The challenge is over. As I type this I can’t believe that I’ve actually finished. And, thanks to all the very generous donations, I’ve smashed my target. I’ve really done it.
I’m wearing the gem dress and jeans today. I decided to wear this as it’s the outfit I wore on day one of the challenge and that seemed quite poetic. It’s been a very positive experience and I’ve been thinking about the things I’ll take away from it.
Finishing off as I started in the gem dress and jeans with a cheesy selfie. I’m very much looking forward to a haircut this weekend. My fringe is crazy wild and completely impossible to style at the moment!
So, here are the things I’ve learnt.
The Fashion industry is much worse than I ever imagined
Through the challenge I’ve read a lot. I usually read a fair bit but I’ve really up’d my game. I put this down to having more time (less TV, less internet shopping, less thinking about outfits, less reading trashy magazines), being absorbed by the challenge and wanting to immerse myself into it as much as possible and also being a bit terrified that I wouldn’t have enough interesting material to write about in my blog. Here are some of the memorable things I’ve learnt.
- The fashion industry is the 2nd most polluting industry in the world. Second only to the oil industry.
- Garment workers are among the most poorly paid workers across the world. Approximately 85% of garment workers are young women; CEOs of large fashion brands are among some of the wealthiest in the world (and the majority, unsurprisingly, are men).
- A shirt before the industrial revolution in the UK would have cost more than £2,000 in today’s money. You can buy a “formal” shirt for £5 from Primark.
- Industrial disasters happen frequently. People are dying in their work places because of woefully inadequate safety standards.
- Large numbers of garment workers are scared to join Trade Unions. There are workers who have been locked in rooms and brutally beaten by their employers for being considered an agitator whilst trying to fight for a better deal at work.
- Large companies will appeal to governments in developing countries to be allowed to undercut the minimum wage.
- The leather industry is abhorrent. I really didn’t have any idea about how awful this industry is. From the treatment of the animals; to the effects the chemicals used in the tanning processes have on those who work with them; to the horrific industrial waste that pollutes our planet and the bodies of those who come into contact with it. It really is a nasty, nasty industry. I’m ashamed by how much leather I have consumed in the past. This is an ethical dilemma for me and presents a real challenge about how to buy better and / or different products in the future.
- Ethical fashion and working out who is producing genuinely ethical garments is a nightmare. Tansy Hoskin’s stance is that ethical fashion is an illusion and doesn’t exist. I understand where she’s coming from and many companies are clearly greenwashing, I think H&M are a very good example of this. But I do think there are some pioneering brands, such as People Tree, Kerala Crafts, Ethletic Shoes and Matt & Nic who are providing a real ethical alternative and who are worth supporting.
It’s possible to wear clothes from a single capsule wardrobe 365
The 6 items I chose all those weeks’ ago have been incredibly versatile. I started way back in February when the weather was pretty chilly; not the depths of winter but still cold enough to need a chunky knit scarf, coat and winter boots. The weather for the past couple of weeks has been glorious, with warm sunny days. Admittedly, not high summer but I’ve worn a t-shirt and skirt with no tights or cardigan a few times. I’ve been comfortable on most days of the challenge with the exception of maybe 2 when I really could’ve done with my thicker coat or a warmer jumper.
I’ve learned that you don’t need special clothes for each season. This is something I read about in Marie Kondo’s book a while back and dismissed as nonsense. Especially as we live in a small house. Of course you need to put your winter things up in the loft when it’s summer and vice versa. But I get what she’s saying now. I’m planning to condense my wardrobe into an all season capsule wardrobe: key garments + seasonal extras (shorts, vests, tights, scarves, jumpers etc) As I said in a previous post I have an annual ritual of bringing my summer clothes down from the loft and putting on a sunny soundtrack; and then packing them away and bringing down the winter items and sticking on some winter inspired tracks. I doubt I’ll do this any more. I’ve cleared a whole drawer since the beginning of the challenge and I plan to use the drawer to store the “seasonal extras” in. I will probably still listen to the sunny or winter inspired soundtrack as the seasons change but I’ll do something more fun or worthwhile whilst I’m listening to it. Like baking, or drinking wine, or reading or playing with Lego or dancing with the girls.
The same goes for occasions. You don’t need special clothes for special occasions. I could easily have worn the gem dress to a smart restaurant or a wedding with the right accessories; it’s also perfect for the school run with jeans and boots or trainers. I’d much rather spend money on something I love and can wear frequently than something that gets worn once or twice and either takes up space or gets chucked out. I dread to think how much money I’ve spent on clothes for one time wear special occasions. What a waste.
Less washing is a GREAT thing
At the beginning of the challenge I talked about my washing rage. I have contributed a tiny amount to our weekly washing over the course of the challenge. If I’d just had my laundry to do, it would’ve been a breeze. I’ve still had a family’s worth of washing to do, but I’ve definitely done less overall. I’ve learnt these 4 valuable things.
- Clothes can be worn many more times than once before they need washing unless they are covered in sick, poo or wee. So, unless you hang out with tiny humans, you can get away with a lot less washing. If you do happen to be around small people, baby wipes (I use water wipes) or a damp cloth will get rid of most stains (toothpaste, chocolate, snot, pen, for example) except for the aforementioned bodily fluids. I wore the jeans for a record 5 days in a row at one point in the challenge and they passed the sniff test right up until the end. There were too many little stains on them (mostly mud) by the end of the 5th wear to tackle with a cloth. Well, I could’ve done but I just couldn’t be bothered.
- Less washing means more time for fun and productive stuff and makes for less bad moods. Laundry is horribly time consuming and quite frankly boring. What a waste of precious time. I will be washing clothes a lot less in the future. Garments benefit from less washing and look and last longer too.
- Less washing is brilliant for the environment and reduces electricity and water bills. Win, win.
- A heated airer is amazing if you need to be able to turn small amounts of washing around quickly. It’s also cheaper to run than a tumble dryer. I couldn’t have done the challenge without mine. I haven’t had to wear any damp clothes. I can turn clothes around over night, which is brilliant if you only have access to a few garments.
Save your sanity, time, the planet and your money: wash less and use a heated airer! Take my advice, it’s brilliant. You won’t ever regret doing less laundry!
You need a lot less than you think
I was really dubious as to whether I would be able to get away with just 6 items for 6 weeks. Especially for a week away on holiday with two messy toddlers. But actually it’s been fine. I’ve been thrown up over and wee’d on once. That’s just 2 out of 43 days where I’ve needed to change clothes. I clearly worry too much.
And the revelation that you can get by on so little is amazing for future holidays. Packing for a week away at the beginning of the challenge was beyond easy. I didn’t run into any problems whilst away from home. I felt appropriately dressed. I didn’t have to worry so much about outfits. I had fun and spent time with my family. I will always pack light from now on.
Shopping will not mend your broken heart and sales will not save you money
How many times have you gone on a shopping spree to cheer yourself up? I know I have. But after giving up shopping for lent (well, except food, Easter eggs, fair trade knickers, books, and birthday presents) I’ve had so much more time to do other things. Shopping to mend your broken heart or cheer you up just doesn’t work in the long term. I suggest countering the urge to splurge with a phone call to a good friend, time at the park with your family, a glass of wine or a hot cup of tea with your other half or favourite person, baking something, reading something, watching a comedy, writing a blog, listening to a great album or just doing that thing you love that you always say you don’t have time to do. I’d love to take up playing one of the instruments I learned at school or to improve my French. Maybe I’ll be able to do this with less focus on what I’m wearing. And with only a narrow range of shops to buy from I will definitely save time. Shopping costs money, time and energy. Unless you really need to do it there are so many other fun things to do. I wish I’d grasped this sooner.
And sales. All I’ll say is, buy what you love not what you think is a bargain. It’s a false economy. 5 out of the 6 items for the challenge were full price and I’ve really had my money’s worth. The dress was in the sale but that was just lucky. I would have paid full price for it. I won’t wait out for the sales any more. If I love something, I’ll buy it because I know I’ll be wearing it lots, making it worthwhile.
Less stuff is liberating
Less to wash, less to tidy, less to choose from, less to manage. Easier mornings, tidier bedroom, no bulging drawers. Less brain clutter. Amazing.
The other benefit is that with less stuff, you care about your possessions more and look after them properly. My apron has been indispensable and has saved my clothes from so many splashes and stains.
Now this sounds really weird. I don’t really know how to explain it. But, I feel like I have an understanding and connection with the garments from the challenge. I guess that I’ve worn them so much that I have experience at what they are good at doing. For example, the rainbow tee looks great tucked into the skirt or jeans with a ponytail and make-up for a casual look that can take you anywhere; the Breton can be smart or scruffy depending on how and what you wear it with. The dress can be ordinary or very glam. I know how to use each item. You only get this from wearing stuff a lot. I’m also much better at accessorising with my bits and pieces than I was before. And it’s all just practice. It reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point. I wonder if there’s a tipping point for outfits when you just feel completely at ease and sartorially competent?
Creativity, resourcefulness and community
The challenge has connected me to lots of new and wonderful people I wouldn’t have otherwise met: Siobhan from The Fair Shop, Hermione from Ethical and Sustainable Fashion Brighton, Alma from Alma’s Alterations and Dressmaking to name but a few. I’ve also had a conversation starter about something that I really care about. I haven’t really talked about my interest in fair trade, organic and ethical consuming outside of my family before. The challenge has given me the opportunity and confidence to do this.
I’ve also been forced to look at what other stuff I own: accessories, shoes, make-up and to use things which have lain in drawers unworn for years. Some of these things I’ve had for over 10 years and have moved between 4 properties. And they’ve only seen the light of day during the challenge; the last time they were seen may have been 2008. I’ve also learned to tie a scarf in two different ways. I have worn scarves more in the challenge than I have done in my adult life. I am officially a grown up woman now. And who knew how practical scarves can be? From keeping you warm, to covering up stains to mopping up snot and sick. And they can be washed. I’ve never washed a scarf before. I thought they were hand wash only. They’re not. All of my scarves have been through the machine and look and smell better for it.
When the old holey jeans became too tatty and the weather cheered up I didn’t head to the shop to buy something new. I couldn’t. So I had those tatty old jeans upcycled. This was a great moment in the challenge. I love my skirt. I can’t wait to pair it with some other t-shirts I own and to wear it all through summer. And now I have plans for other things like a pair of old Levi jeans that will make a great pair of shorts and a dress I really love but that needs altering to fit me properly. Now I know about Alma and her amazing talent, I’ll be able to breathe new life into other old garments.
I really love each of the 6 garments and will continue to wear them until they fall apart or need up-cycling. They each have a story to tell. Together they’ve created outfits that I’ve enjoyed wearing (well, except the one with the Nora Batty tights and undignified crawling around soft play in a short dress). By only wearing things that I love and feel that I have a connection to, I can approach the day with so much more confidence. This is the biggest revelation of all.
And you ask. What was the downside?
Nothing. How can I, a privileged Western women complain about something as trifling as wearing just 6 items of clothing for 6 weeks as opposed to having access to a better stocked wardrobe. I really don’t feel the need to complain about anything. On the contrary, the challenge has been enlightening and life changing. It’s boosted my self esteem, it’s got me reading and writing again. I can’t tell you how much I’ve loved writing this blog.
After watching The True Cost and learning about the woman who only gets to see her daughter twice a year; reading about the lives of garment workers in the Garment Worker’s Diaries; learning about industrial disasters where young children lose their mothers and mothers lose their daughters I feel completely grateful and at the same time full of guilt that I was born into my life and not theirs. I hope that the money I have raised can make a genuine difference to some of these people. I look back on my blog and all I see is freedom, support and privilege. I’ve always known it deep down but our materialistic society has a way of making you feel constantly dissatisfied or wanting more. I’ve taken more pleasure in spending time with my daughters, my husband, my parents, my friends and family as a consequence of this challenge; I see that having the choice to be a stay at home mum is such a luxury; I’m glad that I have the choice to spend my money as and when I chose. Like I said, this challenge has been life changing.
Ok, I lied. There has been one annoying thing. It was a bit of a nightmare to remember to wash all of the items at once and sometimes I cursed that there was a grubby item hanging in the wardrobe or still on the floor that missed it’s wash. This gave me tiny washing rage. And I have done a bit of Wishlist internet shopping. See I’m not perfect.
Thank you for reading and for supporting me for the past 6 weeks. I’m off to change into my pjs and have a celebratory glass of organic red. And I’ll leave you with this photo.
Snuggled up with the little one in bed. Such a precious time that no amount of stuff could replace…
…Although I do love this sweater very much.