What’s It Like Not Buying Clothes For A Year?

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.

What's It Like Not Buying Clothes for A Year - Eleanor Snare - Image of wardrobe and post title




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.



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.



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

Ethical Fashion Alternatives for SS16

Ethical Fashion Alternatives for SS16

Question: What do you do when you love fashion, and you love trends, but you’re committed to shopping ethically and sustainably?

Answer: You scour the web for products made fairly and made ethically that just happen to be completely on trend, and add them to rather lovely Pinterest board.

Then you write an article so other ethical fashion shoppers know where to look.

So, here are my picks of ethical fashion alternatives for four SS16 trends.

The incredible earrings featured in this image are from Palomita Jewellery – visit their Etsy shop here.

Find out the sustainable, ethical alternatives for four key womenswear trends for SS16.


The sportswear aesthetic is still very strong, probably because it’s very comfortable and practical (unlike a whole lot of other trends).

Although a class pair of adidas stripes look great, the company isn’t well-rated when it comes to ethical production.

Here are some alternatives (in timeless black).


This trend is inspired by Gucci and other designers who used acid colours and clashing patterns on the SS16 catwalk.


Some things about the 90s I wish were left back in the past (scrunchies, for example). Other trends, like casual dressing and grunge styling, I’m happy to see renewed and revamped with spring colours.


An accessories trend exemplified by Gucci but popular on high street shows too: big, bold, over-the-top and mismatched earrings.


Thanks for reading. Have you spotted any more ethical fashions that fit in with this season’s trends? Let me know on Twitter!


Why Joe Fresh is a Lesson that The Fashion Industry Needs to Listen To

Encouraging systemic change in the fashion industry is a bit like encouraging people to deal with self-sabotaging behaviours. The first step is to admit you have a problem.

And for every figure – like Stella McCartney – who admits there is a problem, there are far more who deny systemic change is even necessary.

Fashion designer and founder of the Canadian brand Joe Fresh, Joe Mimran, was recently interviewed in Toronto Life about his step down from the company (and new role on Dragons’ Den).

In 2013, Joe Fresh was one of the brands implicated in the Rana Plaza collapse, where 1,134 people died. A garment factory in the building manufactured clothing for them and other brands. Loblaw announced it would send reps to Bangladesh to investigate, and victims’ families would be offered compensation.

In his parting interview, Mimran didn’t admit his brand had a problem. He demonstrated the shift of responsibility that’s problematic in the industry: who is in charge of making sure people are ok? The arguments he used denied the necessity of systemic change, and they’re arguments lots of people in the industry will be using (and facing).

Unpicking some of them will hopefully make a stronger case for change. Each of the italicised and indented Q&A is taken from the original interview.


Brand responsibility

Joe Fresh is facing the threat of a $2-billion class action lawsuit from the victims of the Bangladesh building collapse. They claim Joe Fresh had a responsibility to ensure the building’s safety. Are they right?
The question is, how much oversight should companies have when they contract labour overseas? Should we be doing engineering checks on the buildings? No other industry does that. But it’s a responsibility that has now been forced upon the apparel industry because of the disaster.

Mimran clearly doesn’t like the idea of the apparel industry being ‘forced’ to take responsibility for the welfare of its workers. In this instance, it might be because there is no PR-friendly angle. Free childcare, healthcare or women’s education – key elements of worker welfare overseas – feel nicer than structural building checks.

The idea that worker welfare extends to a worker’s environment as well as their physical being isn’t new: in the early 1900s, Joseph Rowntree built good quality homes for his confectionery factory employees to prevent them living in slums.

However, if your workers aren’t on your doorstep, what’s the protocol for welfare? Mimran does inadvertently address a key argument about systemic change head on: “How much oversight should companies have when they contract labour overseas?” His argument leans towards ‘out of sight, out of mind’. But a company like Marks and Spencer, who rigorously control their supply chain, would say differently.

Would Mimran be as blinkered if the factory was in Toronto? Humans aren’t really built to deal with the complexity of the world (just try imagining seven billion people) so when something is in our field of vision – like Rowntree’s factory and nearby village – it tends to feel more important.

In technical terms, the further production moves from the site of consumption, the weaker our mental link between the two becomes.

A weak mental link between the two starts to erode the visibility of supply chains. To contract labour overseas might mean asking one audited factory to produce 20,000 garments. Or it might indirectly mean asking four non-audited sub-contractors to produce 5,000 garments.

In some of the countries where fashion labour is densely concentrated – including Bangladesh, the home of Rana Plaza – there aren’t bureaucratic systems in place to prevent this multiple sub-contracting, or to make supply chains visible. And why would there be, if fashion brands continue to employ producers with the current set up?

For companies keen to monitor their entire supply chain, there are then two jobs to do. First, encourage bureaucratic systems of transparency and worker welfare. Second, look at your own supply chain choices very closely.

For Mimran, and for plenty of other brands, that’s just too much work.


Clothes aren’t like food

What did you make of John Oliver’s stunt on Last Week Tonight where he sent cheap food of dubious origin to the Joe Fresh office to mimic the garment industry’s production practices?
I think what you put on your body and what you put in your body are two different things. But the stunt brings attention to a very serious subject, and it’s one the industry has to solve together.

His answer’s first sentence deserves special attention as it summarises another of the big issues holding back systemic change in the fashion industry.

“What you put on your body and what you put in your body are two different things”. Yes, they are different. But they are fundamentally connected.

Skin is a living part of our body which absorbs, reflects, protects and adapts depending on what we do, eat and expose ourselves to. A specific part of the sustainability movement would argue that mass-produced clothing can be harmful due to manufacturing process and the effect it has on our skin (and body).

For example, waste products from dyeing pollute water systems; plastic-based manmade fibres don’t allow our bodies to ‘breathe’ effectively; and even certain styles of clothing might be unhealthy.

Clothing is not an inert shell we climb into every day. It’s a reactive second skin whose composition affects our own.

Just like interacting with food, the human body interacts with clothing. This is on a physical level, as I’ve outlined. But it’s also on many other levels: political, sexual, ethical, social, cultural. The clothes I wear represent as much about me as the food on my plate. And they both have the same connection to other people – to workers – which is necessary to contemplate systemic change.

Both food and fashion suffer from opaque labour. This is a problem of contemporary capitalism: who makes your bread? Who makes your shoes? But on an everyday level, one of these industries is undergoing a dramatic reconfiguration (at least, for some demographics). The drive for organic whole foods, home-cooked, well-presented, nourishing and tailored to the individual is growing.

It’s mainly concentrated in demographics connected to the Internet (especially visual social media, like Pinterest) with medium to high levels of disposable income and time. These people want to know who made their beer, where their peaches come from, how to make the perfect sourdough loaf. They’re meeting suppliers, buying direct, and using social media to publicise the results.

Of course, there are swathes of people who aren’t doing this, who instead – due to many reasons – receive poor food education and make poor food choices for the health of their bodies. However, neither of these food consuming groups are reconfiguring fashion in the same way as the first are reconfiguring food.

The girl who eats sugar-free avocado brownies will still buy her t-shirts from Primark.

The answer to why that’s not happening is for another time. But we’ll never be able to learn from the food industry to help us make systemic change in the fashion industry if figures like Mimran perpetuate the myth that clothing is an inert shell, that what goes into us is more important than what’s put onto us, or that our experiences of the industries is so radically different we couldn’t possibly see any links between them.


More cash means more improvements

Is there a solution?
For sure. As producing countries become wealthier, they become better able to meet safety standards. It’s what has happened in China and Korea.

Another answer, another shift in who is responsible (or not) for systemic change. Mimran’s cash-rich dream of pumping money into economies in the hope they change does, in part, make sense. But there are a lot of hidden variables.

Safety standards are different in every country. The ‘producing countries’ Mimran mentions – places like Cambodia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, China and Korea – often have safety standards which consuming countries – the UK, America, Canada, or European countries – would consider to be unacceptable.

Unacceptable, that is, if they were in their territory.

Mimran’s argument is to work with producers you know have unacceptable safety standards, because the profits of the producers can then be reinvested in improving the safety standards through education, structural changes, etc.

In the words of economist Joan Robinson:

The misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all.

On paper, I think the cash-rich dream works. But it begins to fall apart as it assumes a number of highly changeable variables:

  • The producers will reinvest profits in safety standards
  • The producers know how to improve safety standards
  • Clients (fashion brands) will check on these safety standards at some point in the future
  • Improved safety standards are of benefit to producers (not just the workers) and something to strive for
  • Producers won’t shift the cost of improvements onto clients
  • Clients will continue to use the producers whether costs change or not

Industry, unfortunately, doesn’t always work like it does on paper.

A company chasing profits will move its labour contracts to the place where they can gain the most profit through low output to the producer. When Mimran mentions China and Korea, he inadvertently nods to the movement of labour contracts from country to country as brands try to find the producing territories where they can gain the highest profit alongside highest quality.

There are too many variables in this idea of ‘more money, no problems’ for it to work in practice. It’s not only on the part of a brand’s desire for profit, but also because producers – especially in those countries mentioned where bureaucratic systems may not robust – might not know (or care) about improving safety standards.

It requires national or at least regional legislation to improve working standards. The idea that money flowing into specific producers in a country automatically makes it wealthier, and that wealth equates to widespread legal changes, is a fallacy.

Boiled down, you can’t give someone money for doing something and then expect them to do it differently if you keep giving them money.

This isn’t an argument to damage economies through removing labour contracts. But it is an argument for the fashion brands contracting labour overseas to be more rigorous, supportive and responsible in their choices. Big brands have big purchasing power, and could do much, much more to fundamentally improve the labour situations of producers through negotiation.

Mimran’s ‘shifted responsibility’ solution won’t work. It hasn’t so far.

joe fresh 1


Mimran’s interview with Toronto Life highlights three of the biggest arguments around systemic change in the fashion industry.

First, whether a fashion brand is responsible for rigorously monitoring its supply chain, especially when contracting labour overseas, to make sure worker welfare is adequate.

Second, whether clothing affects us in the intimate way food (or other industries, like beauty) does, and therefore whether we can learn from the transformations of one to encourage systemic change in the other.

Third, whether by continuing to contract labour in places where safety standards are low, fashion brands are contributing to an economy which will eventually meet the preferred safety standards through wealth accumulation.

As a supporter of systemic change, my arguments are that brands are responsible; we do have an intimate a relationship with clothing as we do with food; and this economic argument becomes flawed in execution.

By unpicking arguments denying the need for systemic change from figures like Mimran, people interested in transformation of the fashion industry can see where the holes are in commonly-held opinions. We can also start to argue the case much more effectively.


Featured: Joe Fresh Fashion Show by Jason Hargrove via Creative Commons
Dhaka Savar Building Collapse by rijans via Creative Commons
Moschino bag from the Moschino e-commerce site
Pile of Cash by 401(K) 2012 via Creative Commons
Screenshot from Joe Fresh website taken 08 July 2015
Thanks to C’est Ethica and Sasstainable for sharing and discussing the original interview.