It must be nearly time for a summary of this year's #nonewclothes2015 challenge - as yesterday I saw an advert for Christmas! The year has indeed flown by, with very little real fashion temptation, I have to say. Maybe it's because I have been so conscious of exploring this behaviour change - or so consciously exploring it, should I say. (I am already of thinking about extending the challenge into next year and upping the stakes a little somehow.)
I have bought a few second hand garments (dungarees, dress, shirt, jacket), swimwear (bikini / wetsuit), some accessories (a necklace, a modal scarf and some Jesus sandals from Clarks). They were purchased during the last nine months after some considerable thought and anguish, but have all been very well used and appreciated already. I have not bought any new clothes, but of course, second hand is now new to me, so even those purchases seem luxurious. (Maybe next year, visiting Mary's Living and Giving shops will be banned too. *Gulp*. Might have to think a bit more about that pledge…)
The year has been so fruitful from both a research and a personal perspective. I have learned more about the feelings that surround buying clothes - the need, the desire, the excitement of the new and the pleasure of pampering and rewarding oneself. It has been a fascinating process to recognise these feelings and take hold of them, mentally address them, and meet the impulses with an action other than a purchase involving virgin resources. Here are some of my insights to date:
- Great pleasures and treasures are to be found in well sorted second hand stores and eclectic vintage shops and markets, especially in cities other than ones own, where styles and traditions may offer something unique and unexpected
- Making days out for kids which include second hand shopping for their own clothes can be great fun, educational, and economically savvy
- Mending and updating can keep worn items going for longer and the 'chore' factor of this is sometimes ameliorated if you can do it with a friend, or for a friend. If you can develop a personal mending culture based on 'giftivism', generosity, and co-creation, this out-of-fashion practice could find a new place in our lives
- Creating a styling wall in the bedroom to arrange wardrobe 'finds' to inspire 'new' outfits has also been a cheap and quick way to stay feeling stylish; creating unexpected combinations of colours, patterns and accessories that are hard to anticipate when the items are on the hangers or in the drawers
- Look, touch, but don't buy - indulge in the visual pleasures of fashion magazine and stores, but go to get inspired, not spend. This will feed your fashion flow and help you keep creating looks in alternative ways. If you fall in love with something, then being prepared to wait months for it will reveal your true feelings and desires - helping you work out what is a wardrobe whim, or a wardrobe winner
- Receiving gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, and christmas never felt so good. Partners, friends and relatives now know what to get you, and receiving a brand new garment or accessory which is beautifully tagged and wrapped feels so special. The new new, as opposed to the old new, should be for special occasions!
In many ways the physical garments are easier to track and trace than the shifts in thinking, in attitude, in habit. Below, with a little help from my Mistra friends, I attempt to reflect on the transition from 'having' clothes, to 'borrowing' them, and finally to simply 'being' dressed. In Clara Vuletich's forthcoming PhD thesis you will be able to read about preparing for the shift from sustainability to social equity. She recognizes the need for designers to 'get ready', to prepare themselves to work in very different ways. Inspired by the likes of Ezio Manzini, Kate Fletcher, John Ehrenfeld and Iain McGilchrist, she wants to be a textile designer who makes textiles AND takes part in the systemic change process. She wants to know how this transitional ambition will actually work; how textile designers can become change agents, and asks these questions from both a professional and personal perspective. She challenges both herself and her design approach. She asks herself which side of her brain is leading the decision making - her left or her right side? How can her research provide guidelines and tools for textile designers who want to transition an industry from an attitude of 'having', to 'being'?
Nearly all of us exist within a state of 'having' now, yet the culture of acquiring and owning manufactured clothes is still relatively young. My maternal grandmother is still alive, Cecily Harris, and her childhood and early adulthood self was dressed in homemade clothes. I can clearly remember - I now have - her hand made dresses. As children, keeping house and part time work began to make her busier and busier, she bought more of the conveniently located clothing from nearby Marlborough or Swindon. Not as cheap as it is today, the time saving lure of ready to wear clothing would have been impossible to resist, even if the pleasure of making still existed for her. Ironically, her part time job for a while was making all the tiny clothes for string and ventriloquist puppets at Pelham Puppets. No wonder making her own would seem like a bridge too far come the weekend!
My maternal great grandmother - who died when I was 20 - was called Vera Hodges and lived in a tiny thatched cottage in a nearby Wiltshire village. She had been a maid at the 'big house' in the village, and met my great grandad there; he was one of the young gardeners. When I was very small I stayed with them a few times when my parents needed to go somewhere (I don't remember where.) They had an enormous garden, no lawn, just planted to the high heavens with fruit and vegetables. Abundantly self sufficient in food, their existence felt even to me in the early seventies to be alien - I knew it was something we were not, as a family. There was no 'newness' in the cottage, every piece of furniture old and worn, but really clean and well maintained. The smells of course are so strong when we are young. How strange these old cottages smelt! Apples in store, the vinegar of pickling vegetables, baking pastry, boiling meat… damp wool, brown paper, coal fires, mixed with fresh cut flowers. So much activity being done by hand. Non stop work, just to maintain their retired lives, let alone go out to work and raise children too. How must that have been? And to be making and repairing their clothes too?
In the 25 years since Granny Hodges died we have brought into our homes so many new things to help us with these daily travails. We can shop easily for food and clothes, our houses are heated, our machines wash our things. Companies will deliver pretty much anything right to our doors now - Amazon, Ocado, John Lewis, M&S. (The online distribution logistics industry is booming - Anyvan.com will get anything to you, from anywhere, to wherever you are). I wish time travel were possible - I want to see Vera's face as her weekly shop, some shoes, books and freshly cut flowers arrives at her cottage door. I am pretty sure she wouldn't like it.
We embrace these developments because we are so busy at work, travelling for pleasure, socialising in sophisticated scenarios, or fervently booking experiences and making memories for our children. This tendency to looking for life and meeting our emotional needs outside of our immediate environs is largely where the global, environmental impacts are coming from. We now expect to travel widely during our lifetime. We expect to wear and carry the latest styles. We expect to eat food from any continent in any season of the year. We don't expect to have to make things from scratch; even the simplest recipe, self assemble product or DIY task can seem perplexing and stressful to some.
I think it's probably obvious by now, but I am in search of the right balance - some midway point between satisfying self sufficiencies and time-saving conveniences, that enable me to 'be present' with my family whilst also working full time. I love my work too much to give it up, but if I did, I would most certainly spend more time in the garden, and cooking, and sewing. But it will never be, certainly not after reading Naomi Klein's latest book, 'This Changes Everything'. I realise I need to work (not just for the income) but so that I am very involved in the change I want to see.
Over the last 5 weeks I have been to Sweden 4 times. This is not something I am particular happy about, for many reasons, but with most of the TED research funding coming out of Stockholm right now, and my co-investigator away on maternity leave, I guess it's inevitable. Two big projects launched during September, as well as the H&M Global Innovation Award (for which I am a judge). I want to give you an overview of these 3 projects, and talk about the idea of 'borrowing' fashion rather than 'having' it.
The projects and competitions I am involved in are all looking at how we can close the loop on textiles in the fashion industry. In other words - borrow materials from an eternal cycle of natural and man made resources. Never has the Cradle-to-Cradle philosophy been so widely explored by industry and academia in this field. It does feel like a time for change. But the question plaguing me is, (after reading Naomi Klein), is this enough? How far will this 'borrowing' resource efficiency approach get us? What about the really seismic shifts that we need to transition from having to being? For whilst the technical exploration of the potential for the circular economy is without doubt research time well spent, it is the under-explored human aspects of cyclablity that really intrigue me.
Wencke, a fantastic Mistra Future Fashion researcher from Copenhagen Business School (CBS) found that there was a higher sense of personal wellbeing amongst the early-adopters of sustainable fashion. Her team interviewed 25 international bloggers in the field, and quizzed them about their fashion and lifestyle habits. They all reported that their resistance to just 'having it all' and instead striving towards 'being oneself' made them feel, well, well. Likewise, my year of not buying new clothes has made me feel… better. And this has already signposted more ways to pursue this sense of wellbeing and how it might continue to grow, for me, and my family.
'Borrowing' Materials for Migrants
Another significant thing that happened during the last few weeks was that I decided to act on my feelings of upset at seeing the plight of the refugees in Turkey. After a Facebook exchange with friends and colleagues, I decided to collect goods for CalAid, for redistribution to the camps in and around Calais in France. They urgently needed wet weather gear and tents, so that was the main focus, but they also needed toiletries and a range of other necessities. I filled my car three times over with donated goods from parents at the school and from colleague at Chelsea.
Borrowing material goods from the linear trajectory of manufacture, retail, and disposal, and redistributing through ground-up activism, can make a real difference to ameliorating the most urgent human discomfort. Donating used goods to a specific cause - consumers acting with more commitment and intention - makes the lifecycle of fashion more thoughtful and personal than dropping off at a charity shop. (Sorry charity shops). I needed to do this act, to show I cared, at a time when I was too far away, too removed, to act in many other ways. (I did also set up a monthly donation to a refugee fund.)
Borrowing materials are a mid way point between 'having' and 'being'.
In my year so far I have found that the most important - essential - human elements of the experiment have been:
- Being Warm
- Being Myself
- Being Accepted
- Being Present
I want to see more work going on that support the consumer in this transition. I want to see more investment in the sharing economy - leading to more profound behaviour change. I think my year of not buying new clothes has given me more insight around the authenticity of being the change you want to see.
So, watch this space. (And thanks for reading.)