eco fashion New York

My “one-year-without-buying-new-clothes” challenge

It all started with a pair of sneakers I bought in May 2018. As I was waiting to pay, I was overcome with a  feeling of disgust. I was discontent with the fact that I was spending my precious Saturday evening in a department store rather than in the movies, having a beer with a friend, taking a nice walk by the river, or simply chilling at home. The disgust was even stronger because I knew that, even though that was the exact pair of shoes I had been hoping to find for a while, I already owned another pair of sneakers that I was matching with the same outfits and for the same occasions I would use the new pair for.

When I got home, I had even stronger feelings of absurdity and guilt. I thought of my friend Quili and his “one-year-without-buying-new-clothes” commitment. I love setting goals for myself. Some are challenging, but they are all realistic, so I asked myself, “Why not?” I had already started a while ago bringing some changes into my life, particularly within my home, mostly in my kitchen and bathroom. I have challenged myself to produce less waste, consume less, and use less plastic and more reusable materials, so also making a “one-year-without-buying-new-clothes” commitment  was the push I needed to bring positive change into my wardrobe as well.

Two things work for me when I have a clear goal. First, setting the rules from the start. Second, keeping track of how things go. The simple rule here was to not buy any new clothes, shoes or accessories for 12 months, with the exception of underwear and running shoes. I could buy second hand. I had a small notebook where I planned to write the new things I would buy (failure was an option, of course) and the second-hand things (I really wanted to buy less stuff and own less stuff altogether). Keeping track helps me stay aware, reflect on why I am succeeding or failing, and then make the necessary adjustments along the way. So I set the challenge start date for June 1, 2018!

I did end up buying new “forbidden” things (a folding backpack for my travels, a necklace, a t-shirt, a pair of leggings and hiking shoes) and some “accepted” ones (running shoes, 4 stockings, 3 panties and 3 bras). I bought some second-hand things, not many, but more than what I would have liked. I gifted, sold and donated, though, many more.

Below are some thoughts I want to share on what I learned and what I am taking with me beyond the 12-month challenge:

1. I want to have a smaller wardrobe.

I do not need that many pants, shirts, dresses, jackets, shoes, earrings, necklaces, scarves and handbags. Just a few, the ones that I love, that make me feel great and that I want to wear all the time, are enough.

2. Why I want a smaller wardrobe.

I want to have a simpler life. I do not want to waste time deciding what to wear or shopping for things I will hardly wear or not enjoy wearing. I do not want to generate unnecessary waste. I do not want to contribute to an industry that has a bunch of important problems (e.g. labor and human rights violations).

3. I will buy less, and when I buy, I will prioritize second-hand over new.

I will buy purposefully. I will buy whenever I need or want something, and I will go shopping for that specifically. I will try not to wander around just browsing in case I see something I like. I will try to buy second-hand as the first option always. I have always enjoyed shopping in thrift and vintage stores, since I was a teenager, but this challenge has allowed me to learn about the best second-hand stores in Williamsburg, my Brooklyn neighborhood (Buffalo ExchangeBeacon’s Closet10 ft. Single by Stella Dallas and Monk Vintage are among my favorites), and about Eileen Fisher’s Renew, a programme that takes back gently used clothes (from the brand) and gives them a new life by reselling them for relatively affordable prices. Renew’s philosophy is to: buy quality pieces, wear them as long as possible—and when you’re done with them, pass them on to someone else.

4. I will give a good use to my clothes after their life with me.

I will not keep what I do not use, hardly use, or use just because I own it (moral obligation). I will only keep clothes that I like and feel good wearing. I will continue being responsible and thoughtful about what I do with clothes I no longer want. I think this has been one of my biggest learnings. This is what I do now with the clothes I no longer want to keep: First, gift to my family and friends; Second, sell (most second-hand stores I mentioned above also buy used clothes); Third, swap (the GFX Swap Shop at the Canvas by Querencia Studio in my neighborhood and other swap events around the city are great); Fourth, gift them to people in my neighborhood (I recently discovered the Buy Nothing project and strongly recommend it; local groups of gift economies with the motto, “Buy Nothing – Give Freely – Share Creatively”; a post on this project will be coming soon); Fifth, donate (Helpsy is my first option; they sort the donations for reusing, upcycling or recycling; for bras, I love the Free the Girls bra donations programme with various drop-off locations in NYC). It has been so eye-opening and incredible to learn about all the options and initiatives in this city that allow us to give a longer life to our clothes. It takes time to sort things out and take them to different places, but now that I know of all these possibilities, how could I go back to putting all my clothes in a bag and simply dropping them off at the nearest thrift store?

5. I will continue making my clothes last for a long time.

I will take good care of all the items I own and give them a long life. To achieve this, I will make sure I love all the items I have (if not, why would I want them to last?). I have this dress I bought circa 2011-2012 with my friend Silvia, co-founder of this blog. I bought it second-hand. I wear it in winter, summer, autumn, spring, all the time. I receive so many compliments when I wear it. The colors do not fade, and it fits well no matter if I put on or lose a couple of pounds. It is 100% polyester. I have read a bit about sustainable materials in fashion and all that. I am, however, so lost and confused about this issue. The polyester and rayon clothes I have, new or second-hand, I have had them for years and I will have them for years to come. I am very much looking forward to learning from my Hola Tomorrow peers and readers about this issue. Please illuminate me!

As soon as my “one-year-without-buying-new-clothes” challenge was over, I thought for sure I would run to buy something new,  a kind of treat for having done reasonably well. But it was not the case. I had the urge to buy clothes last spring, around two-to-three months before the challenge was over, and this is when I bought most of my second-hand items in that year. But I am indeed fine now with what I have. I still feel I have way more than what I can and want to wear, so little by little, here and there, I am saying goodbye to some items. I know I will need a pair of boots for the winter, but I have no intention to buy anything (new or used) anytime soon.

JUNCAL// New York


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