Guilt Free Fashion on a Budget: Fairytale or Fairly Feasible?

Accountability and sustainability are big buzzwords in the fashion world these days, stemming from recent popularity spikes in green living and a rising distaste for the bad business practices that have put our collective health and our economy in jeopardy. It’s not only the high-end lines that have been taken to task, either. The all-you-can-shop fast fashion model offered to those of us with budget concerns doesn’t often jive with our consciences.

How can you find eco-friendly, cruelty-free, sweatshop-shunning fashions all in one store without spending a fortune?

The short answer: you mostly can’t.

Due to the way the garment industry has run itself for so many years, with maximizing profits a priority over quality and ethics, all of these important factors are considered optional. A sad fact of living today is that no matter what you buy, unless you are going completely secondhand for your guilt-free fashion, you are contributing to a process that has hurt someone or something. Entirely guilt free fashion is probably shooting too high, unless you’ve got major cash to spare. However, you can try to make informed decisions about which brands you’d like to support, and tailor your budget shopping to companies that share at least some of your socially-conscious priorities. You may do some research and look for companies that are using coastal and marine recycled plastic textiles in manufacturing their clothing items.

American Apparel: Of all the mainstream brands, this one has some of the best practices. Aside from selling organic and environmentally-friendly clothing, the company participates in recycling and energy-saving practices, keeps factories only in the U.S., and offers employees public transportation subsidies, enrichment classes and health insurance.

H&M: Turning its previously poor reputation around in response to public pressure, this brand joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and began their Conscious Collection to improve sustainability and corporate responsibility.

ASOS: Although you’re not likely to find this store in your local mall, their online shop is worth looking into. The brand is part of the Ethical Trade Initiative, and adheres to strict guidelines that help improve working conditions on a global scale. They also boast a carbon neutral footprint and a wide selection of green clothing for your guilt-free fashion needs.

One thing to keep in mind: Voting with your dollar sometimes means making tough choices. Even companies with stellar environmental and labor policies can slip up in other areas that turn you off to their brand completely. Tone-deaf or offensive advertising, employee harassment suits, sketchy copyright infringement scams and bogus public personas abound, after all.

How do you balance your ethical concerns with your love for clothes? Do you think guilt free fashion is a feasible goal for those on a restricted budget?


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