Escape the Excess by Leah Mariani 2017
January is a month of hope and new beginnings. It’s a time for setting goals, creating resolutions and paying off massive credit card debt. So it seemed like the perfect time to start my social experiment of a year without buying clothes.
A burgeoning wardrobe and a flourishing credit card balance, however, were not the only incentives driving this new years' resoluteness. My obsession with fashion is bad for the environment.
Inspiration came in the form of an article detailing Australia’s obsession with cheap clothes and fast fashion that affected me greatly. Did you know that Australians are the world's second largest consumers of textiles, buying on average 27 kilograms of new clothing and other textiles each year? Clothes are becoming more and more affordable due to availability of cheap labour provided by our Asian neighbours, allowing us to purchase new and expendable fashion items each season. On average the Australian woman wears just a third of her wardrobe. Whilst some of the unused portion gets donated to charity, only 10% of what they receive gets sold. Most unwanted clothing ends up in landfill. Australians send $500 million worth of clothing to the tip each year. Unfortunately, the majority of clothes are synthetic and are not biodegradable. The statics are staggering.
And the damage doesn’t end there. The 2015 fashion documentary The True Cost goes into detail about all the other negative environmental effects that result from the clothing production process. Fashion is now the second most polluting industry in the world. Let’s not forget the issues around slave labour, sweat factories and poor working conditions thrust upon poorer economies. All in all, I thought it was a good time to sit back and access my current wardrobe situation.
Don’t get me wrong. I love clothes and fashion. One of my favourite pastimes is perusing glossy fashion magazine (also environmentally hazardous). At times, I fancy myself a fashionista, proud of the personal style I have cultivated over many years of trial and error. Whilst fashion and style go hand in hand, need we be a slave to fashion to possess style? Anyone with a bit of know-how and an expendable bank balance can look good in luxury fashion items. But is it possible to look good without spending money? I decided to set myself the challenge to rise above fast fashion whilst staying true to my individual style.
Most people would probably just buy fewer clothes, or perhaps make better purchasing decisions by investing in well-made, timeless pieces. Such is the philosophy of the Slow Fashion Movement that is steadily gaining in popularity. But no, I’ve decided to jump in with both feet first and take the plunge with The-Year-Of-No-New-Clothes commitment. Here’s the fine print. No clothes means all new and second hand items, including shoes, underwear, active wear, swimwear, formal wear, sleepwear, handbags, belts, hats and other accessories. It includes one caveat: I can purchase one pair of jeans. I’ve been searching for the perfect high-waisted jeans for over a year now. It’s an on-going saga which I am not ready to dismiss. I might have to accept that the perfect jeans do not exist, in which case the purchase is not transferrable to any other product.
I’m eleven weeks in (who’s counting) and so far, so good. Not only have I resisted all clothing enticements, I’ve spent less money on other impromptu purchases such as homewares and kids’ clothing. I’ve been avoiding the shops (including on-line shops) like the plague and resultantly had little opportunity to buy anything at all. I’ve decided to keep a record of my experience, which will hopefully assist others going through or considering going through a similar experience for any length of time (First bit of advice is go for something shorter like lent or dry-July).
The first few weeks of January went by in a blur of sanctimonious euphoria. Riding high on the wave of new year resolutions not yet broken, I felt optimistic about the possibilities of the year ahead. Not to mention I’d nabbed a few on-line bargains during the Box Day sales which arrived in the first few weeks of January, effectively delaying any shopping withdrawal symptoms.
The arrival of February meant the return to work in the city and the reality of my pledge came crashing down on me. Old habits die hard and I spent my February lunch breaks wandering around the shops, inspecting the new seasons’ clothing as it arrived in store. My lunchtime walks that were once a welcomed reprieve now seemed torturous and pointless. I thought window shopping would be enough, but instead it sent me into a hopeless state of yearning. So many beautiful things that would never be mine. Even the idea of compiling a wish-list was meaningless as everything I coveted would be out of fashion by the time I was able to purchase it. Indeed, that was the whole point, right? In the end, I decided to find something else to do on my lunchtime sojourns or risk spiralling down into the depths of despair (otherwise known as shopping withdrawal syndrome).
Thank goodness for the limitless availability of new year’s resolutions. One of my other resolutions was to read more books. And guess what? I can buy (or borrow) as many of those as I want. So now my lunch breaks consist of a quiet corner and a book. As a mother of young children, there are few indulgences greater than reading a novel or newspaper from front to back without interruption. It's simply amazing. Perhaps I’ll swap my shoe collection for an expansive book collection, or start a new book club. Who knows? For now, life is good and I am once again riding the euphoric wave that comes with new years’ resolutions that are yet to be broken. Check back with me in a few more months….
About the artist
Leah is a Melbourne artist who making figurative work about womanhood and girlhood. She loves all things patterned and often incorporates it into her art. Stay in touch by signing up to email updates here or follow her artist journey on social media @leahmarianiartspace.
References & further reading
‘Why the Fashion Industry is Out of Control’ by Clair Press, Financial Review, 23 April 2016, http://www.afr.com/lifestyle/fashion/why-the-fashion-industry-is-out-of-control-20160419-goa5ic#ixzz4bMxs8J3W
Slow Factory fashion activism, https://slowfactory.com
Australia's obsession with new clothes and 'fast fashion' textiles hurting the environment, by Fiona Pepper, ABC Radio Melbourne, 12 January 2017, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-12/australias-obsession-with-new-clothes-hurting-the-environment/8177624