‘New-to-you’ Wardrobe: A Budget-Friendly, Sustainable Way to Upgrade your Fashion

When it comes to seasonal fall fashion, staying stylish while being mindful of both your budget and the environment can seem like a daunting task.

'New-To-You' Wardrobe: A Budget-Friendly, Sustainable Way To Upgrade Your Fashion

When it comes to seasonal fall fashion, staying stylish while being mindful of both your budget and the environment can seem like a daunting task. However, with a little creativity and strategic planning, it’s entirely possible to revamp your wardrobe in a sustainable and affordable way. Introducing the concept of a ‘New-to-you’ wardrobe – a unique approach that combines thrift shopping, clothing swaps, and careful investment in quality pieces to create a fashionable, eco-friendly, and budget-conscious collection.

It’s one of the best ways to avoid contributing to “Fast fashion,” a term that has become synonymous with environmental degradation and labour exploitation. Thriving on rapid production and consumption of cheaply made clothing, responsible for roughly 10% of global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

We reached out to Patricia Hambrick, a senior lecturer of marketing at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, and the CEO & Founder of The Hambrick Group, on how to shop for seasonal fashion with a budget-friendly and sustainable future in mind. So, whether you’re a fashion enthusiast looking to reduce your carbon footprint or someone seeking to refresh your style without breaking the bank, this article is for you.

1. Professor Hambrick, as an expert in marketing and corporate sustainability, could you share your insights on the environmental impact of the fast fashion industry?

Fast fashion impacts the environment perhaps more than any other aspect of fashion.  It promotes the trend for consumers to buy cheap, wear once, and discard. It’s estimated that people buy 60% more clothes and wear them only half as long as they did just a decade ago, largely as a result of our ability to buy so cheaply.

Per UNECE, 2018, fashion production makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams. On top of that, 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year. To produce so cheaply, as the fast fashion industry must do, manufacturers need to cut corners largely at the expense of the environment and the people who work in or near the factories.

2. You’ve been involved in sustainable initiatives at major fashion retailers like Reebok and Timberland. Can you tell us about these experiences and how they shaped your perspective?

To be successful, sustainability has to be a core tenant for large corporations as it’s not easy. New production models and innovations in supply chains are required which, generally, is more expensive. Most companies need to prioritize the rollout of such initiatives.  At Timberland, for example, we focused on reducing the pollution from the leather tanning process, which had a big environmental impact. In the early days of these initiatives at Reebok, we had to choose between improving the working and living conditions of workers in our supply chain or improving the environmental standards. We prioritized more aggressively improving workers’ pay, living, working, and family conditions while choosing to “leave the environment as we found it” – not make it worse but couldn’t invest in making it better. That was a trade-off that we didn’t want to have to make, but was responsible from a business perspective.

Brands are taking steps to be more environmentally conscious, but to truly be sustainable, they would need consumers to buy less, which obviously isn’t good for business growth.

3. For those looking to upgrade their wardrobe this fall on a budget, what tips would you give for a successful and eco-friendly thrift shopping experience?

It’s the same as purchasing anywhere. Look for what you like that is made to your quality standards and is at a price you are willing to pay. What could be different for some people at some thrift stores is that there can be an abundance of goods. So, be patient as you go through items to see what stands out to you. There may be a lot that you don’t like, so just look for 1 or 2 items that you like. I generally shop at thrift stores with fewer items on display as I can get overwhelmed with choices. But once you find one nugget, you can get addicted as there are gems out there! Take your time and be patient.

Also, most thrift stores either clean/wash clothes or require they be cleaned before they take them. I have heard people say they don’t want to wear someone else’s clothes, but once you buy them they become yours! And re-wash them if you feel the need to do so.

4. Can you discuss the concept of “fashion circularity” and how thrifting plays a role?

While there is online consignment, thrifting, vintage, etc., those sites are having a hard time making profits. Thrifting is almost, by definition, a local activity. I have 2 students developing a (successful) new business with a focus on thrifting between students within a single university, which is the ultimate local effort. Keeping the circular economy strong locally is powerful for communities and therefore the cultures within communities. Plus, you are saving costs and carbon emissions by not shipping items somewhere else.

5. What are some misconceptions people might have about thrift shopping, how can shoppers thrift the right way?

Some new to thrifting may think items in thrift shops are cheap, dirty, worn, and “somebody else’s throw aways”. Yes, there are thrift shops that carry overwhelmingly inexpensively made and cheap-to-buy items. And there are real finds even in those shops. I recently found a Prada sweater for $99 with tags still on it in one of those shops. So be patient as you look through the merchandise.

I’d suggest unless new thrifters like to search for the treasure (which many of us love to do!), go to shops with fewer items that are displayed more like traditional retail. That may make the wade into thrifting easier and less overwhelming.

6. How can consumers ensure they’re making sustainable choices when shopping second-hand, are there any red flags to be aware of?

Just make sure you are going to wear whatever you buy. It’s not good to buy second-hand and then discard it into the landfill. The prices you find can make it exciting but the ultimate in making a sustainable choice is to buy less. So buy what you are going to wear and be thrilled you saved money doing so.

7. Finally, could you share some of your favorite thrift finds and how they’ve added value to your wardrobe?

Earlier this summer I bought a beautiful Prada sweater in a thrift shop that I’m excited to wear. My favorite winter boots I bought for $50 and have worn them through the snow and mush of Boston for probably 5 years now. And they are still going strong. I buy lots of summer shorts and T-shirts that are just fun. Personally, I am into vintage and have bought vintage Rag and Bone boots and a gorgeous Chanel couture vintage coat both VERY cheaply.  And right now I’m wearing my favorite Nike vintage sneakers I bought on Poshmark!

I still buy traditional retail for core items that I wear season after season. I compliment that with thrift and vintage to bring in pop items that make the core items more interesting. I also thrift for easy fun dresses and summer shorts that I don’t need to keep forever, but often I love them so that I wear them longer than they perhaps should be worn!

Because of thrifting, my clothing budget goes much further and frankly, I think my wardrobe is more interesting and fun as well. Plus it’s fun!

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