35 items of clothes. 1 year. Could you?

Ed Archer and her 35 piece capsule collection

I have so many clothes in my life.

So many.

But there is a vast difference between the number of clothes I actually wear on a regular basis and the number I own. Why I don’t wear the vast majority of my clothes is a mystery but when I recently took all my things out of storage — the storage I’d put my life into, including bags upon bags of clothes (the *must haves* after giving bags to charity) when I went travelling two years ago — I realised the ridiculousness, and cost, of my collection.

As chance would have it, a friend invited me to a clothes swap, something that Justina, Leanne and I have often considered a wonderful way to find new clothes while on this good style quest of ours. I opened the invite: the chance to trade my unwanted clothes for new ones, with all the proceeds going to Contact a Family, a UK charity for families with disabled children?


And through the invite, I came across the cool, cool soul that is Ed Archer, one of the organisers. She’s a project director for Contact a Family, and when she found that 65% of families are going without new clothes in order to meet the extra costs of raising their disabled child, she had to do something. On considering her own vast wardrobe at the time, she set herself a challenge in May last year to wear just 35 items of clothes for an entire year and sell her remaining clothes by whatever means possible, including the clothes swap, to raise money for her charity. She’s raised over £3,000 now, which is awesome, and hopes to finish on over £4,000 (you can support her here!).

Amazing and inspiring. I had to find out more and got in touch immediately.

How’re you feeling about it now, 10 months in?

I change my mind on a daily basis. Before I started this I had too many clothes. I love clothes — I love how I portray myself through them, the cultural references, finding out how they’re made — and expected to find the year gruellingly painful. There are ups and downs such as recently on Valentines Day, where I wanted to wear something different but couldn’t.

The collection

On the whole, though, I‘m finding it to be really helpful in understanding what I like and love. Over the year, too, the urge to buy clothes has diminished significantly. I can look at things now and rather than buying them as I would have previously, I really consider its quality and how long they would last for before all else.

What have you learned from the experience?

It has fundamentally changed the way I consume things — and not just clothes. Even for items for my home, I feel funny about buying things that we don’t necessarily need. This month, for instance, we’re trying to go without buying plastics.

Once you understand how much water is used to make a teeshirt — about 20,000 litres (yes) — you have to think twice about whether it really is worth it.

I want to make sure my life serves for good for those around me: not just my husband and family, but my community and my environment. This is making me consider all the different ways to do that.

What has this challenge taught you about style?

My style has really simplified over these past months — it’s crystallised what I like and what I can choose between — and I feel more confident.

The other thing is I’ve stopped trying to communicate anything complex through what I’m wearing. I simply communicate what I am through myself. I feel more comfortable in the clothes I’m wearing and therefore feel more comfortable in how I communicate without needing my clothes to do it for me.

I’ve realise that my personal style has’t changed but my expectation about what my personal style is has. When I look through old pictures on Facebook of myself over the years, I can see that while the prints may change, the shapes really haven’t. I don’t need to buy that strappy summer dress that I’ll wear just once and never again. If I need clothes and follow my personal style in future, the clothes I’ll buy will clearly be a good investment for me.

What advice would you give someone wanting to take the challenge?

I genuinely wouldn’t advise anyone doing it the same way I did. I’d first think about what I needed and what would complement the other items and make sure I had them at the beginning.

Instead I started with a few items and I’ve added things when I’ve needed to. At the beginning I panic-bought a plain olive skirt that I thought I needed to wear to work but it’s so sensible that I hate it. I was only up to 30 items in January but then I bought two more clothes in India, so I have three more to get if I need to.

Some of the clothes aren’t going to last the distance — I’m fully expecting something to break and my black boots are super painful. I’ll replace them if needed.

If you want to embark on a challenge like Ed, here are her tips:

  • Quality is king. Look at the seams of everything you’re buying. If items are made well and have french seams, they will last longer.
  • Plan in advance. Make sure you save yourself some treats for special occasions and as you’re approaching the end.
  • Consider your washing schedule. I’d schedule in what you’re going to wear and how they need to be washed and dried. This is particularly true for items that need dry cleaning (I wouldn’t recommend including these) and things that that need to lie flat to dry.
  • Selling things on eBay in bulk can be time consuming. This is especially true if you, like me, want to take the perfect shot of everything. There are other ways to raise money/get rid of your wardrobe, like this clothes swap or even just getting a stall at Broadway market.

You can read all about Ed’s Clothes off my back challenge on her blog here.

If you’re in London, grab a ticket to the clothes swap at Shoreditch House on Monday 22 February to clear out your wardrobe, grab some new clothes and raise money for an amazing cause.