How To Buy Ethical Fashion On A Budget

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Ethical fashion on a budget? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Shopping ethically 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

ethical clothing 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, repair any clothes that need a little fix, swap with friends, or sell your clothes online.

It’s also a little-known fact that you can also donate worn-out clothes to charity shops. Just pop them in a separate bag marked rags, and the charity shop gets money for it from the rag trade. The rags then get recycled.

Once you’ve had a good sort through your wardrobe, look at the items you have left. Now ask yourself if there is anything that you really need. Be really honest with yourself. Ask yourself if you really need the item, or if it is more of a want.

If you do need any clothing, 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 add 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 mostly love shopping on eBay. I’ve found so much good stuff on there (and at the same time a load of rubbish). As such I’ve put together a guide on tips for buying clothes on eBay to help you navigate its murky waters!

Asos Marketplace

Asos Marketplace is another good resource for buying pre-loved items, although, with so many options, it can be a bit overwhelming. 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 around charity shops in the hope of striking gold then Oxfam sells secondhand clothes, shoes, and accessories online. I’ve also put together a guide on charity shop tips that you might find useful, as well as a guide to other places to shop for secondhand clothes online.

Vintage Shops

Living in Edinburgh I’m quite spoiled for choice when it comes to vintage shops. We have some amazing reasonably priced ones. 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 try Rokit’s online store.

Other online options include Asos, which has 408 vintage shops operating in its vintage marketplace.

Beyond Retro also has a good fairly affordable selection on their website (you can use the exclusive code MORALFIBRES at the checkout to receive 15% off your order at Beyond Retro).

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.

Etsy does have a UK sister site – Folksy. I find Folksy’s vintage selection not particularly great, and I find their search function a bit rubbish, to be honest, but you might find some gems if you search hard!

Wardrobe Swapping

Another option for ethical fashion on a budget is wardrobe swapping. These are fun and sociable community events, where you can take along the good quality clothes you no longer wear and find preloved treasures. Check the internet to see if there are any wardrobe-swapping events near you.

Affordable Ethical Fashion Retailers

clothes from sustainable fashion retailers hanging on a rail

Buying new is less ethical than buying secondhand. It’s also often less affordable. However, that’s not to say you can’t get a good deal.

There are loads of men’s and women’s ethical retailers out there. So much so that I’ve put together a list of over 50 ethical clothing brands for women and over 20 sustainable clothing brands for men. To help you out, I’ve categorised the retailers by budget and size range. I’ve also put together a separate guide to more affordable sustainable clothing brands.

Many of these retailers run amazing sales periodically throughout the year. You can sign up for their mailing lists and be notified of when their sales are. Bear in mind that it is easy to get carried away in the sales. Keep a list of the items of clothing you really need. This way when the sales swing around you know exactly what you’re looking for.

As an added bonus, some brands have mailing lists when you sign up for them you can get money off your first purchase. I’ve listed in the brand guides the retailers that do offer a discount. For many, it’s 10% but some do offer a whopping 25% off your first order. Linger about on their site for a few seconds and often good introductory deals do pop up.

Ethical Fashion on a Budget on the High Street

Clothes on hangeers

The high street is often the most accessible place for people to buy clothing. Particularly so in terms of size and price. There is absolutely zero shame if you can only shop on the high street. 

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. However, some 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!

What You Can Do

The High St will always be the most accessible place for people to shop. Therefore to make the ethical fashion movement more inclusive to all, and at all budgets, it’s important to take action beyond your wallet.

You see, sustainable fashion lacks diverse representation. Particularly in terms of race, gender fluidity, and of the LGBTQ+ community. However, there is also a lack of a range of sizes, a lack of variety of styles, as well as issues of affordability. These issues are leaving a large swath of potential would-be customers behind.

Things that you can do to help engender change include asking High St brands who make their clothes. See Fashion Revolution for their great resources. This will help press for transparency and sustainability on the High Street. 

You can also support ethical brands that align with your values. Even if you can’t afford to shop with these ethical brands, it can also mean liking, commenting, and sharing their social media posts to help boost their exposure to a wider audience.

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!

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  1. Let’s talk about this ethical problem…
    I think that it’s necessary to change the way we support enterprises. But i’m not talking about vintage or neighborhood shops, I’m talking about brands such as Zara, Pull’n Bear etc that earn money and grow fastly at the expense of children and women exploitation. The world is becoming very selfish. I mean, we only think about our lifes and problems, but we aren’t able to see that in other parts of the planet people are dying and getting hurt because of this capitalism. A capitalism that doesn’t understand about health, about rights, about people… A capitalism that only understand about numbers and money, and we have to change like specie or we will all die. And the problem is not only about exploitation, it’s also about the climate change. We only have one planet, and we act like if we don’t care. What’s wrong with us?… I don’t know, I’m only an adolescent and this is a short reflection.
    Thanks for the conseils to fight the unethical problems that this topic has.

  2. I agree with the article because it´s not necessary to spend a lot of money in clothes. But we live in a consumer society.
    Several years ago, I noticed I had a whopping amount of clothes which I bought and now I don’t wear them. I stored them in my wardrobe.
    It´s a pity throw them to rubbish, they´re “as-new”. In my opinion the best option is donate them to other people or donate to charity both options will be a new opportunity to use them.
    I haven’t any time to sell them in secondhand stores or in the Internet websites.
    I have never bought a secondhand clothes, because I don’t visit second hand stores or maybe because there are a lot of “pret a porter” stores, which there are fashion cheap clothes.
    It´s obviously in that stores you only find fashion clothes and after several washing the clothes lose their colours or they wear away quickly.
    Please consider this sentence: Give our clothes another chance!

  3. I’ve read your article thinking about the meaning of “necessity”. In fact, I think that when we have a wardrobe plenty of clothes it’s because society imposes this way of life. When I was young, I inherited my older cousins’ clothes. After, the clothes came back to my younger cousin and, again, returned to my younger sister… so, this is a real way to be ethical with clothes.

  4. Hi!
    I like so much the post. Nowadays is very common to buy in a vintage store because these kinds of shops promotes the ethical consume. Some people sell their clothes and other people buy them at a better price. But, in Spain, in my opinion, this type of trade is being exploited too much and the businessmen take advantage of it, because the price of the clothes is increasing and you spend more in a vintage shop than other shops like Zara or some other. This is my opinion. I like these kind of shops but they are too exploited already.

  5. Yolanda Aguirre
    Octubre 14, 2019 at 12:17 a.m.

    Hi, I think that a great part of de Spanish women have more clothes that we need and wear. We would have to follow your advice and check our wardrobe. Give what we don´t use to charity and buy only the clothes that we really need. It´s a good idea to seat a budget and meet it. Thanks for your tips!

  6. Totally agree.
    Nowadays it’s popular to buy clothes in stores of seconhand and try to fuond clothes fashion or vintage for good prices. You can also search on websites and that gives you a chance to found more places for all kind of clothes or other things on good price. In the other hand it could be another option to recicle the clothes that you don’t use it any more, so this way it’s good oportinity for everyone.

  7. Thanks for this. I find it hard to shop ethically when the only suggestions are expensive brands that are only available online. It’s really frustrating, and they never seem to have varied lengths for their trousers. Well done for suggesting brands that are affordable and more inclusive as well as ethical.

  8. Hi, I always find it hard to 1. Find men’s clothes that I am happy to wear in charity shops (it’s usually old men’s clothes) and 2. Men usually wear clothes until they’re broken which is again unhelpful..

  9. I am disabled, so I would prefer online suppliers. I do see lots of lovely clothes, at very reasonable prices. However, the garments come from the Far East, and I’ve read that, historically the factories employ child labour and pollute the local land and rivers.

  10. I completely agree with you! I always care about the clothes I’m using so if there are some I don’t use I give them to a charity. But sometimes buy secondhand can be hard. Where I live there aren’t many secondhand shops, and sometimes I really need to see the clothes on me, so buying them on internet isn’t an option. But spending more time and making a bigger effort it can be done! And it’s much better.

  11. I couldn´t agree more with all this useful tips. Since I visited Camden Market I´ve been convinced that shopping at second-hand shops is the best way to get high quality clothes for a reasonable price. Can you imagine yourself finding a haute couture dress for less tan 20 €? I love the feeling of satisfaccion when I hunt a really good bargain.
    By the way…don´t you think that everybody wears the same clothes from the same brands and the same accesories? It´s so boring….I think it´s like wearing school uniform!!!
    On the contrary, if you buy in vintage stores, your manner of dressing will be admired by your friends, believe me.
    Hey!, thank you for your suggestion about Wardrobe Swapping. I can´t stand to waste a fortune in a dress only for a special occasion.

  12. Buying second hand/used fashion is no-doubt the way forward, that said Im a volunteer at a nonprofit online marketplace, that allows any ethical / cruelty free business to create stores for free, this is great for anyone that will only purchase ethical clothing.

  13. My hierarchy looks a lot like yours. I’ve worked over the past year to cut out high street brands altogether, but I do still purchase jeans from non-fair trade sources. I work at a thrift shop, though, so I can go wild shopping secondhand.

  14. Shopping second hand has always been a great option for me.It’s certainly more sustainable. With auction sites like eBay and swishing sites like Big Wardrobe, Nextonly.uk and Posh Swaps remaining popular, there are plenty of opportunities to pick up a bargain.Guess who wouldnt want that.

  15. Hello,

    I work for a charity that take retailers damage, customer returned, end of line, and sample stock. We pay for all collection of the stock, and will remove all internal labels before sell in our 4 charity stores based in the midlands. Our charity is the Newlife Foundation for Disabled Children, and we help all children with all types of disabilities all over the uk. (www.newlifecharity.co.uk), If you would like any more information, or would like to have a chat about what we do, please feel free to contact me on 01543 468888, via e-mail [email protected].

    Kind regards

    Liz Marshall