• Nikita Agrawal

No new clothes for a year. Could you do it?

Promoting sustainable change with what we wear.

Straw hats

I watched a TEDx talk by eco-activist Tanja Wessels and was swept by her decision to go 4-years without buying a single item of new clothing. She completely changed her relationship with materials and gave them a renewed sense of value that is currently lacking in today's world. But it's not just her, after I dug deeper into this experiment I found more results than I expected of people that have ventured this idea and committed to it.


Why did they do it?


The fashion industry has evolved with us massively over the past few decades and ended up creating more problems than we can count. It carries a lot of environmental baggage (literally). Up to 85% of all textiles end up at landfills each year. Fast-fashion companies are producing more than ever, and consumers keep clothes for only half as long after a 60% increase in clothes purchased in the past two decades. Research conducted in 2017 revealed that 39% of Hong Kong-ers have binned an item of clothing after wearing it just once. This industry is also one of the largest pollutants in the world: responsible for 10% of world's carbon emissions and 20% of all industrial water pollution (releasing tons of micro-plastics into the water we drink today).

I mean... All of these numbers make a pretty compelling case for change. The contribution of each person's consumption and waste to this planet is easier to discard on an individual level. On a collective level, this issue is transforming into a giant beast that we are feeding and will eventually end up engulfing us all. (A little morbid? Oops.)


So, if we had to, could we go a year without buying any new clothes?

If we really had to, we could. Buying new clothes isn't fundamental to our survival. It won't kill us. Majority of us already have plenty to last us a long time.


But, do we want to?


No. Why not? If we strip this down to the fundamentals, our clothes mean a lot more to us than just satisfying our basic need to stay warm and protected. Humans have always found a way of expressing themselves through what they are wearing. We are hugely attached to what we wear because we consider it to be a part of us, an embodiment of who we are. It is our desire to look good in this world and identify with the "best" or "coolest" thing that makes it hard for us to separate from shopping. Shopping feeds our endless desires for more, for different, for that something new.

At the same time we can have desires to make good sustainable choices. But, we can want to help the environment and still do nothing about it if it's not what we want most. Unless our desire to help a bigger cause overpowers this one, we won't be able to make a real change. Right now our collective desire to save the planet isn't greater than our desire to shop. It doesn't matter how many numbers are thrown at us, as long as we don't personally feel an immediate impact it's almost impossible for us to truly care. Why? Because our desires are driven by selfish motives. Only once we feel that our impact on the environment will affect our ability to live (and experience nature), then our desire to save the planet will align with our desire to live and then it will outweigh our desire to over-consume or buy things for temporary pleasure. Make sense?

Since we haven't yet felt the consequences of complete environmental degradation yet, there's nothing stopping us. The expected year in which we are going to feel this impact is in the year 2050. At that point, the harm of what we did is going to be more concrete, visible and a huge hurdle in our paths to fulfill our long-list of desires. By that time the planet will be well-beyond its tipping point, reached a state of no reversal, and today's youth will be entering old age busy discussing retirement plans (whatever that might look like in the future).

Is there an objectively right or wrong decision?


After all, we were born into this life. We should be able to enjoy it. Without feeling so much guilt? Without adding on to the stresses of everyday life. We only have so much time, so if we're stressed out about the planet 24/7 we won't be able to live our lives. Right? Wrong… Wait.

The fact that we are contemplating this is proof that something has already gone wrong somewhere. The magnitude and complexity of this problem forces many to adopt a defeatist attitude, which makes this problem even worse. It's the "I'm already late to this meeting, might as well take my time now" mentality, because soon it will be too late.


(Why did I go on for so long? It's important to understand why a change is necessary in the first place before identifying what changes need to be made. So that any change we do make is long-lasting and when it gets hard to do the right thing we remember why we started in the first place.)


What can we do better:

  1. Make your clothes last longer.

  2. Get rid of the mentality that "I have nothing to wear". 50% of our wardrobe is often untouched. Aim to wear every item of clothing more than once.

  3. Get creative and upcycle your clothes. There are so many hacks out there to use your old clothes again. Think about how you could be re-purposing what you're about to throw away. Give it another life.

  4. Buy consciously.

  5. Buy only what you need when you need it. Think deeply about the reason for your purchase, so that you are aware of how functional your purchase actually is.

  6. Commit to brands with a sustainable ethos. Especially brands that create their clothing using recycled waste. They tend to be more expensive, but that's what will reduce your overall consumption as well.

  7. Declutter your closet consciously.

  8. Donate your clothes so that they are reused or recycled. Do the research to find out which donation bin is close to you.

  9. Enter the second-hand clothing market place. This encourages the circular business model instead of the linear one (which guarantees waste at the end of it). Join clothing swaps or even initiate one yourself. All of these methods allow something 'old' for one person to transform into something new for another, increasing the useful life of the product.

Follow these steps to reduce your 'baggage' and encourage others to follow suit. No one really is exempt from this responsibility to do better for our planet.

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