Sustainable Fashion on a College Budget

by | May 3, 2019 | Culture, Lifestyle

Making changes in your own life to be more sustainable doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult. Fashion is a great place to start, and shifting away from economically cheap fast fashion is a lot easier than one would think – there are still college student budget-friendly ways to look cute and help the environment while you’re at it. This blog gets a little more in-depth on making the most of what you have, thrifting, making, and finally buying clothing items in a sustainable or transitionally sustainable way.

The “Buyerarchy of Needs” when it comes to fashion starts simply with using what you have. Whether that be through mending or upcycling, making the most of things you’ve already purchased is cheaper and effective. Secondly, is to borrow, and next, to swap. Both are really great options for things you’ll only wear once, like formalwear or costume pieces. Next is to thrift, then make your own, and finally, buy ethically.

The purpose of this hierarchy is to encourage reflection in your purchasing process, to slow down, and think about the widespread impacts of the items you pick up. Who made them? Where will it go when you’re finished with it? What is the impact of this piece on you, the planet, and others?

Buyerarchy of Needs. Photo credit: Sarah Lazarovic


While it may take some time, learning to patch up your own clothes – or thrifted ones – is super helpful, and much cheaper than buying something new. Adding patches, darning holes, even altering pants to fit your waist or hemming can vastly change the look of a piece. Use the resources you have to keep what you bought for longer.


Somewhere in between totally sewing or knitting your own clothing and fixing up what you already have is upcycling. Changing the look of a mediocre piece you’re no longer interested, altering it to make it unique and new to you. Creative reuse! This post from Merrick’s Art is a really good example.


Thrifting is both a cheap and sustainable clothing option. You can still pick up pieces that you need or want, without contributing further to fast fashions. Reduce, reuse, and recycle! Almost every college town has a Goodwill. Stores like Plato’s Closet and Uptown Cheapskate also sell high-quality used pieces for the more fashion-forward folks.

If you’re looking for a specific item or seeking a very cultivated aesthetic in your wardrobe, apps like DepopPoshmarkand ThredUP featured used and thrifted clothing in a variety of styles and sizes. These apps are usually a bit more expensive than brick and mortar thrift stores, but the pieces have already been sorted through and it’s easy to find exactly what you’re looking for. Goodfair’s vintage surprise shirts and bundles are a fantastic way to stock up on basics.

Just remember, if you frequent thrift stores, make sure to give back! When you have items you no longer want or need, donate them to your local thrift store.

Making Your Own

If you have the time to spare, making your own clothes is both super validating and surprisingly affordable. No guesswork in sizes, or scratchy materials – the variables are controlled by you. Annika Victoria and With Wendy have beginner tutorials on YouTube to get started.

Buying New

For organic basics, Pact and Everlane offer soft, comfortable, and affordable clothes – especially when they’re on sale, which is fairly frequent. ABLE and Alternative Apparel both offer sustainable fashion pieces at something of a higher price compared to the other options, but always look for sales! CHNGE follows both ethical business practices and shouts social sustainability in their graphic, empowering designs.

Everything Else

The Good on You app takes the guesswork out of ethical consumption, providing a rating of clothing companies based on their treatment of workers, animals, and materials used in the process of making their products. If you do need any item that’s unavailable through thrifting or a known sustainable fashion brand, do a bit of research before purchasing. Where you’re spending your limited budget is important.

The most affordable and sustainable option, though, is to simply buy less.

Morgan is a first-year student at McDaniel College in Maryland, studying Political Science and Environmental Science. They were a Project Green Challenge Finalist in 2018, and is excited to continue to encourage both socially and environmentally sustainable practices in students. They also work with the Gender Sexuality Alliance on their campus, and enjoy reading, watching Netflix, and gardening.


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