What to do if you can’t afford ethical clothing | 12 top tips

Are you thinking you’d love to shop in a way that has the least environmental impact but simply can’t afford the price tag? Trust me, I feel your pain. If, just as I do, you often struggle balancing cost vs ethics, then read on as I share 12 tips for what to do if you can’t afford ethical clothing.

Unfortunately, manufacturing products in an ethical, sustainable way inevitably comes at a cost, if it didn’t everyone would be doing it and there would be no need for this article.  The extra cost is in turn passed on to us the consumers.

Sadly, with the best will in the world, my part-time wage packet does not allow me to shop until I drop ethically!  However ethical shopping is possible on a budget so don’t despair, and who needs to shop until they drop?  We should be shopping for what we need, that in itself would have a positive impact on our environmental footprint.    

Here are my top tips.

Many t shirts hanging in a wardrobe

1. Only buy what you need

When you spot something you like ask yourself do I really need it?  If the answer is no then save the money and put it towards the extra special  low environmental impact item instead.  Less is more as they say.  

We could fill our children’s wardrobes with lots of big high street brands, half of which they will grow out of before they get a chance to wear; or you could buy one item that costs a bit more that you know will be well loved, well worn and wear well enough to pass on to the next person.

2. Recycle

When your children grow out of their clothes if they are in good condition then recycle them.

You can do this by donating to a charity shop, clothes bank, selling second-hand on places like Facebook Market Place or eBay or see if your local children’s centre, baby bank or refuge might be interested in them.

If you are buying ethically sourced toys and clothes they normally have a very good market second hand so you should be able to make some money back on items in excellent condition.  Many charity shops do end up being unable to use a lot of donations so don’t just pass them old tatty stuff.

A clothes recycling bin

3. Upcycle

I didn’t want to part with some of the baby clothes I had but equally I didn’t want them sat around in a draw getting musty.  Thankfully I found a solution and sent a bag of baby clothes which included the ones I loved, and some that were past their best for anyone else to make use of, to a wonderful lady in Exmouth (UK) who turned them into a blanket.

I am now saving up my daughter’s Christmas outfits to eventually be made into a Santa’s Sack for her.   Both these items will last a very long time and hold wonderful memories.  There are other items you can have made like teddies made from baby clothing, school uniform, christening outfits – any clothing you can think of really!

If you are handy with the sewing machine yourself you may be able to upcycle the clothes into something else.  I have seen people turn children’s clothing into dolls clothing, head bands and make a whole new pair of trousers from two smaller ones.

I recently bought a couple of pairs of delightful dungarees that were once curtains, perhaps you have some old material laying around you could make some clothes out of . . . one day I will learn to sew and have a go myself!

4. Check out Facebook

Buy and sell your items on Facebook.  I often do this and many items still remain in good enough condition to sell on again.  Have a look through Facebook Marketplace, there will be many groups both locally and nationally.

Some will be a general baby item selling groups for your area and others will be brand specific.  For example you will find Frugi and Duns specifically mentioned for buying and selling.  Check out the rules of the site as some are strict on how you list items.  

You may come across words like “destash” and this is when someone has quite a few items they are selling at the same time.  If you do this again be sure to check the rules, I have fallen foul of a few for not listing my “destashes” properly!

People will also describe some items as “playwear”.  This means it may have some staining, so not in perfect condition but still plenty of life left in it.  

With these groups it is good say whether the price is “all in” which includes postage of whether P&P will be added, or whether it is local pick up only.  

Facebook Marketplace and Ebay logos, they are great places if you are wondering what to do if you can't afford ethical clothing

5. Of course, there is also eBay

Buy and sell your items on eBay.  You can save searches so if there is anything particular you are looking for you can set up eBay to email you when anything is listed.  Unlike Facebook eBay will charge fees, as will PayPal.

However it can be more straightforward with minimal interaction needed from yourself – I have been messed around with local pickups when it would have been far easier just to drop a packet to the post office!

6. Second-hand children’s markets

If you have lots to sell and having a clear-out of toys too it may be worth considering having a stall at a specialised baby and children’s market.  You normally pay a fee for your table.  These can be fun as you get chatting to other people and here you might find items to purchase that are more affordable.  By purchasing second-hand you are at least giving a longer life to an item.

7. Car boot sales

As with the children’s markets it may be worth considering paying for a pitch if you have lots of items you are looking to clear out or looking for some bargains.

8. Sales

I love a good sale.  Look out for your favourite brand’s sales and stock up on any items you may need in the months ahead.  Most brands have a newsletter you can sign up to which will tell you when a sale is happening.  Do be careful not to buy what you don’t need though just because it is on sale.  

Sales are a great place to find value

9. Consider your product choice

We want to shop for the ethical products but remember buying big High Street brands second hand is also a way of having less of an environmental impact.  Often you will see big baby bundles come up for sale for very little money – I bought a fair few up to around the age of 2, and they were bargains.  I then passed much of them on to their third wearer.  I did end up with more clothes than I needed and passed many on to a local baby bank.  Even though they were High Street brands they were at least not going to landfill or being incinerated as happens to so many items.  It is OK not to be perfect and just do the best you can.  

10. Don’t be a follower of fashion

Buy what you and your child love, don’t buy something just because a celebrity endorses it.  The great thing about many ethical clothing businesses is that their designs are often very vibrant and fun.  Buy what you love because you love it, no other reason.  

Clothes hanging in a high end fashion store

11. Look after the clothes

This is sometimes easier said than done with children; when they get to a certain age clothes inevitably wear more.  Try to repair them if they get torn.  Wash them as per the instructions, handwashing and air drying can be kinder in the long term.  Do what you can to remove stains.  Keeping them in good condition will make them last longer but also hopefully mean you can pass them on to the next person.

12. Value your purchases

By purchasing ethical clothing you are valuing the people’s lives that made them.  You are acknowledging that fast fashion is having a huge detrimental environmental impact on our planet and that it needs to stop.  By shopping ethically you are  valuing your items (your mindset will be in a ‘less is more’ mode), helping to change habits such as buying something you kind of like simply because it’s on sale, helping you to think about the person behind the item, valuing your life choices to try to improve the lives of others and our planet . . . and it makes you feel good about yourself as well!

What to do if you can’t afford ethical clothing — final thoughts

Doing the above will not only help you shop ethically in a more cost-effective way but also be an example for those around you, especially your children – the generation that will be coping with the impacts we are making on our world now.

Leave a Comment