My love affair with fashion started around the same time my teenage hormones kicked in. When I wasn’t sussing out the latest trends at the mall, my weekends were spent poring through Elle and Vogue, and sneaking into my mom’s bedroom to try on her shoes.
Then the late 1990s arrived, complete with the first series of “Sex and the City.” I was hooked. Carrie Bradshaw and her crew were strong-minded, independent women who dressed with enviable style. For me and my 20-something-year-old friends, they and their Fendi Baguettes were the fashion inspo we craved.
We wanted to keep up. Luckily, the solution was pretty simple — buy more. And more. And as the fast fashion industry exploded over the subsequent decade, mass market retailers and their endless production of cute, cheap clothes fed our appetites.
For years, my closet filled as my bank statements got longer, detailing brands like Zara and H&M that served as a permanent reminder of my fast fashion addiction long after the forgettable pieces I’d bought, worn and tossed had headed to a landfill.
Everything changed in 2014, when I turned 30. What had I surrounded myself with that was actually worth keeping? What, as someone who believes that fashion is a form of self-expression, did my pile of polyester blend, wear-once-and-throw-out clothes say about me? And what, when it came down to it, had I been doing with my time that I had ended up with so much of this stuff to start with? Something had to give.
At first, I just wanted to change what and how I consumed. I wanted to know where things came from and what they were made from. But after watching ”The True Cost,” a documentary that came out in 2015 about the incredible harm the fashion industry does to our environment and to the people who make the things we wear, I knew I needed to do more. I decided to buy no new clothes for a year.
During the first few weeks, I felt unbelievably empowered — I was no longer beholden to consumerism; the fast fashion industry I’d loved and come to loathe no longer controlled my spending.
Then I started to hit some hurdles. I knew before I started that it was going to be an uphill battle; I just hadn’t really anticipated what that would mean in practice. There was the day I went to the opening of a Barney’s department store and felt completely out of place. There were days when I was so tired of my closet that I decided that the simplest thing was just not to go out at all. But the real struggle was missing that addictive buzz I’d get as I walked out of a store, new purchase in hand and the promise of a better me.
Over time, however, things started to shift. When I had a bad day, I no longer found myself craving retail therapy. When I was bored, I no longer went aimlessly window shopping. It might sound trite, but the more I thought about the impact of my fast fashion addiction, both on the people who make our clothes and the environment, the more I started to examine other parts of my life. For me, that meant redirecting my energy into exercise and starting to volunteer at soup kitchens and a local elementary school. These experiences gave me a new perspective and I came to realize that there were other routes to contentment.
By the end of my “no buying” year, I had reset my relationship with fashion and broken the ties that bound me to mindless consumption. I haven’t looked back. Today I do buy clothes, but mainly vintage clothes and thrifted designer goods, although I also buy items from sustainable brands such as Aday and Ocelot Market. My days of shopping from places like Zara are over.
And my “no buying new” ethos has spread into other parts of my life too. While I still buy new, sustainably-produced sheets, towels and underwear, I source everything else – from furniture and home appliances to gifts – second-hand thanks to local thrift shops and websites like Craigslist. Fundamentally, whether it’s an item of clothing or a replacement lamp, I never intend to buy anything just for the sake of it again.
Tania Arrayales is the founder of Sustainably Stylish, an instablog that covers sustainable living and fashion, and co-founder of Fashion of Tomorrow, an advocacy organization that strives for a fashion industry that is sustainable and free of exploitation.
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