Could you go for a whole year without buying any new clothes?
If someone had asked me that a few years ago, I think my answer would have been, “Yeah I probably COULD if I had to, but I don’t WANT to”. Things have changed a lot for me in the last few years though; so when I posed myself that question at the beginning of this year, my answer was ‘Too right I could, and I will!”.
I have to be really honest: this isn’t the ‘challenge’ that it would have been a few years ago for me. You see, my way of consuming fashion has changed so much. I spent my teens and twenties with a pretty mainstream shopping mentality: On trend, a bargain if possible, and on a ‘want’, rather than ‘need’ basis. No thought whatsoever went into what my purchases were made of, how they were made, or who made them.
But my thirties brought with them a new environmental awareness, firstly focused on waste, but quickly spreading to the climate, pollution and people. There was no more ignoring the industry that takes a huge toll on all of those things: The fashion industry.
When my Grandma was my age there were two fashion seasons; Spring/Summer & Autumn/Winter. Any guesses as to how many there are now? FIFTY-TWO!! That’s right, the fast fashion industry currently churns out a whopping 52 "micro-seasons" per year!!! They are bringing out new collections of clothes every single week! These items are worn an average of seven times. 'What's wrong with that' you may ask? When that amount is being consumed at such a high rate, that much is also being thrown out at a high rate... every day tonnes and tonnes of discarded clothes are being dumped in landfill! The fashion industry also has a lot to answer for in terms of the pollution created from its production methods and materials, and that's not even getting started on the living and working conditions of the garment workers who are creating these clothes!
I am a far more conscious consumer when it comes to fashion now. I wear what I have, and look after it, I shop second hand (which has become a delight since being introduced to Everlasting: Recycled with Love, a not for profit organization which is all about helping more women feel fabulous.), I’ve even dabbled in renting outfits for special occasions. The few items of new clothing that I do purchase, I do so consciously; researching, looking for quality, ethical transparency, supporting smaller, more local brands.
And guess what? I love my wardrobe more now, than I did back then. And I save a bucket-load of money.
So, like I said, I didn’t really see this ‘buy-nothing-new-year’ being too much of a struggle. Except for one thing. Underwear.
Now I know a number of people who do buy secondhand underwear, and I admire their commitment, and don’t think it’s gross! But for me, it’s a no-go. It’s as much about the rummaging through people’s old undies as it is about the actual wearing of them.
But my current collection of underwear was not in dire condition, so I figured I’d be able to make do. There was that niggling little issue of my single lonely sports bra, which had sufficed through the last few years of pregnancies and small children (ie no time or inclination to exercise), but was getting a lot more use now as I was becoming more focused on my own health and wellbeing. But it’s all about making do right? Using what you have? So I just made do.
Three months in, and the only occasional temptation had come from some fabulous outfits that I saw on ethical-fashion bloggers that I follow (I’m looking at you Ethically Kate!), but I figured that if I still couldn’t stop thinking about those outfits in a years’ time, then maybe I’d treat myself. In fact, I still hadn’t even bought any second hand clothes!
But, all of a sudden, things changed. We were preparing to be locked down for at least four weeks. Small businesses were having to take one for the team, close their doors/websites and obliterate their income. Our desire to support local grew exponentially. That, combined with the realization that exercise may be my only way to get out of the house, is when I decided to make an exception to my challenge. I started my hunt for a sports bra.
Enter: SOOTI. Sooti is a NZ family business, with Shireen at the helm. Shireen has coalesced her two homes of New Zealand and India to create an active-wear and lounge-wear brand that literally means ‘thread’. I immediately loved how transparent they are, right down to the organic, sustainably grown cotton that makes that thread. Her mother Sujata is the eyes and ears on the ground in India, establishing first-hand relationships with their trusted suppliers and manufacturers, hand-picking materials and ensuring quality and worker standards. And on that note, the factories that produce their unique pieces are all fair-trade certified. (You can find out more about Sooti's story here).
Research completed, and very happy with my find, I purchased my sports bra. Within 12 hours I received a personal email from Shireen thanking me for my purchase, and also letting me know that I hadn’t taken advantage of the 40% discount, so would I like something else or should she just refund me? Wow! Talk about Customer Service! My bra arrived just in time. I loved it, not just the bra itself, but the story behind it, and I was glad that I’d made a conscious purchase and not just raced down to the nearest chain store to panic-buy a cheap and hasty one.
So here I am, 1/3 of my challenge complete and one exception (which I am very happy with).
Now, I’m not suggesting you have to give up shopping for a year, or only purchase ethical, sustainable, fair trade, organic, biodegradable apparel. But to consider being more conscious when it comes to fashion; consider using what you have, shopping second hand, supporting ethical, local fashion brands like Sooti. The motto I love is ‘Buy Less, Choose Well, make it last’.
And, as always, it’s about progress, not perfection.