Why I Stopped Buying New Clothes

Why & How I Stopped Buying New Clothes || Melissa Q. from a happy stitch

I am a maker at heart and if there is one thing I know it is that behind every stitch, sketch and blob of ink there is a story of how it got there.  The more I make things the more I am certain of it.  There are no exceptions. When I wear my handmade clothes I remember making it. I remember where I got the fabric and how it felt after washing it for the first time. I remember the sewing mishaps and any corrections I had to make.  I remember how I had to read the instructions three times to figure out the placket.  Sometimes I even remember the weather or what I was listening to while I made it.  The whole story of its construction is embedded in the fibers as are snippets from every time I wore it.  It is rich with story.

But it is not just the handmade.  Everything has a story; everything was made by someone somewhere. It was while thinking about these stories, three years ago, that I decided to stopped buying new clothes.

Why & How I Stopped Buying New Clothes || Melissa Q. from a happy stitch

The more I stitched my own buttonholes and zippers and side seams, the more I realized the skills involved in making clothes.  I couldn’t help but wonder after the (mostly) women around the world making my clothes.  It doesn’t take much digging to find their collective story and it’s a story of the systematic de-valuing of women’s work.  I couldn’t stop thinking about how skilled they are and how, in return, they are poorly paid and set to work in dangerous buildings.  It just doesn’t sit right. Sewing gives me such deep respect for the stitches that hold my clothes together and an even deeper respect for the talent and hard work of so many women and men around the world who make the clothes we consume at such a rapid pace. Those stories are haunting.

Of course, fast fashion is also a story of massive ecological damage.  According to reports from environmental groups, cotton is the most pesticide intensive crop in the world. Polyester, a fast fashion favorite, is an oil-based product that never bio-degrades.  Never mind the degree to which discarded clothing fills our landfills. At my nearby Goodwill store, the warehouse-size back room is filled to the ceiling with bags of clothes. A surprising number of items still have tags dangling off of them.

It is impossible to ignore that the story of fast fashion is one of complete disregard for so many things I value…our shared planet and shared humanity.

Why & How I Stopped Buying New Clothes || Melissa Q. from a happy stitch

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you probably know all of this but it was these stories pushed me to challenge myself.  I thought that I would avoid buying new clothes for just one year and quietly started The Nothing New Project. In that first year, I either made my clothes or bought them at a thrift store. I also participated in the occasional clothing swap with friends. This one year project turned into two years and as of this month I am thrilled to celebrate three years of buying nothing new. I really can’t imagine it any other way and I’m bubbling with excitement about jumping into year 4.  What I haven’t fully explored on the blog are some of the unexpected things that avoiding fast fashion has helped me grapple with. As it turns out, there are deeper stories at the heart of the fashion world and they touch every women wearing clothes.  These are the more personal reasons why I stopped buying new clothes, I just didn’t know it at the time.

First, there is nothing that brings on a reckoning with the old body image quite like needing to measure every inch of your body.  When I was only sewing the occasional top or breezy dress I didn’t really come face to face with this in the quite the same way as I did when I started making most of my clothes.  The truth is, if I measure myself honestly the clothes I make fit better, feel better and are worn more often.  But, you know what? Honest measurements of our body parts can be difficult. The drive to assign a smaller number to my hip circumference was strong but quickly squashed by a desire to not waste my time making a skirt that wasn’t going to fit. After wrestling with this a few times, I realized it was easier to embrace my shape. Write down the real number, damn it. It was easier to love my shape. I am healthy and I am strong. I don’t need a thigh gap to prove anything.

Why & How I Stopped Buying New Clothes || Melissa Q. from a happy stitch

Second, the Nothing New Project forced me to think about the role that clothing plays and what I want for myself.  Clothing is a form of expression.  It expresses sensuality, personality; it is intention and identity. Fast fashion, or any form of fashion for that matter, acts as a kind of roadmap.  Rather than digging into what is a timeless look for myself; fashion provides a helpful and clear-cut plan for keeping up with one moment in fashion history.  It dictates an entire lifestyle look.  It makes it easy. Just pick up the pamphlet of options and follow that.  If I’m being honest, I miss this roadmap sometimes.  More often than not, however, I love the liberating feeling of charting this terrain for myself.

The inimitable Brene Brown talks in her book Daring Greatly about the difference between fitting in and belonging. Fitting in means becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted while belonging means being accepted for who you are, just as you are.  When I read this, it all clicked for me. The world of fast fashion is a roadmap for fitting in.  What else can it be? It changes constantly and quickly discards the previous seasons styles as “tired” and “overdone”.  It’s the mean girl of material goods.  I want to belong to myself and I want my wardrobe to express that.  In my three years of informal, non-scientific research on rejecting the world of fast fashion I can see now that what I really reject is the fashion world’s message about fitting in. Instead, I’m slowly hacking my way through the weeds of belonging to myself.

This is not to say that my wardrobe is anything wild or crazy or even noticeably bucking a fashion trend.  It is just…more me.  And, every year it is a little more me and a little more exploratory.  It’s harder and sometimes tiring to bring all of that with me to the closet door but the rewards are joyous.

Why & How I Stopped Buying New Clothes || Melissa Q. from a happy stitch

This, the joy, is the best discovery.  I found the joy! I found the stories! My favorite activity at the thrift store is to imagine the backstory for everything on a certain shelf. Seven identical tiny purses…those were definitely bridesmaids items.  Fancy, expensive silver bowl…unwanted formality from a mother-in-law.  Seriously, try this. It’s so fun. Every item is a short story waiting to happen.

I love the joy of making something I love to wear.  I love the joy of finding an unusual but perfectly-me item on a thrift store shelf. The process of discovery and learning is a challenge I relish.  The fashion world isn’t concerned with our hearts and minds…not really.  It’s playing on our insecurities and doubts about ourselves.  Fast fashion thrives on uniformity and conformity because it is all the better for profit. The more I step away from it, the more I see the business of fast fashion as an assault on joy and on my creativity.  The joy I find every day in making things myself is a stand against this assault. I’m replacing a profit-motive with something beautiful, unique, slow and meaningful.

Why & How I Stopped Buying New Clothes || Melissa Q. from a happy stitch

The Nothing New Project has completely transformed how I think about what I wear but also what it means to reject fast fashion.  Every year seems to bring with it new discoveries and renewed passion.

Why & How I Stopped Buying New Clothes || Melissa Q. from a happy stitch

What is next? I am so excited to have found a few places to help hold me accountable.  I have joined the wonderful Ready To Wear Fast hosted by Goodbye Valentino , which means that this year I will only be sewing my own clothes. I was hesitant to take this leap…it means much more careful planning around special events, but I’m excited and ready to rely on my sewing skills alone.  Who knows what this process will help me discover.

I also am keeping up with Project Sew It, a year-long garment sewing challenge, hosted by Celina from Petit a Petit and Family.  I find that connecting with other garment sewers helps keep me motivated and inspired and I’m really excited to be surrounded by so many amazing sewers.

Why & How I Stopped Buying New Clothes || Melissa Q. from a happy stitchThere really is a movement afoot right now.  I’m not alone in seeking out sustainable, slow fashion for myself. I am in the company of incredible people like Sarah Gunn, Meghann Halfmoon, Meg McElwee, Sanae Ishida and Sonya Philip and I’m sure there are tons more. So many amazing women defining their own style, embracing their bodies and living their values.

How does 2018 feel to you, my fellow makers? Time to try a sustainable fashion challenge? I heartily encourage you!

30 Comments on Why I Stopped Buying New Clothes

  1. Leanne Stauduhar
    January 8, 2018 at 10:24 pm (1 week ago)

    Inspiring! I think this is the year of the woman!

    Reply
    • Melissa Q.
      January 9, 2018 at 8:26 am (1 week ago)

      Thanks so much Leanne! There is definitely a palpable feeling that it is our year! <3

      Reply
  2. Jenny
    January 9, 2018 at 7:31 am (1 week ago)

    I love this post – it really resonated with me. I don’t think I’ve bought any new clothes for myself (with the exception of shoes) for a couple of years now, but I never really sat back and thought about it. I knew I didn’t like the whole “fashion” deal but never thought any deeper, thanks for such a beautifully written description of exactly how I feel.

    Reply
    • Melissa Q.
      January 9, 2018 at 8:27 am (1 week ago)

      Go you! I’m so happy to hear this resonated with you. I love know you are out there, sister.

      Reply
  3. Melanie Tuazon
    January 9, 2018 at 7:41 am (1 week ago)

    What a manifesto! I love this piece of writing. Also, the writer. 🙂

    Reply
    • Melissa Q.
      January 9, 2018 at 8:27 am (1 week ago)

      Ditto girlfriend.

      Reply
  4. Theresa Dolan
    January 9, 2018 at 8:49 am (1 week ago)

    Thanks for this post. Inspiring others to be makers rather than consumers is more important than ever. I love the fashion perspective and will gently share with a few teens I know. Nothing beats the satisfaction gained in the process of making = proud , happy and worthy beings.
    I want to eventually learn to sew

    Reply
    • Melissa Q.
      January 9, 2018 at 10:16 am (1 week ago)

      So well said, Theresa. I love the idea of getting teens into this concept, it’s such a time of self-exploration. I would LOVE to teach you to sew sometime! I have a beginner class coming up…:)

      Reply
  5. Meghann Halfmoon
    January 9, 2018 at 11:25 am (1 week ago)

    So well said, Melissa! And I’m so happy to be on this journey together with you!!

    Reply
    • Melissa Q.
      January 9, 2018 at 11:56 am (1 week ago)

      Me too! How lucky we met, huh?

      Reply
  6. Sabine S.
    January 9, 2018 at 1:13 pm (1 week ago)

    I love this post so much – your reasons why and the unexpected lessons, too. And the joy! All so well said. You are truly inspiring, my friend. Hey, have you considered writing a book on this topic? 🙂

    Reply
    • Melissa Q.
      January 9, 2018 at 1:32 pm (1 week ago)

      You are too cute, S! <3

      Reply
  7. Emily
    January 9, 2018 at 2:15 pm (1 week ago)

    What a thoughtful and meaningful post. I have nearly stopped shopping for myself (socks and underwear are my current exceptions). I should work on the skills necessary to sew winter coats too.

    Reply
    • Melissa Q.
      January 9, 2018 at 3:37 pm (1 week ago)

      That is so awesome!! Yes, socks and underwear are difficult. A winter coat would be an incredible accomplishment, wouldn’t it?!

      Reply
      • Emily
        January 12, 2018 at 1:43 am (5 days ago)

        Yes!

        Reply
  8. Nina
    January 9, 2018 at 3:13 pm (1 week ago)

    Yeah! It’s so good not to be at the whim of the fashion industry, isn’t it? What little clothing I have bought in the last decade or more has been from smaller ‘ethical’ retailers like People Tree, but I much prefer to make my own. Then there’s the issue of fabric choices – there’s ‘fast fabric’ too, right? And just downright bad fabric! Cotton for fabric has all the same problems as cotton for RTW clothing – not just environmental but human too: forced labour and child labour are rife in cotton farming, plus issues of debt and pesticide poisoning. I’ve been thinking about the impact of fabric production for a while, but more recently I’ve also become aware of the impact in use – the damage some fabrics (synthetics and possibly ‘man-made’ fibres like rayon/viscose inc the supposedly eco ones like bamboo and Tencel) do every time they’re washed. I’m glad it’s all being discussed more, thanks for your part in that!

    Reply
    • Melissa Q.
      January 9, 2018 at 3:36 pm (1 week ago)

      Oh, thanks so much for this comment. It is true about fabric choices. I find it really restrictive to only use organic fabric (I’m a huge fan of Cloud 9’s selection, though). I really want to make things that I will honestly wear and enjoy. I try to limit purchasing of fabric and reserve it for specific projects. But, it is definitely an area I can improve on. Thanks so much for bringing this up.

      Reply
  9. Nancy Hunt
    January 9, 2018 at 7:18 pm (7 days ago)

    Such a great post. I have not made a garment for myself in ages. I saw a documentary about the amount of clothing that simply goes to waste. It is time to commit to sewing again. Fast fashion is just not for me anymore. Thanks for such an enlightening post!

    Reply
    • Melissa Q.
      January 9, 2018 at 10:46 pm (7 days ago)

      Oh Nancy, it makes me so happy to get your beautiful comment. I’m so excited for you! P.S. What is the name of the documentary you saw? I’d love to see it.

      Reply
  10. Stephanie Mullin
    January 10, 2018 at 1:49 pm (6 days ago)

    Beautiful Post that translates into the lovely things you are and wear!

    Reply
    • Melissa Q.
      January 12, 2018 at 1:15 pm (4 days ago)

      Oh Stephanie, you are so encouraging. Thank you so much for this beautiful comment!

      Reply
  11. Kathy
    January 11, 2018 at 12:43 pm (5 days ago)

    Thank you Melissa, so beautifully and eloquently put. It is definitely not all about saving money. This movement is one more facet of humans recognition of the damage we are doing to our planet and the abuse of those poorly paid workers.

    Over the last few years I have bought fewer RTW items, made more myself and found myself enjoying wearing those me-made items much more, so this RTW fast and sewing challenge will be an interesting experience.

    Reply
    • Melissa Q.
      January 12, 2018 at 1:14 pm (4 days ago)

      So excited to share the experience with you Kathy!

      Reply
  12. PsychicSewerKathleen
    January 12, 2018 at 10:05 am (4 days ago)

    I too want to thank you for writing such a sensitive, inspiring and well-written post! I am a returned-to-sewing sewist (after an almost 40 yr hiatus) and I never fail to be amazed at how much its changed. All to the good! Awareness, technology, creativity have all had a huge impact. This marks my 3 yr anniversary and what a journey it’s been. When I get dressed in the morning, I must wear at least one hand-made garment. Not because I have to but because I WANT to. I love my hand-made clothes so much because they are MINE. I made them for ME. I joined Sarah Gunn’s 2018 RTW Fast this year too and honestly I don’t think it’s going to be hard. I only bought 5 garments last year – swim suit, ski jacket, pull-on jeans, a wool poncho (this was a gift for my birthday from my handsome fella and it’s made by a wonderful company here in BC that husbands the sheep, treats the wool and weaves the garment), and a sweater made of a fabric that is impossible for me to source. I love this challenge because it’s already given me a clearer direction of what I need to sew! It sent me scurrying to my closet to do a deep scan of what’s missing which could potentially derail my intentions 🙂 YAY for a fast growing community of people who are determined in their modest way to make a difference – one sewist at a time 🙂

    Reply
    • Melissa Q.
      January 12, 2018 at 1:13 pm (4 days ago)

      Oh my goodness, this comment made me squeal OUT LOUD! Yes, yes, yes to everything you said. I’m so glad you found your way back to sewing and here to leave this lovely message that planted right in my heart. <3 I love textiles and I love the process of sewing but the amazing community of sewists is really what keeps me going. It's so fortifying to come across so many good-hearted people. I can't wait to share the RTW fast journey together. 🙂

      Reply
  13. Monica Hartman
    January 12, 2018 at 6:18 pm (4 days ago)

    I love everything about this post! I, too, wonder about the people making my clothes (and wonder how many of them are not women and men, but children). I’ve tried to responsibly source clothing, but it is expensive and time consuming and sometimes it isn’t all that clear that what I’m spending extra money on is actually fair trade. I love the idea of making everything. I’d love to see a blogpost on making underwear and bras…that is where I’m hung up now. It seems like too daunting of a task, but I know it has to be doable! I also wonder what you do for your husband and children. Do they care as much as you on these issues? Do you make all of their stuff or rely on thrift or regular store? So many questions!!

    Reply
    • Melissa Q.
      January 14, 2018 at 2:11 pm (2 days ago)

      Great questions Monica! Thanks so much for your kind words. I, personally, have come to the conclusion that thrift store clothing (which requires no new manufacturing or construction) is more ethical than even fair trade clothes. Probably…more than making my own, to be honest. But, I’m really thinking of the year of making my clothes as an exercise in creativity and self-definition. Yes! Bras and underwear! Also, very intimidating to me! I know that Mmadalynne has great bra-making kits and I’ve added underwear patterns to my wish list for this year. I’m hoping I can make underwear with left over knit fabrics…so what is the harm in trying!? Right? My husband and kids are not included in my ‘no new clothes’ effort, to answer your final query. My husband isn’t much of a shopper anyway so that’s not a big issue for me. And, for the kids…Sigh. I try to buy them secondhand, mostly through Thredup, but it often doesn’t work. they are not longer interested in wearing handmade and like very specific clothing such as soccer jerseys, etc. I really struggle with this because they are at an age where they are sorting out their own identities so much. I don’t want to impose mine on them. Especially, as so much of this journey, for me, is ABOUT identity and self-love. I want to allow them room for that on their own. For now, I have prioritized this above other concerns. While I quietly check secondhand sites for stuff they will like. 🙂

      Reply
  14. judehawes
    January 12, 2018 at 8:26 pm (4 days ago)

    Great post! I’m doing the RTW fast too and your post is inspirational. Have you thought about sharing it with the group via the Facebook page? I’m sure all the fasters would love it.

    Reply

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