Last year I set myself a goal: to only make the clothes I wanted to wear, not buy them, for the entire year. In this article I’ll share the experience with you to help you see that changing your fashion buying habits is possible – and it can even be rewarding.
FASHION IS BIG BUCKS, BIG WASTE
If you’re interested in changing your buying habits, you might already know some of the statistics surrounding our current rate of production and consumption of clothing. Zara produces around 450 million items of apparel per year (Berfield and Baigorri, 2013) – that’s seven items of clothing for every person in the UK.
We spend phenomenal amounts of cash on clothing; Asos’ 2014-15 accounts show they had more than 29 million orders with an average spend of just under £70.00 each (Asos, 2015). Their gross profit was over £574 million.
And yet many of our clothes go to waste, either as part of the 350,000 tonnes decaying in landfill, or as some of the 30% of clothing in our wardrobes which hasn’t been worn for the last six months (WRAP, 2012).
My history of buying clothing has reflected this pattern. I would buy items every couple of weeks, mostly from charity shops, ending up with a huge wardrobe where many pieces weren’t worn for months – or even a year – at a time.
SOMETHING SHIFTING IN 2016
Last year, it seemed more people than ever were interested in reducing their participation in mass clothing consumption.
I’d read about women who had cut out new clothing completely (Hall, 2016), or cut out spending on anything (McGagh, 2016). Livia Firth’s #30wears concept gained traction, partly through the efforts of Fashion Revolution; Jen on the Tartan Brunette explains the idea very well. And the blogger-devised capsule wardrobe ‘33 for 3’ hit six years and widespread uptake (Carver, 2010).
My significant spending on clothing had reduced by the end of 2015 as I aged and my priorities changed. It seemed like an ideal time to challenge my habits and find a new way of interacting with fashion.
For 2016 I set a self-imposed ban on buying any clothing, new or second hand. Instead I would make anything I wanted to wear. The goal was to reduce my consumption habits and increase my dressmaking skill level.
It was a tough year.
If you think fashion is a load of superficial nonsense, not taking part by consuming clothing is probably easier than if you think fashion is expressive, creative, culturally-situated, radical, exhilarating and all round wonderful.
I am in the second camp.
I found, to start with, not buying clothes was an unnatural experience. I felt like I was punishing myself and that I couldn’t take part in what everyone else was doing – the fun and excitement, the new shapes and colours, the joy of expressing yourself in a new way. It was rubbish.
But after the first few months, I started to enjoy the new ways of experiencing fashion that I’d found. I could visit a clothing store in the same way as an art gallery or museum; not expecting to buy anything, but to take in the visual feast on display. Stepping back from consuming meant I could see fashion as entertainment – and some clothing really is entertaining – and enjoy it without owning it.
I was enthralled with developing my skills in sewing. I drafted new patterns, came up with design ideas, collected swatches and clippings from magazines. I was a fair seamstress before, but through 2016 I became a good seamstress, confident and happy in my own skills. Not every piece worked, and not every piece was worn, but the making became the most enjoyable process.
A result I didn’t anticipate was the refinement of my fashion aesthetic. With a buying ban, I couldn’t take part in new trends quickly; I had to carefully consider whether it was worth my time and effort making a hyper-fashionable garment (spoiler: it wasn’t). My core aesthetic became clearer because I had fewer choices, and I wanted my skills to contribute to a garment I would regularly wear and love.
CLOTHING BY NUMBERS
In 2016 I made 11 items of clothing which I kept:
- 1 long-sleeved wraparound lace jersey top
- 1 grey wool cropped sleeveless swing top
- 1 grey and white slubby racerback vest
- 1 pair mottled leopard print satin wide-leg trousers
- 1 black and white sleeveless wraparound jersey top
- 1 pair denim culottes
- 1 pair black cropped trousers
- 1 pair black and white checked cropped trousers
- 1 grey short sleeved t-shirt
- 1 white V-neck twist-front t-shirt
- 1 black wool funnel neck sweater
I made three items which I ditched because they were too small, too ugly or too complicated.
Total spend: I didn’t keep track because I owned lots of fabrics and patterns from before I started the challenge.
I did end up buying six items of second hand clothing:
- 1 grey jersey sleeveless tshirt
- 1 black padded cotton bomber jacket (for my trip to chilly Stockholm)
- 1 black men’s tuxedo jacket
- 1 black sequin and velvet collarless jacket
- 1 pair men’s camo trousers
- 1 racerback black jersey tshirt
Total spend: £42.00
Despite my efforts I also bought two brand new items of clothing:
- 1 pair black thermal leggings (M&S) bought in November 2016 because it was cold
- 1 pair black satin high heeled mules (M&S) bought in December 2016 as a Christmas present to myself
Total spend: £41.00
During 2016 I bought eight pieces of pre-made clothing, with a total spend of £83.00.
Setting this challenge for myself wasn’t a quick decision, but my interest in developing a sustainable life and my shopping habits didn’t match up. Fashion industry statistics tell a story of over-consumption and under-use, and my personal practices reflected that.
I chose to do something dramatic as a test, and although I didn’t survive the whole year without buying pre-made, I was much more aware and attuned to my consumption patterns.
Changing my habits like this brought multiple rewards. I spent less and enjoyed fashion more because I saw it as entertainment and art, not a way to practice ownership. My dressmaking and pattern making skills improved significantly. I clearly defined my core aesthetic and enjoyed experimenting with its limits.
When I did buy items, it was a considered experience. I bought only what I knew I would love, would use and had been searching for – like the proper camouflage trousers or the satin mules (the style was the same as a magazine clipping of a designer shoe I’d stored in my scrapbook for about a year). Buying became a special experience.
Most importantly, I continued to deepen the relationship I have with my clothes, which I believe is a key factor in changing fashion purchase, wear and disposal habits.
If you have been toying with the idea of making some changes to your relationship with fashion, try it. It’s tricky, but it can be done – and the rewards are completely worthwhile. Let me know how you get on on Twitter.
Try your own consumption challenge: Seven Tips for Surviving a Clothes Shopping Ban
ASOS, 2015. Annual Report and Accounts 2015. ASOS.com. Available on: http://www.asosplc.com/~/media/Files/A/ASOS/results-archive/pdf/2015-annual-report.pdf
Berfield, S. and Baigorri, M. 2013. Zara’s Fast Fashion Edge. Bloomberg. Available on: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-11-14/2014-outlook-zaras-fashion-supply-chain-edge
Carver, C. 2010. Project 333. Be More With Less. Available on: http://bemorewithless.com/project-333/
Hall, S. 2016. Sally Hall: My year without clothes shopping. Yorkshire Post. Available on: http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/analysis/sally-hall-my-year-without-clothes-shopping-1-8298444
McGagh, M. 2016. My year of no spending is over – here’s how I got through it. The Guardian. Available on: https://www.theguardian.com/money/blog/2016/nov/26/no-spending-year-over-new-way-living-wealthier-wiser
The Tartan Brunette, 2016. The 30 Wears Campaign. Tartan Brunette. Available on: http://tartanbrunette.co.uk/2016/07/the-30-wears-campaign.html/
WRAP. 2012. Cited in Breyer, M. 2012. Unused Clothing in UK Closets Worth $46.7 Billion, Report Finds. Treehugger. Available on: http://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-fashion/unused-clothing-worth-46-billion-report-finds.html