No more new clothes! by Angela Caldin

I don’t usually make new year’s resolutions, but on 1 January 2021, I made one. It was this: not to buy any new clothes for a year. I subsequently discovered that lots of other people have made the same resolution, have written about the experience in various publications and have joined Facebook support groups to exchange ideas and encourage each other to continue.

Clothes in landfill

What’s the benefit?

I’m still not sure of what the logic is behind this resolution or in what way it will benefit anybody at all. I’m no longer in the workplace, so I don’t need an updated wardrobe to impress my colleagues. I’ve got a fair number of clothes, some of which I’ve hardly worn at all, so I don’t really need any more. I’ve often found that new clothes that I’ve imagined will be transformative and improve my wardrobe no end, turn out to be a disappointment – they don’t quite fit or they alter shape in the wash.

Workers in a Bangladeshi garment factory

Perhaps one explanation is a feeling of wanting to curb consumerism – to stop buying things that I don’t really need in the hope of somehow protecting the environment. It’s true that thousands of tonnes of discarded clothes end up in landfill, either here or in developing countries, and research shows that we are buying more clothes and keeping them half as long. But on the other hand, workers in factories in places like Bangladesh and China rely on the meagre wages they earn from churning out cheap garments to satisfy our need to refresh our wardrobes.

Environmental impact

Apparently, the garment industry produces about 10 per cent of humanity’s carbon emission, making it one of the most polluting industries in the world, according to a recent UN report on trade and development. It emits more carbon dioxide than international flights and maritime shipping combined. Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used annually to make the world’s polyester fibre, a synthetic material that takes more than 200 years to decompose. Clothes manufacture is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply; for example it takes about 7500 litres of water to make a single pair of jeans.

Outcomes

What would those garment workers do for a living if we all curbed our consumption of new clothes or only bought clothes made locally? I don’t know the answer. I do know that the pandemic must have made their lives more difficult than ever so that they fear starvation more than the virus.

On a personal level, my resolution will certainly save me money, though I’m not one of the world’s big spenders in the first place. I think it’s also a kind of discipline – do you really need what you’re tempted to buy?

Will my resolution benefit humanity as whole? I don’t think so. It might make more sense to join a pressure group lobbying for better quality clothes as well as better wages and working conditions for those who make them.

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