I don't have personal experience, but I have seen people approach making chain mail in a few different methods. The cheapest and easiest is using aluminum soda tabs and linking them together. Rather than drinking a metric ton of soda, you could try to find a "creative reuse" store -- they essentially hoarde and sell little bits and bobs (like bottle tops, sponges, yarn, buttons, gaskets, rivets, pvc pieces, bottle tops, etc) that teachers, sculpture artists, and hobbyists can use. Sometimes they sell by the pound or via bag too.
Alternatively, I've seen people 3D print chainmail (either already attached or not). Perhaps you could check out thingiverse. If you don't have a 3D printer, look for your local university (and if you're lucky, community college), they typically have 3D printer access for a low fee. Or a makerspace. Or you could pay someone off Etsy to print it for you.
If I happen to find links to either of these types of projects, I'll link them back here. I wish I could answer your question with more specificity, but I hope this helps.