I started my ethical fashion/low waste living journey in the spring of 2018. I can’t believe it’s been almost two years.
In the past two years, I have learned so much about what ethical fashion truly means, what its impact is and what it really takes to live more sustainably.
When I first started this journey I did what I always do when chasing a new passion and jumped in headfirst. I tried to quit cold turkey, as they say. And I’ll be the first to say that is didn’t go well at first.
Read: How I’m transitioning my wardrobe
I had this ideal world in my head where I’d be swimming in a sea of ethically made clothing and there’d be no plastic in my life ever again. Wow was I in for a wake-up call.
While ethical fashion can be affordable, I didn’t know what I was doing. And for the first few months of my journey, I was hit with the reality that I couldn’t afford ANY ethically made clothing. What can I say, I was in a tough situation.
So I quickly had to readjust my standards. Which led me to a magical thing called thrifting.
I’d thrifted for a good chunk of my middle school years purely out of necessity. It wasn’t until I wanted to start shopping ethically that I looked at it completely differently.
I started seeing thrifting as a treasure trove of “sustainable” clothing and more.
Thrifting is the most sustainable shopping option in my opinion because it keeps clothing out of landfills and it’s an affordable way to purchase clothing without supporting fast fashion companies.
And so I decided to dedicate an entire year to purchase only used clothing. I would not buy a single piece of fast fashion or ethical fashion, just simply used fashion.
So from the fall of 2018 to the fall of 2019, that’s exactly what I did.
I bought no new clothes for a year. Here’s what I learned:
1. It’s hard –
Go figure. I didn’t expect this task to be easy but I didn’t think it would’ve been this challenging. A year is a long time to go without buying new clothes from the store or from online.
The number of friends and family members who wanted to go on shopping sprees or encourage me to check out a sale they’d seen was a lot.
I think I was just noticing it more now that I was trying to intentionally shop only second hand.
It put me in a tough situation to explain what I was doing and why I was doing it. A lot of people didn’t understand and I never wanted to come off judgey like “sorry I can’t come clothes shopping with you I don’t support slave labor.”
That kinda thing doesn’t usually make for great conversation.
It’s also hard coming off of a fast-fashion mentality when stores come out with really cute pieces. It was an adjustment, to say the least.
2. All of the best thrift stores are far away –
This is a struggle I found out right away. I have one thrift store in my town and I love it. But it’s small and once you’ve gone through it, you’ve gone through it.
All of the best thrift stores were at least an hour away and I found it hard to get into the city when I needed to shop. I made it work but it was so different not having the ability to shop 5 minutes from my home.
3. Clothes are like friends, treat them well –
Most fast-fashion brands do not make clothes well that are designed to last. And so my closet was made up almost entirely of fast fashion pieces.
I knew I had to break the cycle of “buy cheap clothes, wear them a month or two, have them fall apart, throw them out, repurchase”. So I learned how to take better care of my clothing.
Turns out, you don’t need to wash your clothes as often as you think you do and washing them more frequently actually wears them out faster.
So I went longer between washes, was careful not to stain them, was gentle not to tear them and how I stored them. I treated my clothes like precious gems, not disposable items.
I was surprised that when I took the time to intentionally care for my clothes, they lasted 10 times longer!
4. Second-hand clothing is CHEAP –
This is one of it’s biggest appeals. But this is also where it gets dangerous.
The prices of second-hand clothing can easily be compared to the prices of fast fashion. When we jump into thrifting as a sustainable way to purchase clothing we can get caught up in how cheap and exciting it all is.
And it’s all too easy to fall back into the cycle of “buy cheap clothes, wear them a month or two, have them fall apart, throw them out, repurchase”. Which is not what we want.
Just because thrifting is cheap does not mean we have to purchase 100 things. We’re thrifting to make a difference not to create a new problem.
I fell into this trap at first (because literally everything at my local thrift store is $2!) and I had to catch myself and reevaluate why I was purchasing so many second-hand items. Was it because I needed them or because they were cheap?
5. I had to learn to be content –
When I realized I couldn’t just buy a thousand things at the thrift store without having a huge environmental impact I had to learn a really hard lesson: being content with what I have.
I had to stop chasing the next new thing or the next cute thing and realize that not only am I incredibly blessed to have what I have but I also have enough.
I don’t need 5 white t-shirts. The one that I have works perfectly and can be styled in countless ways. And that’s enough.
6. I learned the true value of clothing –
Clothing, at its core, was invented to prevent us from being naked. True story. Then it became a way for young people to combat the style of older generations and the demand got so big that fast fashion was invented.
I believe that yes, clothing is a great way to not be naked but it’s also a form of self-expression. A way to show who you are without saying anything.
Clothing has incredible value and should be treated as such. Like I mentioned in point 3, I learned how to take care of my clothing so that it would longer. That’s a form of valuing my clothing.
But I also learned to put the value on clothes before I made a purchase. Yes, it’s second hand and cheap but, was I going to wear it? Was it going to be something I wanted to take good care of and preserve for years?
These are questions I started to ask myself before each purchase and it taught me to value and cherish the clothing I was adding to my wardrobe.
7. I became a minimalist –
The act of not buying new clothing and not buying a lot of it for a year sparked something deep inside of me.
My wardrobe was naturally minimalizing itself and I wanted to replicate that in every other area of my house and life.
So during the year of buying no new clothing, I started to take a minimalist approach to every area of my life and all of my purchases (clothing or not) quickly became made on a need-to-have basis.
I decluttered so much and learned to live completely differently than I had my entire life. And I mean it when I say that it changed my life.
Read: Minimalism: 29 things I quit buying
8. I saved so much money –
This wasn’t a surprise but it was pleasant nonetheless. When you factor in how much I used to spend on fast fashion at the mall or even how much some ethical pieces can be, I saved a ton of money.
The thing is I never realized how much I’d spent on clothing before but, as I’ve mentioned I used to be a complete shopaholic. My money was always gone before I had a chance to realize how much I had.
I found my self surprised during this year of not buying new clothes how much extra money I had. I’d call that a win.
How to shop ethically on a budget
45 things to get rid of right now
How to get rid of old clothing responsibly
Going a year without buying any new clothing was definitely a challenge but honestly one of the best things I’ve ever done, for myself and for the planet.
Moving forward from this experience I still intend to thrift the majority of my clothing as for me, right now, it’s the best option. I also believe that purchasing second hand is the most sustainable way to shop as you’re buying things that already exist. You’re not creating demand for new items.
When I can invest in ethically made pieces, I will. I love to support brands that are changing the game and bettering the fashion industry.
I challenge you to try a year without buying new clothing. Or try a month or 6 months if you don’t think you can go for a full year. This will stretch you and grow you in ways you can’t even imagine. And it’s all for the better. Whatever you can do will make a difference.
Thank you for reading this post, I hope you enjoyed it and found it insightful! If you did, please don’t forget to share this post and follow me on Instagram for daily ethical fashion and low waste living tips!
Thank you for sharing your experience. I am trying that just now: I decided to consume fashion more responsibly (and also reduce my consumption), and that means stopping fast-fashion. Like you I cannot really afford sustainable brands just yet, so I’m going for second-hand, and so far I think I’m doing good. I’m really trying not too fall into the trap of ‘it’s cheap so I can buy plenty’, which can prove difficult sometimes.
I am also learning to cherish what I have, and to do with what I have. For examples I had those pants that I found were too long, so I went to the tailor and had them shortened. Now I really love them.
Have a lovely Sunday.
Caity Rose says
That’s awesome! We have very similar experiences. Thrifting exclusively is definitely a learning curve but so, so worth it. Learning how to do minor fixes or taking clothing to a tailor is also a really great option to help preserve clothing longer. Way to go!
Thank you for the awesome post. I too, made a goal to purchase no new clothes this year. And if I can, no clothes at all. If I come across an occasion that I need something at is not already in my wardrobe, I will check the thrift stores out first. I’m having more fun shopping my our wardrobe, and satisfaction of seeing money in my account.
Caity Rose says
That’s amazing! I’m so happy to see others taking on this amazing challenge. Good luck to you!