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How do you escape fast fashion without spending too much?

Perhaps you can’t necessarily afford to spend €50 on a T-shirt, and the big brands are your go-to for on-trend clothes that don’t break the bank? Be aware that there are ways of buying clothes at low prices without giving in to the temptations of fast fashion. Here are a few pointers.

Do you like to treat yourself to the latest fashion, copied from a designer number, but at a low price? On a shopping spree, do you always go for the big brands like H&M, Zara, Bershka or Primark? During lockdown, perhaps you got acquainted with and have become a devotee of pure players such as Shein, Wish or Pretty Little Things, these ultra-fast fashion outlets that offer an incredible and rolling array of the latest fashions at low prices?
It is possible to escape this headlong rush to spend more and more that’s destroying the planet.

What’s behind this ultra-low-cost fashion offering

  • Highly-polluting raw materials, whether it be cotton full of pesticides that will have taken thousands of litres of water for cultivation and processing, or synthetic fabrics such as polyamide or polyester, which are derived from polluting petrochemicals and shed microplastics with each wash.
  • Exploited workers, working in unsanitary and most unsecured conditions, who are very poorly treated and paid, exposed to substances that make them ill and pollute the air and rivers in the areas where they live
  • Rolling collections that are constantly refreshed, every week or even every day, which may seem appealing when you want to be bang on trend, but which involves an indefensible waste. Tons of clothes end up in open-air dumps in Africa or South America, polluting landscapes for decades.
  • Customers caught in a spiral, a kind of buying frenzy, who with the excuse of paying less, actually spend more and more.

In short, an untenable combo. At a time of climate upheaval and since the will to embrace ethical fashion is there, nothing can justify such wastefulness.

So what can we do about it?

Thrift shops and Ressourcerie branches

They no longer have the dusty image of yesteryear, and are often even right on trend. The clothes come from private donations or from bulk factory consignments. Whether in thrift shops like the Guerrisol chain, Ressourcerie or Recyclerie outlets like those now found in every French town, or even clothes shops that charge by weight, with a little patience and thorough scouring you can find little gems among all the old rags. Because there are sometimes designer items and stunning vintage pieces at knockdown prices (€2-€20). Plus, rummaging through a bin of clothes at Guerrisol is ultimately much the same as doing so in Primark. And at least you give a garment a second lease of life, making it sustainable and responsible.

Consignment outlets, second-hand sections and second-hand shops

Consignment outlets – for fancy numbers

Another way to get on-trend clothes at lower prices, without going for new ones, is to seek out consignment outlets. The prices are generally higher than those in thrift shops, because the operator has to make a margin on the clothes that come from private individuals. But that means that you can find fancy middle-range and high-end pieces (Maje, Sandro, Bash, and even Chanel or Yves Saint Laurent) at half the boutique price or less. These are pieces that you would not otherwise stretch to, and that are (hopefully) bound to last you far longer than Fast Fashion clothes. As an alternative, on sites like Vestiaire Collective you’ll find brands and garments vetted by experts.

Second-hand sections and second-hand shops

Is there a single person who has not heard of Vinted? This platform for sales between private individuals, which originated in Lithuania, has established itself across Europe in the space of a few years, superseding the more broad-based Le Bon Coin (here in France) and eBay. You’ll find branded clothes and fast fashion alike, at low prices. So what’s the pitfall to avoid? Buying piles of clothes from Zara, H&M and the like, because they are even cheaper on there.
Keen to get in on the action, more and more chains, from French retailer Monoprix to department stores to Pimkie, now offer their own second-hand clothing rails.

Go for ethically-sound purchases

Perhaps you can’t bear the idea of wearing pre-worn clothes?
Then you’ll want to head to sites like Veepee and Showroomprive, or outlet centres like McArthurGlen, which sell past season collections at half price. You save money, and get clothes that are still on trend and of higher quality, since these are sale shops for branded items. So where’s the hitch? Well, by using this system you support the vicious circle of overproduction and hence overconsumption.

Acheter éthique

This is about embracing a paradigm shift and changing the way you behave as a consumer. Instead of buying five cheap T-shirts that you’ll only wear two or three times because they are such poor quality or because you have quickly had enough of wearing them, you buy one ethically-sound organic cotton one. Or a nice timeless classic like a chunky sweater made on home soil, or a linen blouse. You can also mix and match decent ethically-sound pieces – a pair of jeans, or a coat that you will wear for a long time to come – with second-hand garments that are more on trend.

Besides these, the remaining solution is the clothes swap. You club together with friends, and their friends. Each participant brings their unwanted clothes and accessories along and you all swap with one another. A good way to get new stuff… for free! The cherry on the cake is that you’re sure to have some laughs along the way.

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