top of page

How to Shop New * (and be both affordable and sustainable)

Updated: Jun 18, 2023

I often write about making the most of clothes we own, shopping our wardrobes, buying preloved, using charity shops, clothes swapping and renting. I love ALL these options: Not only because they are helping keep clothing moving and out of landfill, but also because they offer more opportunity for styling and creating something individual and fabulous rather than a yawn inducing carbon copy of what's currently trending. (They allow us to get better quality for less cash.)

However, I do still also buy new. And as much as I would like to say that sustainable brands make up my entire non preloved wardrobe: readers, they do not. Sometimes the easy ( read cheap) tick, or an eye caught by something lovely, wins out. And of course it's not just me. The preloved market is booming, yet currently only accounts for a tiny proportion of total fashion sales. And although strides are being taken in making clothing sustainably it still remains prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of us, who have families to clothe and electricity bills to pay. Proclaiming 'just buy better' isn't always possible. (I watched fashion reimagined about sustainable luxury brand Mother of Pearl this week : Essential watching, but a level of sustainablilty that is not yet being achieved on the high street)

I have shot Mother of Pearl editorially a few times, and ADORED both these looks, but I couldn't afford them. Waah.

But rather than dismissing being sustainable as 'too expensive,' we need to pivot* : to thinking about how we can mindfully 'shop new' on all budgets, as well as how we 'shop old'. Here's how I do it. (* Pivot: husband's company 'word of the year')

1. Buy Less. It's official: In order to halt global warming we need to all buy only 5 items of new clothing a year. Obvs it's more complicated than that but this is a good line in the sand: Whether or not we can achieve five, keeping track of new purchases immediately makes us more thoughtful about the new pieces we do buy, wherever they are purchased from. (My total this year stands at 6 half way through)

2. Don't Shop for Fun I grew up on the 1980's saturday afternoon shopping trip, with a mother whose main past time is still going shopping: Ie unspecified browsing with purchasing SOMETHING an essential outcome. I'm not suggesting that my mum is single handedly responsible for the clothing mountain in Chile, but she likes a white t-shirt or 5. Browsing will always lead to unecessary purchasing even for the most iron willed among us.

The eighties shopping mall hey day shot by Michael Galinsky: Basically my childhood

3. Clue Yourself Up

When it comes to fashion brands, some are more equal than others, but 'educating ourselves' on how sustainable the brands we buy from is something that probably doesn't sit high on the to do list. Never fear: there are excellent sites out there doing that hard work for us. I love Good On You which allows us to see what rating every brand ( from fast fashion to designer) in a click.

4. Target what you need. Constant bombardment from brands on social media means that we confuse what we love with what we need. Ticking both is the ideal obvs, and to do this you need to be aware of what is already going on in your wardrobe, and what gaps you need to fill, so that you won't be swayed by every trending dress that pops up to tempt you on your insta feed.

5. Think of your wardrobe like your house

Not many of us would strip wallpaper off after 6 months, or chuck out a new-ish sofa. We treat our homes as investments, and research, whether the pieces we end up purchasing cost a little or a lot. We need to start thinking this way about our wardrobes: Every piece should be an 'investment' bought to look good what we already have, with the intention of sticking around.

I'm not suggesting we start wearing our dining chairs ( Argos excellent 2019 advert if you haven't seen it watch here. Image Argos)

5. Buy Small and Slow Yes small, thoughtful and sustainable fashion brands are more expensive, and the point of today's blog is to shop affordably, but having a chunk of favourite independent websites to look to and compare when you are wanting to buy something will allow a more curated purchase. Also: remember independents have sales too.

6. Plan ahead You probably do this for a wedding or a big 'do' but go off road for general wardrobe buying. Bad move. Bad. Planning purchases means we we can actually spend some time comparing and finding something really excellent, rather than grabbing the first thing that vaguely suits in a last minute panic. Of course it can be exhilarating to go off road every so often, but good to know where the road is in the first place.

Thelma and Louise : The ultimate Off Roaders. But with excellent wardrobes. ( Image Getty)

7. Move clothes through your wardrobe. My sister recently told me that she is selling in order to buy ( in her case on vinted), and an old fashion work colleague had a 'one out one in' policy with her wardrobe. Doing this will slow down the 'haul' style of buying, Don't let clothes build up in your own personal clothing mountain: streamline regularly, sell or donate on, and purchase new pieces mindful of all the above.

9. Create a holiday wardrobe Pre summer holiday is often when the grab and run mentality kicks in. My new favourite thing is building up a curated collection of holiday pieces with longevity (regardless of where they are purchased from) that I bring out each hot holiday, plus I love the holiday nostalgia it creates I've even started looking back at previous holiday pictures for packing help. It makes life WAY easier.

Some of the pieces that make up my 'holiday wardrobe'. It makes for very easy holiday packing

10. Shop the sales well. (But only online) I love the sales- but I try to use them to uplevel- to buy things i really want/ need in my wardrobe but can't always justify at the regular price tag. I avoid the irl sales- where the lure of a ridiculously cheap item is often impossible to resist. (ps apart from places like Liberty where you will find gems in the sale: I just bought a total treat leopard beach wrap by Inoui Editions that I am adding to my 'summer holiday wardrobe' * see point 9.)

So: ten ways it's possible to shop new sustainably and affordably- we just need to pivot our mindset: Being sustainable isn't always about the 100% ethical brand or only buying second hand. it's about buying carefully and then wearing what we buy for a long time. Next Sunday I'll be putting all the above into practise: looking at the summer sales so you don't have to. Subscribe here if you want it delivered to your inbox.



bottom of page