How to be an Ethical Shopper on a Budget

Of course, we all want to save the world. We want to end world hunger, war, and animal abuse. But, honestly, being one individual in the middle of over 7 billion people can make you feel really small and helpless. Yeah, there’s the phrase, “It starts with one person,” but can one person really start a worldwide movement and create change?

These are the things I think about when I’m shopping. I think about people like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. If they could create such positive change in this world through their confidence, leadership, and determination, why can’t I? However, I understand that I, like many others in this world, want change, but don’t have the time or resources to commit my life to the change. Alas, this brings me to the topic of ethical shopping. As a fairly broke college student living in an expensive city, it’s not so easy for me to exercise ethical shopping. I want to shop at the brands that I know have the same morals I do, but my wallet doesn’t necessarily agree with that. This is what leads many people in my demographic to the world of fast fashion; stores like Forever 21 and Primark who produce clothes rapidly and sell them for cheap prices. It seems like a great deal for people who want style on a low budget, but fast fashion companies are able to sell their clothes for so little due to the unethical working conditions of employees and wasteful disposal of clothes, among other issues.

However, it is possible to shop ethically on a budget, and here’s how:


One of the worst parts about fast fashion brands is that, when trends come and go, so do the clothes. Piles and piles of clothes are thrown out, and this trash is extremely harmful to our environment. A way to avoid this problem, without emptying your bank account on expensive brand clothing, is to thrift! Shopping at thrift stores and consignment shops has become much more popular recently. There’s something very cool to us millennials about purchasing “vintage” apparel and items. It’s a stylish look, but it also helps us prevent tons of waste! Rather than throwing out those old clothes, people donated or sold them to these stores who are helping pass these clothes along. As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And the best part about shopping at thrift stores and consignment shops is that items are often sold for much cheaper than their original selling prices, due to the fact that they’ve been previously worn or used. All the better! You can save tons of money and still get some awesome new clothes, all while contributing to saving the environment.


An important part of understanding ethical shopping is research. It’s difficult to know which of your beloved brands are ethical and which aren’t without doing some good old-fashioned research. You can find out a lot about a brand, including employee wages, where the items are produced, working conditions, and environmental impact. Again, it’s hard to find a perfect brand who gets an A+ in all these categories, while still being affordable. However, it’s all about baby steps. While you may not be able to afford a brand like that, you could look into brands who are pledging to improve. For example, H&M used to be considered a fast fashion brand (and still technically might be). However, last year, H&M worked hard to research ways to become more sustainable. They put out a new line called H&M Conscious, and all the clothes were produced with sustainably-sourced cotton. While this cotton only represents 43 percent of their total cotton use, their goal is to have 100 percent of their cotton come from sustainable sources by 2020. Companies like this, who are still affordable, but who are making strides towards more ethical production, can be good choices for people who want to shop ethically on a budget.


One of the cheapest ways to be an ethical shopper is to make your own clothes! If you’re someone who is creative and would be willing to put in the effort and time into making their own clothes, than this is perfect for you! Just as with cooking, making your own clothes ensures that all the materials and production were done as ethically as possible. Plenty of arts and crafts stores sell materials like cloth, yarn, thread, sewing machines, and buttons, and it could make for a fun home project. However, if you’re not necessarily the artsy type, you could always buy homemade clothes from other sources. Websites like Etsy specialize in handmade products sold by normal people. You can often personalize the product to be exactly what you want. It’s a less expensive way to ensure that your product is being created by an ethical source. In addition, you know that your money is going to a good cause: a hard-working individual like yourself, rather than a multimillion-dollar, greedy corporation.

All in all, it’s not impossible to be an ethical shopper on a low budget. You have plenty of options, and it’s all about starting small and making strides. It may feel like your one action makes no difference in the big scheme of things, but it’s all about conversation. Talking to your family and friends about the changes you’re making to your shopping habits can inspire them to do the same! While you may not feel as prominent in this movement as, say, Martin Luther King, Jr. in the civil rights movement, you can feel confident that a chain reaction has begun.

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