How we think about what we do as crafters and makers, and how thoughtfully we do it, is changing. Ideas such as those around Stash Less, Fashion Revolution Week, and Slow Fashion October have all lead to changes in how I make, what I make and why. I've spent the last few years trying to figure out what is driving my making and purchasing with respect to clothes and my stash, and have been slowly trying to clean up my own behaviour,. And I've come a long way.... but I've come to realise that I've not yet gone far enough because I keep trying to ignore one simple, but fundamental, idea.
Over the last few years I've considered each purchase - fabric, yarn and store-bought clothes - I make from a Slow Fashion/Stash Less perspective. I (try to) think carefully about what it is, where it comes from, who made it. I ask all the right questions. I consider the psychology of my purchasing ala Stash Less – considering desire, need, fomo, time poverty etc to make sure that I am purchasing the materials or making the clothing item for a valid reason.
Through this process I have come to understand that for me Slow Fashion is not choosing a particular type of ethically sourced clothing, but rather it is a way of thinking about the impact of what we wear. I thought about this so much last year that I rewrote my own definition of Slow Fashion which you can find here. But while I've been questioning and pondering what to buy over the last few years, a quiet question has been lurking in the background, and keeps coming up for me over and over again – simple, quiet but clear as a bell.
For me, the key question of the Slow Fashion/Fashion Revolution movement has become
“do I have enough?”
What is enough?
What is enough? When will I have enough clothes? Will I ever? Surely there has to come a point in time when enough is enough? When I will be satisfactorily clothed for the rest of my life? And is that time now?
What I do know, because it is so very clear, is that I'm already there - I've personally hit enough. Anything I make or purchase these days is excess to need.
Pinterest, new patterns, marketing emails, other crafters and the wonderful Instagram have opened my eyes to an amazing world of inspiration around making and clothes. And yet
a body can only wear one thing at a time
One body. One thing at a time.
And then did you know, and this one hurts my heart a little, that it's possible to wear the same thing day after day. Variety is not a necessity.
Considered from that point of view, I have enough to last me for a good ten years, maybe twenty years, if I carefully maintain and mend what I already own. I should state here that my wardrobe is not even particularly large by XYZ standards (you can see most of my tops, frocks, jackets, skirts and shirts in the first two photos of this post), but even as I’m writing this sentence I’m concerned that this in itself is a another justification.
So, when does the purchasing stop? Am I using the fact that something is handmade or "ethical" to give me a free pass to make one more coat, make one more top, or purchase one more set of shoes? In our striving for something better, like the mecca of a capsule-slow-fashion-wardrobe, are we ignoring what we already have in, the search for something more us/perfect/cooler/more ethical/just more?
The question - "do I have enough?" - is what I need to ask first before I buy/make/thrift.
First! before I get on the carousel of justification that I am so good at - finding a way to purchase by making statements like "well it's local", "it's organic", "it's sustainable", "it's small batch", "it's naturally dyed", "I want to support small ethical producers", "I don't have XYZ in my wardrobe".
Or my favourite justification - "I need it".
Really? Need it? Because you don't currently have a grey tshirt? Even though you already have a white one and a black one and a navy one and a green one? Need?
Last year I wrote a Stash Less post called Stop Shopping - this is one of the single biggest things I have done to change my behavior. By practicing not-shopping, by not putting myself into the situation where I might be tempted to increase my stash or my wardrobe, I have changed my purchasing. I don't allow myself to be exposed to many of my triggers like “desire for the pretty”, “fomo” and “time poverty”.
And yet when I post about these ideas there is sometimes an undercurrent in some of the comments that by changing my behaviour in this way, I am denying small producers a livelihood. I think this sentiment is one that is used to justify many a purchase, that is not justifiable in a true Slow Fashion world.
We need to support small producers! Well yes, preferably we support small producers that are ethical and thoughtful, over the fast-fashion machine. But maybe what we should actually be supporting is less production?
We justify our purchasing because the materials are ethical and come from a good source that we want to support. I do it too – use the old “but I’m buying from someone doing something good” reasoning, rather than truth which is often that “I don’t need it and am using "ethical" to justify buying something for another reason like "owning the pretty”.
It has become clear to me that this question - "do I have enough" is one that I avoid – and I think that I am not alone.
So again I ask myself - what is enough?
Basic environmentalism and responsibility for the earth and the people in it, demands that we think about our resource usage. The golden rule of environmentalism is not “buy lots of environmentally friendly stuff”. The golden rule is reduce, reuse, recycle.
This rule is a hierarchy, rather than a “do whichever one of these you want”. First we need to reduce our consumption, then if we can’t reduce it we need to reuse, then if we can’t reuse we need to recycle. Our focus must be on using less, consuming less in the first instance. And this applies even if the product in question is environmentally, socially and ethically squeaky clean.
I know I sound like I'm stating the obvious but I blur this line all the time. I can start to wander around in these rules even though I know better. I start giving myself "oh well y'know - just this once" or "this is really special" kinds of rules.... And I've been away for the last few months so I've used the "it's a lovely souvenir" justification all wrapped up in a dose of "we can't get this at home".
Nice justification Semple but no cigars for you.
I have enough.
I have the feeling that the majority of you reading this will also have enough. Maybe not something for every occasion, but enough.
Consider that once upon a time, back in them ye olden days, people had two or three outfits. Each with a different purpose. They were washed, and cared for and maintained. And those people were OK. They weren't in any kind of physical pain about having less clothing. They didn't feel bereft.
Compare that to a conversation I had over Christmas with a lovely, gorgeous, smart, funny woman I know and love, who stated that in her group of friends they needed to wear something new every time they went out. Every single time. These women were in their early 50s. She said that she had consciously slowed down her shoe purchasing of late, and so now she only purchased 7 or 8 pairs a year.
She couldn't stop laughing at the look on my face. You see the thing was, I think she was quite as shocked by wardrobe, as I was by hers. She bemusedly spoke of how she sees that my wardrobe isn't exactly fashionable but that I seem really comfortable in it. Now I should just say that she faces different cultural and societal pressures than I do, but what the conversation brought home to me was just how far our society has moved away from the ye olden days when one had only a few select clothes.
Our excess is gargantuan.
Our wardrobes are no longer small. We have been conditioned to desire variety and more variety. We are conditioned to believe that having will make us happy. And we have more disposable cash available to us, which makes this different way of clothing ourselves possible. Our Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) is reinforced through all that we do and all that we see.
I don’t believe that having more makes us feel any more satisfied - have a peek at this post on desire if you want a high level overview of why this is so. Suffice it to say that if more did satisfy us, then I would already feel satisfied because I already have more, and so wouldn't continue to feel desire for even more. But I do want more, even with all I have.
More didn't satisfy the lovely gorgeous woman in the anecdote I just related. She was feeling stressed by the number of clothes she owned, and the cash it cost to continue buying. She felt stressed by the pressure of having to be something. My suggestion that she just stop was met with mild surprise. It was almost like she hadn't considered that was a possibility.
This stuff is hard to talk about and think about.
I’ve really struggled to write this post. I started writing this last August and couldn't finish it - it has sat in the drafts box of the blog taunting me for the last year. It is really hard to write about something you fail at and I fail at this on an ongoing basis.
I failed at it two days ago when I purchased a metre of linen I didn't need, for a top I also don't need. Click click click and now that linen is wandering through the skies on it's way to my home without enough thought or consideration. I simply added it to my basket when I was purchasing some things I did genuinely need. It's so easy to do....
I have all I need and yet I make more, and I buy more. I am conscious, I think about it, I ponder my choices and still I buy more, and make more. Not a lot more, but more none the less. And I desire to have even more.
Again, I'm sure I'm not alone.
It would be easy to dismiss this post on the basis that even as I am talking about it, I fail at it. It would be easy to dismiss it by saying well, you haven’t got this sorted, what right do you have to talk about it? But we aren’t required to be perfect in order to have a thought or an opinion. Which is extremely lucky, because perfection is not my strong suit. Nor do we need to have a solution – maybe we can share our struggles as a way to learn more so we can puzzle it out together? I'd love for you all to chime in on this one....
So what do we do?
Making gives me deep joy, connects me to others and supports my mental health, so how could I stop making altogether?
What about the fact that having new outfits I've made sometimes makes me feel snazzy and joyful, which I then take into the way that I interact with the world, creating positive energy through the interactions I have with others. I mean who doesn’t love stepping out in spunky new threads?
And then what about the fact that humans crave beauty? We want to see it, engage with it, immerse ourselves with it. We love new.
Well maybe they are just more excuses .... for there is beauty in old, and there is joy in living our values if we take the time to notice them and be grateful. We don’t need to see less as deprivation. We can practice a new way of thinking.
Maybe there is some middle ground?
Should I stop making? The conclusion I have come to is no, absolutely not. My making practice is essential for my wellbeing. I need it.
But I do need to find personal balance around these conflicting ideas - between what I know to be true about not needing any new clothes, and my need to make and occasionally have something new for the sheer joy of it. Balance in this area would mean that my wardrobe will get bigger but in a Slow Fashion kind of way.
I need to slow my making the fuck down. I need to think about whether I actually have enough of the thing I desire. And if I do, and I am therefore creating it/buying it simply for desire and joy, I need to consider how often I am letting that joy/desire sway me into justifying that making. Because there is always a way to justify having more. Our brains are bloody clever little sausages that are capable of making almost anything valid.
Maybe my compromise is that sometimes is OK, often is not. If I am justifying making a garment simply for joy sometimes then that is OK. If I am doing it weekly then it is not. That is 52 garments a year.
And I still only have one body.
This idea can be confronting to some people. Who am I kidding, it is also confronting to me. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t even want to think about it. And I don’t want to write it down because writing it down will hold me to account. What is learned cannot be unlearned?
But think about it I must if I’m going to achieve change. I need to up the ante and define what enough is for me personally.
We need to define enough for ourselves.
I believe it is a question I should be asking myself over and over again. "Do I already have enough?" each time I go to make. "Do I already have enough?" each time I go to purchase. Purely to have clarity. So that if I make a choice to buy/make more clothing, I can’t fool myself into thinking it is based on need.
I will make with the knowledge that it is excess to need and I will need to live with that.
Enough will probably be a blurry line. Enough will change over time and won’t be easy to figure out, but I believe it is still worth trying.
So what is enough for you? What is enough for me?
Is it five summer dresses? Ten?
Do I really "need" jeans in every shape?
Do I "need" the latest fashionably shaped sweater or can I make do with what I have? And still feel snazzy enough?
Is making a new garment justified just because I have materials in the cupboard? (Sadly answer: no) Or should I still be thinking through whether I actually need it so that I could use those materials at a later date. (Answer: yes.)
If I'm desperate to make something but don't need anything, could I make for someone I love instead? Could I let that satisfy me? Maybe I could shift some of my making to be more focused on other people through projects like Knit1Give1. Maybe I could up the ante and make things that were more difficult or more long term projects?
Could I find other ways to get what I need when I need it? Can I borrow a frock from a friend if I have a special dinner and not a dress to wear? I know the answer to this one as I actually did this last weekend! And I looked and felt fab.
Are there other things I could do that meant I could still make without overfilling my wardrobe and cluttering up my life?
For me sitting with what is enough is a work in progress and an act of ongoing practice.
The Rules of Enough?
If we are truly honest, unless our house has burned down recently, or a pack of marauding moths has chewed up our wardrobe, most of us already have enough. This means that Slow Fashion – simply considering the impact our choices around clothing are having on the world – is an incredibly inexpensive movement, because we don’t really need much. In fact I'd hazard a guess that most of us don't need anything.
And so like in Fight Club, could we make up some rules?
Like the first rule of Slow Fashion is to ask
"Do I have enough already?"
and the second rule of Slow Fashion is
"Do I have enough already?"
and then the third rule of Slow Fashion could then be
"While allowing some room for joyful making, I must think carefully about what I need. I must then make less, buy less, and when I choose to increase my wardrobe, I will choose carefully and choose quality. "
In the immortal words of Mary Poppins,
"Enough is as good as a feast".
I would really love to hear what you think on this one as it is close to my heart. Do you agree? Is enough, enough? How do we define enough? Do you have a different way of thinking about this? Do you have suggestions for how to continue to have a making practice without violating the idea of enough?
Yours as a work in progress,