Shortly after I first started this blog, I wrote a brief post about what I deemed “conscious consumerism.” The essential message being that purchasing a new item of clothing, even from an ethical company, should be a last resort when thinking about building a conscious wardrobe.
When you think about the problems within the fashion industry (crazy amounts of pollution and serious human rights issues are the biggies), combined with the issues around textile and garment waste (13 million tons of textile waste was sent to landfill or incinerator in 2013), buying less really should become a bigger priority for us all.
And I will be completely frank — for a very, very long time I did not do this. In fact, I pretty much did the opposite. As a long time fashion addict and someone who worked in the industry, I was always trying to keep up with the latest trends, and therefore I consistently bought multiple items (like ridiculous amounts) of new clothing every month. But as someone who is now working on doing better/improving my clothing karma, I can wholeheartedly tell you that it can be done. You. Can. Shop. Less.
When I left my job as a buyer for a fast fashion company last July, I challenged myself to make fewer purchases. And, since that day in July, I can proudly say that I count my new clothing purchases on one hand.
In September I bought a pair of Aasics running shoes and a pair of Reebok walking shoes, as my right foot seemed to have some sort of stress fracture/was screaming at me that my running shoes were well over their recommended 500 mile lifespan, and I probably shouldn’t wear Chucks on every single walk. In retrospect, I wish I would have gone with more responsible athletic shoe brands when purchasing these, but I was really going for the most cushion I could find so that my foot didn’t fall off (a little melodramatic, yes, but I was in pain). In December I bought my Nosotros Ranchero hat, which technically I was just redeeming a gift card my husband had given me the previous Christmas, so I’m still on the fence as to whether this counts. In January I bought my Girlfriend Collective leggings, because 1) I had to see what all the fuss was about, and 2) the majority of my leggings had reached the point of no return (i.e. holes, see through, you get the jist). And finally in April I bought my super rad (yes, I’m still that pumped), Marine Layer “Gracias” ringer tee during Fashion Revolution’s Night Out here in San Francisco.
And for the sake of full transparency, I would nee more hands for counting if you throw in thrifted and gifted items. In September I bought three pairs of vintage Levi’s jeans that I cut into shorts, plus an ivory button up cardigan — all of which I planned on selling on ebay, but (I think you know where this is going) was not successful, therefore they will probably fold into my wardrobe. In December I was gifted a grey pullover sweatshirt from Mollusk Surf Shop from a friend for Christmas that has become very much a regular in the rotation of my wardrobe. In April I was gifted a March for Science tee that my mother (gotta love her) ordered for me to make sure I was appropriately dressed for the occasion. And finally, in May I bought two pairs of Lee jeans (one dark wash, one light wash) that I cut into step hem ankle skinnies and one pair of still TBD brand jeans (these puppies have zero labels, but the denim quality was top notch, I tell you, top notch) that will serve me well as a pair of boyfriend jeans.
So there you have it — 11 months, 14 items in total. Not too shabby.
However, I will say that that’s still not ideal. I wish that number were lower. But I will also say that it is a far cry from where I was.
I have very much tried to take my own advice, or “walk the walk,” as they say from one of those very first blog posts:
- Buy Less: Before you make that next purchase, ask yourself if you really need it?
- Repurpose/Repair: Okay, you do really need it, but can you repurpose or repair something you already have? To help you out a lot of companies – Patagonia, Eileen Fisher and others offer repair programs to repair old garments. In addition, companies like IFIXIT (have free repair guides for that show you how to fix almost anything – from electronics to vehicles to apparel).
- Borrow/Rent: Can you borrow what you need from a friend or rent it out somewhere? At this point there are more short-term car rental places than I can count on two hands, even more places to rent apparel and if you’re buddy won’t let you borrow something, they’re probably not that cool anyway.
- Thrift: Can you find that puppy second-hand, or vintage (which, by the way would be so hipster of you)?
- D.I.Y.: Can you make what you need? Granted, you’ll probably still be buying stuff, but at least you have control over your supply chain, right?
- Buy Ethical: Last resort — buy ethical. If you can’t do any of the above, that’s when you can start looking for products that are recycled/upcycled or made with eco-conscious material; fair trade; local; made in small quantities; profits go to a philanthropic cause; high-quality and well-made(i.e. not disposable).
I have consistently bought less. I question myself on every single purchase and ask if I really need it. And for the most part, I have only bought things I need.
And guess what? I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot about the fashion industry, but even more about myself. In thinking about and researching all of my purchases, I’ve obviously learned a ton about the fashion industry. I’ve learned about the problems, I’ve learned about some of the companies that are doing it better, and I’ve learned that most people just don’t know to even think about these issues.
I’ve also learned that I can save a lot. My husband and I went from living comfortably on two incomes to still living comfortably on one. This is not to say that I was spending my entire income on clothing (we are putting less money into savings every month and have made other minor adjustments in our lifestyle), it’s just to say I was probably spending more than I realized and more than I should have.
But most importantly, I’ve learned that I don’t need all of that stuff. They say you should find the “root cause” of why you’re shopping. And looking back on it, I think I was probably shopping to find happiness, but also out of stress. Always thinking that those cool ankle boots would make me smile or that a new top would help me forget about the crazy week I’d had at work. Okay, okay, sometimes those ankle boots did make me happy, but more often than not, buying new things didn’t. This became glaringly obvious when I stopped shopping.
When I didn’t have shopping to fill the void, I discovered that I could just as easily find happiness in the simpler things in life. And, let’s be real, it absolutely helped that I was no longer working at a job that stressed me out/made me feel bad every day, and that I actually got to spend time with my husband. But instead of shopping I would spend time outdoors with our dog, I could catch up on books and articles that I had been meaning to read, I was able to cook dinner with my husband. All things that made much larger and much more meaningful contributions to my happiness.
This is not to say it has not been a challenge, or that there have not been exceptions (darned that failed eBay experiment). Often times as an “ethical fashion blogger”, I really struggle with the fact that the majority of my wardrobe is full of fast fashion brands. I have a strong desire to go out and fill my closet with brands that paid their workers fairly and used natural, sustainable fabrics…and then to tell the world about them. But, I have to remind myself that those items are still very much wearable, and therefore, on this new journey, I fully intend to get every last wear out of them.
And yes, there have been exceptions. As a fashion girl, I absolutely still get an itch to shop or see something and convince myself I absolutely must have it. My thrifted Lee jeans that I cut into the latest must-have denim silhouette and my “Gracias” tee from Marine Layer are both examples of that.
But I have come a long way.
I’m wearing what I already own. This has probably been made easier because of all of those years of buying more instead of less, as well as my tendency to be a hoarder (no joke, I think I may have lived through the Great Depression in my previous life). But it’s true nonetheless. I’ve rediscovered old items in my wardrobe (hello all of those camis that I wore in college that are now back in style) and gotten creative with how to wear the things I already have (P.S. layering a maxi dress over a shorter dress makes a brand new-ish one).
I am attempting (or thinking about it, at least) to repair things when they start to fall apart. Still working on that white button-up I ripped a while back, but I have sewn on a few buttons that were trying to jump ship.
I borrow clothing all the time. Mostly from my husband, mostly to his chagrin, but by God if he doesn’t have some good button-downs.
I thrift and D.I.Y. — usually at the same time, because I don’t care how big of a comeback 90s fashion is making, a lot of that stuff needs some serious alterations before it actually looks good.
And when I do buy, I’m researching and finding the things I need from ethical companies.
But enough about me, the point of this post was to say that it can be done. Here are some tips and tricks to make it easier for you to try it, too.
- Rise to the Challenge. I took this as a challenge to myself, but I’ve had friends that make it more of a game between themselves to see how long they can go without making a purchase. Set a wager or set a certain amount of time that you’re not allowed to make a purchase. Making a game out of it might make it more fun, but it might also lead to a higher success rate, as you have someone holding you accountable. You can also join a challenge like Project 333 where you dress with only 33 items of clothing, shoes, accessories and jewelry and ban shopping in those categories for 3 months.
- What’s old is new. I touched on this, but it’s said that most people only wear 20% of what’s in their closet. Start wearing that other 80%. Find new ways to wear old favorites or fall back in love with some of your older items. Check out Pinterest for creative outfit inspiration or articles and blogs on capsule wardrobes, like this one from Closet Confections or even something like Glamour’s monthly feature that gets creative with outfit ideas.
- Hung out to dry. Take care of your clothes. They say by extending the life of clothing by another 9 months, it would reduce carbon, waste and water footprints by around 20-30% each. Unless you’re sweating or spilling, not everything has to be washed after every wear. Wash items by hand. If you’re using a machine, use cold water and biodegradable detergents or soaps without all the harsh chemicals. Instead of throwing stuff in the dryer, try to air dry. All of these practices are easier on your clothes and will hopefully help them to last longer.
- Delay, delay, delay. Don’t fall victim to impulse purchases. Walk away from an item for an hour, a day or longer. If you’re still thinking about it after you’ve delayed the purchase, odds are you will still like it later on, too.
- Choose better. Similarly, buy pieces you 100% love. And buy quality that is going to last.
I’m not saying you have to stop shopping forever. All I’m saying is try it for a while. If you’re anything like me, you might realize that it’s just not as imperative as it once was.
What do you think? Am I crazy, or does this seem doable? Do you have any other tips or tricks you use to shop less?