I’ve always thought of myself as quite a normal shopper. I don’t obsessively buy everything as soon as it hits the high street, but I always treat myself to a few new pieces every season – whether it's a pair of boots and some jumpers in winter, or a statement summer skirt to pair with old T-shirts.
But two years ago, when I did an overdue charity clearout, I realised just how many clothes I had in my wardrobe. I had hangers weighed down with Zara trousers I hardly wore, piles and piles of Topshop jumpers and endless H&M tops I couldn’t even remember buying. In that moment, I realised just how guilty I was of buying into the fast-fashion movement, with no thought to the damage I was doing to the environment.
We all know about plastic, but recent claims suggest the fashion industry is one of the top five most-polluting industries in the world, alongside the oil industry. Globally, over 100 billion new garments are made from new fibres every year, which adds to severe water shortages (it takes over 10,000 litres of water to make one pair of jeans) and can also lead to toxic waste, which is having a hugely negative health impact in some third-world countries.
This is why, exactly a year ago, I decided that I wasn’t going to participate in it any more. I vowed not to buy a single item of clothing in the whole of 2018 – whether it was from a charity shop or even if it was a gift for someone else. I would steer clear of all clothes and instead make the most of all the ones I’d bought and hardly worn over the years. 2018 would be my year of recyclable fashion – and the best bit was it wouldn’t cost me a thing.
The first couple of months were easy. I’d bought myself a pair of high-waisted black jeans from Whistles in the last week of December, so I still was riding high off those. Plus, while it did feel strange to completely avoid the January sales, it was also liberating to not go anywhere near a shop. I didn’t have to spend hours going through the racks in hunt of a good bargain; I could go through the hangers in my wardrobe, instead.
I started to have fun, exploring my options and being more creative with my outfits. I pulled out tops I’d forgotten about and paired them with summer dresses. I found a black Gap wool skirt I’d bought in 2007 (back then, I wore it on my hips, but now I’d put on weight it worked as a high-waisted option), and realised how chic it looked with a black roll neck and beret – all with a red wool Topshop coat from 2008. My friends couldn’t believe I was wearing clothes I’d bought at university – and neither could I.
I didn’t have to spend hours going through the racks in hunt of a good bargain; I could go through the hangers in my wardrobe, instead
But when spring came around, bringing with it the new fashion season, things became hard. I started to look on with envy at my friends’ new purchases and realised I couldn’t indulge in my tradition of buying myself something new to wear on my birthday. I contemplated asking for clothes for a present, then decided it would be cheating. Instead, I treated myself to a new lipstick, because if I couldn’t brighten up my look with clothes, I could definitely do it with a bold lip.
In the summer, I moved to Barcelona and realised just how few clothes I had that were appropriate for living in a 30°C climate. I quickly wore out my “beach-holiday” wardrobe and then realised my “London-summer” wardrobe of loose trousers and T-shirts just didn’t work in a city that was so hot. In despair, I asked my Spanish friends if they had any cast-offs they didn’t want any more. The results changed my entire summer. I was given bags of cute summer dresses, loose fabric shorts and flowing tops to wear with denim shorts.
I was thrilled to essentially have a new wardrobe for free, but so were my friends. “I’ve been meaning to do a clearout and you’ve finally inspired me to,” they said, with some even deciding to implement their own no-shopping challenges. It made me realise that I should do clothes swaps with friends more often – we all have so many clothes in good condition that we get bored of, so instead of buying new ones, why not exchange them, instead?
By winter, I was feeling confident in my no-fashion rule. I’d managed to save hundreds of pounds that I would have spent on clothes – probably between £700-£1,000 in a whole year. I was so used to not being able to buy clothes that I just avoided shops altogether, and the cast-offs from friends had given me the “new-clothes thrill” that I’d missed.
But when I arrived back in London in October, I had a fashion breakdown. Leopard print was everywhere and I was obsessed. But I didn’t have any. And I couldn’t buy any. I stared at the print longingly. I stood outside shop windows and gazed at velvet boots and party dresses. I wanted all of it, but I couldn’t have it. I felt ridiculous pining after clothes – I was an adult woman; surely I had better things to do? – but I still moaned to anyone who’d listen about how I had absolutely nothing new to wear.
In the end, The Pool offices saved me. Frankie Graddon, head of fashion and beauty, overheard my plight and donated some castoffs to me, from navy-blue velvet (!!!) Carvela heeled ankle boots to an oversized Hush jumper. It felt like an early Christmas miracle to have some new clothes but, after the initial rush died down, I realised how I had actually got used to my limited capsule wardrobe. While it was nice to have some new pieces, I didn’t need them; I was enjoying my simple uniform. I wore a lot of black, lots of simple pieces with good cuts and more lipstick than I ever had.
Now, at the start of 2019, I’m not as excited as I thought I’d be. I don’t want to return to my old habits and, even though I will buy clothes again, I’m going to make sure they’re sustainable pieces I’ll want to keep for ever – no more cheap buys. So, instead of celebrating the end of my challenge with the leopard-print shirt I dreamed of, I’m going to buy myself a pair of new Levi’s. They’re one of the few brands really trying to reduce water usage in cotton production and – honestly? – that’s now more important to me than finding the perfect dress.