When I read about the ‘Six Items Challenge’ on the Ethical Fashion Blog, I immediately clicked through to the challenge website. The challenge is to only wear six items for one month, plus unlimited accessories.
I love a good wardrobe challenge (for example, see my various capsule wardrobe challenges) and this one’s raising awareness of garment workers and money for their campaign (though the fundraising aspect doesn’t seem particularly crucial). Plus, with my expanding belly I only have four dresses that still fit me anyway. So I briefly thought about doing it. Though then I realized I have no idea if those four dresses will still fit me by the end of July, and I’m not buying maternity clothes that preemptively. Plus, there is no way I’m wearing the same thing day in day out without at least having access to all my accessories rather than my streamlined Brussels selection. And they want you to take daily pictures which sounds like far too much work for a whole month.
So I’d already decided I wasn’t doing it when I read the comments. Here’s the first one:
I love the idea but can’t think how it would be possible for me. I wear 4 items every day (jeans, long sleeved top, short sleeved top and jumper/sweatshirt) and I don’t have a tumble dryer (not good for the environment anyway). If it was 8 pieces I might try, although that would mean wearing my work clothes all day every day – jeans and black tops. For me personally I couldn’t do 6 without smelling, freezing or buying new clothes (which would seem to defeat the purpose!). Intrigued to know how people get on though…
To which the challenge organisers replied:
aha…ingenuity is the key – wrap scarves can give warmth instead of an extra jumper…and one extra jean/top might see you through… who knows. It’s difficult with work gear, true. Dresses are always a good solution, the original ‘onesie’!
And this is kind of where they lost me.
First, the washing thing. Six items will make two, maybe three outfits. Even if you go for just dresses, you’ll still need some cover up, unless you live in a super hot country (this challenge is based in the UK). So you could have four dresses, a cardie and a coat (coat only exempt in winter) but that would still only get you four days worth of stuff. So either way, you’re going to have to wash and dry stuff all the flipping time. And you either have to run an almost empty washing machine, or handwash every night. And the drying, you’d need a tumble dryer or a radiator because there wouldn’t be time to wait for stuff to airdry. And either way, you’re increasing your water and energy use exponentially compared to washing a full load that can airdry in peace.
But also: Why is a wrap scarf better than a jumper? If the aim is to reduce consumption/use of clothing items, why just actual clothes and not accessories? People assembling earrings and dyeing scarves that smell of scary chemicals are no better treated than people sewing together jeans. The challenge just seems a bit of a weird mix of extreme restriction on the one hand and no limits on the other. And could having to wear the same clothes day in day out not actually push some people towards buying loads of shoes and bags and stuff? It’s a bit like a diet where you’re not allowed any fat so you stuff yourself with starchy stuff instead, or vice versa.
Anyway, I don’t want to pick on this challenge in particular because I think this is a wider point about time limited clothing challenges (and things like short term shopping bans): For me, from a sustainability point of view, they don’t make much sense. They’re supposed to highlight that we can live with less, but I wonder how often they actually do ever change anyone’s behaviour for the long term. Certainly shopping bans often get pretty mixed write ups once the initial ‘I did it! I’ll definitely keep going!’ enthusiasm has worn off (for example, Already Pretty. The Waves has also written about this a lot, I’m too lazy to track down the actual posts now).
With all the challenges I’ve done while it’s always nice to remind myself I can manage fine with few clothes, I’ve always embraced my overflowing wardrobe with open arms afterwards. But then again, I didn’t plan on changing my behaviour, so maybe that’s not the best example. Though also being here in Brussels with so few clothes has made me buy more than in a long time so the withdrawal (and the sudden outbreak of summery weather) has made me binge*.
I think the diet analogy is quite accurate for these challenges. They’re supposed to give you rules to help you be sensible, and the idea is that after the framework of the strict rules is gone, you’ll have internalised them and changed your behaviour. But while I’m sure some people learn that carrot sticks make an excellent snack and continue this on for many years, it’s usually too much change in one go to be sustainable. It’s truism to say now that diets don’t work and most people eventually fail. And I just have a feeling that these challenges are the same, if you are in a mind set where you are addicted to shopping, a short sharp change won’t make any long term difference if your aim is to reduce your consumption. And the more extreme the challenge is, the less likely you’re to stick with it in the long term.
I’m talking about the aim of ‘reducing consumption’ because of course that’s not the only aim of these challenges. Because just to be clear, I’m not poo pooing clothing challenges per se. They can be a really fun outlet for creativity and can push you to be more creative with your clothes and get to know what you own better. Or to learn how to pack for a business trip or a holiday. Like I say, I love a good clothing challenge. But I don’t expect it to make me a more ethical person. That’s a longer term process with a much less impressive and more compromised outcome than any challenge.
D’you know what I mean? If anyone feels that a clothing challenge has changed their sustainability behaviour for the long term, I’d love to hear as well
P.S. I articulated some of the same ideas three years ago in a post on the uniform project. Just so that I’m not only picking on the 6 items people.
* we’re talking 1 pair of trousers, two dresses, some earrings and a hceapo watch. A lot for me!