Kate Yarde completed the six item challenge recently, an impressive feat for an amazing cause, and we asked her to share her experiences with us!
What is the six item challenge and what is the campaign for?
The six item challenge is a fashion fast for Lent; you choose six items of clothing and pledge to wear only those items for six weeks. You have unlimited access to underwear, accessories and footwear.
Labour Behind the Label are a charity who seek to empower garment workers across the world. They campaign in different ways, such as lobbying companies and helping workers to set up and manage trade unions. The six item challenge is their flagship fundraiser. You can read more about the work they do on their website here: http://labourbehindthelabel.org/our-work/
What were the top three reasons you wanted to take on the challenge?
When I read about the challenge, the first thing that came to mind was whether or not I could live for six weeks with just six items of clothing. At first it seemed completely impossible. I started thinking about the items of clothing I would choose, what sort of things I would be doing in the run up to Easter, how I would keep everything clean… I sort of became a bit obsessed with the idea. Initially I had in mind that I would do it next year but after an afternoon of thinking of pretty much nothing else, I signed up on a bit of a whim.
Once I’d thought about what clothes I’d choose I started to think about the people who make our clothes; it’s not something I knew much about. To be honest, that made me feel pretty uncomfortable and ashamed. I knew a little about Rana Plaza from the news; I’d started reading a book by Safia Minney called Slow Fashion last year but hadn’t finished it, and I’d heard on a podcast that 85% of garment workers are low paid women. But that was about it. The article and the fact that there is a campaign to raise awareness prompted me to think: shouldn’t I know more? The challenge seemed like a great opportunity to learn more about who makes our clothes and to get involved and most importantly do something really positive.
Oh and the third thing. I hate washing. I do so much laundry as a stay-at-home mum of two chaotic pre-schoolers. I’m constantly smeared with snotty, chocolatey, ketchuppy fingers. Reducing my wardrobe to a meagre six items would mean a hell of a lot less washing, which was very appealing.
What were your items? Can you describe some of your outfit combos?
The items I chose were:
- A long sleeved Breton t-shirt from People Tree
- A short sleeved grey marl t-shirt with a rainbow design from People Tree
- An electric blue long line cardigan from People Tree
- A long sleeved shift dress with a quirky Peter Jensen print from People Tree
- A new pair of skinny black jeans from Dr Denim Jeansmakers
- A year old pair of skinny black jeans with a ripped knee from Dr Denim Jeansmakers
The dress was really versatile. I wore it with skinny jeans on the school run, to soft play, to the pub, to the hairdressers and then over tights for when I needed to dress up a bit more. It also looks great with sandals and bare legs, but the weather wasn’t hot enough during the challenge. I also folded the skirt part up underneath the dress to make it into a top, which I wore under the cardigan.
The ripped jeans looked awesome with the rainbow tee. This became my unofficial Sunday uniform for most of the challenge.
One of the reasons I chose the rainbow tee is because it can be worn inside out; I wore it like this a few times layered over a vest with a scarf. A sort of more grown up casual look.
The cardigan went with everything and was invaluable for keeping me cosy. It could also be worn buttoned up on its own over a vest.
I had the ripped jeans made into a pencil skirt by a local dressmaker towards the end of the challenge when the weather improved. I loved wearing this with the Breton tee, a vintage beige belt and a recycled sari scarf. I think this was probably my favourite challenge outfit.
What was your biggest struggle?
Keeping everything clean was a bit of a nightmare. I ended up wearing an apron at home a lot. I always had a damp cloth or baby wipe to hand. I washed my clothes a lot less, so I got accustomed to giving my clothes “the sniff” before putting them in the washing bin. I tried to do all of my laundry over the weekend. This didn’t always work out and sometimes I forgot to wash my clothes in amongst everyone else’s stuff. There was a Sunday morning, after my daughter’s 2nd birthday party when I had no clean clothes. I was supposed to put a wash on the previous evening, but forgot (too many espresso martinis). Ultimately, it was fine. I didn’t have anywhere important to go and was too hungover to really care. I ended up wearing my jeans for the 5th time in a row, a vest and the cardigan, which was also quite grubby. I wasn’t too fresh that day, in any respect.
Choosing the items to start with was also really tough. I decided to do the challenge quite last minute, so had six days to get the six items together. The original line-up was quite different and wouldn’t have worked because the garments weren’t practical enough. It was much harder to put everything together than I’d originally thought.
What were four big things you learned from doing the challenge, and how has it changed the way you think about clothing?
Living with just six items is actually really easy. It seems impossible that you can get by with just six items for six weeks to start with, but actually, I could put together about 25 different outfits and that’s before adding accessories, shoes and make-up into the equation. I think I found it so easy because I was totally comfortable in the things I chose; they suited my lifestyle and they’re clothes I really enjoy wearing. I’ve learned that If you love something you can wear it anywhere and that you can do so much more with accessories to change the look of an outfit. Also, because I was doing it to raise money for charity I didn’t mind that I was wearing so few things. I told loads of people about it, so it became a bit of a talking point and I found that I was much more confident too. Ironic isn’t it?
As a result of the challenge I will be buying a lot less stuff and I won’t be panic buying for occasions any more. I’ve given away and sold loads of old clothes, so I have a lot more space in my bedroom now and I love all of the items I own. I’m now mindfully running an ethical capsule wardrobe, still a work in progress and definitely more than six pieces, but a lot less stuff overall. Everything I own now fits into half a small wardrobe and two normal sized drawers. I was joking with a friend that if I needed to flee, I could sling everything I own into a single suitcase! That in itself is quite liberating.
In the future, new purchases will be carefully planned – where is the garment from, who made it, what does it go with. And if I spot something that I just love, and want to buy because it’s an amazing (ethical) garment, I’ll keep the 30 wear rule in mind. I think everyone should use the 30 wear rule when shopping. It’s really simple: only buy clothes that you know you’ll wear at least 30 times. If you don’t think you’ll wear it that many times leave it on the rail.
Less for lower stress
The challenge made my life so much easier. Getting dressed was so simple; my wardrobe looked really tidy with just six items hanging up in it, our bedroom was less cluttered, packing for holiday was a breeze. And of course, there was a lot less laundry to do. I loved being able to see each garment hanging in my wardrobe rather than things being crammed together or badly folded and shoved into drawers. I read that less clutter is better for your mental health and reduces cortisol levels. I definitely feel less stressed when it comes to what I’m wearing, what I own and how I store my clothes now.
Fast fashion is really, really horrible and needs to change; we can all help to make a difference
Fast fashion, and actually the fashion industry at large, is really horrible as it stands. I spent the challenge reading lots of different books and articles about the fashion industry and really immersed myself in the subject. I sobbed through The True Cost movie. I would highly recommend that everyone watches this film – I think it’s a really great introduction to why we all need to consume less and better. I read Tansy Hoskin’s Stitched Up and Stuffocation by James Wallman, I finished the Slow Fashion book by Safia Minney, I ordered Fashion Revolution’s brilliant Fanzine 001 and signed up for their mailings, which included the Garment Worker Diaries – detailed documents looking into the everyday lives of garment workers around the world. Shortly after the challenge I read another of Safia Minney’s books – Slave to Fashion, I’ve started listening to Kick the Kyriarchy’s podcast, and I’ve just downloaded Alan Tonelson’s book The Race To The Bottom.
All the reading and watching and listening made me feel like a horrible, horrible person. Especially as I was finding living with so little so liberating. I felt tremendous guilt for my former shopping habits, especially when I learned about several industrial disasters where so many people have died, basically because of inadequate safety measures that stem from factories cutting corners to be competitive.
How are we so easily duped into the idea that we need so much and that it’s ok to buy stuff that’s so obviously too cheap? There’s no way I’ll shop from mainstream fashion stores unless major changes are made in terms of supply chain transparency, improved rights and safer working conditions for garment workers. I know that boycott is a contentious issue but I just don’t feel that I can buy from companies who are putting profit before people and using factories who play fast and loose with people’s lives. Hopefully, charities such as Labour Behind the Label and events such as Fashion Revolution week will not only raise awareness but help to effect the changes that are so desperately needed.
You get to be more creative and more resourceful
Having fewer clothes forces you to be more creative, otherwise you’d get completely bored. Well, at least I would’ve done. From simple things such as wearing bolder lipstick in the day rather than just for a night out to turning a t-shirt inside out or even having clothes transformed by a dressmaker. I wouldn’t have thought to do these things before the challenge. Or I might have thought about it but I wouldn’t have bothered to do anything about it. Why would I need to? I didn’t really feel comfortable wearing scarves before the challenge because I didn’t know how to tie them and always felt a bit frumpy. I decided to check out some “how to tie a scarf” youtube clips, et voila, I can now confidently tie a scarf in two or three different ways. I still feel a bit “grown up” in a scarf but maybe that’s not such a bad thing at 35! My drawers of unloved accessories and lipsticks became really pivotal to my challenge wardrobe. I love that I’ve rediscovered so many treasures.
Would you recommend it to anyone else and why?
Yes! 100%. Labour Behind the Label are an amazing charity and their work really does make a huge difference to garment workers. They’ve been really successful at achieving the aims of their campaigns. They were instrumental in helping garment workers in a Cambodian factory achieve better pay and improved working conditions through the power of a film and photography campaign. You can read more about it on their website here: http://labourbehindthelabel.org/citizen-journalists/.
By taking part in the challenge you’re helping to make positive change. Although the challenge is six weeks, and seems like a long time initially, it goes really quickly. And all you have to do is choose some clothes in the morning, get dressed and either feel really virtuous or forget about it until the next day. It’s so simple.
There are loads of benefits to take away as an individual too. You save time, space, and money, you get to challenge your shopping habits, and you learn about your relationship with clothes and to an extent your body image. For me, I realised just how much I rely on a new outfit or item of clothing to make me feel ok about myself. As there wasn’t any point in shopping for new clothes through the challenge, and because I just had to wear what I had no matter what the event or occasion, I got to see just how much I panic buy and that those last minute shopping trips are more stressful than just choosing something I enjoy wearing already. You need a lot less than you think.
What are you biggest tips for anyone who wants to take it on?
Choose clothes that you absolutely love – you’ll be wearing them over and over, so they have to fit beautifully and make you feel fabulous. Nothing that you pull or wince at when you see yourself in the mirror! And choose things that are versatile, like a t-shirt you can turn inside out, a shirt that can be buttoned up or left open and something that can be dressed up or down easily.
Clothes that you can alter at some point during the six weeks so you can mix things up is a really good idea too. I was so glad to have a skirt in the mix after 5 weeks of wearing jeans. And you don’t need to buy anything new. I bought four new items for the challenge but once I’d finished and sorted through my clothes I realised that I could easily have chosen the six items from things I already owned. Saying that, I love the clothes I bought and have been wearing them regularly since the end of the challenge. They really work in my capsule.
I found that writing about the challenge every day or every couple of days really helped to keep me motivated. You don’t have to blog about the challenge, but I think that recording your efforts in some way is really helpful. And talk to people. Get out there, and tell people what you’re doing. I had loads of encouragement from family and friends. I’ve made new friends and acquaintances, plus I’ve inspired friends, family and strangers to think about what they’re buying, where they’re buying from, and whether they need so much stuff in their lives.
Some participants work as a team and I think that would be a really great thing to do if you’re nervous of doing it alone. I may even think about doing this next year.
And finally, raise some money. Once the donations started to come in, I had to finish it properly because people had pledged money to see me see it through!
What do you think about Katie’s amazing experience taking on the 6 item challenge? Do you think you will give it a to next year? What do you think your biggest challenge will be? We want to know, so comment below or tweet us @revival_collect
To see more about Katie’s experiences, check out her blog: