9 Affordable or Free Alternatives to Fast Fashion

August 26, 2021

Pinterest pin that reads '9 Free or Affordable Alternatives to Fast Fashion' with an image of a flea market on top and person sewing on the bottom

So, you’ve heard about the negative impact of fast fashion for humans and the environment, and you want to avoid it. What are your options?

It can be confusing to navigate sustainable fashion as there are many misconceptions about the best ways to participate in the movement. Expensive ethical brands are not the only, or the best, alternative to fast fashion. In fact, the best alternatives cost less or nothing at all. In this post, I’ll go over some great options you have if you’re trying to avoid fast fashion.

9 Fast Fashion Alternatives to Try

Disclaimer: I fully recognize that these options may not work for everyone, due to time, location, size options, physical abilities, and many other factors. If you need to shop fast fashion because the alternatives don’t work for you, don’t feel guilty for trying your best. Just be mindful of your consumption, take good care of whatever you get, and make it last as long as possible (this goes for everyone!).

1. Double-check your closet

Before your search for a specific item, take a good look at what you already have. If you grew up accumulating clothes like me (I used to love fast fashion), you might be surprised and find that you actually have something similar. Dig through your drawers and unearth the pieces at the bottom. Reorganize so that you’re prepared for any change in seasons.

Before you decide to bring anything new into your closet, it’s a good practice to see if you actually need it. I like to ask:

  • Do I have something similar that could work?
  • Could I get at least 30 wears out of it? Will I keep it for years?
  • Does it go with things I already own?
  • Will I still want it if it’s not trendy anymore?

Ultimately, buying less and loving what you already have (even if it’s old fast fashion!) is the best first step when participating in the slow fashion movement.

2. Mending or upcycling your clothes (or finding a seamstress)

sewing kit on a blue sheet

If the piece you want to replace has a small hole or tear, mending it should be even quicker than searching for a new piece! Unfortunately, sewing isn’t taught in schools in the US, so many folks don’t know how to mend their clothes. There are lots of free sewing tutorials on YouTube though, and while your first couple tries may take some time, you’ll save time and money in the long run.

If you have a friend who knows how to sew, you can even invite them over and have a clothes mending party (one of my favorite sustainable hangout ideas). It’s a really relaxing activity to do together, and leaves space for chatting or watching a TV show in the background. In turn, you can teach your friend a new skill at the next hangout 🙂

If you’re feeling creative, you might even sew your own clothes out of old fabric or scraps (bedsheets are great), or embellish an existing piece you have.

Seamstresses and tailors can also be an affordable option in some places, especially Europe. You won’t need to learn how to sew in this case, and you’ll also be supporting local businesses, which are often owned by immigrant women. Thanks to my friend Nina of Lemons and Luggage for this suggestion!

3. Borrow/Swap

My favorite pieces this year have come from my mom’s closet, and they were pieces she was planning to turn into cleaning rags. Check your family’s wardrobes or reach out to your friends to see if you can borrow what you need. Or, if you simply want variety, organize a clothing swap.

Sizing might not always line up, so if you don’t have a friend your size, see if you can host something through your local Buy Nothing group. These groups were created so that people in the same area could give away and get things for free. Most of the exchanges are individual, but people will sometimes organize larger swapping events. People also often frequently gift clothing in these groups.

4. Buy Sell Trade Groups

Sometimes, you won’t be able to find what you need by checking your closet, mending, or swapping. So, let’s get into the next phase of things to try that are unfortunately not free, but are often relatively affordable.

If you’re looking for something from a specific brand, Buy Sell Trade groups on Facebook are really helpful. In these groups, people will sell their lightly-used items from that brand at a lower price. You can claim the items and then pay via PayPal or Venmo.

Of course, there is a certain degree of risk, but some groups will have “seller ratings” and admins will also kick anyone out who isn’t honest. PayPal also comes with Buyer Protection, so you should use that and say that you’re paying for a good or service to have that kick in.

I’ve used a Buy Sell Trade group before and had a good experience. It does take a little digging since items won’t be organized like they are in an online shop, but you can use the search function, and the algorithm also does a good job of showing what you’re looking for (kinda creepy, but I guess it’s actually useful in this case haha). You can also post an ISO (“in search of”) in some groups to expedite the process.

To find a Buy Sell Trade group, look up the specific brand plus “buy sell trade” or “resale.” There are also some groups around a specific interest, like women’s activewear or slow fashion.

5. Thrifting in-person

thrift store in boston

Thrifting has become a lot more expensive in some “corporate” chains like Goodwill, but local charity shops often have more stable prices, and they tend to support great causes.

(By the way, I think thrifting is for everyone regardless of income, as only 20% of donated clothes get resold, and the rest gets trashed or dumped in the Global South. If you’re not thrifting out of necessity, there are definitely ways to be more mindful to people who are, but the gentrification of thrifting narrative that has been pushed is largely misinformed. It’s a very nuanced discussion, so you can learn more in the post I linked, with sources).

When you go thrifting, be prepared to sift through a lot of stuff. It definitely takes some time, energy, and patience to look through the racks. If you prefer a more curated selection, consignment stores like Plato’s Closet or Buffalo Exchange are a good option, but they are pricier than traditional thrift shops. Vintage shops also have a nicer shopping experience, but they are typically pretty expensive.

For those who don’t mind the digging, the Goodwill Bins are the last stop before clothes are trashed, recycled, or shipped abroad. You can get a lot of items for a low price at the bins. There might also be thrift shops that sell by weight in your area that have a similar concept.

For those who need it, there are also some free clothes banks. You can often find them at churches, but there are also chains like Dress for Success for women’s professional clothing and Cinderella’s Closet for prom dresses.

6. Flea markets

Flea markets seem to be more common in Europe than the US, but you can often find high-quality, pre-owned clothing for a low price. I have a few sweaters from flea markets in France and the UK that I’ve gotten for the equivalent of just a few dollars, and they’re still my favorites after 3 years.

Some flea markets occur weekly, while others are pop-up events. Google to see what’s happening near you!

me wearing a forest green cardigan over a corduroy overalls dress with a silk scarf
I got this cardigan for a few euros from a flea market in France in 2018 and still wear it regularly 🙂

7. Estate, garage, and moving sales

Estate sales can be a great way to find vintage clothing and items at a lower price. You can look on estatesales.net to see the ones happening near you.

Garage and moving sales don’t have as good of a centralized platform, but Craigslist is a good start.

8. Thrifting online

If you don’t have a thrift store near you, or if you prefer the convience of shopping online, there are lots of secondhand clothing options. Here are some of the most popular ones:

Just keep an eye out for people drop shipping fast fashion items at a higher price; this is where sellers will order directly from the manufacturer. While you may get lucky and find brand new pieces that simply didn’t work out for the seller, many new items are actually mass-produced. You can recognize these items if the images are taken from a website and the seller has a large stock of many sizes. This is especially a problem on Etsy, but I’ve also definitely seen it on eBay, Poshmark, and Depop as well.

Among the different platforms, I’ve personally had the best experiences with Poshmark and Mercari. I like ThredUP as well, but I find it harder to search through the items, and I wish the photos showed the items closer up.

In general, thrifting online is more expensive than thrifting in-person due to the added shipping costs. If you’re looking for a larger amount of affordable clothing, thrifting online may not be the right option, though some sellers on resale apps will discount “bundles” and there are also resellers that will go out and thrift bundles for you. I personally use online thrifting when I need something super specific that may be harder to find in-stores. It’s actually great to find lightly-used, more affordable pieces from sustainable brands.

Online rental subscriptions aren’t on this list because they encourage overconsumption. Of course, if you need to rent something fancy for a special occasion, that’s a different story than renting clothes monthly just to constantly have new options. I have a whole post about whether renting clothes is sustainable if you want to learn more.

9. Shop more affordable sustainable brands

Affordability is of course relative, but there are some sustainable brands that are cheaper than the more expensive fast fashion brands like Aritzia and Princess Polly. Here are some sustainable brands with these relatively lower prices. (These are affiliate links, meaning I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you).

Pact—clothes made from GOTS-certified and Fair Trade cotton. 

For Days—organic cotton clothes with a closed loop model; you can send old clothes of their brand and any brand back for recycling.

Boody—bamboo viscose and organic cotton undies and loungewear. Pieces are sewn in WRAP-certified factories.

I have more recommendations in my ethical + sustainable brand directory, but just keep in mind that they will be pricier. If you’re buying less often, however, and making your clothing last, you may save money over time by investing in these pieces.


 

Let me know if there are any other fast fashion alternatives you’d add to the list!

To learn more about sustainable fashion, check out these posts:

Sustainable or Greenwashing? How to Evaluate Fashion Brands
9 Common Misconceptions About Sustainable Fashion
23 Places to Donate Clothes Besides Goodwill

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2 Comments

  • Nina | Lemons and Luggage August 27, 2021 at 5:36 am

    Great tips! I think the first one is so important, especially the part about buying something not only because it’s trendy but because you will actually wear it. I remember back in university a friend asked me why I was wearing a certain pair of shoes as they were no longer in fashion. I honestly don’t care what’s trendy, I have to like it. There are a lot of trends I really dislike, so I’m not just going to buy something I dislike because “everyone wears this now.” Likewise, if I like it why would I care that it’s deemed out of fashion?

    I also want to add that seamstresses can be a very cheap option for people who don’t know and aren’t interested in learning sewing. At least here in Europe, the prices are pretty good, especially for minor issues, and you get to support a small business (often in Europe, these are owned by immigrant women).

    • Lily August 27, 2021 at 9:18 am

      Totally agree – it’s important to like what you’re getting and not get it just because it’s trendy. That way you’ll continue to wear it for years 🙂

      And ooh, good point – I will add that to that section! I do remember my French friend taking her stuff to a seamstress and it was an immigrant woman business. She was also super nice and wouldn’t always charge for small things if there was a larger thing to be fixed along with it.

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    I'm Lily, and I run races and go places (& blog about it). I also try to advocate for the planet & its people.
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