I’m sure you’ve heard the news by now – fast fashion is bad. Like, really really bad. It’s polluting our planet, costing thousands of lives, and creating tonnes upon tonnes of waste. I’m not going to get into all the horrific impacts it’s having, you can research that yourself, but long story short – it’s something we all need to move away from.

The problem for us students, is that distancing ourselves from fast fashion isn’t easy. The current alternative to fast fashion that’s being pushed by activists is ethical fashion. It’s a fantastic alternative, but it can get very expensive. For good reason, obviously – the whole point of ethical fashion is that everyone involved in the making of the clothes gets a fair and safe deal, and that extra cost is reflected in the prices. However the unfortunate side effect of this is that ethical pieces can cost hundreds of dollars. Even ‘cheaper’ store’s prices can seem far too much for a student on a very limited budget, and far too much relative to the rock-bottom fast fashion prices we’re used to. Plus, most ethical producers are overseas, which means paying a fortune for shipping (not great for the environment either). Realistically, ‘buying ethically’ like we see well-off Youtubers in their thirties doing just isn’t practical for high school or uni students.

There’s no shame in admitting it – fast fashion is just so much easier. Everything is contained in one convenient mall. Nothing beats the feeling of walking into a store packed with cute new clothes, or the thrill of a purchase. And it’s just so cheap! Even the brokest of students can afford weekly shopping trips to the mall for some good old retail therapy. However, moving away from fast fashion doesn’t have to mean spending thousands on a whole new ethical wardrobe. In fact it’s the opposite. It’s all about making the most of what you’ve got, being resourceful, and making mindful choices. Anyone can do it – and it doesn’t need to cost a cent.

The first question you need to ask yourself is; do I really need anything new in the first place? ‘Newness’ is addictive – but buying new clothes, even if they are ‘ethical’, should be your very last option. Making use of what you already have should be your top priority. Chances are, you have way more than you think hiding in your wardrobe. The summer holidays are the perfect opportunity to get everything out and take stock. Have a play around, try on new outfit combos – fashion Youtubers and bloggers are a great way to get some inspo. You could swap clothes that you don’t like/fit anymore with friends. Another thing to consider is developing a capsule wardrobe – a minimalist wardrobe with a small amount of clothes, including a lot of basics, that is timeless and you can style in many combinations. Remember, quality not quantity!

Decided that you really do need something new? Second hand is the way to go. Buying pre-loved clothing is the ultimate form of reduce, reuse, recycle – you’re eliminating the impact of buying new, and it’s not going to the landfill. As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. There’s this stereotype that second hand means manky, old, outdated clothes, but that’s not true at all. You can find second hand clothes of all sizes and styles on Trade Me, Depop, Facebook buy/sell pages, local markets, thrift stores, Instagram selling pages, etc. There’s a treasure trove of second hand clothes out there, if you know where to look. The biggest bonus? It won’t break the bank. As soon as clothes leave the store and aren’t brand new anymore, they lose a lot of value. Bad news for the seller, but fantastic news for you! If you’re willing to spend some time searching, you can get beautiful, high quality, almost-new pieces for a fraction of the retail price.

As much as we can try to make the most of what we have, or buy second hand, sometimes you just have to buy something new. But you don’t need to turn to fast fashion.  Even as broke students, investing in ethical fashion can definitely be worthwhile. The most crucial step of leaving fast fashion behind is changing your mindset. We’re addicted to newness, addicted to cheap, addicted to immediate reward. We need to bring our minds out of the present, and think to the future. For example – spending $150 on a quality, ethical basic blouse may seem like far too much to our ‘now-focused’ minds, but it’s important to consider the investment that you’re making. You’re going to be able to wear it for years, in countless situations. Far more worthwhile than a $15 top that you wear twice before it falls apart or goes out of fashion. But the cost is not what’s important here. Buying ethically isn’t just an investment in a piece of clothing. It’s an investment in the safety of workers around the world, in the environment, and in the future of our planet. A worthwhile investment, I’d say.

Kate is a Year 12 student from Canterbury. She enjoys music, languages, sunny days, and a good book.

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