ethical clothing on a budget

Ethical clothing – it can’t be done on a budget?  Or can it?  As a fairly thrifty mrs I like to think so: here are my top tips for shopping ethically without breaking the bank!

The Moral Fibres Guide to Ethical Fashion on A Budget

Do The Ground Work

It’s not really groundbreaking, but before you buy anything new have a good sort through your wardrobe.  Donate any items of clothing you don’t wear to charity.  It’s a little known fact that you can also donate worn out clothes to charity shops – just put them in a separate bag marked rags, and the charity shop gets money for it from the rag trade.  The rags then get recycled – look, no landfill!

Once you’ve had a good sort through, look at the items you have left, and ask yourself if there anything that you really need?  If so, make a list (and stick to it!).  At this stage it’s also a good idea to set a budget.  When shopping, particularly secondhand, it is easy to get caught up – a £5 top here, a £3 dress there, a £15 coat there – it all starts to adds up.  Set a firm budget and stick to it.

Shopping Secondhand

ethical fashion on a budget

The most ethical way to shop for the items you really need is to shop secondhand.  There are quite a few ways that you can shop secondhand and buy ethical fashion on a budget:


eBay is a second hand clothing goldmine (some of the time!).  I love shopping on eBay, I’ve found so much good stuff on there (and at the same time a load of rubbish) so I’ve put together a guide on tips for buying clothes on ebay to help you navigate it’s murky waters!

Asos Marketplace

Asos Marketplace* is another good option for buying pre-loved items.  It can be a bit overwhelming, but I find browsing by category and setting my maximum price on the slider makes it a bit easier to deal with.

Charity Shops

Charity and vintage shops are always an excellent port of call.  If you don’t have the time or inclination to mooch round charity shops in the hope of striking gold Oxfam* sell secondhand clothes, shoes and accessories online.  I’ve also put together a guide on charity shop tips that you might find useful.

Vintage Shops

Living in Edinburgh I’m quite spoiled for choice when it comes to vintage shops – we have some amazing reasonably priced ones such as Armstrongs.  If you don’t happen to have any vintage shops near you, or your nearest ones are astronomically priced (like some of the London ones I’ve visited) then Armstrongs sell online via their Armstrongs eBay store.

Other online options include Asos again, which has 408 vintage shops* operating in it’s vintage marketplace.  Beyond Retro also have a good fairly affordable selection on their website.  Etsy* is another veritable gold mine for vintage clothing.  The majority of it is US based, however you can filter your search to only show UK items to avoid getting stung on postage fees and import duties.  It does have a UK sister site – Folksy – but it’s vintage selection isn’t particularly great and I find their search function a bit rubbish to be honest.

Wardrobe Swapping

Another option for ethical fashion on a budget is wardrobe swapping – check the internet to see if there are any wardrobe swapping events near you.  If not, then online you could try Swap Style.  I haven’t used it so can’t report back on how good Swap Style is, but if you’ve used it do let me know how you get on!

Ethical Fashion Retailers

people tree

Buying new is less ethical than buying secondhand.  However, if you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for secondhand then buying new from an ethical retailer online is a good next step.

Some of my favourite ethical retailers for men and women include People Tree* and Thought*.  Dedicated women’s ethical retailers include BibicoAnnie Greenabelle, and Nancy Dee.  In fact, I’ve put together a list of 35 ethical clothing brands to help you out!

If they’re still out of your budget then all of these retailers do run amazing sales periodically throughout the year.   You can sign up to their mailing lists and be notified of when their sales are.  As an added bonus quite often when you sign up to their mailing lists you can get money off your first purchase – for example Nancy Dee offers a whopping 20% of your first order when you sign up (although not redeemable on sale items)!

And a top tip for keeping on budget: it’s easy to get carried away in the sales.  Keep a list of the items of clothing you really need and so when the sales swing round you know exactly what you’re looking for.

In case you’re wondering why ethical retailers, like People Tree, are able to have sales and still pay workers a fair wage, then this blog post by People Tree is quite a good read.

Ethical Fashion on a Budget on the High Street

marks and spencer ethical

If you prefer shopping in bricks and mortar stores, then it is possible to shop comparatively ethically on the high street, on budget, with a bit of research.  The Good Shopping Guide and Ethical Consumer are great places to research high street shops, and find out how your favourite shop ranks on ethics. It does get a bit confusing as the Good Shopping Guide and the Ethical Consumer do contradict each other a little, but generally in the UK Marks & Spencer*, Monsoon, Bonmarche* (who, to be honest, I hadn’t heard of) and perhaps more surprisingly, New Look*, are all a bit more ethical compared to their high street counterparts.

Although least ethical in the grand scheme of ethical shopping, these retailers do seem to be doing a bit more than other high street retailers.  I’ve previously put together a handy guide to shopping ethically on the high street – it includes four simple questions to ask yourself before shopping to help avoid those impulse fast fashion fixes!

So there we go, I hope this helps you shop for ethical fashion on a budget!  If I’ve missed something or you want to add anything do let me know in the comments section below!

Images: 1. My Own / 2. Ladybird Twill / 3. People Tree / 4. Marks & Spencer

* denotes an affiliate link.  Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

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