are particularly crafty, upcycling a garment into something new is as fun a hobby as any. For lighter colored garments, you can relive your summer camp days by tie-dying your garments for a fun, fresh take. For darker colored garments made of natural fibers like cotton, spraying or dipping a garment in bleach is an on-trend way to bring a garment new life. My personal favorite way to upcycle an item in your closet, or a garment you’ve thrifted, is to add embroidery. This could be a symbol or word to make it new and one of a kind. The options are endless!

You don’t need to break the bank to build a sustainable wardrobe, just taking one or two simple inexpensive steps can have a big impact on our environment and the life-cycle of your garments.

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