Why I haven't bought any new clothes this year.
Every year I set myself a new years resolution, sometimes I set myself a few too many and I don't make it to the next December having kept up with all of them but I've always enjoyed the process. It's a chance to reinvent yourself, even if it is mostly just a silly tradition. Although 2020 has been a tough year, there is one resolution that I've kept up right to the end and it's something I think I'll keep going into 2021.
After spending a long time eliminating single-use plastic from our home, the last year has been a chance to look at our consumption and carbon footprint in general. Part of this was the decision to spend a year not buying any new clothes. It has been quite eye-opening and so I thought it might be helpful to talk through the ground-rules I set myself as well as sharing tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way.
But, let's start with why.
For me it seemed unavoidable since the fashion industry is known to be the world’s second biggest polluter beaten only by the oil industry. According to an article on Sustain Your Style, the fashion industry is responsible for water pollution, massive water consumption, microfibres in our oceans, soil degradation, greenhouse emissions and rainforest destruction. A shocking 90% of water pollution comes from textile treatment and dyeing. I’m still blown away whenever I read that statistic, when you consider the amount of industrial scale work that happens across the globe, our clothes are actually the biggest cause for concern. Another baffling statistic is that 93kg of greenhouse gases are generated for each 1kg of fabric produced.
Well, we all have to wear clothes so there’s no use in boycotting them completely. The reasonable alternatives are to make the clothes we have last as long as we possibly can. To mend them, upcycle them, to donate them if we don’t like them anymore and overall, to stop treating clothing as an easy to replace, throw-away resource.
The reasons why seem clear, but how to go about it is where it gets tricky as the industry is designed for turnover – it’s called fast fashion for a reason and year on year it seems that the rate that trends change increases and the quality decreases. You could buy and wear something once and because it’s also quite cheap, think nothing of getting rid of it to buy something else new.
Now, for the how.
The rule that I set myself was that I cannot buy any new clothes for a whole year, with the exception of underwear for hygiene reasons of course. It has worked well, but it’s been really difficult. I thought it would be a breeze for me as I don’t really enjoy clothes shopping anyway. It often makes me feel anxious so I was sure I’d adopt my new habit of buying less and buying second-hand without any hassle. I even imagined I might get some enjoyment from clothes shopping finally as going around charity shops or vintage markets to find forgotten treasures seemed like a wholesome experience...sadly, not the case in 2020!
I looked online for some inspiration. Ebay is the first and most well-known place to go for everything second-hand, but there are lots of other websites and apps popping up specially made for clothing such as Depop, Vinted and ASOS marketplace. If you want to support a charitable cause while you shop sustainably, you can also find Oxfam sell clothing online, which has both modern and vintage styles available.
I have become particularly fond of Vinted as I’ve also been helping my Mum sell some of her things on there and it's very easy to use. It has been lovely to get her involved in my sustainable journey and help her make some space at home too.
If this had been any other year, I'm sure I'd be raving about clothes swaps and vintage kilo markets, all the more reason to continue this new habit into the future and hope that these events come back.
My top three tips.
If you’re thinking of starting a similar challenge, there’s no need to use the new year as your reason as you can start whenever and set whichever time limit you like, it really doesn't have to be the same challenge as me or anyone else. Of course you can be inspired by what others share, but then do what’s best for you. If you want to say – this month I won’t buy any new clothing – and you stick to that, you’ve made a powerful step. There is a hugely supportive community out there to tap into. I’ve learned a lot by myself but I’ve also been able to talk to lots of people online who have done similar challenges and they graciously shared their advice with me, which I will pass on to you all too.
My first tip, and probably the biggest help to me early on was removing temptation. This meant finally going through and unsubscribing from all the newsletters and sales emails that would fall in my inbox. I also cleared cookies on my browser to stop targeted adverts coming up from my favourite clothing haunts. I’d also recommend switching up your social media to get a new perspective. If your news feed is not helping you it is time to stop following the influencers who are going to tempt you and start following the ones who are going to support your current goal.
Secondly, find a way to enjoy your achievements. This will mean something different for each person - you may like to start sharing photos of your preloved goodies online, or you can put the money you’ve saved towards something else you’ve been wanting to get. With any sustainable change you make, don’t see it as limiting. Having less of one thing, often gives you more room for other important things in your life.
The clothing that you have will become more valuable now that you’re not buying new. My third tip is to start caring for your clothing because repairing it and appreciating the pieces you have will help you to fight off the urge to buy more. I’d recommend learning some very basic sewing skills if you’re not confident in it. It will help you to patch small holes and replace buttons, the kind of damage that is easily fixed and shouldn’t see a piece of clothing put in the bin.
Early on in the year, I did a full audit where I repaired and refreshed those old items. After, I found myself with a much wider selection to choose from, without spending a penny. I also donated a fair bit to charity and bagged up some items that were irredeemable to take to the textiles recycling. It felt slightly counter-productive at the time to be getting rid of clothes but I quickly realised that I needed to consolidate my options and create a wardrobe that was easier to manage and easier to mix and match.
The next goal as I continue this on into the new year is to start thinking about the whole lifecycle of the clothes I wear, not just concentrating on getting things second-hand. This means investing in longer lasting items from ethical and environmentally conscious brands. I’d love to know if you’ve tried a similar challenge and if you have any favourite ethical brands you'd recommend to get me through 2021.
Happy New Year everyone!