It feels like only yesterday Jen and I placed our big glass jar on the kitchen bench to mark the beginning of our 2018 Ethical Clothing Challenge.
For those who have only recently joined us on our clothing journey, the Challenge was designed to prove whether an ethically-sourced wardrobe could be as affordable as a ‘fast-fashion’ wardrobe. Refer to previous blog post for further details.
2019 already feels like it is plummeting by at an alarming rate, so I thought I would take a moment to sit, stop and reflect; both on the new goals we set for ourselves this year, and as a chance to revisit (and share with you) the highlights of our year-long Ethical Clothing Challenge.
To begin, I think it is not only useful but essential to note that what Jen and I both hoped to gain from the experiment changed dramatically over the course of the year, and that this was both natural and, in many ways, inevitable.
One of the reasons our experiment morphed into something new so early on was because we realised very quickly that Jen’s clothing needs, and the rate at which she wore-through each item, were not really comparable with my own. While Jen spent last year in school (wearing her school uniform every day and only buying clothes for the weekends), I was juggling a six day working week and trying to adapt my wardrobe to the very distinct dress codes of the various places in which I was working. Not only did I need a greater diversity of clothing types, therefore, but I also found myself having to replace items at a much faster rate, as I was wearing through them (as a result of constant use) much more quickly.
Given that a straightforward comparison between Jen’s and my wardrobes would not take into account these external contributing factors, we decided to completely shift our focus. No longer would the Challenge be about ‘monetary expenditure’; our circumstances were just too incompatible to make this a viable comparison. Instead, we decided to focus on clothing ‘waste’, and what that meant to each of us.
For Jen, the Challenge became a way of monitoring and reducing her clothing consumption in general, something which had, up to that point, only been curtailed by how much money was available. Jen found that by keeping track of her buying habits (writing each purchase on a slip of paper and placing it in the jar), she was much more aware of just how many clothes she was actually buying.
For my sister, the jar became an ‘accountability partner’ of sorts; she often recounted having stopped herself from buying clothing items when out just because she didn’t want to have to “put [her purchase] in the jar”. If nothing else, this Challenge has taught her to stop and think before buying; she is now by her own admission a much more reflective, conscious consumer.
At the end of our experiment Jen decided to break-down her purchases using only the broadest of categories, to reflect her overarching focus on total clothing reduction.
Unsuprisingly, the figure which most stood out for my sister was that of the 48 items acquired, only 5 did she consider on reflection to have been truly worthwhile purchases.
With the data right in front of her, Jen had to admit that buying clothes which were “on trend” and “cool”, but which didn’t really suit her body or individual style, proved a waste of money. She also agreed that many of the cheaper (re: fast-fashion) brands she had bought hadn’t lasted very well; shirts became stretched and pants became baggy after only a couple of washes.
There is no doubt in my mind that as a result of the challenge Jen dramatically reduced her clothing consumption. As she realised during our experiment, there are many ways to be an ethical clothing consumer, and not just by buying the very expensive ‘green-washed’ designer brands which can often seem out of reach for the average shopper. Simply buying less is a small step we can all take to limit the horrendous effects wrought on the environment by the fast-fashion industry.
Rather than examine how much I was consuming like Jen, I sought to understand what form my consumption was taking so that I could make smarter, more informed purchasing choices in the future.
When we decided to empty the jar and tally everything up at the end of 2018, a full year after starting our experiment, here is how I broke my purchases down; with a focus on first-hand, second-hand, vintage and hand-me-downs (HMDs).
Below are a couple of observations I made while tallying everything up. See if you agree with my conclusions, and feel free to draw your own.
ONE: Taking into account our vastly different clothing needs (weekends for Jen vs work wear for me), as well as Jen’s particular focus on reducing her overall clothing consumption, we both ended up consuming a very similar number of items (about 50). While I was mildly surprised this number was so high, I was impressed that despite Jen’s best efforts and my need for a more kinetic wardrobe, my tally did not exceed Jen’s significantly.
I think it is important to note that, unlike Jen, at no point did I hold myself back from buying something I otherwise would have, as I wanted a realistic representation of my consumption habits. Looking at the subsequent data, I think I can definitely get this total number of purchases down by buying in a more informed manner.
TWO: $700 of the $1,800 I spent on first-hand clothes was a from a single lay-by of 3 clothing items; a business jacket and two high-necked sweaters from Gorman’s Dana Kinter 2018 Collection. I continue to wear them religiously and love them to bits, so no regrets. In fact, all of my more expensive first-hand purchases (bar-one) have turned out to be much loved items which are lasting beautifully; clearly these sort of purchases, for me at least, are a good investment.
THREE: Apart from a couple of dresses I bought while on holiday (it was super hot and I hadn’t packed my bags appropriately), all second-hand purchases were some sort of exercise gear (tights etc). Inevitably the fit was never quite right, or they wore-out ridiculously quickly because the elastic was already partially gone. Clearly I just need to invest in a couple of nice, new, ethically-sourced exercise sets; clothing which will make me feel gorgeous and will last longer without loosing its shape.
FOUR: Of the 6 items which were hand-me-downs (HMDs), I only ended up keeping 1; a work shirt from my friend Amelia. Obviously I need to remember, moving forward, that although HMDs don’t cost me anything at the time, they do still cost the Earth and contribute to my overall clothing waste. Unless I REALLY love it and it fits perfectly, I should just leave it and source an ethically produced first-hand alternative.
I think Jen would agree when I say that despite our different focuses, we both found the Challenge to be an easy, highly informative and very entertaining manner in which to record and compare our clothing consumption across an entire year.
It takes less than thirty seconds to write the necessary information on a post-it note and slip it into the jar; a very simple action, but one which, further down the track, can provide a wealth of information.
We have of course started a new jar for our 2019 Clothing Challenge; I think it will be interesting to compare Jen’s and my clothing consumption this year, now that she is out of school (no more school uniform during the week), has a part time job (her buying power will no longer be curtailed by her limited pocket money) and is off to uni (with all of the associated social pressures to ‘look the part’).
Excitingly, Jen and I have also convinced our mother and brother to take part this year, which should make for much hilarity, teasing and rivalry when we decide to sit down with a glass of bubbly and tally everything up in 2020.
You too, dear reader, can take part in our Challenge! It is never too early or too late to start, and I would love to hear how you go!!
Simply write on a piece of paper your name (if you are doing it with others), the cost, a brief description of the item to prompt your memory, and the brand or where you bought it. I also like to write (in brackets down the bottom) the reasoning behind my purchases; things like “second-hand”, “made with organic cotton”, “really needed a new long-sleeved shirt”, or even just “fell in love with it”. This will prove useful and interesting information when you are tallying everything up at the end.
We had a few ground-rules regarding what did and did-not go in the jar, and you are welcome to use or appropriate them as you see fit.
Things like socks, undies, bras, scarfs, belts, swimmers and hats do count, especially if they are fashion-motivated purchases rather than necessities. We decided that jewellery would be excluded, but we were rather undecided about gifts; on the one-hand, if you are gifted a clothing item it is still being incorporated into your wardrobe, and therefore into your overall clothing consumption, but on the other-hand you didn’t have a chance to apply any of the ethical-consumer-frameworks you would normally apply before making a purchase, so… it is up to you to decide.
NOTE: Just don’t do what my sister did and try to make other people ‘gift’ (re: buy) something for you so that you don’t have to count it towards the jar… that’s cheating Jen!!