I feel like 2018 has come for a lot of things I love (not without cause): plastic straws, multiple male actors, and now, the fashion industry.
I’ll just say it: I love clothes. It is a long and abiding love affair that has been lasted since grade school. I was that weird kid that made her own t-shirts and drew all over her Converse because: fashion. Fortunately, I have moved on to more sophisticated sartorial choices, but the fact that having a nice outfit on makes me feel great hasn’t changed. When I was younger, I was inspired by shows like Sex and the City or Gossip Girl (I’m from a small town in Northern Germany, and shockingly, it has no fashion scene). There are very few days where I don’t check Asos and Topshop for what’s new, or peruse WhoWhatWear for the latest trends. I have seven fashion blogs bookmarked that I check for inspiration on the daily and I'm a committed Man Repeller reader. So even without the dozens of bloggers that I follow on Instagram, I am surrounded by fashion, and most importantly, things waiting to be bought every day.
When I feel down, my go-to pick me up is retail therapy. The last time I went more than a week without ordering online was when I was in Israel, because nobody ships there. I am a fairly smart person, so it’s not like I wasn’t aware that this isn’t great. But I was under the impression that I was mainly hurting my bank account with this habit. Living in oh-so-expensive London convinced me to try and go a month without shopping at all. I started out very optimistic, and decided to use the time I was saving to research what the fashion industry is doing to the environment. Having worked in a high street store before, I knew of the huge amount of packaging that is involved in getting clothes from the warehouses. But, having a predominantly vegan diet, I was feeling smug (especially after the Oxford studies on the effects of the food industry on the environment was published ) and told myself that my diet, plus recycling and not driving were enough.
Boy was I wrong. It didn’t take a lot of research to find that out. I used Stacey Dooley’s much lauded documentary as a starting point, and learned that making one pair of jeans can take over 15,000 litres of water to produce. That factories on the Citarum River are polluting its waters and slowly poisoning the population. That only 18% of clothing in Europe is reused or recycled, and that sports manufacturers pre-print t-shirts prior to big finalies that they then dump in mostly African countries. And that if the fashion industry continues to grow at its current rate, it will account for ¼ of the world’s total carbon emissions if we want to keep global warming below 2 degrees.
While the reaction in the fashion industry has been slow, there are some that decided to act on these numbers. The most well-known of these is probably H&M, who introduced their conscious collection in 2013 and are committed to using 100% recycled or sustainable materials by 2030. Others high street brands such as Zara have followed, and sustainability has entered high fashion with initiatives such as the Green Carpet Challenge (GCC). Even in the blogging and vlogging sphere, there seems to a move away from haul videos towards videos and posts that show multiple ways to reuse the same item. Additionally, there have long been bloggers such as Alex Stedman of The Frugality who emphasize investing in quality pieces that can be reduced.
So, has my months without shopping changed me profoundly? Has my research been an intervention that shocked me into changing my ways and never shop again? The short answer is no.
I gave in twice to buy something I liked because the website told me that it was going fast and I should hurry or because there was a tempting sale. To my credit, I returned it all, but I can’t undo delivery and packaging used. Plus, I put through three orders the day after my months was up. I probably would have bought that stuff straight at midnight, but it was Halloween and did not bring my laptop to the club.
I do see a slow change in myself that I hope other fashion conscious people could make. For one, now that I am in my mid-twenties, I have grown to appreciate investing in versatile and quality pieces that I can style multiple ways and I know I look good in. I am also trying to move away from shopping being a reward or a pick me up. (I am mostly replacing it with baking, which is more detrimental to my diet, but better for the planet. Look at me being a martyr for a good cause.) Finally, I try to buy things that aren’t new. When I see something I like, rather than buying to straight away, I hit up Depop where people sell used clothing to see if I can find the same or a similar piece. I follow second hand shops on Instagram to see how they style up their pieces.
I have a long ways to go, but I am seeing a change in my attitude and feel like it makes me more fashionable. Everyone can look good in an outfit that they bought off a mannequin or is an exact copy of something they saw online. Creating a good look out of what you have is more challenging, but ultimately more rewarding. That is not to say that I won’t buy brand new things ever again. But much the same way one cheat day doesn’t ruin a healthy diet, one new skirt doesn’t kill the planet. I hope.