Cute On a Budget 

Photos taken by Maywyn Haydamack

A guide to sustainable clothes shopping when money is tight

Fast fashion is very convenient when you are tight on money. When your leisure spending is limited, it is hard to think about sustainable shopping, especially when that is associated with a higher price tag. However, fast fashion has various downsides.

Clothes are one of those things where the price tags might reflect the quality. Many sources report that fast fashion items are not made to last. Not only that, but it is an industry that heavily contributes to pollution and has an ethical dilemma attached to it. After all, one of the main reasons that fast fashion is so cheap is that companies like Shein, Temu, Lululemon, Zara, and H&M, usually outsource to countries with loose worker’s rights.

“Some of the workers’ rights violations present in fast fashion factories include paying workers unlivable wages, wage theft, unsafe working conditions, and many more. Due to the high feminization of the textile labor force, women garment workers are most exposed to these injustices and additionally will often face sexual harassment and exploitation in the workplace as well,” Maggie Atchley, social impact coordinator for UT’s office of sustainability said. 

That does not mean that all is lost if you don’t have a lot of money to spare. Sustainable shopping doesn’t have to be expensive nor does that mean your outfits will be ugly. You can be cute on a budget and still do your part in helping the world. One of the easiest ways to do so is to be critical of the companies you choose to support. 

The first thing that you can always do is check a company’s sustainability score. This will tell you where they stand in terms of production waste and mistreatment of workers. It is also a good way to fact-check companies that might falsely advertise as sustainable to get more people to buy their products. 

Thrifting is another great option and is probably the most common one that people run into when trying to shop sustainably. Things like thrifting and upcycling are good because they are focused on reusing items instead of throwing them away. If you don’t want to go far, The Free Store on campus is a great place to get used items and clothes for cheap or free. It is also a great place to learn about other sustainable shopping options.

“Other than existing as a space for students to get things second-hand rather than buying new, we try to exist as an educational space for students to learn about slow fashion as an idea and as a practice. For instance, we do workshops on mending and altering clothes to deter people from throwing things away when they no longer fit or tear or whatever,” Atchley said. 

You can also utilize ThredUp which is an online thrift store, and there are plenty of local shops like Bin Lucky or Community Chest. The Knoxville Vintage Market is another great outlet. There are plenty of resources nearby for you to start the process of thrifting, and it is okay to be nervous when starting. 

“When you show up at a thrift shop it is so daunting, but take your time, go slow and look through literally every single section even if it doesn’t look like something you would be interested in. All of my best finds have been from spots in the store that I didn’t think I would like. Get yourself a cute little coffee, bring headphones and dig,” Sydnee Edmonds, a senior history major with a minor in political science, said. 

Even if thrifting is not your speed, you can exercise your creative side. Textile crafts like knitting, sewing or crochet are good ways to be sustainable while being crafty because you can make your own clothes. In addition, the materials for these hobbies can be found second-hand as well or for cheap in different stores, and don’t be afraid to start if you’ve never tried it before. 

There are loads of videos on YouTube and different resources on campus that will help. For example, the Free Store, as stated before, and The Fashion Society both do workshops. The Fashion Society in particular hosts sewing workshops, crochet workshops, and clothes trading events. 

“Whenever you’re shopping around, think, is this something that is going to last me forever. In a year from now, will I still be wearing this? Do I need to buy this and add to my carbon footprint,” Layla Metin, Instagram content creator for the Fashion Society, said. 

Overall, there are cheap alternatives to fast fashion. You might have to pick up hobbies or activities that you are not used to or learn new skills, but sustainable fashion is not out of reach when you are living on a budget. You just have to think a little bit more about what you’re buying and what impact it has. 

“Don’t feel bad about your consumption, but try to reduce it as much as you can,” Edmonds said. 

At the end of the day, everyone wants to feel beautiful. Everyone wants the opportunity to express themselves and clothing is a great way to do so. You just have to remember, especially when you don’t have lots of money to spend on clothes, to be mindful of the history behind the price tag. After all, fast fashion has a different high cost.