The Nothing New Project – a year of used, handmade and swapped

the nothing new project- my year of used, handmade and swapped

At the beginning of the year I committed to buying no new clothes all year long and I’ve been sticking to it for the last five months.  After a while I started thinking of it as “the nothing new project”.  You know, as in…I’m not buying anything new.  But also as in “eh, no big deal…it’s nothing new” because I kind of needed to convince myself of that and I also wanted to recognize that for many generations buying new clothes was a luxury.   My grandmother, for example, would have mended garments until they were threadbare and sewn everything else, including men’s work shirts and suits.  It’s good for me to remember that the shift toward cheap, new clothing is a wild extravagance not a necessity.

That said, I do want to feel cute, sexy and fashionable and the world of fast-fashion makes finding a balance tricky.  Trends swing wildly from skinny jeans to wide cullottes; certain styles quickly become old and out-dated. It leaves me with competing emotions; I want to stop the wasteful consumption of new clothes but don’t want to stop dressing well.  I don’t want to become a woman who looks like she has ‘given up’ and is wearing the same sweatpants from 10 years ago. (Well, ok, I don’t want to look like that every day; some days I am just fine with that look).  Or, whose every outfit has that tell-tale 80’s look that is just to easy to end up with when thrift store shopping.  I have to admit that how I dress is important to me. I feel good when I like what I’m wearing, when I feel like what I’m wearing fits me well, looks good and fits who I am.  So at the same time as I don’t want to buy anything new I do want to feel like my wardrobe is fresh and fun.  That’s why I’m selectively buying used clothing, sewing handmade and swapping enough clothes to feel not only fully outfitted but (mostly) guilt-free!

I’ve been undertaking a few efforts to help me sort out the mixed emotions and divorce myself from the heavily dictated world of fast-fashion.   For one, I participated in Me Made May this past month.  Just as it did last year, wearing a handmade item every day for a month helped me identify the clothing I actually wear vs. the novelty items I sometimes sew.  In short, I wear pretty unassuming clothing on a regular basis.  I need to sew items that are wearable everyday if I really want to sew my wardrobe.

the nothing new project

I’ve also been following along with the Wardrobe Architect efforts on Collette since the start of the year, and look forward to sharing more about that process in a later post.  Suffice it to say, that Wardrobe Architect walks through, step-by-step, how to identify your personal style (for yourself!); how to find the gaps in your wardrobe; and how to sew a wardrobe that fits you as an individual. If you want to see my ‘style’ Pinterest boards, they are here and here. I discovered that the look I like the most is muted colors, effortless, simple and elegant. It’s been so eye-opening to know that as I look for what to sew. Also helped me assess why some of the things I have sewn are not what I grab when I’m looking for something to wear. Below is a sampling of sewn items that are brighter than what I want to wear on an everyday basis. The lure of the fancy new fabric line is overwhelming sometimes and I reach for it without considering “will I wear this?”.

the nothing new project - used, handmade and swapped wardrobe

Of course, I can’t accomplish the cute, sexy, fashionable look I want by only sewing my clothes.  It’s why I’m also buying used clothing and swapping with friends!

For my used clothing, I’ve found an AMAZING resource in addition to my local consignment and thrift stores.  It’s an online consignment store called ThredUP.  How it works is you send in your brand-name, good condition clothes and get a cut (I think it’s 50%) of what it sells for.  With the money you make you can find used clothing at a steep discount.  The selection is huge and the return policy is really forgiving.  I’ve found things from cocktail party dresses to sweatshirts.  It’s great.  Also, if you click the link up above, I get a little cash toward my next purchase.  Thanks!

As I mentioned, I’m also swapping clothes with friends.  Every once in a while, when my book club gets together we all bring clothing we don’t wear and we exchange.  It’s FANTASTIC because I feel like I get a whole bunch of new clothes and I love seeing clothing I don’t wear anymore looking good on friends. We set aside our wine and books, try on clothes, model for each other and walk away with a fresh wardrobe.

I started The Nothing New Project for two main reasons.  The first is it was difficult not to be impacted by what happened in the garment factory in Bangladesh a few years back, when a building collapsed and killed over a thousand garment workers.  It got harder and harder to feel good about the hidden costs of inexpensive, new clothing.  I know what it takes to make a beautiful, button-up shirt and just can’t feel anything but sick to my stomach to see it on sale for $5 at the Gap.  It’s consequent step-sibling, the trending purge of clothing, also makes me uneasy but for different reasons.  (Do we purge and feel so good about the cleanse that we turn around and fill up the closet with new clothes?  Thrift stores are over-loaded to such an extent that much of the clothing gets sent to African nations who buy it by the ton!)  I don’t want to contribute to any of this, I want to believe there is a new path and I’m determined to hack my way through to find it.

Second, I am curious and excited about the creative challenge of sewing that moves me closer to my values. So far, it’s been….eh, NOTHING NEW. 🙂   Can’t wait to share more of the journey.

For more reading:

+ The Story of Stuff (get a straightforward explanation of the dangers of fast-fashion)

+ The Afterlife of Cheap Clothing

+ Is your old t-shirt hurting African economies?

7 Comments on The Nothing New Project – a year of used, handmade and swapped

  1. Md Razaul Karim
    June 8, 2015 at 11:52 am (3 years ago)

    I impress to your iron will and you will be success. Really you are usual to nothing new project. Thanks………

  2. Masha
    June 8, 2015 at 4:58 pm (3 years ago)

    This is so interesting to read. I did not know that about the overloading of thrift stores – but it makes sense because everyone I know is constantly purging … but doesn’t seem to have any less than when they started. Myself included.

    • Melissa Q.
      June 8, 2015 at 8:13 pm (3 years ago)

      Masha! The same kept happening to me…the purge and then the closet refills! I’d buy stuff just because it was on sale even though I didn’t love it. It all just stopped making sense to me…so I’m trying out ‘quitting’. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  3. kristin
    June 9, 2015 at 3:21 pm (3 years ago)

    going sale shopping on my lunch break used to be an actual hobby of mine when i worked downtown (before i sewed)! since i’ve changed jobs and started sewing for myself, i almost never shop anymore and it is kind of cool to pare my wardrobe down more and more over time. and it slows me down too…i don’t NEED new clothes like i did before.

    anyway, i’m excited to see how this all works for you and what you end up sewing to build that handmade wardrobe! it’s an admirable pursuit.

    • Melissa Q.
      June 9, 2015 at 9:02 pm (3 years ago)

      Oh, thanks so much for this comment! Shopping sales as a hobby! Absolutely. I used to do that all the time. I don’t think sewing changes the world in any dramatic way but it sure does change your perspective on things and maybe in a slow way that does change things. I’ve also lost that urgency when it comes to clothing. Some of that might also be age…I’m just less concerned with being super-hip. But, it’s also similar to taking sugar out of your diet…you stop having cravings after a while. Thanks for the compliments, too, friend. <3

  4. Stephanie
    June 10, 2015 at 11:36 pm (3 years ago)

    Have you read Overdressed? I wrote a way too long post about it, but lots of similar thoughts and plans. I totally used to recreationally shop sales and convince myself I was saving money, it took switching back and forth between maternity clothes to make me truly realize what I wore (and how much I didn’t wear). Anyways, I’m blathering, but I love the idea of extending it out to ‘nothing new’, period! I’ve been trying to think harder about the fabrics I purchase and sewing things I know I”ll wear too now, instead of settling for cheaper fabrics I don’t love, etc.

    • Melissa Q.
      June 11, 2015 at 9:04 am (3 years ago)

      I am so glad you linked to your post, I can’t wait to read your thoughts! I have been interested in that book for a long time, I heard an interview with the author when it came out and I was amazed and saddened! I need to just get it already. That’s interesting that the maternity world is what to your pondering the whole world of fast-fashion. It certainly is eye-opening and I think becoming a mama also shifts perspective on things…like the planet we leave for them! I’m also trying to be more thoughtful about what I sew. Fabric is not eco-neutral either. That’s for sure.


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