How to Ditch Shein and Still Save Your Wallet: Sustainable Fashion and the College Budget


Image Courtesy of Luanateutzi

By Katherine Plunkett

Shopping for clothes within a college budget is difficult, especially when trying to avoid unsustainable brands. Unfortunately, the most affordable brands are often the ones with the worst environmental impact. You can shop small to ensure sustainability, but this is usually significantly more expensive. 

So how can you shop more sustainably without the large price tags? The first thing to do is avoid brands that are known to have highly damaging environmental impacts. According to The Pretty Planeteer, the top ten brands to avoid include Shein, ASOS, Nike, Victoria’s Secret, Forever 21, and H&M. Not only do these brands use toxic chemicals and non-recyclable fabric in most or all of their clothing, they also are guilty of a slew of ethical issues such as stealing designs from small businesses or underpaying workers.

Instead of turning towards these brands for affordable options, consider shopping secondhand. Many second-hand stores such as Savers, Goodwill, and Plato’s Closet offer prices just as reasonable as other brands. This is a simple and affordable solution that has a positive environmental impact rather than a negative one. 

If you don’t have time to go to a thrift store, there are many online options as well. Depop has recently seen a rise in popularity, and therefore a rise in the quality and range of clothing options. From handmade to vintage, to modern secondhand, Depop offers practically anything you could be looking for. It can seem difficult to actually see clothes you like in your suggestions, but once you start liking and saving, the algorithm will do the hard work for you. 

Searching through Depop and online secondhand databases can still be time-consuming, so another option to try is online resellers who do the thrifting for you. Many run their business through Instagram and thrift to resell items. You can find many different resellers for different aesthetics, some of whom are even locally based. While many do have a slight upcharge to find the item for you, it is usually more affordable than other sustainable alternatives. 

Wearing secondhand may be the easiest way to ensure sustainable fashion, but it is not for everyone. Nor is it possible for everyone to avoid harmful brands. The next best way to ensure sustainability is to avoid over-purchasing and under-wearing your clothes. Recently, social media has led to a rise in clothing “hauls” of large purchases, usually from fast fashion brands. Instead of following seasonal trends and discarding clothing after a few years, take a moment to really consider how much you will wear something. It is better to have fewer clothes you wear often than many clothes that only see one or two wears. 

In addition, considering the cost per wear of a specific article of clothing can have a significant impact. This, along with only buying what you truly love or need, is the simplest way to improve sustainability. Cost per wear means taking the overall price of the garment and dividing it by how many times you have worn it. The goal is for the cost per wear to be in the single digits, and preferably under one dollar. 

This speaks to slow and fast fashion alike. Many fast-fashion pieces do not see a cost per wear under a dollar due to poor quality or trends that fade. If you are going to wear something many times, do not be afraid to make an investment, even if there is a cheaper option. If you spend $20 on a jacket and the zipper breaks, it needs to be replaced. But if you invest more money on higher quality, chances are it will last you a long time and its cost per wear will be lower.

Shopping sustainably can seem impossible on a college budget, but there are many options to improve your environmental impact. Even if thrifting is not possible, simply changing your shopping habits and values to reflect what you will wear consistently and for longer has a significant positive impact on the environment.

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