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Nine Tips for Sustainable Fashion that Don’t Break the Bank

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

By Myra Khan

If you’re a sustainability-minded individual, then you must know that there are no two words more dreaded than “fast” followed by “fashion.” Maybe not quite as dreaded as “melting ice caps,” but it’s definitely somewhere up the list of wicked problems.

So much of the discussion surrounding fast fashion is plagued with making people feel guilty about where they get their clothes or pressuring them into shopping at stores that might be out of their budget. Naturally, there’s nothing productive about guilt-tripping. The truth is, fast fashion is a two-sided issue. Sustainable fashion is about both where and what you buy but also about the life of that clothing.

While buying new sustainable clothes can often be more costly and difficult, taking care of clothes you already own is a much easier way to go green. It saves money by reducing the number of clothes you buy so you can afford to spend a little more on the few extra special pieces from those ethical stores you’ve had your eye on.

Tip #1: Re-purpose your worn clothes

Nothing can ruin your day like a shirt that shrank in the wash. Or a skirt with a stain that persists, even after hours of scrubbing. Luckily, that doesn’t have to mean the end of the line for the item. An old cotton t-shirt can easily be made into a cleaning rag, painting shirt, or even an apron. If you know your way around a sewing machine or are handy with a needle and thread, spare fabric scraps from a skirt can be used to make a stylish tote or quilt.

Tip #2: Restyle old clothes

Do you have a pair of jeans that are starting to look more like capris? Not quite sure what to do with that dress that has a gorgeous pattern but a ruined neckline? Never fear! Getting creative with your old clothes can be a great way to try out new looks. A baggy t-shirt can become a crop top or muscle tee. A couple of snips here and there can turn a pair of jeans into some new beach shorts. With some sewing, a dress can find new life in the form of a skirt.

Tip #3: Donate clothes

We’ve all outgrown phases that we thought would last forever. The good news is that there’s likely someone else who is still totally into the lumberjack look. Local women’s shelters, homeless shelters, and refugee shelters are thrilled to get any and all donations. A quick Google search finds the deserving organizations in your area and many even have pick-up services if you can’t make the drive to them.

Tip #4: Sell clothes

If you can’t find anywhere to donate clothes or want to try to make some extra cash, there are plenty of ways to earn a bit of money back. Most people know about trading clothes into your local thrift store or selling them on Depop but some lesser-discussed options are ThredUP, Plato’s Closet, and H&M. ALSO, if you’re a current ASU student, Changemaker Central and various student organizations have seasonal clothing swaps which are a great way to shop and be sustainable.

Tip #5: Buy clothes that you know you’ll actually wear

This tip is a hard pill to swallow, but it helped me reduce the number of clothes I buy. There have been countless times where I find the cutest dress but I have to stop and ask myself if I would ever have a place to wear it and if I could wear it more than once.  Sure, that iridescent mesh Sailor Moon crop top might be cute, but what would you wear it to?

Tip #6: Don’t be afraid to repeat outfits

This tip is a no-brainer for most people, but especially when it comes to formal clothing, a lot of people feel they need to show up in a new outfit every time. Learn how to rock a signature look (we know Bernie Sanders embraces this ideology) without fear. If you dread the idea of monotony then pairing a dress with a different jacket, belt and jewelry can totally change the look.

Tip #7: Rent or borrow clothes for special occasions

Let’s face it, most of us go to maybe a wedding or two at most every year. If your special occasions are few and far between, it might be even more cost-effective to rent clothes from a boutique. Borrowing fancy clothes or sharing parts of your wardrobe with a friend can also be smarter ways to save money than to keep buying pricey dresses that go out of style.

Tip #8: Learn some very basic sewing

Sewing machines can be expensive and take some time to master. However, simple hem frays, tears, or loose buttons are easier to fix than you might think. A needle, thread, and a YouTube tutorial might be all you need to save a shirt you might otherwise have thought to toss. 

Tip #9: Watch your laundry instructions

I know overcomplicating laundry is a pain but if your clothes have a habit of shrinking or fading, you might want to take a closer look at those labels. Most delicate fabrics benefit from the cold. So crank down the water temperature and skip the heater. Air-drying clothes is a great way to save on electricity bills. It’s worth investing in a pack of clothespins.

Although many sustainability challenges are in the hands of big corporations and require large-scale interventions, reducing textile waste is something we can all help out with together.


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