Enabling change in our Society, Environment and Economy (SEE)

No new clothes

by Edwina Robinson December 2017

At the beginning of 2017 I decided to not buy any new clothes for the entire year. I knew that I would be more likely to stick to my personal commitment if I made it public. I made a Facebook page, Sustainable Threads and placed my vow out there in the public domain.

If I failed, would I admit it? Would anyone know?

I allowed myself to still buy second hand – from thrift stores and from some upmarket purveyors of second hand women’s clothes.

Male friends I told about my commitment, shrugged and said that would be easy for them to do – they didn’t know when they last bought new clothes. But my female friends understood.

Women buy new clothes for many reasons. Because we are fat or thin or we have a new job or are looking for a new partner or want to look sexy. The reasons are endless.

While I had a relatively healthy diet and shop from Farmers Markets the same couldn’t be said for my appetite for fashion. I bought indiscriminately – disregarding where the product was manufactured or if it was synthetic. As long as I looked good in it was all that mattered.

I refused to buy garlic from overseas choosing instead Australian grown, or better still grown by my own fair hands. So why was it OK for me to buy clothes from China from designers I knew nothing about?

I didn’t think about the workers (many of them women or their children) who made the clothes. Nor about the chemicals used to grow, spray crops and dye fabrics.

This year, I patched, repaired and repurposed clothes. My antithesis of ridiculous-ripped jeans was patched jeans – each new embellishment worn with pride, like a new tattoo.

When I felt the urge to buy something new, I remembered my pledge and noticed the psychological reason around the impulse.

There was a purchasing transgression. I travelled away for a weekend and didn’t pack undies. Mentally I sorted through the alternatives and decided the best option was to buy three simple cotton pairs.

As penance, back home in wintery Canberra, I placed one cotton and one synthetic pair of knickers into our worm farm.  I hypothesised that the cotton pair would be munched far faster than the artificial ones.  However, the worms were slow to act in the cold weather.

Once the weather warmed, I opened the can of worms. The cotton pair were shredded to a fine filigree with only the elastane waistband holding the thing together. The synthetic undies although dirtied, could have been soaked for a couple of days, washed and hung out to dry, without anyone knowing they’d been hibernating in a worm farm.

My point is, organic clothing like cotton, linen, hemp, wool can break down in your compost bin or worm farm. Many of the other clothes take a long time to break down and can contribute minute polluting particles to our soils and waterways.

When you are buying new or even second-hand clothes – ask yourself if it’s from a natural fibre.

From 2018, I will only buy clothing from natural sources. And where possible I will buy material grown in Australia. I will consider the many workers whose hands have crafted those garments.

Along the way I’ve connected with many talented Canberra women who are focused on a sustainable fashion or style ethos. Here are a few of them:

Barbara Wheeler, Every Thread Counts

Summer Edwards, Tortoise and Lady Grey

Nina Gbor, Eco-stylist

Kelli Donovan, Pure Pod

Mel O’Brien, 360FM

Nikki Hogan

Anna Perkins, Fair Chance Pants

and a non-Canberran collaborator:

Jane Milburn, Textile Beat of Brisbane.

From now on, I look forward to a more mindful approach to clothing myself and those I hold dear.






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With thanks to our


  • ACT Government Environment and Planning
  • The Association of Independent Schools of the ACT (AISACT)
  • Catholic Education Office (Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn)
  • Education and Training Directorate
  • ACT Government