A beginner’s guide to sustainable fashion

Tips and tricks on how to be eco-friendly and cost effective


Trying to be a more sustainable consumer is a lofty goal. It often feels overwhelming, like there are just too many factors to keep track of at once. I decided that one of my primary areas of growth for this year was to work on being more eco-friendly with my fashion, but the biggest roadblock I encountered was cost. Sustainable products were three times more expensive than the clothes I used to buy and I just could not keep up with the prices, especially since most sustainable stores had a much smaller catalog of clothing that did not fit my personal style. An important element of working toward a greener planet is separating privilege from climate activism. As individuals, we should strive to do the best we can to be sustainable within our budget, but that can look different for every person. It took me a while, but I have found five methods to make environmentally-friendly clothing choices without burning a hole in my wallet.

By creating my own sustainable sense of style, I was able to improve my self-image and confidence. (Photo by Karuna Chandran)
  • Rinsing and repeating clothing is efficient and effective

It is easy to underestimate the importance of rewear value. When buying a piece of clothing, I try to picture how it will fit in with the rest of my wardrobe and imagine at least three different outfits I could create with that item and whether it will stand the test of time. For example, when I decide to buy wide-leg jeans, I have a red polo, flowy blouse and comfy sweater to match it with.

  • Timeless purchases prove quantity over quality wins every time

While shopping, I aim to buy more durable clothing that I know will last a long time, even if it is on the pricier end of the spectrum. I like to look at clothing costs as an investment of time versus what the price itself is. Therefore, if a T-shirt costs $30 but I wear it thirty times, while I wear a T-shirt that costs $10 twice, the thirty-dollar outfit was more worth the expense.

  • Secondhand shopping creates wardrobe customization and individuality 

Thrifting and hand-me-downs are my life savers. My aunt from India has lots of Indian garments she has passed down to me that I love to pair and mix and match with my existing wardrobe for a pop of bright color. Thrifting is often a struggle, but the feeling of satisfaction I experience when I find a piece I identify with is incredibly rewarding. It is harder to thrift everyday essentials, but for the items that I use to express my individuality and match with my basics, thrifting is a triumph. 

  • Mixing and matching clothing mean that more is less

Capsule wardrobing is the easiest way to be sustainable. The goal is to own smaller amounts of clothing, but because everything goes together with everything, the matching possibilities are virtually endless. Many people have capsule wardrobes for different seasons to keep them on the smaller side, but I prefer to just have two for colder and warmer weather. Each capsule may have more clothing, but they are all pieces I truly adore. I aim for around 20 tops in total and 10 pants for each capsule. 

  • Bases & accents give a wardrobe a sense of unity

The trick to having a cohesive color scheme for a capsule wardrobe is to have a base color (typically neutral tones like beige or navy blue) and an accent color (mine is red). Everything should either be a base or accent or complement one of the two. I like to keep my bottoms mostly neutrals and allow my tops to have more personality to make matching more efficient. 


Fashion should foster inclusive and acceptance

Fashion is not just for a certain group of people: it is for everyone who wants to find a way to express who they are on the inside or to experiment and try new things. Even when school was incredibly stressful, having a put-together outfit or doing an online shopping haul made me feel more in control of everything going on in my life. To add on, feeling like I was able to make a difference in the world through individual sustainable action was incredibly empowering. These tips are a great starting point, but they are not at all an exhaustive list: merely some food for thought on what I hope is an amazing and rewarding journey!

For more information on capsule wardrobing, check out our guide linked below for some ideas and inspiration on how to get started!