What’s the worst – or best – that could happen when a sustainable fashion blogger and woman in business refuses to buy clothes for a year?
What follows is the journey I took to find out.
A No-Spend Year
At the end of Fashion Revolution Week 2019 (22nd – 28th April 2019), after I had spent another long week of reflection on my clothing consumption habits, I made the call to give up purchasing clothes for a year.
Why? Well, there were two parts to this:
- I felt as if I had enough clothes. I felt abundant and as if I had everything that I needed to get me through another year. So, why on earth would I buy anything else?
- The facts were screaming at me to stop. While I’ve been solely purchasing ethically and sustainably made clothes since the end of 2016, and by doing so I was making a great impact on the future of fashion in itself, consuming beyond what I needed didn’t feel sustainable. In 2015, The True Cost documentary found that humans were purchasing 400% more clothes than 20 years prior. Globally, we were buying 80 billion new items per year, and I imagine that this has only increased in the past 5 years. I just didn’t want to contribute to more purchasing and more potential waste.
So, on the 28th of April 2019, I made the call. No more new clothes.
I had no real expectations for how I would feel throughout the year or what I would hope to get out of the experience, aside from creating a deeper connection with the clothes I already owned, a shift in my consumption mindset, and perhaps figuring out what pieces of clothing in my closet I really love to wear – and why.
However, I did have a few rules for my ‘no-spend’ year:
- Obviously, I would not buy clothes. New, thrifted, vintage, second-hand, or otherwise.
- I would be allowed to attend the ONE clothing swap (that was actually occurring the day that I stopped purchasing, I think).
- I would be allowed to continue my partnerships and collaborations with ethical and sustainable brands for the sake of continuing to promote my community and share the better alternatives to environmentally and socially damaging fashion.
- I would be allowed to purchase underwear only in the rare and awful occasion that all my underwear fell to pieces in the following 12 months (spoiler: it didn’t).
So, How Did I Go?
A bit of a surprise on my part: the no-spend year was a great success!
If you saw my Story on Instagram, you’ll know that I ended up swapping 7 of my not-so-loved clothes for new clothes at the clothing swap. I also received 3 jumpers that belonged to Glenn’s Grandma (they were headed for the second-hand stores) and I received 13 gifted items from ethical and sustainable brands that I worked with throughout the year.
These 13 items include:
- Ramona Dress by BEL KAZAN
- Three Bears Clothing Co. White Tee
- Three Bears Clothing Co. Black Hoodie
- Organic Basics Organic Cotton Triangle Bra
- Organic Basics Organic Cotton Tee
- Boody Goodnight Sleep Cami
- Boody Goodnight Sleep Shorts
- Boody Goodnight Nightdress
- Boody Cosy Knit Wrap
- Boody Chunky Bed Socks
- Boody Full Briefs
- Dorsu Navy Culottes from Stride Store
- The Legwear Co 50 Denier ECO Tights
To be fair, these partnerships were enough to scratch my itch for the excitement of receiving new pieces to play with and shoot. So, a big thank you to these incredible brands for being the change in fashion and for fuelling my creativity for the year.
The 8 Things I Learned from Not Buying Clothes for 12 Months
1. I realised I was conditioned to ‘need’ something new.
This first realisation was made especially obvious to me at the beginning of my no-spend year, in May 2019, when I had quite a big event to attend (the Fremantle Fair Fashion Festival). I remember an initial feeling of panic surrounding, “oh my gosh, what am I going to wear?!”. This was especially scary because I knew people at the event were going to ask me what I was wearing and who made it (and they did), and I felt a pressure that I needed to wear something by a designer involved in the event (but I didn’t).
So, I re-wore my trusty Carlie Ballard jumpsuit and guess what? Everything ended up okay.
The fact of the matter is, people are usually too concerned with what they’re wearing themselves to worry about what you’re wearing. That, and the sustainable fashion community won’t judge you for re-wearing – bonus!
While this event was a big milestone for me in breaking away from the feeling of needing something new all the time, it took the better part of the year for me to fully bury that mindset.
Now, I’m entirely proud to re-wear.
You know why? It’s a great way to express that I care more about the stories behind my clothes, their sustainability, and the sustainability of the planet more than what other people think of me. There’s a lot of power in that.
2. I found out that taking care of your clothes well is really important for a sustainable wardrobe.
While I’m a gentle person and have always taken care of my clothes, this year I discovered how crucial it really is to know how to wash each piece properly and to remove stains well.
This was only after a few accidents where stains set in some of my most adored pieces and when I accidentally managed to bleach one of my most loved linen playsuits (long story behind this, that didn’t actually involve bleach because I stay as far away as possible from that stuff. Nevertheless, I was devastated).
You see, when you have curated a wardrobe over the years with high-quality pieces, made with the most love you could possibly imagine, and then one blank moment in a warm wash or drying in the sun changes the piece beyond repair, it’s not only pretty embarrassing, but you begin to feel as if you have let your clothes down.
My wardrobe has a life – a story – so, over this past year, I really began to get to know what each piece likes; how they like to be washed, dried, and ironed (or not), to make sure that I can continue to honour their story to the greatest possible extent.
3. I realised that you can totally still make a difference to the livelihoods of brands without buying clothes from them.
One of the biggest criticisms I’ve received related to my no-spend year (if not, the only), is that I was doing an injustice to the ethical and sustainable fashion industry and the makers I advocate for.
This was not the point.
Read this carefully: I did not stop spending for a year to encourage people to say goodbye to the brands and makers who are making a difference.
At the end of the day, humans need clothes and for many reasons (I’ll get to that later). So, when we do need clothes, my number one message is to encourage us all to choose the better alternative, which includes supporting ethical and sustainable brands and makers.
However, if the purpose of my no-spend year was to encourage anything, it was to encourage my audience to meditate deeply about whether they really need new clothes in the coming year of their lives.
If the purpose of my no-spend year was to ask anything, it would be to ask: if you don’t need clothes, in any way, shape, or form in the coming year, then why should they buy them?
This realisation brings me to my next point.
4. I noticed that brands who really, really care about the impact of fashion on the environment encourage slow consumption.
It was so heartening to find that some brands actually cheered me on with this journey. Notably, Theo the Label, an Aussie-based label that produces ethically and encourages slow consumption.
“…sometimes we produce as little as 5 pieces for one style. Not 5 in each size, not 5 in each colour, a grand total of 5. Theo clothing is designed to be loved and to be worn to death so that it doesn’t end up ‘out of fashion’ and in landfill after 2 wears.”Esther, founder of Theo the Label
There are many ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ companies, brands, and labels available now, however no one produces and sells their pieces in the same way.
There are many ways, and no single ‘right’ way, to produce ethically and sustainably.
However, for me, I find it hard to justify that an item in my wardrobe is truly environmentally ethical and sustainable if it ticks all the boxes with natural dyes and fabric, but if there are thousands of other people out there with the same item in their wardrobe.
No matter how ‘conscious’ a collection may be, I believe that fast fashion and large production runs aren’t sustainable for our planet.
So, while different companies might take action to care for our planet in different ways, it’s the brands who really, really care about the impact of fashion on the environment who will encourage you only to purchase what you need.
5. I now can’t find a single reason to buy anything other than timeless pieces.
After a year of outfit repeating, I started to notice which pieces in my wardrobe were starting to feel the effects of time and wear. Hint: my sustainably made pieces did just fine, aside from the playsuit I accidentally bleached (entirely my fault).
As somebody who doesn’t want to contribute to the 6,000 kilograms of textile waste disposed of in Australia every 10 minutes, I still have and wear some fast-fashion pieces that I bought before I started this journey.
This year was a great test in the difference in longevity between my sustainably made clothes and my fast-fashion clothes. My pieces that are made of fabrics watered down with polyester and that were stitched together in a hurry began to lose shape a little. They haven’t fallen apart just yet but they’re on their way to it.
That’s not to say that fast fashion can’t last a long time when taken care of. The point is, fast fashion is not made with the intention to last a lifetime – and that makes all the difference to the longevity of an item.
This year, I realised that I far prefer clothes that, ideally, I buy once and then treasure and mend throughout my lifetime. If that means that I pay more for their quality, for the thoughtfulness that goes into them, and to ensure the people who made them are paid and treated fairly, then that is, without a second thought, a price I’m willing to pay.
For those in the US and UK, Buy Me Once is a great website where you can find not only clothes but homewares with the same intention, too.
6. I discovered the importance of continuing to make every future purchase with a purpose.
This is something that came to mind as my no-spend year started to wrap up: it’s important that everything I buy in the future is sourced, made, and sold in a way that’s environmentally and socially responsible.
That is, absolutely every piece of clothing and not a thread less.
Why? Because if I’m only making a few purchases per year, I only have a few chances to vote with my money about the kind of world I want to live in.
Every purchase we make is a chance to indicate to a brand and to the fashion industry that, “I’m cool with the way this was made, please make more of it”.
I want to indicate that, in my ideal future world, I only want to see ethically and sustainably made clothing. So, that’s what I’ll buy. For me, it’s as simple as that.
7. I realised I could continue the no-spend for longer but for the sake of art and expression (and necessity), I won’t.
At the time of writing this article, it has now been a year and two weeks since I’ve bought new clothes. You’d think as soon as the restriction was lifted that I’d buy everything that I’d had my eye on over the past year but, strangely enough, that wasn’t the case.
It’s oddly freeing to remove yourself from a cycle of purchasing and wearing. Browsing and buying clothes became something that I didn’t have to worry about and that was lovely.
However, I think I will buy new clothes again soon for a few reasons:
- I’d like to buy things when I truly need them (I feel a decent order for Boody undies coming up). If you are too, use my discount code from my discounts page for 15% off.
- I like supporting the ethical and sustainable designers that I know, and I like showcasing these brands on my blog and social media. In a way, this is part of my work. I feel like I have been missing out on some form of expression by not doing this, as much as I would have, in the past year.
- In the odd chance that I find something at a thrift store that I need and that is superb quality, I’d like the opportunity to purchase it without restraint!
8. Now is a good time to stop buying.
This last realisation from my no-spend year is an important one because it involves you. I realise that now is an exceptionally good time to stop buying new clothes if you feel like you have enough.
- Most of us are in isolation and we’re all going out less, so there is less of that pressure to ‘need’ something new.
- As we spend more time at home in these coming months, there is a great opportunity to also spend some time in your wardrobe. Not too literally, though! We have a chance to think about the items we own, reconnect with them, calculate our CMI (closet mass index), or brainstorm ways to responsibly part with them or upcycle them.
- Slow Fashion Season is coming!
A note on Slow Fashion Season
If you’re looking for a way to take action after reading this article but don’t quite want to go to the lengths I did, this is it:
Slow Fashion Season (SFS) started last year when, between 21st June and 21st September, over 14,000 people decided to make more conscious choices and stop buying clothes for 3 months.
This year, considering the effects of COVID-19 on many businesses, SFS has decided that part of making more conscious choices this SFS is the option to purchase from ethical and sustainable brands as well.
“…the main focus of our campaign remains the encouragement of more conscious choices like purchasing second-hand and vintage clothing. Or, ultimately, to not buy any clothing at all!”Slow Fashion Season, 2020
This year, SFS is aiming for 25,000 people to join them. I’ve signed up. You can too, here.
I hope that, however you choose to move forward after sitting with this story, you do so consciously and mindfully.
Do what you can,