If you could only take six items of clothing with you on a six-week holiday what would you take?
I had to think long and hard about that question. Not because I was going on holiday, but because I was starting a fashion fast. I was about to wear only six items of clothing for six weeks. Why would I do that?
My fashion fast has been inspired by a charity based in the United Kingdom called Labour Behind the Label. They created the Six Items Challenge to raise funds and support garment factory workers, or sweatshop employees, in places like Cambodia, Bangladesh and China who are fighting for better working conditions, fair wages and job security.
This fast appealed to me because I love fashion and being able to express my style, but I also think everyone deserves a fair deal. Why should people – mostly women – suffer to make my clothes? I also care about the planet, and so part of the experiment was getting to grips with a more sustainable way forward.
I cleared out my wardrobe and put only six items back – a dress, three tops, a pair of pants and a skort. I added a single jacket for the cold days, and as much active wear as needed (as per the challenge rules).
Here’s what I discovered in six weeks.
I warned my office colleagues and friends that things were going to get interesting. At the last minute a work colleague joined me, which was awesome. Having a buddy would make it easier.
Only a week in and I swapped five of the six items and started again. I realised that if I was going to wear just six items of clothing for six weeks they needed to be comfortable, interchangeable and practical. It wasn’t a time for interesting, stand out pieces.
Although I felt a bit of a failure for swapping items, I was not deterred. My new six included three black staples – a pinafore dress, organic cotton V-neck tee and harem trousers – along with a blue violet linen skirt, white cotton shirt and organic cotton Breton top. They were seasonally appropriate, coordinated and easy to dress up and down.
Although I was feeling enthusiastic, I had the constant nagging feeling of something missing from my life. By the end of the week I was dreaming about other clothes.
At the half-way mark, I went through a zen phase. I had grown accustomed to my six. They had become a modular uniform of sorts, and a uniform can be reassuring – you always know what you’re going to get. Or was it a case of Stockholm Syndrome, I wondered?
I started to understand the benefits of a capsule wardrobe – a carefully curated minimalist wardrobe comprising of colour-coordinated quality items. We all have a certain style and items that look great, so why do we clutter our wardrobes with ill-fitting, shrunken, faded, itchy, cheap, I’ll-never-actually-have-the guts/legs/midriff-to-wear-this garments?
I started mentally assembling my ultimate wardrobe for when I was allowed to wear more than six.
I check in again with my work colleague. It turns out she is experiencing a lot of the same emotions and revelations.
I was over all my clothes and desperately wanted to wear something else.
It wasn’t only my six items either. I have been forced to wear active clothing for activities I previously just did in the clothes I was already wearing from work, like walking our dog. When you have a young son and only six items of clothing that are in a constant state of washing, you’d be surprised how wide the criteria for activeness becomes – grocery shopping, for example. I hate wearing active wear when not truly active so this was very challenging.
I was excited about the conclusion of the challenge, if not a little worried that three of six items wouldn’t even make it through the last week. Meanwhile, the organic cotton tops have been amazing. I am a full organic cotton convert now.
I had to stop myself from doing a shopping splurge. After all, the first rule of a curating a sustainable closet is using the one you already have. The less you buy the better for the environment, since clothing production is the second greatest polluter after the oil industry. Frightening really.
I think I will miss my items. How bizarre. They are like old friends.
Colleagues said they hadn’t noticed me wearing the same clothes, which is crazy because I must have worn my Breton stripe cotton top at least three times each week. I think it simply demonstrates that unless we go full statement or utterly ridiculous people are more likely to notice a smile than what we are wearing, even when we wear it over and over again.
I am wondering what I’ll wear on my first day after the fast. So many choices. I put only 30 items back in the closet – my capsule wardrobe begins.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED
A seasonal capsule wardrobe is the way to go. It forces you to hone in on your style and makes you chose quality and a great fit instead of focussing only on the latest trend. We can do a lot with very little and, still have great style.
Being more conscious of who made my clothes and how they were made has led me to discover beautiful designers and brands, including how absolutely awesome organic cotton is.
I was pleasantly surprised at how many people were interested in the message around the experiment too.
In doing this, I have learnt a lot about the human and environmental destruction caused by fashion consumption, and I want to be a part of making it less awful. I want to wear beautiful clothing, that feels good, looks good and is ‘good’.