Why I’m Giving Up New Clothing Until 2020

Me, TJ Maxx ad campaign, 2013

When I write up my Links & Love & Stuff posts, this is how I do it: I put together a list of articles I’ve read recently that I think you guys would be into. I add a little commentary of my own. And then I finish by peppering in links to various products – clothing, usually – that I’ve seen and coveted on my daily travels around the Internet. I use affiliate links for those, so anytime someone makes a purchase from one of those links I get a small (usually minuscule) payout. Together, these affiliate links account for approximately 1/1,000th of my income. I do it anyway, though, because every little bit helps.

Yesterday, I was writing up Links & Love, and I got to the part where I do the clothing-peppering…and all of sudden I felt sick.

I thought about the number of the links to tops and pants and jackets I throw out on a weekly basis, and the number of people who click on them, and then the smaller – but still significant – number of people who actually buy the items I linked to. I thought of what I was earning from these clicks. I thought of what the people who own these clothing companies were earning from these clicks. I thought of those endless piles of clothing being made by people laboring under hazardous, unforgivably toxic conditions, and then being marketed by people like me: People who encourage women to spend their hard-earned money on yet another fucking blouse that’ll likely end up in a landfill within the year.

why I'm giving up fast fashion

Kohl’s feature, 2016

I wouldn’t call RG a “fashion site,” per se – certainly not anymore – but outfit ideas, shots of looks I like, and links to clothing brands have always been a part of what I do. It’s the easiest part, honestly: Fashion roundups are the posts I tend to default to when I don’t have a whole lot to say on a given day.

I have something to say today.

When it comes to the effect that the fashion industry has on our planet, I am part of the problem, both in my personal habits and in how I’ve historically handled this aspect of my job.

I feel sad; I walk into a Zara and get my fix via a ten-dollar t-shirt; I feel better. It’s a drug, and it’s a drug that hurts me – specifically, my ability to direct that ten dollars towards something that will better suit my life and my children’s lives in the long-term (a.k.a. savings and investments). It’s a drug that hurts the world we live in in quantifiable – and quantifiably enormous – ways. It’s also a drug that I’ve spent ten years actively encouraging others to indulge in. I have been culpable, in my own small way, of helping to create a culture where women are encouraged to consume clothing in increasingly huge (and disposable) quantities, both to the detriment of themselves and to the detriment of the planet.

It seems like now is a good time for each of us to do our best to tip the scale in the other direction.

A few cold, hard facts:

  • Globally, we now consume about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year—400% more than we were consuming just two decades ago.
  • The synthetic fibers often favored by fast fashion brands – such as polyester, nylon and acrylic – are essentially a type of plastic made from petroleum, and can take up to a thousand years to biodegrade.
  • Fashion is responsible for 92 million tons of solid waste dumped in landfills each year.
  • The fashion industry generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
  • The average person buys around 65 items of cheap clothes and discards more than 68 pounds of clothing in landfills every year. Worldwide, clothing utilization (how often we put something on) has decreased by 36 percent compared to 15 years ago.

I have, by my estimate, perhaps 25 pairs of jeans. I wear two of them. The sheer waste of this feels unconscionable.

So from now until year’s end, I won’t be buying any new clothing for myself. I’ll be reworking the items I already own; exchanging clothing with friends; patronizing consignment and secondhand shops and thrift stores. I’ll still be posting about fashion and will still include shoppable links when appropriate – but when I do, I’ll make a concerted effort to link out to sustainable brands (it’s a learning process, so please remember that I’m doing my best, and try to be kind with your comments). I’ll also – hopefully – be saving a decent amount of money that can be spent on more important things. Like my family’s future.

If you want to join me, here are some small (and big) ways that you can participate at whatever level feels right to you:

  • When you must buy new, go for quality over quantity, avoiding cheap garments made from synthetic fabrics. Important to know: Fast fashion brands are often the ones that end up in landfills, because secondhand shops often reject them as being poor quality or off-season.
  • Throw a clothing-swap party. I know, you’re rolling your eyes at me, but trust: It’s the best. Or do a smaller swap with one friend who’s a similar-ish size and has similar taste to you – Francesca and I do clothing swaps all the time, and it’s such a fun way for both of us to rejuvenate our closets virtually for free.
  • Shop at consignment and secondhand shops, both online and off. Here’s a fun, downloadable guide for assessing the quality of garments.
  • Find a great tailor. This will encourage you to fix your clothing rather than simply running off for something new, and will also provide a way to make that secondhand piece you bought look like it was made just for you.
  • Commit to buying no new clothing from now until 2020…or even for an entire year.

I’m nervous about making this promise, of course. I worry that some event or trip will come up that I’ll need a piece of clothing for – I dunno, say, a pair of socks for skiing – and I’ll think, eh, it’d be easier and faster just to buy some new ones on Amazon. I worry that a fashion brand will ask me to work with them, and that I’ll need the money, and will have a hard time saying no. I worry that I’ll see something I want for no other reason than that I want it, and the voice in my head will pop up: I work hard; I deserve it.

Things are going to come up – not to mention the fact that buying new clothing to make myself feel pretty, or sexy, or just plain happy…it’s a long-held pattern for me. And patterns have a way of making themselves hard to break.

But that’s why I’m telling you – so that I make myself accountable, and actually do it. My hope is that this simple experiment will have long-lasting effects, and give me the impetus (and the tools) to make smarter – and fewer – purchases. Because at this point, given what we know, it doesn’t seem like there’s any other choice.

Let’s take back our money from an industry that’s helping kill our planet, and put it where it matters: Towards investing in ourselves, in our children, and in our shared future.

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