Fashion editor and writer, Hannah Rochell, took a big stand in 2019 when she said she would not buy clothes for a year. Now that year has passed, these are the invaluable lessons she has learnt about fashion and shopping.
One day in May 2019, I made a public declaration on Instagram that I wouldn’t be going shopping for a year, although in reality I already hadn’t bought anything new for a month or so. My overconsumption of fashion had been playing on my mind for a long time, so I wanted to do something to change my relationship with my wardrobe for good. And it was going brilliantly - I didn’t miss shopping at all and was using the time to better educate myself on brands that look after the people who make their clothes and that use sustainable practices: the brands that would make up my go-to shopping list of the future.
But then Covid-19 happened, and I realised that some of these brands might not even survive long enough for me to enjoy them.
In my opinion, it’s no coincidence that the fashion brands that shut down stores and production early on in the pandemic are also the ones which always go out of their way to protect the people who work for them, and whose production processes in turn protect the planet. Sustainable and ethical fashion brands aren’t in it for the profit alone - although that’s an important factor, of course - but their main priority and raison d’etre is making clothes in a way that benefits people and the planet. If not, then they’re not really sustainable brands, are they?
I was already boycotting fast fashion for good, so it was hard for me to use my spending power to protest the appalling reports that had been circulating about how some brands had treated their staff during the pandemic. I wanted to do something to support small sustainable brands instead, so after 10 months, I broke my shopping ban early and hit the internet.
Reaching for my credit card, I felt a bit weird. Was I turning my back on everything I’d pledged to do and all my hard work and willpower by not seeing it through for the full year? Scrolling through Instagram and seeing the brands I’d earmarked to buy from, many of which were setting up funds to raise money for the NHS and Covid relief funds, I decided that ending the ban early was the right thing to do. That initial purchase had to be something special, and the item in question had always been the first thing I was going to buy after my ban - a green floral made-to-order dress from Birdsong London which I had planned to wear to a friend’s wedding in Greece in July.
The wedding was, of course, postponed until next year, but that’s fine, because my dress hasn’t arrived yet either. Birdsong’s first priority has always been protecting the women who make the beautiful designs - COVID or no COVID - so production shut down early, which I have huge respect for.
After I placed my order I sent an email to say I didn’t mind how long it took to fulfil it: my main priority was supporting the brand and protecting the people who work for it. And besides, a well thought-through purchase like this should be in my wardrobe for decades.
I then turned to my short list of the six items I had been planning and worked through it, treating myself to an item every now and then during lockdown. One checked shirt from Alice Early, a linen jumpsuit from Stalf, an organic black cotton T-shirt from Rapanui, one recycled nylon bikini from Deakin & Blue, a pair of recycled cotton shorts from Pangaia and a beautiful floral skirt (with pockets, naturally) from Kemi Telford.
Not shopping for a year had allowed me to really assess my wardrobe - what I wear, what I don’t wear and what’s missing - so I knew that these would all be hard-working items I would treasure for years to come. And as I’d been lusting after most of them for months and months, I could guarantee they weren’t impulse buys. Underwear aside (I didn’t buy any underwear either for a year and I am desperate for some more but I’m finding sustainable lingerie and big boobs a struggle) that’s probably me done for the year now.
I’ll spend the rest of 2020 continuing to assess how I use my wardrobe,and if there are any gaps early next year, I may buy a couple of things. I have a few strict rules for any future purchases though:
1. If the brand can’t tell me who made their clothes, in what conditions and where (and of course that those conditions are good and the garment workers are well-paid) I won’t spend my money with them.
2. I prefer to buy from made-to-order models like Alice Early and Stalf because it means there are no unwanted garments, or circular models like Rapanui which encourages its customers to send back their organic cotton T-shirts at the end of their wardrobe life to be made into recycled cotton thread and brand new garments.
3. I won’t touch damaging man-made fabrics like virgin polyester and nylon (AKA plastic) unless I am buying second-hand, and instead favour low-impact natural materials like linen, or clever fibres like TENCEL which is biodegradable and made from sustainable tree pulp.
4. I like to buy as locally as possible to reduce my carbon footprint - pretty much all my favourite brands now are not only based in Britain, but also produce their clothes in the UK or Europe.
I still believe that slowing down our consumption of fashion considerably is vital when it comes to the future of our planet, but I also think that slow fashion holds a sustainable answer - that we can continue to enjoy clothes without exploiting people or the environment. Even better, by choosing to buy from the brands doing the right thing we can use our love of fashion to support good employment and innovations in clothing production for a better future for everyone.
Images: Hannah Rochell