So what is a consumer who wants to act responsibly but is also faced with cost limitations to do?
First, not all inexpensive fashion is created equal. The rise of companies like Shein, Fashion Nova and PLT has made H&M and Zara look like card-carrying greenies. Though it seems impossible the business model (make more stuff quickly!) will ever be compatible with responsible production, H&M and Zara are at least trying.
And there is a difference between fast fashion and what might be called factory fashion: outlet stores of brands like Ralph Lauren, J. Crew and Brooks Brothers, which tend to be less trend-focused but often use longer-lasting materials.
Second, wherever you buy, your solution — wear your products more — is absolutely key.
According to Maxine Bédat, the founder of the New Standard Institute and an architect of New York’s Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act, currently wending its way through the State Legislature, “prolonging the active lifetime of a garment by two (using the garment in its original form twice as many times as average), will decrease the climate impact by 49 percent.”
How long qualifies as “average” is hard to know, but a 2015 survey estimated only seven times.
Changing this number is something everybody can and should do, no matter what their budget. Buy for the long term, not the weekend. This will also change how you think about expense.