For almost 22 years of my life, I was addicted to fast fashion. Not just a little bit, a lot.
Every week I would find myself scrolling for hours on ASOS or Topshop looking for new things to add to my ever-expanding wardrobe. I would thrive off of having new clothing and a parcel to open when I came home from work… I had no money, but I was still constantly buying new things.
Unlike most people, my love for shopping was never about the trends. The problem was that I was constantly seeing hauls on YouTube and fashion icons on social media wearing a new outfit every day, and I was well and truly sucked in.
I purchased a lot, but ironically, most of those items would just sit in my closet collecting dust before being placed in the donation pile. It was a never-ending cycle.
Before every trip, I felt like I had to have something new to wear, which is kind of ludicrous considering that people in a foreign country wouldn’t know me anyway, nor would they care about my repeating outfits. It got to the point where every few months I was sending garbage bags full of clothing to the op shop (the new landfill) because I felt like my wardrobe was too full, only to then invite it back in with a brand new item a few days later.
But thankfully, in the last 18 months, that has no longer been the case.
When I started my sustainability journey I watched all the documentaries I could, “the True Cost” being one of them. This is normally a documentary that will flip the switch for people, and although it truly opened my eyes to the issues of the fashion industry, it wasn’t necessarily the thing that helped me break free from my habits.
I became so much more aware and conscious of my purchases, but even though I was now buying ethically, it still didn’t fix my urge to shop. Eventually, all it took for me to really break up my toxic relationship with fast fashion, was a simple switch in mindset:
What I wear on my body doesn’t add any meaningful value to my life.
I know… In a literal sense, clothing is very important. But in the grand scheme of things, clothing doesn’t influence who I am at my core, and that’s what I feel is missing in the conversation.
#1 – most of the items were easily accessible and cheaper than a McDonald’s meal.
#2 – because I thought it was going to make me happy.
And #3 – because I believed they were the things that would make me feel beautiful. But here’s what I’ve learnt… Clothing does not – and will not – ever define my beauty, and it certainly won’t increase my happiness.
I do not need a new sweater every few weeks just because my friends and family have already seen all of my clothes. I do not need an excessive wardrobe to feel good about myself. I do not, and definitely should not, rely on consumerism to make me happy.
This realization that having an abundance of clothing isn’t going to help me attract the feelings that I was craving, was really all it took. Once I discovered that my self worth does not come down to my appearance, everything changed.
I now cherish the clothes I already own, and I no longer care about whether someone has already seen me in an outfit. I realized that if people are going to judge me by my appearance, it’s only a reflection of their own insecurities.
As cheesy as it sounds, you have to remember that it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Do I still care about my looks? Of course I do! I don’t wear sweat pants and a tattered t-shirt everywhere I go… The difference is that I don’t feel the need to constantly be purchasing new things or letting society manipulate me into thinking I “need” an item to fit in or feel beautiful. Because that’s the aim of fast fashion…
They make things cheaply, unethically and with poor quality, to suck you into their game. They place things strategically around the stores and follow your movement patterns… They even play specific songs that subconsciously encourage you to buy more than what you really need. It’s nonsense!
And unless you can come to the conclusion that you’re so much bigger than the shorts on your legs, the t-shirt on your back and the shoes on your feet, it’s going to be very hard to stop.
Compared to the 10 new items I was buying every month, I have only bought 2 new ethical pieces in the last year – hooray – and both of those are things that I love and will cherish for a very long time. But most importantly, instead of only wearing them twice before throwing them to the back of my closet (never to see daylight again), I will wear them to their death; and when they’re near death and looking worse for wear, I’ll repair them until they can no longer be repaired.
I am not a minimalist, and I don’t strive to be. I have a pretty full wardrobe, most of which consists of fast fashion purchases from before my shift in perspective. I’m not going to throw them all away just because of that fact… I bought those pieces, and I know that someone, somewhere in the world, worked very hard to make them for very little reward.
The difference is that instead of having a fast-paced wardrobe, I’m making mine slooooooooooow.
Fashion is important for a multitude of different reasons, there’s no doubt; it’s a creative outlet, it’s a form of identity, it expresses cultural, religious and historical beliefs, and it’s a method of self-expression! But for me personally (in my very privileged life), I could no longer let the workers, the environment or the planet pay a very heavy price for my form of self-expression. So I forced myself to change my perspective, and now we’re here!
But what I want you to really remember, is that the clothes you put on your body don’t change who you are as a person. It doesn’t make you any more beautiful than you already are. It doesn’t make you happy; it might superficially, but deep down it won’t unless you love yourself regardless of how you dress. Then, and only then, will you truly break free from the cycle.
You won’t crave 50 new pieces of clothing every year. You won’t be pressured by society and the excessive amount of advertisements that try to challenge your worth. You will realise, deep down to your core, that you are so much bigger than what you wear on your body.
Become a proud outfit repeater. Cherish the items in your closet like they’re members of your family. Go to the second-hand stores (only when you really need something) and give an old piece a new life. And if that’s not for you and you have the ability to invest in some high-quality pieces, look for ethical/sustainable alternatives instead!
Realizing that you don’t need an abundance of cheap clothing to be self-expressive, to love yourself, and to “fit-in”, is where it all begins. All you need is a few wonderful pieces that will last you a lifetime, and that you’ll cherish for years to come.
You’ll be kinder to the planet. You’ll be kinder to the people. And you’ll be kinder to yourself too.
You don’t have to hate fashion… You just have to adapt your dependence on it. Slow down, love yourself, and recognize that fashion does NOT define you!