What not buying clothes can teach us
It’s Saturday morning and I am taking a few photos for my Instagram to show you my new linen top. I made it last month, the night before going on holidays and I’d like to tell it’s story. But as it usually is - there’s much more going through my head than can possibly fit in a photo caption. Because it’s not about this T-shirt only, not only about my clothes in general either - it’s about how I see sustainability, waste, and mindful living while holding onto things that really “spark joy”.
If you read my words from time to time you might know that I (almost) quit buying clothes in 2015. It wasn’t difficult at all - I had SO MUCH stuff in my wardrobe, like most of us do. (For the record, by SO MUCH I mean two full clothing racks and three full drawers.) I strongly believe we already have what we need. “I need a new winter jacket” - wait, so how did I survive last winter? “I need new snickers” - or maybe I just need to wash the old ones? Questioning this urge to always buy new things helped me in the process. I now see that buying new stuff was simply an automated answer but not always the right one.
I started my journey from a deep clean of my closet - got rid of 50% of clothes that I actually didn’t enjoy wearing. I left most of them in front of our house. That’s the brilliant thing about Berlin: there’s always someone who will gladly adopt the things you don’t need anymore. The pieces that were too worn out were made into ribbons for weaving or into wiping cloths. But what followed wasn’t getting new “sustainable” pieces to fill my clothing racks again. Because there’s nothing sustainable in that. What followed was living with what I had, and let me tell you - it was still more than enough. Since then I cleaned my closet 2 or 3 more times, getting rid of 50% from what was left each time. And, shockingly enough, I still have enough clothes to put on.
So what does it mean I almost stopped buying clothes? It would be a lie to say “I stopped buying clothes completely”. But it doesn’t do it any justice to only say “I stopped buying fast fashion” either. There’s so much that can happen between these two. I understand there might be times when you actually really need something or just love a certain piece too much and want to treat yourself.
In my case there are following exceptions to my “no shopping” policy. A year or so into my journey I treated myself to 3 new pieces by a sustainable brand TemperateCo (regrettably they don’t exist anymore). I’ve been eyeing them for half a year, all of them are made with natural fibers and produced in fair conditions. I also got a beautiful hand embroidered T-shirt from my friend’s small brand Damaja and shopped second hand on three occasions, because I really needed something. Needless to say, I love all of these purchases and wear them all the time.
The last fast fashion pieces I bought back in 2015 were a pair of jeans and a lovely evening dress. The jeans just got a hole in them last month so I’m going to repair them. I wore the dress to the last 7 weddings I attended and I’m planning on wearing it in the future, too. I am using what I have and try to think twice before shopping again. I don’t support the modern capsule wardrobe movement, it literally drives me crazy. No, you can’t help the planet by dumping all your old clothes and buying new sustainable (?) looks every season instead. Buying more, just ecological this time, is not a solution. Work with what you have and you’ll be surprised what happens.
Let’s go back to my new top. I made it the night before our flight to Portugal. I would need something that’s comfy, casual, can be worn for days without washing, lets my skin breath and doesn’t make me sweat. In short - I needed a piece that would mix all the best features of the clothes I already owned. But to know what the best features are, you have to spend enough time with your clothes. This is the ultimate lesson of (almost) not buying clothes since 2015. I learn what I like but also what I dislike. I learn what makes me feel good, what is easy to care for. What’s good for both summer and winter, what can be mixed with different pieces well. What can be worn over and over again without ever going out of fashion and what lasts a long time.
My new me-made linen top is based on the comfiest piece in my wardrobe, an old (fast fashion) tunic, and it’s made of unbleached linen, just like my favorite TemperateCo dress. The cut is using the whole width of the fabric, the offcuts will be made into eye pillows, so that there is no waste. In the photo I am also wearing my newest purchase, a second-hand skirt with pockets, because over time I realized I adore skirts with pockets. I got it in Portugal and reduced the size by hand in an old-fashioned thread and needle style. I didn’t need this skirt but I fell in love and I know it will serve me well, because I can tell what I like by now.
If you’re thinking about shopping less (or almost not at all), too, I can’t recommend it enough. The whole exercise completely changed my views on sustainability and changed my own sense of style, too. If you’d see me in 2017, it was the year of my most disastrous looks. I was still playing with what I had left but was starting to feel uninspired and out of fashion. I needed time to become comfortable with my clothes and understand them. These days, I truly love what I wear and even though I mostly wear the same pieces over and over again, I feel great. And the best thing - I save time and money, which you can imagine is a big thing for a small business. Going on a shopping rehab gave me the headspace and funds to focus on my own sustainable brand, Kaliko, and that’s the ultimate win for me.