We have entered the 5th week of our ‘6 items challenge.’ As eight Anthropology / International Development / International Relations / Geography undergraduates and one lecturer at the University of Sussex, we have committed to living in just 6 items of clothing for 6 weeks to raise money for the labour rights charity, Labour Behind the Label. Read about the first, second, and third weeks of our ‘fashion fast.’
**Please contribute to our fundraising by clicking here: we are nearing our goal but need your help!**
‘2 Weeks to Go…’
by Olive Howland Milne (April 6th, 2019)
There’s a hole in the elbow of my t-shirt. I can’t get the marks out of my white top. I don’t have the energy to wash my dress. I spilt whiskey all over my one pair of trousers last night. Two weeks to go and these irritations have become a source of amusement more than anything else. I now laugh every time I get frustrated at something, a consequence of the challenge that I certainly did not anticipate but for which I am extremely appreciative. The scale of consumerism, of exploitative labour, of environmental degradation, of disconnect between most individuals living in the ‘West’ and the clothes they blindly pay very little for and thus value accordingly, is incomprehensible.
As such this challenge has not necessarily shed some revolutionary light on these issues, attitudes and systems, yet through highly personal experiences as a result of the past four weeks, I have definitely made clearer to myself my current and possible future relationship with clothes – yet just because these realisations may have been individual, it does not discount their value in conversation with others as I have been increasingly trying to do. The most potent of these thoughts has been my considerations of possession. Our everyday functioning is so dependent on notions of ownership, taking an intentional step back from my (far too large) wardrobe for this period has helped me acknowledge and start to separate myself from the “mine”.
I do not possess. I did not sew these clothes, I did not transport them. My hands, my body did not make contact with this fabric before it was clothing. I did not harvest the material and I did not work to manipulate it. My energy did not enrich the soil and my weather did not aid the growth. My money did not even pay for its purchase! I am owed nothing.
On this thought, everything I materially “own” is a pretty miraculous gift from a myriad of living and non-living sources that I have no tangible means by which to thank. Although perhaps initially a little overwhelming and admittedly depressing, the productive result of this I hope to be my active loosening of a sense of possession. I plan to share more and keep less, borrow more and buy less, thank more and possess less!
‘Fashion Fast: Week 4’
by Hannah Amey (April 5th, 2019)
Going into the fourth (or is it fifth) week, I am starting to feel completely comfortable in my six items. That’s not to say I won’t be reverting back to old outfits when the last week is over.
As a relatively minimalist person, in consideration of the current approach to consumption, I might not have found the last few weeks as challenging as others. I grew up with probably one of the most frugal mothers out there in modern Britain. When I was telling her about the challenge I had joined, she laughed casually at me and went on to tell me how she has been wearing the same pair of ‘warm shorts’ for the last six weeks. Scarily I think I actually believe her. But we wouldn’t all chose to be like my mother, we definitely can’t all be like her, and don’t really want to be anymore.
I somewhat accidently ended up committing to this challenge having followed a friend into a group meeting and despite initial uncertainty was quickly converted. The passion and commitment from those around me meant I couldn’t turn back.
My understanding and knowledge of the global garment industry five weeks ago was very limited. Beyond remembering hearing about the collapse of Rana Plaza on the bus to college five years ago, I had not thought too much into it. Ignorance is bliss until it isn’t anymore… Through starting these six weeks and engaging in our Anthropology of Exchange, Money and Markets module, I have begun to grasp the complexities and struggles within the current system.
We are constantly bombarded in the media with issues globally and locally that it becomes all too easy to displace issues onto the ‘other’, some imagined or real culprit, be it the mass corporations or the capitalist system which governs our consumption and desire for more. Exploring the work of Labour Behind the Label has lead me to consider further the importance of our actions as consumers and as peoples with agency and ability to consider the producer consumer relationship.
Reading Ian Cook et al.’s (2006) ‘Geographies of Food: Following,’ I can’t help but think about how we might feel when shopping for clothes if we could hear the voices of those who stitched and sewed the items we can so freely access. Would the honest words of those employed in harsh exploited conditions, so we can have a multitude of cheap clothes and big brands, cause us to wake up as consumers and rethink the systems?
Reflecting now, I am feeling only positive about the past few weeks. I started out very concerned about the practicalities of cycling to university every morning, not just issues of getting hot and sweaty but also getting rained on and being soggy for days. I started with the idea of cycling in a different top and bringing one of my t-shirts to change into upon arrival. This lasted about two days, my morning time management is poor at the best of times and leaving five minutes earlier every morning became out of the question. Because of this I suppose my biggest struggle has been overcoming the constant self-consciousness that perhaps my t-shirts are beginning to smell like stale cyclist as a result of lazy hand washing and my inability to slow down.
I tried to choose my six items with care and consideration. I wanted them to last out the six weeks without too much damage, and I also felt I should represent my aspirations as ‘conscious and ethical shopper’. I chose half of my items from a small business local to home who use organic cottons and recycled materials. The other items I chose because they were also made by small businesses, second hand or from recycled and organic materials.
My friends have become used to my lack of effort or commitment in ‘dressing up’ or sticking to themes at parties. A few weekends ago at a birthday party I felt unusually out of place, dressed in my only dark blue jeans and a black top I watched those around me try on different colours and outfits and express the moments of joy and celebration through brilliant colours a fantastic array of garments. Feeling already self-conscious, when asked why I was not in the spirit of things, I quickly managed to divert conversation away from me, not wanting to put a dampener on things with a comparatively serious topic. Most of those who pried for long enough eventually understood the concept and were supportive of my choices.
I think what I have learnt from these weeks so far is that for me, fashion does not have to be fast. Taking time to consider what we want, and what we need is important. Looking into where those things come from is important, and if that means spending more on something that will last twice or three times as long: it is not just okay, it is a positive.