by Joana Pereira
**We are thrilled to have completed our 6-week, 6-item ‘fashion fast’ and have raised more than £600 for the labour rights NGO, Labour Behind the Label. If you would like to contribute to our fundraising efforts, please click here – thank you!**
When I first accepted this challenge, I didn’t think the outcome would be so remarkable. Being part of the 6 items challenge promoted by the NGO ‘Labour Behind the Label’, was an amazing opportunity to reflect, learn, and create awareness and dialogue with the people who are a part of my day to day life.
My name is Joana, I’m 27 years old and I used to love my clothes. Now I still love them, but I think about them in a different way. I’m also Portuguese and, if you know a bit about Latin culture, you should know that a part of ourselves lies in being as presentable as possible, all the time. So, sporting a tracksuit-inspired look, or wearing plain t-shirts seven days a week doesn’t exist – unless you are moving house, doing some painting, gardening, or trekking up some mountain in the countryside.
Clearly, I wasn’t planning to do any of the above during these 6 weeks, but the circumstances made me pick 6 items of clothing that pretty much identified themselves with those activities. The result was plain and simple: 1 pair of tracksuit bottoms, 1 pair of black loose trousers, 2 t-shirts (one black and one white), and 2 jumpers (one black, one white). Unfortunately, I couldn’t wear those outfits over the weekend due to my job in hospitality. For my fashion fast I also didn’t include underwear or pyjamas.
Why would you do that (to yourself)? You must be thinking… Well, I had plenty of good reasons. Firstly, I thought would be a great opportunity to test myself, to check if I would be up to the challenge of being in those boring clothes for 6 weeks straight. Secondly, was for the cause. We put on our clothes every day – individually picked, clean, and store-bought – without even thinking about were those items came from. We do not give thought to who made them, what they are made from or what impacts they have on our planet and on other people’s houses, families, villages, and cities. Being a woman is a bit easier than it was a couple of decades ago, at least in Europe. But, don’t fool yourself thinking that every woman has the same privilege. Most of the women of the world work in abusive labour conditions, just to ensure their families’ survival. Thirdly, I chose those items because I wanted to evaluate whether people would change their behaviour towards me when they realised I was wearing those same trousers and jumpers endlessly in any social circumstance. Finally, I really didn’t have a choice about the selected items. I had to pick something that would allow me to be simply presentable, but presentable for a variety of social events: a hip hop concert, a 10-day meditation retreat where I would sit for 9 hours a day, a surprise birthday party, an election announcement, and a visit to my home country.
Week One: The Social Event Experience!
The busiest week of my term: Students’ Union elections! It was convenient not having to choose clothes. I barely had time to cook for myself, clean the flat, or tidy up my room. Not having to choose an outfit was the cherry on top of the cake. My office colleagues knew I was doing a fashion fast, and got used to see me in black and white, or all black. They also got to know that I was supporting a campaign lead by the NGO ‘Labour behind the Label,’ which was an important opportunity to create some awareness about the labour and life conditions of people who make our clothes and the impact (so often invisible to us) those same clothes have on the environment.
Half way through this first week, I would present myself in front of more than hundred people to announce the newly elected officers of our Students’ Union. Somehow, the fact I was wearing comfortable clothes helped me to feel relaxed while I was delivering the speech. Emotions overrun any kind of chosen outfit for everyone in the room, including myself. Phew!
Week Two: The Social Event Experience, Part II
I started to realise how blessed I was. On the one hand I would take advantage of the weekend to have my clothes washed. (Thanks Dom, for that!) On the other, I have a dryer and washing machine in my flat, so I could easily wash my 6 items alongside towels, gym clothes, and my housemates’ clothes every now and again. Team work makes the dream work! So far, not many people had realised I was doing a fashion fast, until the moment I met a friend who told me: “Oh there you are! Didn’t recognised you with your hair like that. But you are wearing the same clothes from yesterday” (laughs). Yes! I am and wait until you see the creativity of my outfits over the next four weeks. This inconvenient but innocent comment opened space for a reflective debate about the project I was embracing and the garment industry’s working conditions. I was glad to realise that some people around me are aware of those problems and behave accordingly when they buy clothes. But, are we really going to fully know where our clothes are coming from?
That week I joined some friends at an Anderson Paak concert wearing all black! I was a bit warm throughout the event, but the vibe, the music and the company were way more important that any pretentious outfit I could be wearing.
Weeks Three and Four: Out of the Comfort Zone!
One of the reasons why I picked such basic items rested on the fact I was going to a 10-day meditation retreat. I do love my jeans but meditating 9 hours a day in jeans was out of question.
The course was in Herefordshire, a lovely place on the border of England and Wales. Proper countryside. The air was very crisp in the mornings and evenings. At this point, I was just hoping my clothes would be not only comfortable, but also sufficiently warm. It worked out fine apart from the fact there was no washing machine. I started to feel the so bespoken trouble of my peers, HANDWASHING! Another thing that I realised with time was, people participating in this course had plenty of different meditation pants. I had one outfit choice every 3 days (the other would be hanging to dry next to a tree). Anyway, people couldn’t talk to each other because it was a silent retreat, so they couldn’t talk about my lack of colourful pants. I quickly found out that I wasn’t alone, my roommate travelled with even fewer clothes.
Furthermore, when you’re meditating you really don’t have to think about outfits. Your worries about clothes quickly shift to other things and thoughts. How beautiful the non- material world can be! I must admit though, I rolled out of my bed several times for the 4.30 a.m. meditation in my pyjamas. Maybe that gave me an advantageous look for a couple of times, if anyone was looking.
Then a curious thing happed. Spring had arrived. When I returned home from my retreat the weather was nice and warm. My clothes were sticky from my journey and I just wanted to have some colour in my life. I opened my wardrobe, picked a long skirt splashed with colourful flowers and a blue t-shirt. This was just what I needed. I put those clothes on, I looked myself in the mirror, I took those clothes off, I put them back in the wardrobe. The challenge was not over yet, so neither were my black and white clothes.
Week Five: The Colourful Intruder vs. I am Home
After such a spiritual experience, you really don’t think much about clothes, until… You have to travel home, for your best friend’s birthday surprise lunch, and guess what? Your lunch box cracks open in your bag, spilling its contents all over your freshly-washed clothes for the next 3 days. Great! Having to wear black and white, AGAIN, wasn’t enough. In an act of despair, I grabbed a pair of stripy jeans and the only t-shirt and jumper I saved from the chickpea curry and… Portugal here I come. They were three amazing days! Two train journeys, two airports, two buses, a birthday party and 3 pieces of clothing for 3 days.
My friends were looking gorgeous, as always! They didn’t comment on my outfit, but somehow, I felt obligated to explain my clothes choices, and that the blue jeans I was wearing weren’t initially there.
Interestingly enough, one of my friends owns a clothes brand and I had the chance to go to her atelier to admire her latest collection. The reality there was definitely different from a Bangladeshi garment factory. It made me think. If my friend can live a happy and sustainable life sewing clothes, why can’t other people do this? Why do we have to buy clothes which perpetuate such miserable life conditions? Why can’t more people be like my friend? I didn’t inquire about where she sourced the fabric used on her clothes. Maybe that will be the topic for our next conversation.
Week Six: Time to Think, Time to Change!
The last week passed slowly. I couldn’t wait to wear some “normal clothes” again. At this point, felt like I was wearing some kind of uniform over and over again. At the beginning of this final week, I went out with some friends. Funnily enough, it looked like we were wearing that very same uniform: white t-shirts and black bottoms. They too were participating in this challenge, but the boring look of our clothes didn’t dampen our spirit that night.
A few days before the challenge was over, I opened my wardrobe and took an incredulous look inside it. What am I going to do with so many clothes? I started to believe that they weren’t mine. No one needs so many clothes to live. Slowly I’ve started to take everything out and I spread them in my bed. I selected the item according to its utility and emotional attachment. I pretty much halved the quantity of clothes that I had and convinced myself that I honestly didn’t need more than that.
I have always thought about where my clothes came from and always tried to buy as consciously as possible. This challenge showed me that I was in the right track, but I still had too much. I didn’t need that much – no one does.
I think clothes are overrated; I even think that washing our clothes every day is an overrated practice. Throughout these six weeks, I found satisfaction in not having to think about what I was going to wear for the day, I felt comfortable all the time, even if I was quite looking forward for this challenge to end. But now, I’ve learned, and I know that less is more. Choose quality over quantity.
This whole experience helped me to reinforce my ideas about sustainable practices and informed choices. To think about chains and entangled realities. I’ve understood that I’m not what I wear. I’m what I decide to be, what my actions show you I am. I am what I eat, I am the ideas I defend, I am my values, I am what I read, what I sing, what I write. I am what I am, where I am. You are also like that. And what we support makes the difference in other people’s lives. Be genuine, be creative, but most of all, be part of a fairer world!