Why we should learn to love our clothes, and how the Six Items Challenge has helped me do exactly that
Guest blog by Helena Lehti
The clothing industry has a massive impact on nature: pesticides from cotton farming, textile dyes ending up in the environment and decomposing textile waste in landfills contaminating groundwater are just some examples. In addition to the ecological harms of the fashion industry, many companies thrive by having a “profit over people” mentality. Most of our clothes nowadays are made in unethical conditions: workers are made to work extremely long hours, often in unsafe buildings, not even earning a living wage. Thinking about all the problems of the modern fashion industry can feel overwhelming, but we as consumers have the power to change this. Fashion should be and can be a positive thing, that makes us feel good about ourselves and the way the clothes were made.
The biggest issue with the way we consume fashion nowadays is how much we consume it and how fast we dispose of it: 80 billion new pieces of clothing are consumed annually on a global level, and the average American throws away 82 pounds of textile waste every year (from: http://truecostmovie.com/learn-more/environmental-impact/). So not only are we making clothes in an extremely harmful way, but we’re making those clothes at an increasing pace and in huge amounts, not even appreciating them and throwing them away after just a couple of wears.
The simplest way to avoid supporting the unsustainable and unethical practices of so many fashion retailers is to learn to appreciate the clothes you already have. By simply reducing how much you buy, you reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry. You’re saving your money, your time and the environment at the same time!
There are many benefits to learning to love your clothes: you will feel better about the way you look, if you feel like each piece of clothing you have is important to you and makes you feel good about yourself. Fast fashion advertising tells us to get rid of old trends as soon as new ones come in, but if you only buy clothes that you absolutely adore, you most likely won’t feel the need to get rid of it after only a couple of wears.
The Six Items Challenge has really opened my eyes. I remember when I picked out the six items for the challenge and saw how tiny that pile of clothes was. I was almost terrified: what have I gotten myself into? Is it possible to live with so few clothes? After almost four weeks of the challenge, I can say that it is possible, and it’s surprisingly easy.
I’ve learnt to love the items I chose for the challenge, and I see them as so much more versatile now than I did before. This challenge has really made me question why I have so many clothes in my wardrobe. I just did a quick inventory of my clothes and I counted that I have around 60 tops and shirts. If I wore all of those evenly throughout the year, I would wear each one only 6 times. And that’s without deducting the days that I wear dresses, and thus don’t need a shirt. No wonder I feel like I barely wear some of my clothes! There aren’t enough days in a year to wear them all more than a couple of times! My only consolation is that almost all of those clothes have been bought second hand, so I haven’t directly contributed to the production of those clothes, but still – what is the function of all those clothes in my closet? If only a portion of the clothes I have are ones that I really enjoy wearing, then what are all those other clothes for? I feel like we’re blind to how many clothes we actually need. Before the Six Items Challenge I thought that wearing only six items for six weeks would be a big struggle, but it really isn’t. I’m just so used to having so many clothes at my disposal and having the possibility to wear a different outfit every single day, that I’ve lost sight of how many items are really necessary.
I consider myself a very conscious consumer, but still modern advertising has affected me and made me think that buying new things will make me feel good. As an ethical fashion consumer I have solved the problem of wanting a lot but not wanting to pollute by buying almost all my clothes second hand. I enjoy shopping and I like the feeling of owning something new (that is, new to me, but already used by someone else), but that feeling is very fleeting. Maybe we should think of alternatives to shopping as a hobby. If you’re in the habit of going shopping with friends just for fun, maybe you can think of other things to do – go for a walk, visit an art gallery, have a cup of fair trade coffee. Spending your money on unsustainable clothes isn’t the most fun you can have with someone.
The Six Items Challenge has taught me to be much more critical of the things I buy. I’ve already noticed that I demand much more from my clothes – if they’re not totally comfortable, good quality or practical, I won’t buy them. I’ve learnt to see clothes more in terms of how well they go with my other clothes, and how well I’ll be able to make outfits out of them. If I find something that looks nice, but it’s difficult to wear with my other clothes, I just won’t be able to wear it that much, so there’s no need to add it to my already superfluous amount of clothes.
There are so many things we can do to update our wardrobe without buying new clothes. The Six Items Challenge has shown me how you can use a small amount of clothes, but still get so many different outfits out of them. So get creative with the way you mix and match your clothes – you may find new combinations that breathe new life to your old pieces. Accessories and little adjustments can make big differences as well. You can alter clothes that you’re considering replacing by making minor adjustments with your sewing machine, you can accessorise with belts to make them fit better, you can re-use fabric for sewing projects, you can dye them… the list is as endless as your imagination.
Since every single one of us buys clothes, every single one of us affects the fashion industry in some way – either you’re supporting mainstream fashion’s way of exploiting workers and making unsustainable fashion, or you’re taking a stand against this by respecting your clothes and where they came from. Every single person’s actions have an effect, so don’t think that your consumer habits won’t make a difference – they do. We don’t need fast fashion if we shop slow.