• Kaitlyn Gray

How to shop sustainably on a college student budget

Updated: Jan 28

It is often thought that sustainable living is a form of privilege and that only the wealthy can purchase and wear sustainable fashion. While it is true that eco-friendly materials and production mean ethical and sustainable brands often cost more, we’re here to debunk the myth that shopping sustainably is only available for certain members of society.

It’s really about lessening your consumption of products. So, those who aren’t spending a lot of money on clothes already are doing just as much to help the environment. Let’s take a look at how someone living on a college student budget can participate in sustainable and ethical fashion.


More clothes for recycling via Flickr user Ben Terrett, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle


1. Reduce: Invest in clothes that will last

We all have times when we want to splurge on something. Next time, consider investing in a long-lasting, ethical outfit. While buying from sustainable brands can be harder on your pockets initially, saving up for a nicer piece of clothing can save you money in the long run. If you already have durable clothing, you won’t have to continue to purchase replacements.

In 2015, the United States generated 11.9 million tons of textile waste, most of which ended up in landfills. By choosing clothing that is built to last, you are lengthening the life of materials and preventing them from being added to this depressing statistic.

If you’re looking for a place to start, you can check out men’s sustainable brands from Eco-Stylist that have been tested using Remake’s sustainable brand criteria, and Remake’s list of sustainable brands for shoppers of all genders.

2. Reuse: Shop secondhand


As you well know, thrifting and secondhand shopping is almost always a less expensive option than purchasing new. It’s also very sustainable since you are giving used clothes a new purpose and lengthening their lives. No new resources are needed for secondhand clothing!


If sifting through countless racks of thrift store clothing isn’t of interest, there are plenty of online secondhand shopping options. Resellers on apps such as Depop, Poshmark, and eBay do the dirty work for you, allowing you to simply keyword search for the piece you want and purchase from the comfort of your home. There are also many online thrift store options such as ThredUp.com, Swap.com, and Thrifted.com.

A Salvation Army thrift store in Brooklyn reported that donated garments have exactly one month to sell. After that, they’re removed from the racks, bagged up, and tossed. As a result, about 700,000 tons of unwanted, used clothing gets exported overseas per year, which hurts local clothing industries. By shopping secondhand, rather than new, you are not only saving money but also saving clothes from being put in a landfill.


3. Recycle: learn how to mend/upcycle clothing


Most often the clothing that gets donated or thrown away has a small flaw, such as a tear, a missing button, or a stain. The clothes mentioned above that don’t sell within a month at the thrift store usually fall into this category. Learning how to fix these minor issues can save an article of clothing from entering the landfill. Sewing and stain treatment are useful skills for your already loved items as well as for preserving your new upcycled sustainable fashion.

There are many ways to upcycle clothing pieces that are unwanted or no longer “trendy.” Pinterest is a great learning and inspiration tool for re-fashioning ideas. Many resellers use this platform to get ideas and tutorials for creating matching sets from large men’s dress shirts, transforming jeans into shorts, and so many other upcycles.

As for everything else...


When shopping for sustainable products that aren’t clothes, the best rule of thumb is to think before you buy. Ask yourself: how long will this last, and what impact will it have during and at the end of its life?

The longer your stuff lasts, the less you will need to buy. It’s a win-win situation! You spend less money, and the environment receives less waste. Buying long-lasting or secondhand products seems like a no brainer, so let’s keep the trend going. You don’t have to be perfect; just more conscious of your shopping habits, and do the best you can!


The Author: Kaitlyn Gray

Kaitlyn Gray is a content writer at Eco-Stylist. She studies Sustainability Science at the University of Iowa. Kaitlyn also loves thrift shopping, listening to Harry Styles, and running her online Depop shop.

www.eco-stylist.com // on Facebook and Instagram as @yourecostylist