On Being an Ethical Budget Fashion Blogger

In short: It’s hard.

Due to the Occupy movement and the nationwide protests taking place (of which I was proud – though momentary – participant), I’ve been thinking a lot about my job not just as a “blogger,” but as a fashion blogger who – by definition – looks for the cheapest way to get gorgeous clothes and how that fits into the things that the Occupy movement – and many in our generation – stand for.

Am I a hypocrite? Am I contributing to the very thing I’m protesting against?

Drugstore Makeup Review of NYC Liquid Eyeliner

I used this picture because it looks like I’m thinking. Clever, huh?

I read a ton (a ton) of fashion blogs, most of which I totally and unabashedly adore. That being said, I often come across posts that feature perfect-for-the-niche articles about the latest “[Designer] For [Whoever]” collection, or the newest, adorable dress from Forever 21, or where to get the latest Prada knockoffs and I feel a pang of discomfort.


Because I can’t post about them. I can’t won’t post about companies who have a history of unfair labor, environmental damage, bigotry or feature a knockoff designer shoe as a plausible option for purchasing. My ethics are too deeply-rooted.

Forever21 uses sweatshop labor and is a frequent design thief, using their company size to bully everyone from indie designers to bloggers.

Urban Outfitters are owned by a guy who donates money to anti-gay Rick Santorum – my mortal nemesis, but I can’t fault the company for that. can fault them on ripping off countless independent artists, though.

There are a billion reasons not to buy knockoffs.

Unfortunately, the list (and my inner conflict about my position) goes on…

While I’ve been on the fence about knockoffs for the last three years, I am defining my position on it. I refuse to post about direct, less-than-30%-difference knockoffs because I know too much about the replica industry and the condition under which these knockoffs are made.

So seeing this great, definitely budget fashion content makes me, honestly… a little nervous. I haven’t branded Broke & Beautiful as any kind of ethical budget fashion blog (…yet?), but being that, well, I created it and I have these values… that means that some of the most appealing, applicable budget fashion content will never see the light of day on Broke & Beautiful.

Will I/have I lost readers because of my “lack of current news” in the field of accessible fashion? Probably. And who knows – this post might make me lose a few more! But, you know… That’s something that I think I need to be okay with.

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I coax myself into comfort by dreaming that there are other people out there like me who don’t want to support these icky industry tactics, but still want accessible, beautiful fashion.

I like to believe that there are socially-aware, thrifty guys and gals who pride themselves on supporting causes that benefit the economy, the human condition, and the customers who buy their products. There has to be… Right? …Right?

Five Seven years ago (!!), I created Broke & Beautiful to help people find the beauty that exists in runway and high- quality fashion at a price that wouldn’t attach them to a status, class, or collection agency. If you start at the very beginning – from the very first post, you will see things from Forever 21 and Target. You will see things from Urban Outfitters. This blog is not only a record of my love of fashion, and it’s not just a history of my belief that beautiful style can be achieved at any budget…

It’s also a running record of my awareness, personal growth and devotion to fashion through ethics.

And when I look at it that way, it isn’t so bad. A “blog” is a “web log” after all, right?

I’d love to know how you feel about Broke & Beautiful’s choice to omit these unethical companies from our shopping suggestions.

Do you wish that we had more of an open position on these budget fashion megastores? Or do you [maybe, hopefully, pretty please?] value the idea that the options that B&B shows you are socially conscious as well as budget-friendly?

See more about my feelings on My Shopping Philosophy.

  • sui

    I am behind you on this 100%. Most of my clothes were from clothing swaps or thrift stores… I used to be frustrated because literally since there aren’t really many ethical companies that are also cheap (and even the expensive ones– UO, for instance), I had NO options to shop anywhere!

    I don’t know. It’s difficult being ethical and on a budget and… ah.

    • It is! It’s so tough. It’s the worst feeling when I find something online that I LOVE, and I immediately want to share it with readers – then I see it’s from Anthropologie or something. :(

      I hope that I can find the best way to help people like you and me (who have trouble finding affordable stuff that isn’t totally corrupt and evil) find clothes that they can feel comfortable buying while staying within their means… It’s my #1 goal!


  • Alexandra

    Stand up for what you believe in. Its refreshing. I’m behind you 100 percent.

    • Thank you so much, Alexandra! Comments like that make me feel better about the whole situation. :)

  • Very well said. I would imagine your site will attract even more readers when they learn the truth about where they put their money.
    By the way, I love your new website “look” – very eclectic and very chic!

  • Alice

    I find it funny that you get on about knock-offs after recently posting a link to Steve Madden sales, when that brand is one of the worst offenders for rip-offs in the industry.

    High style replicas? What exactly is your threshold for acceptable theft in fashion? Price point ratio: No $20 knock-offs of $2k shoes, but $200 is okay?

    Internally consistent ethical decisions are great and all, but be aware that it can look very baffling to outside observers when your meaningful personal ethical code seems to cherry-pick with extreme prejudice.

    • I sense some aggravation! Definitely not necessary, as this can be a friendly conversation. :)

      In the case of Steve Madden – I encourage you to flame the hell right out of us if you see us knowingly post a knockoff as a knockoff to the site. I know Steve Madden is guilty of it in the past, and in no way will I support the purchase of those shoes (and we’ve spoken out against it several times, actually).

      My threshold for “acceptable theft” aka derivatives was mentioned directly in the post. it’s taken me years and years to come to a point where I understand my own comfort level (importance focused on “my own”) and decided that if there were there can be no less than a 30% difference in detail and construction of a piece for me to be comfortable with its inspiration-derived design. I’m not sure where you’re getting a “$200 knockoff” reference point from, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and hope that if we posted about buying a $200 replica of anything on this site, it fit our own, personal criteria. We don’t ever post things that ARE “replicas” or “knockoffs” by decision.

      As far as the bafflement of our observers – PLEASE feel free to ask a question if our actions don’t seem to align with our words. We’re always happy to explain ourselves to our readers if there is an incongruence. We’ve been running AwakenedAesthetic.com for years now, and are fully prepared to talk about ethics and their makeup for hours on end.

      Thank you for your [what I hope was] concern, and thanks for your comment!

  • Shura

    I’m grateful to Broke & Beautiful for opening my eyes to many of the inexpensive, stylish, and ethical fashion options out there, so please don’t change.

    • Thank you so much!! :) I’m so glad you feel that way.

  • It’s a very important set of questions you are finding yourself asking and particularly how you integrate ethics with the concept of thrift, given that for example simply paying less for something might ultimately be depriving a maker of a fair wage, or supporting environmentally destructive production methods. It’s these questions that provoked me to write the blog I linked to above. I think the real enemy here is actually ‘fast fashion’. It drives some very bad behaviour in designers, producers, buyers, and consumers. In many ways fashion blogging without that ethical conscience is further driving a fast fashion model which has to change for all of our sakes really. The risks of pushing thrift without conscience are not just bad ethical practice from the industry but the risk that small scale, very talented designers and makers (particularly those working ethically) in the UK just can’t continue in the industry, meaning less diversity and talent in the fashion design world. There are some really good ethical labels, making locally, using waste fabrics, producing fashion forward garments that fit with trends at high st equivalent prices. Antiform in Leeds is a very good example.

  • Alyson

    Well said…but how do I do it? I love the designer goodies that Target puts out…I can’t afford a real Missoni anything, it’s nice to be able to get something. I have a few other items that I got at different Target designer sales, and they have become a regular part of my wardrobe…what to do, what to do??!!!

    • I knooooow – trust me. The magnetism of Missoni for Target is almost unbearable for us sometimes… It’s just the worst feeling seeing something that you LOVE combine with something that you dislike. Like the bitchy head cheerleader hooking up with jordan Catalano. Le sigh.

      We need to do better at showing you how you CAN afford a real Missoni – if you get it the right way. Designer sales are secretive, but frequent! We’ll do the best to make sure you get as many designer duds into your closet as you could possibly want.

  • I didn’t even notice that you haven’t been posting from these megastores, in fact, now I realize why I like your blog so much (besides the usual voice/content of course). I won’t stand knockoffs, and sweatshop labor always makes me uncomfortable, as cute and cheap as the clothes are. I’m not perfect, but I do make an effort not to shop at Urban Outfitters ect. So it’s nice that you feature clothes that don’t make me go “OH! CUTE!” and then immediately “Ah,aww… it’s from F21. Damn.” So please continue, I’m behind you 100%

    • Thank you so much, Erin!!! That’s very cool to hear that you didn’t even notice – I love it! :) I feel the same way you do – no sweatshops, no direct knockoffs, no F21. It’s so hard, because the prices are to DIE for, but we gotta stand strong! Thank you so much for your support. :) <3

  • The problem is that everyone does something wrong. Or if they don’t, then a parent company does or a partner or some similar situation. It’s hard to be ethical all the time – especially as a consumer. I applaud your efforts, however!

  • Anyone can find suggestions from Target and F21. I love learning about new lines/options and you’re always sharing things I’ve never heard of!

  • I am behind you 100% ! Thanks for the post

  • Joni

    I had to cut off UO and Anthropologie for the same reason. I have a grown up lesbian daughter and I would not knowingly support companies like that. I could probably live without Target for womens clothes but sometimes find stuff I love there for the boys in the Shawn White collection. Can you recommend kids clothes sometime? I have the cutest skinny 14 y/o skater boy and his identical 7 y/o brother. They are all about button up shirts, hoodies, jeans, and skater shoes. We get old navy or gap jeans because they have the adjustable elastic. My 14 y/o likes to shop on CSS.com.
    I’d be interested in a list of B&B approves stores.


    • Joni


    • I will absolutely accept that challenge!! Thanks for the suggestion! :)

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  • I hope you continue to stick with what you know is right, even if it isn’t popular. It’s so refreshing to see a fashion blogger tell the truth about these companies. It is a very unpopular truth, but another unpopular truth is that we rarely really need any of the items made by these companies anyway. So why pay them to hurt people and wreck the planet if we don’t have to? I’m all about thrifting, upcycling, mending, and making my own clothes. My daughter wears nothing but secondhand or handmade clothes as well and is always getting compliments on her fashion sense! Ethical fashion is definitely possible to achieve…it’s really not all that hard, in fact. :) Underwear is the exception to that though. I’m hoping to start making panties soon using Annika Victoria’s tutorial on youtube, but bras…yikes!