How to shop sustainably on a budget: the online edition

From her time studying sustainability as part of her Erasmus Experience in Milan, Charlotte Waldron gives tips on how to shop more sustainably at an affordable price point.

We have all learned more about the negative impacts of fast-fashion in recent years. As a student, it is easy to feel that you cannot avoid supporting unsustainable practices while finding the clothes you want at an affordable price. While this may have been true some years ago, this cannot be said in 2021. Some brands are making real changes to their production process to improve the lives of their workers and to better protect the environment. Others, sadly, are not. Below I have provided a toolkit for online shopping to better assess how sustainable a brand is. Although the most sustainable way to shop is undoubtedly second-hand, if that is not an option there are some fantastic new brands taking a more sustainable approach to their production. From bikinis to occasion wear, I’ll take you through some of my favourite sustainable options.

The Toolkit

There are a few important things to consider as you try to assess whether a new brand you like is more sustainable than other options. A good rule of thumb here is that the more details the brand provides, the better. In my experience, any brand who takes this issue seriously can answer some of the questions posed below. This information is usually found on a section of their website which often comes under the heading of sustainability or about us/who we are.

Where do they produce their product?


I always pay attention to where a product is produced. Location is an important consideration in assessing the environmental impact of transporting the clothes from the producer to you. If garments are manufactured closer to home (for example in Italy or Portugal), less CO2 has also been emitted in transporting the product. Knowing where a product is produced can help give you an indication of how sustainable the brand is at a quick glance, but a little further digging is often needed. That is why looking at how a company chooses to design and produce their product is imperative.

How do they design and produce their products?

How a company chooses to design and produce a product determines a product's sustainability. In the production stage, water consumption is a pressing issue, with the manufacturing of a pair of jeans consuming on average 10,000 litres of water. A brand who takes sustainability seriously will be engaged with the issue of energy and water consumption in the manufacturing of their product and will look at ways to reduce this at the manufacturing stage. They will also be aware of the harmful effects polluting agents such as dyes have. Many are beginning to use recycled materials, meaning new raw materials do not have to be obtained, greatly reducing the product's environmental impact. Brands such as Nu-in and Lanni Studios, highlighted below, are engaging in this.

Who makes their clothes?

The conversation around sustainable fashion encompasses the people who make the clothes we love. Companies are increasingly maintaining minimal labour standards to protect their people. A brand should be aware of who is making their clothes. Spot checks of factories and suppliers are important in assuring that this is maintained.

Sustainable Brands

Nuin Fashion- The All-Round Wardrobe Filler

Nu-In is a sustainably-driven fashion brand set up in 2019. The collection covers everything from every-day college wear to party dresses and all wardrobe necessities in between. The commitment the brand displays to sustainability is impressive, with detailed information on their website about every aspect of their production. Nu-in’s choice of location of both their creative studios and factories is important in limiting the amount of C02 emitted during the manufacturing process. They also partner with mainly European-based suppliers who share their passion for sustainability. The materials used are also integral. Nu-in uses recycled, organic and regenerated materials. From seaqual, a high-quality recycled polyester taking plastic waste out of the oceans and regenerating it into clothes to Ecotec, an upcycled material made from used clothes and plastic bottles, Nu-in have an extensive sustainable materials list that proves that they are putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to sustainability.

Guaja Studio- The Atelier Option

Guaja Studio is a Portuguese brand set up in 2019 by a mother and her two daughters, creating handmade, high quality, fashionable clothes. It is clear that Guaja has been ecologically-minded from the outset, with sustainable processes embedded in the production process. Firstly, they estimate market demand and only create limited edition collections so a zero-waste policy can be maintained. The issue of overstocking is massive in fast fashion, with many companies filling landfills with deadstock that was never sold. Guaja’s zero- waste policy ensures that there is little negative environmental impact resulting from the creating of their products. Guaja also emphasises the importance of the people who create their products and choose to buy their materials locally, support local business and produce locally. The commitment shown by the brand to sustainability is impressive. While the price point may be slightly higher than a typical student budget, the quality and cut of the clothing is worth it.

Lanni Studios - Made to Order Sustainable Swimwear

Lanni Studios produces handmade, made to order bikinis from recycled material. The plain colour bikinis are developed from ocean and landfill waste such as fishing nets, carpets and plastic, while the prints used are made from recycled plastic bottles. The decision of Lanni Studios to use ECONYL®, (material developed from the ocean and landfill waste) as opposed to regular nylon, means the impact of the product on global warming is reduced by 80%. Lanni Studio’s entire brand is built on reusing waste that would otherwise end up in landfill or causing harm in our oceans. This start-up has environmental sustainability at its core, while also creating unique, high quality bikinis.

It is still difficult to avoid the pull of high street fast fashion, particularly on a student-friendly budget, but there are definitely other options out there. The most important thing to remember if you want to shop more sustainably is buy better quality items and buy less! Crucially, if you make more of your purchases from brands that are more sustainably minded, you are pushing the fashion industry in the right direction in the fight against climate change and helping to stop the mistreatment of garment workers. The movement towards sustainability isn’t about doing everything right, its about taking little steps in the right direction. Issues such as climate change have to be engaged with and practices have to be improved. Hopefully, I have given you some of the tools to begin this movement towards change.