Slowing Down Fast Fashion: Your Guide to Sustainable Shopping

2 min read 

Fashion is one of the best creative outlets for self-expression; as John Galliano says, “The joy of dressing is an art”. There are infinite ways to style clothes and with unisex and androdynous fashion’s rising popularity, there are even more options. Fashion trends are incredibly ephemeral and only last for a short time. Thus, clothing companies must produce trendy clothes at the rate at which trends change. This can be quite difficult and has resulted in the making of fast fashion. Fast fashion describes the cheaply made clothing that is mass-produced by companies in order to keep up with consumer’s wants. Fast fashion also describes the cycle in which clothing is bought, used for a couple months, and disposed of in nearly perfect condition. Fast fashion has a number of ethical and environmental implications as, since the New York Times reports, fast fashion factories subject their workers to less than favorable conditions. It is estimated by the New York Times that 85% of discarded fast fashion ends up in landfills or oceans. 

Avoiding fast fashion is easier said than done. The prices, trendy styles, and convenience of Shein, Zaful, Fashion Nova, and Missguided are too tempting to ignore, especially for students who do not have much money to spend on clothing. As a fashion-obsessed student myself, much of my wardrobe comes from Shein and Forever 21, though I am trying to break this habit. However, buying more sustainably produced clothing is difficult as it is often very expensive. For example, women’s clothing manufacturer, Reformation, charges nearly $80 for a basic T-shirt dress. Sustainable men’s fashion is the same with men’s leisurewear brand Faherty charging nearly $200 for a flannel. It is often easier for consumers to buy an identical item on a fast fashion website for nearly 80% cheaper. Check out the list below for some ways to shop sustainably without breaking the bank. 


Thredup is the world’s biggest online resale shop and boasts over 35,000 brands at up to 90% off retail price. Most of the clothes are used and are quality inspected before being listed, though some clothes are new with their original tags. Along with clothing, Thredup also carries shoes, handbags, and accessories as well as designer items. When shopping, it is important to buy the item quickly as it is only in the consumer’s cart for 12 hours and may be bought by someone else, especially if it is of a popular brand. The prices at Thredup are already astoundingly cheap, but are lessened by the exclusive up to 50% discount given to each new user. After this initial discount, different Thredup discount codes can be found on Youtube in various sponsored videos. I have personally used Thredup a few times and have never been disappointed. The quality is always incredibly exceptional for the price; even the items that are listed as having minor wear are like new. Thredup also offers a stylist service in which a box of ten items is uniquely curated for the consumer based on their size, style, and other preferences. The consumer would then pay for the items they wish to keep, along with a $10 styling fee, and send the rest back. 


One of the most famous ways to shop sustainably is to go to the local thrift or vintage shop. Thrift shops were once stigmatized, but are now seen for their true nature as being a good place to find cheaply priced used clothes. While it is true that some clothes at thrift shops are not good quality and may be ripped or stained; some clothes are in near perfect condition with tags attached. Thrifting is all about having the patience to go through racks and racks of clothes to find that one perfect piece of clothing. Be on the lookout for designer items as some thrift stores carry designer purses and high-end clothing at an incredibly cheap price. 

One of the best aspects of thrifting is the wide variety of clothing, shoes, and accessories that is available. The clothes in thrift stores are not just from one season or year, they span decades. As James Laver states in his fashion theory, fashion is a cycle and trends will resurface every 50 years. Nowadays, it seems as though fashion is a melting pot of trends from different decades. Bell bottom or extremely flared pants are back in style from the 1970s along with baguette bags from the 1990s and early 2000s along with tweed sets reminiscent of the Chanel tweed suits of the 1920s. Thus, thrift shops are the perfect way to sustainably shop and offer an inexpensive way to be on-trend. 

Goodwill is probably one of the most famous chain thrift stores in the United States, but is not the only reliable and trendy thrift store. One of my personal favorite thrift stores is the Saint Vincent DePaul thrift store chain, located in and around Pittsburgh. Here, they sell clothing and shoes for at most $1 or $2 per piece. As a business student, I have found a number of professional shirts, blazers, and skirts there from reputable brands such as Land’s End. Buffalo Exchange and Plato’s Closet are resale shops which contain quality inspected trendy clothes from a variety of name brands. 


Luxury fashion is not usually seen as being fast fashion as it is expensive and made of high quality materials. However, luxury fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci are displaying the same behaviors as Forever 21 and H&M. Though they are marketed as using superior materials, luxury fashion is still bad for the environment. Though they are quite controversial, many luxury companies are still using real fur and leather in their products. They are also using materials for handbags that allow chemicals to leak into the water and air chain. With the prevalence of luxury goods on social media, they are more in demand than ever. Thus, companies have begun to mass produce them, just as fast fashion companies have been doing. 

However, there is a better alternative to buying luxury goods from the manufacturer and still receiving a genuine product while saving money. The RealReal is an online resale shop which sells luxury bags, jewelry, shoes, and clothing from a variety of brands at up to half off retail. Though The RealReal sells the majority of its items online, two stores have been established in California and New York, with more to open in the future. 


Sometimes shopping sustainably does not even require the purchase of new clothes. Many of us forget what clothing we have and keep buying and buying. It is important to shop your own closet before going shopping to remind yourself of the clothes you already have. 

Upcycling is a good way to utilize your own clothing to create something new. Find an old T-shirt  and crop it, or tie dye it either with colored dyes or bleach. Take an old pair of jeans and transform them into a pair of shorts or a skirt. If you have an old jean jacket, spruce it up with some pins or iron on patches. Inspiration for upcycling can easily be found on Youtube or Pinterest. 


The best way to shop sustainably is to shop mindfully. When shopping, examine where the clothing is made. If clothing is made in a third world country, then it is possible that those clothes were made by workers or children who are underpaid and subject to terrible workplace conditions. To shop sustainably, one should take interest in the material of which the clothing is made. As previously stated, PVC, along with other materials used in the making of handbags, pollutes the water and air supply. Synthetic materials such as polyester are not biodegradable and are dependent on fossil fuels for their creation. 

It is also important that, as consumers, we are mindful of our wants and needs when we shop. It is important to ask oneself if the clothing item is wearable and versatile. While shopping, it is imperative that we ask these questions to avoid impulse buys that we, as well as our bank accounts, may regret later. I have been charmed by sales into buying clothing simply because it was inexpensive. That clothing ended up sitting in my closet until I inevitably donated it to a thrift store. However, I have learned to avoid this behavior by questioning my intentions for purchasing clothing. 

Sustainable fashion has been transformed into an art form. For example, on the famous fashion competition show, Project Runway, contestants were challenged to create garments out of unconventional materials. For example, in season 14, contestants were challenged to make garments out of Hallmark greeting cards. Michelle Mischler created a line of professional clothing with a twist titled Revive Nine to Five. The twist in this collection is that every garment is made of household linens such as blankets, tablecloths, and bed sheets. Designer Cierra Boyd has taken sneakers and transformed them into corsets, laces and all. This is especially sustainable because, as National Geographic reports, sneakers are not biodegradable and largely made of plastic. 

I hope this article has inspired you to shop mindfully and sustainably; your wallet, wardrobe, and the world will thank you. What is your favorite way to shop sustainably? What is your favorite thrifted find? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter! 

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