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Could you stop buying new clothes for one year?

Could you stop buying new clothes for one year?

I did it. It’s now been 12 months since I began a slow fashion challenge, and I successfully managed to stop buying new clothes for an entire year.

I thought it would be a struggle, but it actually led me to update my wardrobe in new and exciting ways.

I know some of you will have questions about this slow fashion challenge. What happens when you need to buy something unusual? How do you update your underwear? What about shoes???

I can practically hear the panic in your voice as you consider going a year without retail shopping! Don’t worry, it’s actually not that hard and there are plenty of ways to get new clothes without resorting to fast fashion. Here’s what I’ll cover in this post, and if you still have questions you can ask me anything in the comments at the end:

  • DIY clothing repairs
  • Thrifting clothes
  • Upcycling clothes
  • Sewing clothes
  • Challenges
  • Revelations
  • Costs

This is a whopper of a post, but it will tell you everything I did during my year without buying new clothes. I hope this will inspire you to start your own slow fashion challenge, too!

A rip that I repaired in my favourite denim jacket
A rip above the pocket that I repaired in my favourite denim jacket.

DIY clothing repairs

Repairing stains, rips, missing buttons, or fraying seams on your existing clothing is the first and easiest step to a slow fashion challenge. Some basic sewing and internet search skills is all you need to repair and clean up most items of clothing.

Stains: You can do an online search for ‘how to get X out of clothing’ for literally anything. I’ve used this for blood stains, grass stains, oil stains, and others. It’s amazing what you can do with a bit of baking soda, dishwashing liquid, and a good scrub!

Rips: Iron-on fabric patches, a needle and thread, and some fabric glue can be used to fix most small rips in clothing. I repaired my favourite denim jacket, which I bought new from Banana Republic in the US, when a rip appeared near one of the front pockets after a few years of wear. I used some glue and a fabric patch on the underside of the jacket, then sewed a few stitches by hand to keep it all held together. Good as new! You can’t even really see the repair as the fabric has a distressed look.

Missing buttons: This is such an easy thing to repair! If you don’t have the original button, most clothing will have a spare button hidden on the underside of the garment somewhere. Use a needle and thread to re-attach the button by looping through the button holes and attaching it back on to the garment.

Loose seams: Spots where the thread is coming undone on your clothing can be fixed easily with basic sewing skills. I repaired a loose seam on Rob’s hoodie recently–all it required was matching thread from a fabric store then I used my sewing machine to go over the spot where the thread had come undone. You can also do this by hand with a needle and thread.

A leather belt and Toms shoes that I found at thrift shops
A leather belt and Toms shoes that I found at thrift shops.

Thrifting clothes

Most people are already familiar with thrifting clothes. I was already buying some of my clothing second-hand so I continued my thrift shopping efforts throughout the challenge.

My favourite finds were a pair of Toms brand shoes (the best!) which had only been worn a handful of times. I discovered them at a thrift store in Newtown and bagged them for $12. I also found a tan leather belt for $35 at a vintage store in Newtown, which I wear basically every day.

The main problem that I found with thrifted clothing is that a ton of the stock is made by fast fashion brands. I avoided buying these items as the quality is average and they just don’t last. As my goal was to buy clothes that would stay in my wardrobe for a long time, I ended up buying less thrifted clothing and instead spent more time on other methods of updating my wardrobe.

An old floral sweater upcycled into a cardigan
An old floral sweater that I upcycled into a cardigan.

Upcycling clothes

Upcycling is the process of changing something old into something new. I had multiple opportunities to upcycle clothes during my slow fashion challenge. Pinterest has a wealth of ideas in this area, so head over there if you want some inspo.

The first thing I upcycled was a pair of jeans that had a rip in the leg/crotch area, which I transformed into a pair of shorts by cutting off the legs and hemming the ends with my sewing machine. They turned out pretty nice, though I’m unsure how long they will last as the material is already somewhat worn.

My favourite upcycle project was an old floral sweater that I had been on the verge of giving to charity, but instead I followed an online tutorial to turn it into a cardigan. This involved cutting open the front and sewing a facing around the edge. Now it gets worn all the time! It really feels like a completely different piece of clothing.

One more thing that I upcycled was a thrifted t-shirt that was too big for me which I turned into a pajama tank top. I really love it! So far it’s had around 6 months of wear and is still going strong.

A yellow jacket that I sewed during the slow fashion challenge
A yellow denim jacket that I sewed during the slow fashion challenge.

Sewing clothes

I know that the idea of making your own clothes can seem terrifying. I went through a lot of anxiety about it. Before this challenge, I knew how to use a sewing machine for basic stuff like taking up jeans but I had never attempted to make my own clothes from scratch before. As it turns out, sewing is like any other skill–you get better at it the more you practice!

Making my own clothes, while time consuming, turned into somewhat of a hobby. Shopping for fabric at thrift shops, cutting out sewing patterns, and sitting at my sewing machine all became ways that I could relax in my spare time. I also enjoyed joining the huge online community of sewers who make their own clothing… you just have to look through the #memade Instagram hashtag to see sewn creations that look both modern and fabulous.

The thing that I liked best about making my own clothes is that they fit perfectly. I’d always had trouble with fitting in the past. I have a size 12 bust, size 10 waist, size 8 hip and leg, and on top of that I’m also super short, so every time I tried on clothing it would be too wide or too long or too tight in certain places. Now I can actually make things that fit my measurements exactly!

I also found that the clothes I made were so much more exciting to wear than ones I had bought because I had put effort and love into creating them. Wearing these pieces resulted in a similar feeling to the high that you get when wearing new clothes for the first time, except that the feeling didn’t really go away. Every time I stepped out in my handmade clothing, I felt fabulous. And when people complimented my pieces, I could proudly tell them that I made it!

In total I made 2 jackets, 3 pairs of shorts, 1 pair of sweatpants, 5 tops and 2 tees. 3 of these items have gone to charity (more on that coming up) and the rest are now permanent pieces in my wardrobe.

Sneakers: The only new item that I bought during the slow fashion challenge.

Challenges

Sewing: There were a few occasions where I made an item of clothing and wasn’t entirely happy with it. The first was a pair of shorts. I bought some fabric from a second-hand shop and slaved over making of the shorts for a few days, but I just wasn’t happy with the finished product. They were a bit shorter than I’d initially wanted, and the invisible zipper on the back was too obvious for my liking. I gave them to charity in the hopes that somebody else would like them, and I didn’t feel too guilty about it considering I’d thrifted the fabric.

The other item was a buttoned shirt that I’d hacked from a dress pattern. It was the first time I’d tried the pattern so I had no idea whether it was going to look good on me. Turns out it needed a few adjustments around the neckline and length, so I put that one in the charity bin and started again. The second attempt came out much better!

Shoes: I’m the kind of person who continues to wear shoes until they are literally falling off my feet, utterly beyond repair. I have exactly 7 pairs of shoes, and every time one pair wears out, I replace them with another pair that were built for the same purpose. About 6 months into my challenge I had to say farewell to my sneakers and went about trying to find replacements.

I searched through many thrift shops but it was difficult to find a good brand of sneakers in a decent condition and in the right size for my feet. My search was unsuccessful. I also did some sleuthing online, but surprisingly couldn’t find much information about sustainable footwear brands in Australia.

I settled on a pair of new sneakers by the Australian brand Sandler as I already own a pair of boots from them that I absolutely love and have lasted ages. It was a tough decision to defer from my goals in this case, but in the end I decided that I would have to compromise on buying something that was not as sustainable but that was comfortable and would last a long time.

A linen ruffle top that I sewed during the slow fashion challenge
A linen ruffle top that I sewed during the slow fashion challenge.

Revelations

There were a few discoveries that I made during this slow fashion challenge. I found that my minimalist wardrobe actually grew to include more items. Originally I was concerned about this as I think having too many pieces can make things difficult, but then I realised that it’s probably not a huge deal. As long as the items in there are things that I want to keep wearing, then it shouldn’t really matter.

I found that the majority of clothes that I made (or upcycled) sparked joy, as Marie Kondo would say. I suppose there were a few reasons for this – they fitted me well, reflected my fashion style, and I put love into making them which made me want to keep them for longer. I think that developing a sense of joy in my wardrobe is a great habit as it makes me carefully consider each new item that I might add to it.

I found that that some specialty items (such as shoes) are more difficult to buy good quality second-hand or to sew, so it’s possible that some of those will have to be purchased new.

Also, I haven’t mentioned underwear. I did not replace any of my underwear in the past year (crazy, right!?) but I’m now in the market for new socks, undies, and bras. I haven’t attempted sewing these things yet, but I’ll soon give it a go! It’s an intimidating prospect, but I think I can handle it.

Some of the second-hand fabrics that I purchased during the slow fashion challenge.
Some of the second-hand fabrics that I purchased during the slow fashion challenge.

Costs

Now for the fun part… how much money did I spend during this slow fashion challenge?

Being a super-organised freak, I kept a tally via a spreadsheet that included everything I purchased throughout the entire year that was related to updating my wardrobe. This included second-hand clothes, fabrics (mostly thrifted), thread and other sewing materials, sewing patterns, and one new pair of shoes.

All together, I spent around $500 AUD. If you don’t count the new shoes and are only counting the handmade and thrifted stuff, then it was only $400 AUD.

I got around 20 items of clothing and accessories from this spend (oh, and a ton of fabric face masks which I sold on Etsy and made back $200 AUD!), plus I still have a ton of leftover fabric to make more items. I think what this challenge has really proven is that sustainable fashion doesn’t have to be expensive–if you’re clever about it, you can be kind to the environment and also get new clothes for cheap.

One thing I can definitely say in parting this challenge is that I will never go back to retail shopping the way I did before. I may buy new clothes again, but in future I will consider my purchases much more carefully and spend more time focusing on brands that have environmental policies.

Thanks for reading about my experience! If you have any questions about starting your own slow fashion challenge, please do share them in the comments.

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