Six Items Challenge: One Year On

This time last year, I was weeks into the Six Items Challenge. It’s a brilliant campaign run by the charity Labour Behind the Label to raise money and awareness for garment workers across the world. I wrote a whole blog about the experience, you can read it here.

 

I’m not taking part this year but what I wear and how I shop have changed immeasurably since completing the challenge: I run a capsule wardrobe and am mindful about how much I buy and where I shop.

I started writing this post when it was snowing. On the coldest day I was wrapped up for sub zero conditions: black MUD jeans, grey H&M vest, white and navy People Tree Breton t-shirt and Fair Isle Sea Salt jumper for indoors with a thick Barbour coat and winter DMs for the short yet practically arctic school run. Today is much more spring like and considerably warmer. Today I’m wearing a black and white stripey People Tree dress, tights and some Po-Zu ankle boots. Jeans, ankle boots and stripey dress aside, I owned all of these items this time last year. The Breton was one of the 6 items I chose for the challenge and the jumper is the same one that I wore in the photo on my fundraising page. I’m really proud that all of these items are still going strong, especially the Breton t-shirt.

 

Different year, different bedroom, same t-shirt. Long live the Breton!

IMG_8040One of my newer purchases. A black and white dress from People Tree bought in August last year and worn at least weekly since. 

If you’re a fellow mum, you’ll know that the school run can feel quite daunting. A bit like being at school again but somehow worse. I *think* I’m much scruffier than most of the well heeled mums in the playground but I don’t think I look too bad all things considered. When you’re a stay at home mum and live semi-rurally, you can get away with a, shall we say, more casual look. Yet at the age of 36, I just don’t care as much. Maybe its an age thing or a shortage of time thing or a Mum thing or maybe I’m lucky to live in a village where everyone is lovely and friendly. I actually think it’s a self-esteem thing. I really, truly believe in my heart that I’m more, so much more, than my outer appearance and clothes. This is huge for me. I’ve never thought like this before. And it’s one of the biggest things I took from the challenge. Be confident in who you are and in your choices. Remember that what you do and how you treat others is so much more important than how on trend you are. Have you ever thought about the garment workers who make your clothes? I hadn’t until I read about the challenge last year and found out more about Rana Plaza. Garment workers may be invisible to us when we’re buying new clothes but they’re there and they’re real humans. Perhaps if we all thought a little bit more about them and a little less about ourselves, they’d be less invisible and their workers’ rights could be improved. And maybe, just maybe together we could help stop any more Rana Plazas.

I haven’t bought any fast fashion items since completing the challenge. I’m completely aware that boycott is a contentious issue. In fact, Labour Behind the Label and Fashion Revolution are both anti-boycott. And as consumers, we can’t take the full brunt of an exploitative industry fully on our own shoulders. But as consumers we do have choice. And I choose ethical. How you spend your money in my eyes is pretty much a vote for what you believe to be acceptable. I believe it really is that simple.

IMG_7040MUD jeans bought in October 2017 from The Fair Shop, Brighton. The only pair of jeans I now own. MUD are a fantastic ethical brand, well worth a look if you’re in need of a new pair of jeans. http://www.mudjeans.eu

I own and continue to wear 5 of the items chosen for the challenge last year. The 6th, one of the pairs of jeans have been replaced with a pair of MUD jeans. I wore and wore the jeans from the challenge until they literally fell to pieces: knee hole, crotch hole, threadbare. I recycled them at the local rubbish dump. A bit gutting as they weren’t really old. Just poor quality. This really annoys me actually. Why do we expect so little from our clothes? Why is it ok that they fall to pieces after just a few months?

It wasn’t uncommon for me to turf out a couple of bin bags (or more) of clothes once or twice a year. Most went to charity, some went in the bin. I’m not proud of this. I thought donating loads to charity was a responsible and kind thing to do. I didn’t know about fabric recycling. I’m now much more aware of being less wasteful and kinder to the environment. One of the best things to do? Buy less. And only donate items that are in pristine condition. If you wouldn’t gift the old clothes you’re donating, repurpose, repair or recycle them. Another thing to do? Buy from charity shops as well as donating to them.

I’ve bought most new clothes from ethical brand People Tree. People Tree pay and treat their employees fairly and use sustainable fabrics such as fair trade and organic cotton and Tencel. I’m a huge fan. I’ve bought from other labels too and I’m lucky enough to live near the Fair Shop in Brighton, which is an Aladdin’s Cave of fair trade clothes, gifts and accessories. I’d like to start buying from vintage shops again but if I’m honest I find shopping in vintage shops time consuming and time isn’t a luxury I have right now.

Since finishing the challenge at the beginning of April last year I’ve bought 13 new garments. I was gifted some gym clothes, a pair of trainers, a shirt dress, a jacket and a jumper for my birthday and a pair of Po-Zu boots for Christmas. For some people, this is excessive but compared to my old shopping habits this is very restrained. Proudly, no high street hauls, no bulging Zara or H&M carrier bags, and no massive ASOS parcels in the post. No new winter coat this year and just one pair of jeans in over a year. You could say that a lifetime of bad habits was overhauled by one 6 week long challenge.

IMG_5761Micro-capsule for our summer holiday last year.

So what gems can I pass on a year after the challenge.

  • You need a lot less than you think.
  • Only buy clothes that you love. Truly love. Always have the 30 wear rule in mind. If you’re not going to wear it 30 times leave it on the rack or send it back.
  • Stop shopping as a hobby (including internet shopping). I dread to think how many hours I’ve wasted “shopping”. How about spending time with family and friends. Writing a poem. Keeping a journal. Watching a film. Reading a book. Looking at something awesome in nature. Baking a cake. Making something from scratch. You’ll be a happier and more interesting person for it.
  • Clothes don’t have to be seasonal. A vest is a vest, a pair of jeans is a pair of jeans. A black cotton jumpsuit can be worn on Christmas Day or the hottest day of the year.
  • Invest in key pieces not novelty pieces.  A proper warm and waterproof coat, jeans that fit like a glove, organic cotton base layers that will last for years and a jumper or sweater that will become an old, trusty friend.
  • Don’t be scared of less. Carefully planned, you can put 1,000 outfits together wth just 30 garments. Don’t believe me? Check out Wendy Mak’s book or website. Her style may not be your style but it’s a great starting point and will get you thinking in the right direction.
  • Shop ethically and sustainably. Remember, someone made your clothes. Not a robot, but a human. Were they paid enough? Did they work in a safe factory? What will happen to your purchase in the future? Heirloom? Donation? Scrap? Maybe try  buying second hand from a vintage or charity shop, swap with friends, recycle or upcycle, choose ethical labels. If you have a limited budget and don’t want to buy second hand, minimising your fast fashion consumption is better than nothing. Just please, resist the haul!
  • Lobby. Write to your MP. Write to your favourite high street store. Get involved in Fashion Revolution week. So much is changing as a direct result of people power. Your voice matters. Feel incensed? Get involved.

A year on, I still pinch myself saying that I have a capsule wardrobe, lived for 6 weeks with just 6 items of clothing and have inspired countless others to really think about their own consumption. If I can do it, anyone can.

Will you join in with Fashion Revolution this year (23rd April – 29th April 2018)? Why not have a quick look to see if there are any events near you. Would you consider challenging yourself to have a go at the Six Items Challenge in 2019? Or how about sorting through your clothes and setting up your very own capsule wardobe? 


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