A one year challenge: to buy no new clothes

For a long time, living a sustainable life meant growing vegetables, riding my bike, buying green electricity and insulating my home.

I didn’t consider the origins of the clothes I wore. When purchasing clothes (often on impulse) my belief was that this new garment would make me feel better and I would look good. And the cheaper the better.

So while I was interested in food miles – I hadn’t considered the social and environmental impact of my wardrobe.

In 2016, a number of things happened that piqued my interest in sustainable fashion.

I attended my first eco-dyeing course with Barbara Wheeler. I was thrilled to observe the transformation of woollen cloth using eucalypts, hot water and metal into delicious patterns.

My journey continued – I read about and practiced eco-dyeing on linen and wool and scavenged second hand stores for suitable natural fabrics and metal vessels for dyeing. In ‘Second Skin’ India Flint describes the toxic chemicals used to dye clothes.

I stumbled across the sustainable fashion blogger, Summer Edwards of Tortoise and Lady Grey. Summer offers a free 20 day sustainable fashion challenge which I signed up for. Each day I was sent emails and guidance on how to develop a slow-fashion more sustainable wardrobe.

Tortoise and Lady Grey

I didn’t follow the instructions religiously – but enough to start being more aware of the impulses that drive my purchasing choices (definitely a lack of mindfulness) and a consideration about where fabrics were cultivated and workers’ conditions.

Inspired by Edward’s research I wrote a piece on choosing sustainable fabrics.

In Australia our choices are limited – very little fabric is produced in this country and converted to textiles. If you choose Australian wool (which I love, and New Zealand wool too) chances are that the fleece has been sent to China for processing.

Choosing sustainable fabrics

These experiences made me consider – did I want to wear clothes treated with products that harmed the environment, workers and myself?

I recently finished Ruth Park’s autobiography ‘A fence around the cuckoo’. She describes growing up in the Depression between the two World Wars in New Zealand.

This era was one many of us wouldn’t recognize. Money was scarce and people needed to be resourceful and skilful at handicrafts.

Park retells how her mother, a competent dressmaker, clothed herself and her daughter. Her mother repurposed cast-off from her sisters.

“The pieces of an unpicked garment were pressed under a damp cloth,  and then my mother set to work to solve the puzzle. How could a new pattern of a dress of a blouse or a child’s dress be made to fit these jigsaw pieces?”

So I’ve started a one year journey to buy no new clothes.

This decision isn’t driven by the need for frugality rather to be more mindful about my clothing decisions. A quick count of my wardrobe revealed I have eight skirts. How many skirts does one woman need?

I can repurpose existing clothes, buy second hand clothes and sustainable fabrics to make into garments. And I’m going to allow myself to buy one new pair of very good leather shoes.

I’m looking forward to the challenge and hope to learn more about myself and others along the way.



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