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Labour Behind the Label’s Fundraising Director Rebecca Cork took up the Six Items Challenge – a fashion fast that sees participants wear only six pieces of clothing for six weeks – but has it changed the way she buys clothes?

It wasn’t easy to choose the six pieces that would have to last, day in day out, for the six weeks of Lent.

I knew that I’d have to sit through a spring wedding, attend meetings with fashion industry bods, have coffees with funders and supporters, feel comfortable walking the dog in all weather and enjoy a pint in the local pub.

Reluctant as I am to pander to fast fashion, the ability to pop to the high street for a special top for a birthday or a smarter outfit for meeting, was initially testing. I like to think I would not fall for the marketing tricks of big brands but I’m not immune to feeling conspicuous – surely I would stand out like a sore thumb wearing the same, increasingly worn clothing to every occasion?

At the start I found myself greeting people with an explanation of my clothing choices, mainly to bewildered faces who had not noticed that I did not ‘conform’. As time wore on though I relaxed into my six items and realised that most people do not really notice, much less care, about what I have on or whether its been ironed.

But what does all of this have to do with the fashion industry? Because of course this is what the challenge is all about; linking the way we think about fashion and the way we buy clothes to the cutters, dyers, hand and machine sewers who made them, and understanding how our choices as consumers have far reaching impact.

Fast fashion may be a relatively new phenomenon but it is deeply entrenched in our culture. Brands change their stock every 4 to 6 weeks to impose new fashion trends, at a price that makes the clothes cheap and disposable. You just need to step onto the high street to see T shirts for under £5 and whole outfits that are designed to last just a few weeks.

To increase profits, brands create consumer demand for new trends. The drive to sell more creates the need to consume more, make more and ultimately waste more. And it has disastrous consequences for the people who make our clothes.

As the weeks progressed and I washed tops in the sink to be dry for the next day, I realised that ‘opting out’ of the garment industry really is not an option for most people. We cannot all afford high end goods (many of which are made in the same factories as cheaper clothing), we cannot limit ourselves to ‘ethical’ brands (which often deal more with fair trade cotton than with labour rights) and sometimes, society simply demands that we dress a certain way.

But what we can do is shop more thoughtfully. Buying less, wearing items for longer, and challenging our favourite brands about their factory conditions. We might not easily be able to opt out of the system as consumers, but we can use our voices as citizens.

Over the course of the Six Items Challenge I did manage to negotiate social and work situations and importantly I also managed to raise money for Labour Behind the Label. The most significant outcome though was how it has changed my long term buying habits. I now only replace clothing if it has worn out, I have started to organise clothing swaps rather than heading to the high street and I have met many new and interesting local people who have been doing this for years.

This year’s Six Items Challenge starts on 18th February and you can sign up to take part at http://www.everydayhero.co.uk/event/sixitemschallenge2015.

Rebecca Cork

rebecca@labourbehindthelabel.org

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