I love clothes. I’ve worked in fashion for my whole career (working for Burberry, dressing stars for the red carpet and most recently as Head of Styling at Thread) so they play a big part in my life.
With every new purchase, I get a surge of adrenaline. One hundred new outfit opportunities open up; one hundred new ways to express myself.
But last year, I realised this passion was controlling both my brain and my bank balance.
With a constant wish list rolling through my head, I’d give in and buy at least one new item a week, often more. By the following week, that gorgeous new item would be old news and I’d already be torturing myself about the next new thing.
Then 6 months ago I woke up with an idea: could I get through a full year without buying any clothes?
I was starting to hear more about the impacts of fast fashion on the environment. I thought it might be a useful exercise in sorting out my priorities. I started that day. Here are 5 things I’ve learned.
1) By turning down the volume, you can focus
After a tragic cold-turkey phase (where I fed my cravings with stationery and chocolate) I’ve now let go of the hunger to consume and instead make the most of the clothes I already have.
A small rail of simple, good quality pieces have become beloved staples, such as a rotation of 3 cashmere jumpers, my 8-year-old DMs and a pair of selvedge jeans that improve with every wear. A handful of vintage favourites keep my outfits interesting. Any seasonal trends and ‘quick fix’ fast fashion purchases have fallen completely by the wayside and been donated to charity.
2) Social media is a blessing and a curse
The support I’ve received online has been amazing. My friends hold me to account, cheer me on, and advise me in moments of dilemma (‘does a wetsuit count as clothing?’ ‘I’m tempted by this jacket – help!’). The biggest reward has been seeing others start their own versions of the challenge. But I’ve had to completely re-work my relationship with Instagram.
I’ve unfollowed a tonne of people whose styles I coveted (their constant stream of freebies don’t bring out the best in me), and I’ve replaced them with an emerging community of inspiring sustainable fashion accounts. I’ve even started a new account, @nonewness, which features the best not-new outfits from people all over the world.
3) Moths are to sweaters what fashion is to the environment
The hardest moments of No New Clothes, without a doubt, occur when a garment gets damaged. A cup of tea down a white Margaret Howell shirt led to a minor meltdown. The day I discovered a moth hole in one my precious aforementioned cashmere jumpers goes down as my lowest low.
But it’s pretty rich to get mad at moths for consuming our clothes, when by consuming clothes ourselves we’re wreaking havoc on the living world. In response to our appetite for newness, the fashion industry is now producing over 100 billion items of clothing every year, and emitting more greenhouse gases than flights and shipping combined.
So, I’m cherishing and caring for my clothes more than ever before, and while I prevent further damage to my cashmere, I’m now fixated, like so many others, on preventing further damage to our climate.
4) It’s like waking up from hypnosis
You would think that denying myself something that brought me joy and defined my identity would be hard work, and painful. But in fact, I’ve never felt happier. I’ve freed myself from desire, and therefore from anxiety, stress, self-criticism, guilt… I feel like I own myself completely. Sure, my bank balance is healthier, but more importantly – so is my mind. Not buying clothes has transformed my mental health, and if you take one thing away from this, I hope it’s that.
This ‘waking up’ has also had massive consequences professionally. I’ve resigned from a senior leadership role at a fashion brand, and now work in the business of fashion sustainability. No New Clothes has helped me understand the problem, and become part of the solution.
5) Shopping doesn’t have to mean consuming
Let’s be real: when the year is up, I’m going shopping. I’m desperate for a pair of clean white trainers, and some fresh socks. But I’ll shop with a new level of consciousness. I’ll be realistic about what I want versus what I need. I’ll buy less, and second-hand wherever possible. When buying new, I’ll check the origin of every item, support brands with transparent and responsible supply chains, and choose items that can be recycled easily. I’ll do my best to understand the environmental impact of every purchase I make.
I want to live in a world where fashion inspires a culture of wearers, not consumers. But for now, I will be happy if my story inspires just one reader to shop more consciously, free themselves from desire, or take action towards a healthier future.
5 tips for starting a conscious clothing challenge
Don’t give yourself time to stockpile. Why not today?
Set your own terms and conditions
Be ambitious, but personalise the rules so you can succeed and enjoy the process.
Remove sources of temptation
Delete newsletters. Unfollow influencers. Avoid high streets.
Consider making something, mending something, or organising a clothes swap.
Hold yourself to account
Share what you’re doing. Inspire others, and let them cheer you on.