The rule of 5 in fashion

Eveliina Lehtisalo

Our Ambassador, Eveliina Lehtisalo, made a promise in 2023 to purchase only five new pieces in clothing – read below what did she discover in the process.

My 2023 resolution was to purchase only 5 new pieces of clothing – how did I do and what did I learn? 

Inspired by other sustainability influencers at the start of last year, I decided to commit to purchasing a maximum of five new pieces of clothing, excluding vintage and second-hand products. The number five comes from Hot or Cool’s report on fair consumption space for fashion, which reports that we could on average purchase five new garments* per year if we were to achieve consumption levels that are in line with the 1.5-degree target of global warming. And so I ended up joining the movement. 

To me, fashion has always been a significant part of my identity, holding a special place in my heart. Starting from endless trendhauls as a teenager, my first touchpoint to more sustainable purchasing behaviour was only around five years ago, during the first years of my business school journey. Back then, I started being a lot more selective about the brands I shop from, trying to avoid any fast fashion purchases. This first change was definitely pushed by the growing publications on the industry’s challenges in the media but also by the growth of the second-hand market and new surroundings. However, by the time, I did not yet realize how big of an effect the number of purchased new things really has on the environment – or let’s put it differently, I did just not want to realize

But after years of working in the industry, choosing to do all school assignments on fashion when possible, daily self-education and various brainstorming sessions on the industry’s challenges with likeminded friends, I knew, already a long time, that I had to do something to my own consumption habits – this something did not obviously mean getting the 5th wool coat I assure my friends and family I certainly “need”.

At the beginning of last year, the inspiration from other sustainability influencers, combined with my personal wake-up call, led me to take a look at my fashion consumption habits a year back, meaning the year 2022. During 2022, I had purchased/received 28 pieces of new clothing and 27 pieces of second-hand clothing. With clothing I mean everything else than daily underwear, socks and jewellery, e.g., I have counted all other accessories, sportswear (also sports bra) and footwear purchases to these figures. Anyways, in other words, these figures tell that I purchased clothing almost every single week during 2022. Shocking, right?

Let’s go back to the year 2023. At the end of 2023, I had purchased four new, five vintage and nine second-hand pieces of clothing. This makes up 18 in total which means 37 pieces less than the year before (a drop of 67%). “But that’s cheating, why haven’t you counted second-hand purchases to the goal of five?” – some of you might wonder. To be honest, I aimed for a realistic, not too challenging target as a starting point on my journey toward better consumption habits. I am aware that second-hand products do eventually count as well, even though their impact is harder to measure. However, the impact of second-hand products is often substantively smaller compared to new products, especially in the case of vintage, which makes preferring second-hand over new a great starting point for many of us.

Eveliina Lehtisalo: My four new pieces of the year 2023
My four new pieces of the year 2023

As at the end of the year 2022, I did analyze my consumption habits at the end of the year 2023 as well. This led me to bump into a couple of very interesting insights. Firstly, I spent more than half less on clothing during 2023 compared to 2022. Secondly, looking at the below graph, I made most of my purchases between January and July, mostly during my travels. Anyhow, all these slower consumption months at the end of the year led me to think; what happened since last August..?

 

Eveliina Lehtisalo: My consumption figures spread by months in 2023
My consumption figures spread by months in 2023

Last August, I started as The Ateljé’s ambassador and received full access to its services, including a monthly subscription of three new pieces and occasional rentals once a month. From August to December, I haven’t really been looking into new things to purchase, except the unplanned purchase of second-hand high heels from a sweet grandma at a yard sale in August, the gifted Vogue Scandinavia canvas bag that came along with the Vogue membership and the very much desired second-hand Acne Studios puffer to keep me warm during the coldest months. Secondly, as three out of my five new clothing purchases of the year were actually shoes, it was easier to spend the other half of the year without purchasing any new pairs. On top of this, I only travelled once during the fall which might have affected my consumption figures. 

After considering the above points, it was clear to me that The Atelje’s rental service has affected my consumption habits. Who knows how many pieces of purchased clothing I would be reporting about otherwise..? 

Eveliina Lehtisalo: The lifesaver puffer from Acne Studios
The lifesaver puffer from Acne Studios

I am aware that the sustainability aspect of the renting model is not black and white, and in some scenarios, it is not even better for the environment than purchasing a new product (e.g. due to a smaller number of uses of a rental product, the utilization of a non-sustainable transportation method to the rental location and back home, packaging of the rental product, or the increased amount of washes of a rental product etc). But what matters here is that in many scenarios, it has been distinguished as a better alternative, and we are in need of better alternatives while still building the best solutions. I believe it’s better to embrace a gradual approach rather than directly demand immediate, drastic changes that may not yet be realistic for many of us. 

Eveliina Lehtisalo: My favorite rental clothing from The Ateljé’s selection
My favourite rental clothing from The Ateljé’s selection

Going back to my reflection on the year of five new pieces of clothing, I listed my key takeaways in five bullets:

  1. I definitely weighed my purchasing decisions longer and continued to use clothing repair/alteration services as before.
  2. It became even clearer to me that shoes are harder to buy second-hand as many styles take shape in use and wear out relatively quickly.
  3. It's easier to stay away from clothing desires if you avoid physical and online stores altogether and focus your energy on other things… especially during travels!
  4. Renting 1-4 pieces of clothing per month greatly fulfils the desire to wear something new, and even getting in love with some of the rented pieces, I have not yet been too tempted to purchase them that I would have them in my wardrobe now.
  5. And lastly, the challenge wasn’t too hard! Which, in fact, might tell something about the starting point of my wardrobe as I was mostly happy with my existing pieces – of course still not being immune to some trends, which, every now and then led to scrolling matching second-hand pieces. 

Looking at this year, I am aiming to have the goal of five new pieces in mind while I also try to be a bit more conscious second-hand shopper. However, I want to be honest that, for me, this year might be harder to stay within the limit of five as I will start in a new role in my favourite fashion house in Stockholm. But as Fletcher and Tham (2019) highlight the urgency of the fashion industry dropping its resource use by 75 to 95 per cent compared to today’s level, we can all try to embrace more mindful consumption this year, together.

P.S. Lastly, I want to cite Lewis Akenji’s note in Vogue UK, reminding us that “the five things stat isn’t meant to “guilt trip” anyone. Keep in mind that every action matters.

– Eveliina Lehtisalo

*This average applies to a situation in which no other actions, such as repairing, buying second hand or washing at lower temperatures are not implemented.

References:

Hot or Cool Institute (2022) Unfit, Unfair, Unfashionable. Resizing Fashion for a Fair Consumption Space. https://hotorcool.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/Hot_or_Cool_1_5_fashion_report_.pdf

Fletcher, K & Tham, M. (2019) Earth Logic Fashion Action Research Plan. https://katefletcher.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Earth-Logic-plan-FINAL.pdf

Emily Chan (2023) I Only Bought 5 Items of Clothing This Year—Here’s What I Learned. Vogue UK. https://www.vogue.com/article/i-only-bought-5-items-of-clothing-this-year


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