The Challenge: A Year Without Shopping
Once upon a time, fifteen people located around the world signed up to be part of a concept that was sweeping the sustainable globe. They gave up shopping for one year. A full 365 days of no clothing, new or second hand, as trends flew by in a blur of color and drool.
I was one of those 15.
“As long as fashion is trend-based, it will never be sustainable”
I believe it was November when we cut the cord on our credit cards and purged our purchases. We bravely marched into the breech and set our sights on…okay, not really. I was a broke college student at the time. And, with my newly-cocked attitude, I figured this was an easy assignment that would give a big bump to my eco-cred.
The rules were pretty straight forward. If it had to do with clothing, of any kind, it was off limits. No gifts, no underwear, socks, or accessories, and no fabric. The only exception was for obtaining materials for school or your job. But, we were to seek out used options first, and green options as a backup. While many of the participants spoke of stocking up for the year ahead, my empty wallet and I crossed our fingers and prepared the sewing kit for mending.
Laura De Jong, of the Amsterdam Fashion Institute, started The Free Fashion Challenge in 2010 as her thesis project. Eventually growing to a whopping 1200 participants, the idea took hold and fashionistas everywhere were embracing this attempt to wipe the sartorial slate clean. As Laura has said, “It’s not an anti-fashion project, but encourages the participants to rediscover their own style and creativity and to promote quality and sustainability in the fashion industry.”
And that’s exactly what we did.
The Challenged Perspective
Every month we would receive a new assignment from Laura which encouraged creativity and a new perspective on the situation. I was at the perfect point in my education where I was really starting to understand sustainability and how to find the companies that take these values seriously. I was able to build a dream cache of inspiration. Some of it would provide ideas on style and fabric, some of it was simply lust-worthy.
But more than that, all of my research was forcing me to identify my own style and the person I wanted to present to the world. I’m not going to say that this challenge held all the answers. To this day, I am still figuring out exactly who I am in fashion. But, it gave me a starting point to learn and grow from. Years of trial and error have led me to a comfort in myself and my wardrobe. While I am still perfecting it, and to some extent always will be, I no longer experience the feeling of nothing-to-wear. It’s quite peaceful, really.
The Halfway Point
I remember when we hit the halfway point, Laura allowed us to make a purchase. We could buy, wear, and twirl around in one piece of clothing or an accessory. I can see now how this was a sign of what was to come. But, in the moment, I simply crumbled under the pressure and bought a hat. I wasn’t yet ready to commit to anything from my wish list. So, I decided to look for something uniquely me, something that would express part of myself that I didn’t have a way to express with my current wardrobe.
I bought a paper hat. I thought it was perfect, but I have never worn it out of the house. It was a cute little thing, made from paper with a waxy finish, and styled somewhere between a “Blossom” hat and a cowboy hat. There were laser cut-outs that gave it a lacy effect. All these years later it serves as a reminder that shopping for shopping’s sake will only yield to poor decision making skills. And a lovely hat that can’t get wet, though you live in a very rainy climate.
That poor decision made under pressure has transformed into good decisions made over time. Sometimes it takes me a month to make a simple choice like selecting the perfect toothbrush (there’s just so much research to do!). And sometimes I know in an instant. But I no longer rush. The Free Fashion Challenge taught me to step back and take a minute. That another option, probably better, will come along. That I am not missing out on anything by not succumbing to trends for the sake of them. Ultimately, taking the time to relax and reflect allowed me to develop an internal checklist for my purchases. After years of practice, mentally checking off the items are routine and automatic. I may still take ages finding the perfect product, but when I do, I love it so much more.
Now we at SoCo are turning it over to you…Have you gone fashion-free and have your own story to share? Or perhaps you’ve been thinking about taking on the challenge but are looking for advice – reach out to us, we’ve got you covered!