Last year, I announced a shift to a sustainable + ethical wardrobe on my blog. Even during the very earliest stages of this journey, I distinctly remember being clear on the fact that there would be nothing sustainable about abandoning my fast fashion clothes for sustainable + ethical options. I realized that the only true way to offset the damage of a piece of clothing I owned that wasn’t manufactured in a sustainable + ethical manner, was to consume it like that.
With this realization, I decided to not go on a shopping spree with ethical + sustainable brands. Instead, I decided to commit to a no-spend pledge for the first six months of 2018. The intent was to go through all the items in my wardrobe in the hope of building a better and deeper understanding of what I enjoyed wearing and what I didn’t.
Minimizing my Wardrobe
When I began the process, I remember feeling absolutely overwhelmed with the number of pieces in my wardrobe. I remember looking at my wardrobe and feeling completely uninspired. I had heaps of clothes. Quite a few of these I had owned for several years but many were new additions. Old or new, I was surprised to find so many pieces that I simply hadn't been wearing frequently enough. I distinctly remember opening my wardrobe and feeling what I eventually heard people online describe as “decision fatigue.”
Gradually, I was able to overcome this state by simply dividing my clothes into frequently worn vs non-frequently worn items. This was a great starting point because it helped me clearly identify the problem areas. Once this division was made, I decided to give the clothes I hadn’t been wearing frequently a fair chance. I decided to wear them a few more times to see if I had a valid reason for not wearing these items frequently enough.
When I did this, especially with some of the old clothes, I was so surprised to find that I totally enjoyed wearing these items and there was no logical reason behind why I wasn’t wearing them. Most of them still fit me. Most of them were still intact. I realized that how they looked mattered very little to me. I realized that what mattered more was the story behind them (in terms of the memories I had created while wearing them.) As I’ve said several times before, the clothes that we wear all have a story behind them. This story can be about how they were made or how they were worn. Fast-fashion encourages neglect of both. It systematically creates a disconnect between the people who made our clothes and us. This disconnect is further intensified because of the sheer number of clothes we own. Personally, when I got in touch with the story behind most of my clothes, I felt inspired to wear them, making new and creative pairings. That said, there were some clothes that simply didn’t fit me or even after giving a fair chance, I didn’t feel compelled to wear. Most of these were all let go in mindful and responsible ways (more on that in a future post.)
As you might remember from the start of this post, I only intended to commit to a six month no-spend pledge. That said, when I completed six months, I felt a strong motivation to continue through the remainder of the year. This was mainly influenced by a strong urge to keep building on this deeper understanding of what I owned. I felt like I had only begun on this path and enjoyed the whole process of gradually getting in touch with pieces I my wardrobe and getting creative with them.
As much progress as I had made, there were still many pieces in my wardrobe that I hadn't worn in novel and creative ways. There were also many pieces in my wardrobe, that I hadn't invested time into, to go through the stories behind how they were made and the memories I had created while wearing them. Both these processes had felt cathartic and transformative and I felt a strong yearning to keep going.
Post the six-month mark, I did make two exceptions. The first one was a second-hand Levi’s 501 that I stumbled across for less than $5 while traveling. I have a thing for vintage Levi’s and since there aren’t many second-hand stores in India that I am aware of, I decided to indulge myself.
The second exception was in the form of the clothes that I purchased for one of my closest friend’s wedding. This was unavoidable mainly because at that time none of my existing wedding wear fit me and since this was a once in a lifetime event, I felt I could make the exception.
The Road Ahead
With the new year around the corner, I have given a considerable amount of thought on how I want to progress having completed a whole year of no-spend. One of the things I realized, is that I grew to enjoy not buying anything new. Having gotten a chance to both thrift and swap, I find myself primarily inclining towards these two methods of acquiring clothes in 2019.
The challenge remains that both these methods aren't as mainstream as I'd wish them to be. Additionally, both methods do not guarantee that I will find exactly what I might be looking for. So, although I will resume buying new clothes again in 2019, there’s going to be a slight twist. I have decided to put a limit or cap on the number of new clothes I can buy, so that the whole activity does not go overboard. I have settled on a number and in 2019 I will only be buying 12 new pieces. You read that right, 12 pieces for the entire year. One for each month (though I will allow myself to buy more than one in a single month, so long as I am on track for 12 for the entire year.)
As I look at 2019, I want “buying new” clothes to be my last resort. I will first attempt to get creative with what I already own. If that doesn’t work I will wait till I have an opportunity to visit a second-hand store. If I don’t get that opportunity, I will wait till there’s a swap happening. If I am failed by all of these, I will make a note of what I desire, the specific color, the fit, everything. And then do thorough research and buy from a brand that meets these needs and is also ethical + sustainable. I am hoping that this approach enables me to consume fashion in the most strategic and mindful manner in 2019.