3 ways to participate in ethical fashion when you can hardly pay rent.

3 ways to participate in ethical fashion when you can hardly pay rent.

By Jasmine Mayhead

“I’d love to participate in ethical fashion, but I just can’t afford it.”

Let’s not beat around the bush; ethical fashion is more expensive. The cost of ethical fashion represents the true cost of a garment, where no one is exploited in the process of making it. But no matter how much you know about the truth behind the fashion industry, or how passionate you are about workers rights and sustainability, when your weekly routine is adding up every single penny to see what you have left for food after rent is paid, it’s hard to justify paying $70 for a tank top instead of $5. In fact, it’s often impossible.

Truth is, we aren’t all in a position to purchase $300 dresses. Sure, it’s all well and good to say ‘consume less, and swap out quantity with quality’. But sometimes, even that is a stretch.

If you’re struggling to shop with your values without overloading yourself with even more financial stress, follow these three alternatives to using your purchasing power.

1. Rent & Swap

I am convinced the future of fashion is renting. We’re happy to stay in a stranger’s house (Air BnB) and jump in other people’s cars (Uber), and now I believe we’re finally warming up to the idea of wearing someone else’s clothes.

As a seasoned renter myself, renting gives you the thrilling experience of wearing something new, without paying hundreds for it. The compliments on wearing something new and ‘expensive looking’ still flood in, and the fact it’s not even your own, is like an exciting secret (cheap thrills, right?).

Swapping clothes at clothes swaps or with friends is another way to participate in a happier fashion future too. We must remember that ethical fashion doesn’t just refer to how the garment is made; it embodies the idea of clothes that last, are loved, and don’t end up in landfill. Swapping clothes with friends or attending formal clothes swaps, gives old clothes new lives and creates fresh happiness from fresh wearers.

Where you can rent:

New Zealand:

Oh Rent Me

Designer Wardrobe

Carousel Clothing Library (Hamilton Only)


Glam Corner

Yarn Yarns (Melbourne Only)



The Clothes Library

The Volte

Lana (Maternity friendly)

Rent A Dress

Her Wardrobe

Your Closet

Dress for a night


Stitch Fix (Maternity friendly)

Rent The Runway


2. Email Brands: Tell them what you want

If you’re passionate about ethical fashion, but cannot ‘vote with your pocket’ to show your support in a positive fashion industry, there’s another way you can make change at a deeper level.

Email mainstream brands who you wish you could buy from, but don’t (yet!) align with your values. Ask them where their clothes are made and who makes them. Enquire about their worker’s rights, treatment, and workplace standards. If we, the consumers, team up to demand change, they’re more likely to listen.

For an email template to make your brand impact easier, head to our example here.

3. Boycott the Worst

Ethical fashion is not black and white. Manufacturing and supply chains are complex and messy. For this reason, it’s possible for us to shop at the best of the worst, and support those who are making conscious changes to do better.

Especially if you are new to the world of ethical fashion, we recommend downloading the World Baptist Aid Ethical Fashion Guide. This guide rates the mainstream brands you find in your local shopping mall. It serves as a simple tool to avoid brands like Max who received a D+, and instead shop at Trenery who received an A-. This should not be your sole answer to participating in ethical fashion, but it’s the best way to begin, without ethical fashion feeling daunting. Use this as your ‘gateway drug’ to ethical fashion, and carry out your own research whenever possible.

P.S. If boycotting isn’t your thing, we’ve worked hard to gather some discount codes for our favourite ethical fashion brands. You can find them down the bottom of our brand features on our brand directory.

Purchasing the most beautiful handmade, organic linen dresses is not the only way to change the fashion industry. It’s important that we embrace the circular economy of renting clothes, contact brands directly to let them know we demand better, and spend our dollars on companies making conscious efforts to change.

If you’re feeling intimidated by the sale signs that still say $150 for a dress, you’re not alone. And you know what? You aren’t excluded from the world of ethical fashion; we need you too.

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