Sustainable fashion during the COVID era


Photo credit: Gracen Hoyle

illustration by Gracen Hoyle

Thrift shops have always seemed to be a gateway to sustainable fashion. It is deeply fun to dig through racks of other people’s discarded clothing looking for the perfect pair of vintage Lee jeans, and online, people tote their remarkable designer finds and “thrift flips” that revitalize old clothing. For me, sustainability wasn’t even the motivating factor to venture into my local Goodwill, but a certain desire to find treasure lurking amidst a pair of pleather pants and a Bass Pro Shops fishing cap. I have always loved fashion. As I dug more into the ethics behind fast fashion, thrifting was the perfect avenue for my desire to own and style “new” clothes without the deep ethical burden that my purchases were promoting sweatshop labor and mass pollution of waterways.

I think many people approach sustainable or “slow” fashion this way. Most sustainable fashion companies, such as the well-respected brand Reformation, feel out of budget compared to the prices we have become accustomed to as consumers. Personally, as much as I love the ethics behind companies such as these, I and many others just can’t afford a $28 basic white tee.

Thus, the pandemic has left a gap in the market for sustainable fashion. What am I, a Taurus with a habit of impulse-buying whenever I get sad, supposed to do now that my local Goodwill is a hazard-zone for COVID-19? While I still lust after the feeling of thumbing through rows of $1 T-shirts while Wham! plays quietly overhead, I have gathered some alternatives to scratch that itch without completely destroying the planet. You’ll soon learn that sustainability and fun can go hand in hand.


To start, this isn’t so much a place you can shop as it is a way you can conceptualize fashion to stretch your dollar. The idea is that we don’t need as many clothes as we feel pressured to buy, and by limiting our wardrobes to versatile, high-quality pieces that we really love, we can limit our spending and stifle a constant desire for new clothes by focusing on what we truly need. I love this idea as someone who is always on the move and on Depop, as it forces me to ask the question, “How often will I really wear this?” By spending less on clothing you’ll barely wear, you’ll have more money left over to spend on more expensive, ethically-sourced clothes.


Though shopping during COVID means additional precautions must be taken, clothing swaps can be a great and affordable way to refresh your wardrobe. Organize with a group of friends to pick out pieces you no longer wear and trade either in-person or through the mail. Keeping safety in mind, make sure everyone brings masks. Consider an outdoor location and limit how many people are there at one time. With these little alterations, a clothing swap can become a super feasible and fun event to put on that is still mindful of the COVID-19 health and safety guidelines set in place for the larger community.


Perhaps the suggestion thrown around most often for people looking to participate in sustainable fashion without leaving the comfort of their home is looking on somewhere like Depop. These sites contain a mixture of other people’s thrift finds and their own secondhand clothing, and prices can range from dirt-cheap to a tad outrageous. I have used both Depop and eBay and had some amazing luck, but it’s important to watch out for scams. My personal favorite scam is when Depop sellers try to pass off children’s clothing as XXS clothing for fully grown humans, like we didn’t all see a strikingly similar bedazzled “daddy’s princess” tee on our seven-year-old niece just weeks before.


I started going to estate and garage sales pretty recently in the panic of searching for the perfect furniture to decorate my new college apartment. Amongst all the cool old furniture, I stumbled upon closets-full of neat clothes at super decent prices! Though a single estate sale will never have the vast variety of a Goodwill, it scratches the same itch for me of rummaging through cool old clothing for stand-out pieces. My number one tip for estate sales is to make sure to check their safety protocols! All of the sales that I have attended were pretty strict about social distancing and masks. If something seems off — leave and find another sale!


This one may be a given, but consider supporting independent artists and local businesses! While this option can be a little more expensive, you can shop with the knowledge that your money is going towards a small business and the purchasing of quality materials. Since I haven’t been doing much in-person shopping lately, I’ve been turning to online retailers and places like Etsy. You will inevitably end up finding some really unique pieces that you could never find at a retail store. Shop, shop away.