Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Released from chains

Saturday the 27th was the annual Buy Nothing Day a simple idea; ‘spend the day without spending’. How many things do we buy without really thinking about whether we need them? We live in a throwaway society where we buy convenience things and then discard them without a thought.

The trend for ‘throwaway’ fashion means textiles are the fastest growing sector in household waste. Clothing is becoming so cheap the temptation is to buy more than needed and throw the rest away. Apparently we buy 2 million tonnes of clothing each year and with the cheap cost or ‘Primark effect’ the amount of unwanted clothing dumped in landfill is soaring. A small proportion is reused or recycled while the rest ends up in the back of the ‘national wardrobe’.

So this time last year I decided to make a commitment, a Buy Nothing Year on new clothing. I would limit myself to charity shops and recycle what I no longer needed. A donation to charity de-cluttered my wardrobe and started my year. I love the idea that you never know what you'll find in charity shops. When I needed clothing sometimes I didn’t find anything, while other times I could be found doing a little jig finding that perfect item. Highlights included a Tweed jacket £7, a cowboy style shirt £8, a dog print jumper £3 and dinner suit trousers £5. Which I admit makes me sound like the sort of person you cross the street to avoid but I promise I don’t wear these as a whole outfit.

I thought I was going to have to buy new when I was invited on a fancy dress stag-do but my luck was in. I gave the shop a good giggle, as I appeared out of the changing room dressed in a full body penguin outfit – a £10 bargain. Unfortunately the best man organised a Ghostbusters theme; stag as the Marshmallow Man, us in identical licensed outfits, so no make your own.

Desperate not to be defeated I placed ads and scoured the Internet but with limited time I had to resort to buying new. Although I had to buy the Ghostbusters outfit I still feel a sense of achievement. Plus before the wedding my luck was back as I found a dress shirt and cummerbund in a charity shop. During the year many socks have disintegrated, I’ve had to resole a pair of boots and learnt that even gents can accessorise clothing – a few good cravats go a long way. I’ve had a mixture of compliments and criticisms; my favourite was being described as ‘abstract’. With high street fashion looking more and more generic I took that rightly or wrongly as a compliment.

It was the exploring and uniqueness I enjoyed, it’s easy to walk out of a chain store with something you see every other person wearing but it takes a certain amount of patience to hunt around in charity shops. I discovered new parts of Cardiff – Albany Road is an obvious charity shop paradise but Cowbridge Road East, Splott and Penarth are equally exciting.

There is no resentment when charity shops took my money and no after shop slump because you haven’t broken the bank and profits directly benefit charities; not something you can say with your average store. I was introduced to different charities, shops like Shaw Trust who help people with disabilities find employment or Tenovus carries out causes of cancer research. During my explorations I met interesting people, there’s more interaction in charity shops. Often the service was better than any chain. People were friendly and predisposed to helping out. They chat to you like a human being rather a walking pound sign.

I love the volunteers, often elderly but today more than likely its younger people volunteering for the experience. The days when you came out looking a bit twee or out of place are long gone; vintage fashion is seemingly everywhere, the quality has increased, the layouts are savvier and you can pick up clothing bargains. In this current economic climate who wouldn’t want to save money?

Towards the end of the year I was slung into a state of depression when the headlines exclaimed that shoppers have spent more than £1m a day in St David’s 2. Even during these economic times society is over consuming and doesn’t seem any happier. I recently ventured into a store and felt a little ill; £80 for a pair of jeans, ill not just because of the price tag but fashion has further reaching consequences other than vanity; environmentally, ethically and socially.

My year is over but I’m not about to rush back to new. It made me think about what and how much I buy and the effects, not just environmental. Ultimately it’s about consuming less, recycling more and making more local, ethical and environmentally aware consumer choices. As a step on the right direction I would encourage anyone to cut the chains and explore charity shops – you might be surprised what you find.

Kieran McCann, hosts the ‘Cardifference’ Union show ( Fridays 4-5pm at

Over the next couple of weeks we will be talking about saving money during Christmas and how to work towards Christmas on a budget so tune in Fridays 4-5pm at

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