OPINION: It seemed like such a good idea.
I decided to wear one dress to work for two months, to explore whether I could actually reduce the number of items of clothing I had in my wardrobe.
I am not a big shopper, by any means. But I recently noticed there are a number of items in my closet that I never wear, or that, after two or three washes, have become misshapen and unwearable.
I am also deeply troubled by the fast fashion industry.
* New Zealand landfills are becoming full of unloved clothes as ‘fast fashion’ grows
* Fast fashion could already be past its peak
* Alison Mau: Rethinking my fashion addiction with the new old coat that’s changed my life
* How your bad shopping choices affect my loved ones in Bangladesh
* Blaze at collapsed Bangladesh factory
Time and time again, we have heard reports of the environmental and human toll our addiction to clothes takes.
Unloved clothing is being dumped in landfills – there’s just too much of it.
Fast fashion has become synonymous with ecological disaster and labour breaches.
A Walk Free Foundation report from 2018 found the fashion industry is the second-largest sector after technology to support modern slavery.
A 2018 audit for waste in Christchurch found the amount of fashion and textile waste was 6397 tonnes for that year and an Auckland Council Waste Assessment from 2017 said textiles were one of the fastest-growing categories of materials being dumped in Auckland.
But when a blouse costs just $15, the temptation to buy can be really powerful.
I used to justify the purchases by saying, well, I need new clothes for work.
But do I really?
This thought coursed through my mind as I was getting ready for work one morning. Would it be easier if I just wore the same thing over and over again?
Well, after two months I can say yes…and no.
Once I made the decision to proceed with the experiment, I needed to find a dress that I would be willing to wear every single day.
I needed something that would work in a Wellington office and out and about exposed to the elements.
Black was a good option. This is Wellington, after all.
But there are so few all purpose dresses that have pockets, can be worn in the office and that are made to survive daily or even regular use.
I managed to get a black dress from City Chic for $109. Or $2.72 a work day for eight weeks.
No pockets, but corporate enough for a Wellington office and versatile enough for the day-to-day of a life of a journalist.
City Chic has a B+ from the 2019 Tear Fund Ethical Fashion report so it was a good place to start.
Early enthusiasm descends into apathy
Day one started with the clear-eyed enthusiasm of a new endeavour.
I only told a few people, interested to see if anyone noticed further down the track.
By the end of the first week, I was proud. I hadn’t wavered or questioned the experiment. I had a clear rationale and felt pretty good. I missed pockets and pants but things were going well.
As part of the experiment, I committed to not washing the dress ever day.
Microplastics from modern textiles are a growing concern and there is ongoing debate over how often you should wash clothes.
A single clothes wash can release about 700,000 plastic particles from the synthetic fibres, with polyester the worst offender.
But I also work in a shared office – so twice a week seemed like a good idea.
Three weeks into the experiment, my enthusiasm began to dwindle. I mean, sure, there were good reasons behind the experiment but dressing had become such a chore. What was I wearing today? The same thing I wore every single day.
It was at this point I began to remember why I hated wearing a uniform at school so much, though to be fair it was red and green and we all looked like Christmas trees.
But not long after I contemplated giving up the experiment I was tasked with writing a story on Glassons’ introduction of a whistleblower app for its garment producers.
I was reminded of the collapse of Rana Plaza, in Bangladesh.
Garment-makers in the building produced several million shirts, pants and other garments a year for several major North American and European retailers.
The final death toll for the incident was 1130.
About four million people work in Bangladesh’s garment industry, some earning as little as $38 (52 NZD) a month, conditions Pope Francis has compared to “slave labour”.
So the experiment continued.
The dress began to pill with my lanyard but otherwise held up remarkably well.
Reaching the “meh” stage
By the time eight weeks had ticked over, I had reached the point of “meh”.
I wore the same dress every day for eight weeks. Few of my colleagues noticed.
It became routine and actually made mornings quicker by a few minutes. But I got bored with what I was wearing every day and frustrated with the dress’s design flaws.
During the course of the eight weeks, I didn’t buy a single piece of clothing and actually removed and donated all the clothes that I didn’t wear on a regular basis.
I haven’t bought clothes for myself in the month since.
It’s not that I haven’t thought about it every time I walk past a clothes store. But for now, at least, my sartorial choices are influenced by key questions. How often will I wear it? Who made it and were they fairly treated? How long will it last?
Nothing I have seen has really satisfied those questions, so I have kept wearing the black dress, in rotation with other staples.
No one else really notices and honestly, now, neither do I.