The Buyerarchy of Needs: What It Is and How to Use It

What is the Buyerarchy of Needs?

Coined by Sarah Lazarovic, the Buyerarchy of Needs is a fun way to represent sustainable consumption. This helpful graphic presents consumers with several different alternatives to buying new clothes, providing a guide for those who don’t know where to start. To be the most sustainable, users should start at the base of the pyramid and work their way upwards. 

Hierarchy triangle that shows you should use what you have, then borrow, then swap, then thrift, then make, and then lastly, if none of the other options have worked out, buy something new.
Photo from:

So, what does each layer mean? 

  • Use What You Have: Before looking into new purchases, consumers should look into their own closets. How can you style that sweater you haven’t worn in a while? I know if I looked into my closet right now, I could find several things I haven’t worn in months. Can you alter any of your existing wardrobe to something you would wear more? Social media platforms like Pinterest and TikTok are great places to find new style ideas. 
  • Borrow: If nothing you own is working for you, ask your friends or family! As someone who grew up with 2 sisters, I was looking through their closets just as often as my own. Instead of buying new clothes, see if anyone you know has anything you might like! Especially if you’re just looking for an outfit for a particular occasion, borrowing is a great way to wear something new without buying anything. 
  • Swap: Clothing swaps are a cheap, sustainable way to get new clothes, while simultaneously getting rid of anything cluttering up your closet. Organized clothing swaps (including ones hosted here on campus!) are a fun way to not only engage with your community, but also have the opportunity to get some new clothes that you may never have seen before! Swaps like these don’t need to be formal, either; you can swap with your friends! 
  • Thrift: If you really want to buy some new clothes, buying secondhand is a great way to do so sustainably. Not only does buying used clothes reduce carbon emissions and save resources, it also prevents those clothes from ending up in a landfill. Plus, thrift stores have so many hidden gems! A good portion of my own wardrobe is thrifted, and I have been able to find some awesome pieces of clothing that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. Vintage stores are also a great resource for finding rare pieces of clothing, albeit at a higher price point.
  • Make: Making your own clothes is a fun, creative way to expand your wardrobe. For those of us who may find that task daunting, upcycling is another way to make new clothes by using old fabric to create new pieces. Sewing, knitting, crocheting, and embroidery are all ways to change up your wardrobe! On campus, there are sewing machines available for students to use in West Quad and Shapiro Library (with a reservation). 
  • Buy: Buying new clothes doesn’t necessarily have to be bad for the environment. There is no question about the effects of the fashion industry on the environment, especially fast fashion. However, if you want to buy new clothes, and none of the previous options are working for you, there are ways to do so sustainably; or at least, more sustainably than the alternative. Investing in high-quality pieces of clothing that will last you a long time prevents the need to buy new clothes as often. Additionally, shopping locally is better for the environment than shipping clothes. Shopping at small businesses and avoiding fast fashion websites are your best bet for sustainable shopping!

How Can I Use the Buyerarchy of Needs?

Just looking at the Buyerarchy of Needs and understanding each layer can be a bit overwhelming. How can you actually apply this to your own life and consumption habits? There is no one correct way to utilize the Buyerarchy of Needs, just like there is no one correct way to be sustainable. There are so many different ways to use each layer of the Buyerarchy. Here are just a few idea for ways you might use this hierarchy to reduce your environmental impact:

Photo of a bright, colorful fabric paint design being put onto a t-shirt.
Photo of a unique fabric paint design from unsplash.
  • Closet Organization Apps: I know if I looked in my closet right now, I could pick out 5 things I haven’t worn in the last month. Sometimes it can be hard to visualize how many viable outfits you actually have already at your disposal. Style apps like Pureple or Stylebook allow you to upload pictures of everything in your closet, assemble different outfits virtually, and track all your outfits!
  • Alterations: If your clothes don’t fit exactly how you want them to—consider altering them! Simple hacks like shoelace belts or safety pins provide temporary fixes, but some minor sewing can completely change how your clothes look. When summer rolls around, cropping your old shirts/sweatshirts or trimming your pants into shorts is a quick, easy way to help your wardrobe match the season without spending extra money.
  • Decorate Your Clothes: If altering is not your thing, using fabric paint or patches (iron-on or sew-on) can help transform your clothes into something new. Accessorizing is also a great way to change up an item’s look—adding a scarf, sweater, pin, or other jewelry can make a piece of clothing look totally different. 
  • Repurpose Damaged Clothing: If your clothing is damaged, it doesn’t have to be thrown away. Fabric scraps can be used to upcycle and create new pieces of clothing or fun crafts. Old T-shirts can be turned into tote bags, canvas art, or pillowcases! If you’re not particularly crafty, damaged clothes can still be used in practical ways—scraps can be saved and used as dust rags, or used to patch up holes in your other clothing.
  • Local Thrift Shops: Ann Arbor has a huge selection of second hand clothing stores to choose from—shopping at these stores is a great way to support small businesses, save some money, and find some interesting clothes!
  • Donate Old Clothes: Once you’re done with your clothes and ready to get rid of them, donate them! You can give them to local thrift stores or charities—you would not only prevent those clothes from going into a landfill, but also giving back to your community. 

The Buyerarchy of Needs can be applied to everything you buy, not just clothes! Think about how you can use it in all your aspects of your life—your school supplies, your furniture, your decorations, etc. Making small changes in how you think about your own shopping habits can make a big difference!