2019: Tackling Unwanted Fashion

January 08, 2019 • Beauty & Fashion

Dresses? I’m not starting a clothing brand – this is a photo of nine dresses I wore in college. I found them in my house in New York over the holidays, and noticed that they had a few things in common:

  • They don’t fit me. Either I outgrew them or the style doesn’t fit my body.
  • They were cheap. Either from a fast fashion brand or from a huge sale.
  • They’re still “wearable”. I’ll define anything that doesn’t have rips to be wearable.

In 2018, I donated about 60% of my California wardrobe to EPA Shop, a local social enterprise thrift shop in the Bay Area. And although I spent the latter half of the year replacing what I donated at a 2 to 1 ratio with items from brands that produce fair trade and healthier clothing (goodbye, polyester), I haven’t zoomed in on the problem I’d have after: I still own A LOT of clothes.

Just looking at the photo above – do I really need nine dresses? Nine dresses that serve the same purpose? That gave me the realization I don’t need to nor want to shop this year. My efforts last year to transition to slow fashion have created a wardrobe of pieces I really love and want to wear for a long time.

Instead, I want to turn my attention to textile waste – what happens to the clothes we no longer want. Here are some stats:

  1. In the USA we throw out 80 lbs of clothing per person on average each year. That’s estimated to be equal to 200 t-shirts.
  2. It takes over 700 gallons of water to make just one t-shirt.
  3. Only 15% of unwanted clothing is donated, and out of that, only 20% become secondhand items. The rest are thrown into landfills, or sent abroad to African countries. A tiny portion is recycled into insulation, etc.

I don’t know the accuracy of the numbers since various sources differ. But I don’t want to focus on them. I know that I grew up learning to donate clothes regularly and it’s commonplace for people around me to do so. However, I can’t deny that we have an overflow of unloved clothing in the world. It hurts to know about the dark side of fashion.

I love shopping, but I can’t continuously buy more clothes, even ones that are ethically made. I want this year to be different. So here are a few things I will be doing.

Not buy new clothes or shoes in 2019.

2018 was about buying better, but 2019 will be about buying less. I will not be buying any new clothes or shoes unless I desperately need something. For example if my one pair of winter gloves somehow become unwearable, I will allow myself to replace it. Going a year without shopping will be hard, but I want to see the difference to not buy what I don’t need. Cutting down on purchasing is the first step to reducing unwanted fashion.

Although I won’t be buying clothes or shoes, I will continue to support vulnerable populations and independent designers through jewelry.

Show my wardrobe more love with monthly photoshoots.

Inspired by OOTD and fashion bloggers, I want to share the pieces I’ve handpicked to be part of my life for many years to come. I’m not 100% sure on how I want to curate them just yet, but I’m excited to get creative!

Sell the remainder of my clothes and shoes in New York.

I spent New Year’s Eve completely cleaning out closets in my parents’ house. It took me all day to sort between donating / recycling, and document everything I could sell. Check out my closet on Poshmark! I don’t normally buy secondhand because I don’t know where the items have been, but this year for the first time I successfully thrifted the pieces to make my boba costume. I’m so happy to see technology used to support a market that cycles everything around again. I hear stories about people who are able to pay rent by selling things they no longer need! Not gonna happen in California, but it would be nice to have some pocket change.

Rescue leftover clothing.

While cleaning, I also “thrifted” about 20 items from my mom’s wardrobe to keep for myself. They are all in top notch condition, including a skirt from the ’90s. That got me thinking about how easily we can extend the life of clothes other people no longer want to wear. It’s so unfortunate that most secondhand clothes never make it to a new home simply because there aren’t enough resources to accommodate them all.

I want to be open that I’m considering buying a bit from thrift shops to resell. Some people have ethical concerns about that practice – after a lot of research I can safely make the guess that due to the tremendous amounts of unwanted clothing thrift shops receive, and the statistics on how much will end up in landfills regardless, reselling is more likely to be beneficial. It supports and provides marketing for the clothes that otherwise would get lost. I will do more research before deciding my point of view on this.

If I were able to make extra money, I would want the proceeds to be donated back like what was originally donated.

Encourage people around me to swap.

My coworker gave me this idea when she gave me one of her scarves. I found a ton of unused scarves that my mom and I received as gifts, and brought them back to California to start a scarf exchange at work! Scarves are an excellent item to swap since they are easily cleaned and one size. So far I’ve received a lot of positivity with my exchange. Some coworkers find it funny and are happily contributing.

What do I hope to accomplish through all of this? I don’t think I can change the fashion industry. I want my primary focus to still be treating my body better – we deserve clothes that are not harmful to our skin. And thus, people deserve to be paid fairly to make an everyday essential. And the planet deserves us to make only what we love.

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