How to build an ethical wardrobe on a budget

‘Ethical Fashion’ is one of the biggest buzzwords in the industry right now.
But what exactly is it?⁠

Ethical Fashion is a collective term for clothing produced with the intention of reducing the negative impact clothing production has on our earth and on its inhabitants. It encompasses all the steps and processes a garment goes through, from raw material all the way through to the end of its life cycle.⁠

Various factors are taken into account: What raw materials were used and how were they grown and processed? Who made the clothes and what were the worker's conditions and are they being fairly compensated? What is the carbon footprint as a result of the transportation of both the materials and the final product? What will happen to the item at the end of its life cycle, will it decompose organically or will it add to the mountains of toxic landfill? ⁠

It is a bit of a rabbits warren once you get started looking into all the details, there are so many factors that can be taken into regard when either producing clothing and also when buying clothing. But it is essential to know the facts to be equipped to make decisions based on solid information.⁠

Building an ethical wardrobe can feel daunting. You might feel the need to research every brand, fabric, and manufacturer in the industry. In reality, building an ethical wardrobe is not about aiming for perfection but taking small positive steps...... one step at a time.


There’s a common misconception that you can only create an ethical wardrobe if you have a high-end budget. This idea couldn’t be further from the truth. Anyone can shop ethically, and it’s not all about high-end clothing brands. The founding principle of an ethical wardrobe is to embrace slow fashion – shop less with better-quality pieces. It is simply about reducing your personal fashion consumption.

There are many ways in which you are able to easily and affordably "ethicify" your
closet, and thus reduce your contribution to the negative impact that fast fashion has on our planet and its inhabitants. Here are a few options that you could consider:


Buy consciously - Australia is the second most wasteful society with 650 kgs. of waste per person sent to landfill each year, a big part of which is unused or barely worn clothing. We can help reduce that by buying only what we need – less and better quality, ensuring that every garment you purchase lasts through many seasons.
Something that can make this process easier is looking at the raw materials the clothes are made of. We’ve all been disappointed by buying a dress or shirt that has ripped after one or two uses. Buying high-quality fabric means that the garment can be worn for years to come and they still looks great after multiple washes. 

Some good options to look out for are fabrics like organic cotton, linen, hemp, and wool as natural fabrics. Organic denim which has been dyed with certified non-toxic dyes is another fabric you want to consider when buying the wardrobe staple - jeans – you’re guaranteed to have at least one set of jeans that have been in your wardrobe for years.
Keep an eye out for ethical fashion brands who use natural fabrics and are conscious of sustainable and fair trade policies in their supply chain, something we really need to see a lot more of in the industry.

A big thing to be mindful of is how many times you’re going to wear the clothing, too. Instead of buying something on impulse or that might be a momentary trend, choose clothes that you can see yourself wearing for multiple seasons. A study from Greenpeace estimates that 20% of clothing is never worn, with the average garment worn less than four times. Crazy, right? Before you buy anything, you want to be confident that you’ll wear it multiple times.


This may sound a bit daunting to some of you but sewing on a button or repairing a seam is both quick and easy. You can always search on YouTube for tutorials if you get stuck. For the more creative and ambitious, you should take a look at #visiblemending It’s amazing how this simple task of repairing clothing has turned into such a beautiful form of art.


A popular option that’s becoming more common is to revamp a garment you are tired of, or up-cycle something from the thrift shop that has great potential but isn't quite right. A few buttons, a shorter hem, a narrower silhouette… the options are endless. Not only is it fun and creative, but you’ll have a new and unique garment to add to your wardrobe.

Buy Second Hand

Ethical fashion isn’t all about shopping at next-gen brands though, which
unfortunately often have a high price tag to accompany the sustainable nature of the clothing. Shopping pre-loved is the perfect option if you’re on a budget – or want more variety! It’s like a treasure hunt, you might find a gem hidden away amongst the rails of mixed styles, brands, and shapes. 

The beauty of shopping second-hand is that you’re not using new fabrics or textiles, while also saving clothes from the dump. A whopping 85% of textiles end up in a landfill – enough to fully fill Sydney harbour each year. Not only is shopping second-hand far easier on your wallet, but thanks to the environmental benefits of reused clothes there’s far less guilt when you buy garments you don’t even need, but love anyway.

Borrow or Swop

This way of changing our wardrobes is becoming more and more acceptable and mainstream as our awareness increases. It is fun and social and connects us with our fellow humans.

Care for Your Clothes

Do you want to know the biggest secret to having an ethical wardrobe? It’s all about taking care of your clothing. When you look after your clothing, you’re less likely to need to replace it, and you’ll get the most out of every piece. Along with changing your shopping habits, you want to consider how you treat the clothing you already have. 

It’s a good idea to always wash on the cold settings, and use gentle and natural detergents. Make sure you hand wash any garments that aren’t suitable for your washing machine and avoid the tumble dryer whenever possible. With only a little care, our clothes can look so much better, for so much longer.


Don’t be overwhelmed by all these possibilities though. It may take time to get
used to the new habits after being stuck in a ‘fast fashion’ mindset for years,
but don’t let perfection be your enemy. Building your ethical wardrobe is all
about taking small steps in the right direction. Be gentle with yourself, and
know that with every small action you take, the world becomes all the better
because of it. With these tips and tricks, we hope your journey to ethical
fashion has become even a little easier.

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