A year of conscious clothing and a wardrobe manifesto

“Fast fashion” is a term I hadn’t even heard of until the last couple of years. It’s a crazy, unsustainable industry when Australians are throwing 6000kg of fashion and textiles into landfill every 10 minutes.

I like to think I’m not part of this. I don’t believe in ‘retail therapy’ or ‘need’ a new outfit for every occasion. And yet I’ve been guilty, often, of impulse-buying a cheap garment – both in stores and online – that doesn’t stand the test of time.

Lately I’ve worked hard to declutter my home.  I know that my love of clothing, shoes and jewellery, more so that anything else, is my Achilles’ heel for clutter.

Clothing to me is more than just functional.  Anything I put on my body is an expression of self, a daily creative act that can bring much pleasure. But I don’t want my pleasure to be at the expense of my planet or anyone who lives here.

So I promised myself that for all of 2018 I would think carefully about everything wearable that I purchased, and make note of everything that I did.

For twelve months, I didn’t ‘go to the shops just for a look’. I unsubscribed from a lot of emails spruiking fashion, to cut out the feeling of FOMO if I didn’t have the latest thing.

If I found something I wanted, I didn’t buy it straight away. It’s amazing how the simple act of hitting the ‘pause’ button gave me space to think a purchase through.

Here are the clothes I purchased in 2018

Here are the clothes I purchased in a year of conscious, slow clothing
Here are the clothes I purchased in a year of conscious, slow clothing

4 pairs cotton undies, 6 pairs period undies

3 bras

4 pairs socks

1 pair brown tights

1 pair black leggings

1 long sleeve black t-shirt

5 singlet tops

1 raincoat

1 shower turban*

For transparency, I should also mention that several pieces of jewellery, a pair of pants and a handbag also came into my wardrobe in that time, but as they were gifts I haven’t included them here.

Towards the end of last year, my friend introduced me to the excellent podcast Wardrobe Crisis. Journo Clare Press interviews game-changers in the ethical fashion space. As well as some hard-to-hear facts, it’s great to hear some good news stories too, and be reminded that what we wear can bring delight. I still have many episodes to enjoy, plus the book of the same name, so it’s happy days here.

Wardrobe Crisis rounded out my year of slow, conscious clothing and made me want to shape guidelines for myself as I further curate my wardrobe.

While I’m still fine-tuning it, at the moment it goes something like this:

My Wardrobe Manifesto

Wardrobe manifesto is how I will choose what is in my wardrobe
A small space to hang my clothes encourages careful selection of what comes in

1. Love your wardrobe

Treat wearables well.  From not washing clothes too often to polishing shoes and caring for jewellery, love the things you own. Wear everything with joy! Also, don’t save ‘good’ clothes/jewellery for special occasions – enjoy them often.

2. Only buy what you really need

Shop your wardrobe first. Avoid impulse-buys by only filling identified holes. Everything I bought in 2018 was to replace a similar item I had owned that was no longer wearable (apart from the period undies, which replace tampons and pads).

then… go shopping with a purpose

I only went to the shops for clothes once last year. This wasn’t hard for me as shopping malls are not my happy place. My purpose was to buy singlet tops; I bought five in one shopping trip, and nothing else.

All other clothing was purchased online. I know this has its drawbacks, but to find clothing that fit my manifesto I had to look further afield than my town.

and then… only buy what you really love

Yes, even the black tops I need for work, and basics like socks. Clothing is on my body – next to my skin! – every day. I want it to feel good on and ‘spark joy’.

3. Choose second-hand if possible

I bought one second-hand singlet top, but all other purchases last year were things that were hard to find pre-loved. I looked for months for a second-hand raincoat to replace my 9-year-old one that fell apart. When I didn’t find one before our trip to Sri Lanka, I bought the best one I could find new – it contains 100% recycled nylon.

Op-shops are great, but in the past I have impulse-bought items that I didn’t need or love and so didn’t end up wearing (but it’s so cheap! It’s for charity!) Now that I’m armed with my manifesto, I’ll only look at items that I really need and love that fit my personal guidelines.

4. Buy less, but better

Yep, I spent more on many of these items than I could have paid for seemingly similar items elsewhere. But I’ve learnt over many years of ‘bargain’ clothing that looks great in the shop but soon pills, fades, stretches, runs and gets stinky that usually, you get what you pay for. Well-made, quality products are built to last and can be repaired.

I’d rather have one pair of jeans that I love and that I wear constantly because they feel wonderful on, than ten pairs of ‘just okay’ jeans.

Also, fun fact: I don’t wear shoes that hurt my feet anymore. This means less pairs of often more expensive, but better-designed shoes.

and… choose organic, natural fibres where possible

Natural fibres feel better on my skin, need less washing and don’t shed plastic microfibres like synthetics.

The undies, socks, and leggings are organic cotton. This means the cotton has been grown without pesticides. The long sleeve t-shirt is merino and the brown tights are mostly merino with polyamide and elastine. The bras are mostly bamboo viscose with some polyamide and elastane.

Of the five singlet tops – two are 100% linen, one is 100% cotton, one is cotton elastine, and the second-hand one is viscose elastine.

and… that are well-made and made well

For well-made, see ‘4. Buy less, but better’.

For ‘made well’, there is more to consider than environmental impacts of fashion. If you’re not yet aware of worker exploitation in the fashion industry, the documentary The True Cost is well worth a look for more background to this.

Before going to the shopping centre for singlet tops, I consulted the Ethical Fashion Guide which grades companies on how well they treat their workers throughout their supply chains.  I then noted a couple of shops I wanted to look at and only went to them.

5. Consider the entire life cycle of garments, cradle to grave

This includes not just how the fabric is made (eg how the cotton is grown), who has made the garment and the carbon footprint of transporting it to me, but will I wear it many times? Can it be repaired? What will happen after it is no longer wearable?  After the rag bag, natural fibres will break down in my compost to grow vegies, while synthetics may end up as ocean microplastic. This includes all aspects of the garment, from zippers and buttons to embellishments like beads and my old favourites, sequins.

What’s up for 2019?

After a year of purchasing very practical, mostly neutral basics, I’m ready to play with more colour and frippery. I’ve already spent birthday/Christmas money on some fabulously bright earrings I’d been eyeing off on Etsy – made by a woman in Brisbane from raw, fair trade, recycled sari silk. I’m wearing them as I write  (see ‘1. Love your wardrobe’) and they are gorgeous!

I’ll be on the lookout at op shops for a colourful dress, a floaty silk top and a big swishy floral skirt that sits just above the knee, all of which can be for both work and play.

Now that I’m avoiding plastic embellishments, I’ll be looking out for added fanciness in the form of interesting fabrics / dyeing and colouring techniques, embroidery, tassels and glass beads.

As I keep exploring knitting and crochet I’d love to try making some bigger pieces to add to my wardrobe, like a simple top and a shrug.

Gauntlet hand knitted
These gauntlets were one of my first knitting projects that I completed in early 2018. (I can see now I used the wrong needle size – the gauge is off, but I still like them.) After a year of getting better at knitting I might be ready to take on some bigger projects this year.

*The shower turban may require explaining – it’s like a shower cap but is turban-shaped and made of a plastic-lined stretchy fabric. I got so sick of normal plastic shower caps with elastic around the edge that stretched to unusable widths ridiculously quickly that I did some research and found this one. It’s lasted 12 months and still looks new and works great. So – it’s more plastic, but one good-quality, well-designed plastic item has replaced up to 4 badly-made plastic items already. Yes, I know some folks don’t bother with shower caps, but I like to make hairdresser blowdries last, and this does the trick.

How do you shop for clothes? What’s in your Wardrobe Manifesto?

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