How long do you think you could go without buying new clothes? As in, no new pants. No new socks. Not even new underwear. A couple of months, maybe? Well, a group of DIYers is swearing off new clothes for a whole year. Instead, participants of the challenge—which launched on a blog called My Make Do and Mend Life—will repair, repurpose, and “make do” with what they have.
The blog, founded by Jen Gale, takes inspiration from the “Make Do and Mend” philosophy that was popular during World War II. At the height of the war, there was no such thing as an abundant commodity; every available resource was rerouted towards the war effort. Shop windows dried up of goods and war ration coupons (for everything from sugar to clothes) were a way of life. Conservation wasn’t an option—it was a mandate.
“We had to make do and mend — that was the order of the day, and everything we had got in the wardrobe was kept there, we never threw anything away,” describes Winifred Barber on WW2 People’s War, a BBC archive of wartime memories.
Back in 2012, Jen used the wartime practice as a jumping off point for her very first counter-consumer challenge (which was, admittedly, pretty extreme). She and her family went a year without buying anything new—at all. Instead, they scoured thrift shops for used necessities, they mended broken laundry baskets, they made birthday gifts, and they patched worn jeans. The family even fashioned a mock-Christmas tree out of old egg cartons. (Check out Jen’s Ted Talk on the experience below.)
The goal of Jen’s project wasn’t just to “consume less,” it was to “consume more consciously”—to think about the stuff that we buy, to examine where those products come from, and to be aware of what happens to stuff after we discard it.
After her first challenge ended in 2013, Jen used her blog to document resources, projects, and tutorials that helped other people “make do and mend” too. And this month, she invited blog visitors to start a new challenge with her: no clothes shopping for a whole year.
Slightly terrifying WWII-era Make Do and Mend poster from the UK National Archives. Personally, I try to do everything Mrs. Sew-and-Sew says—mostly because she’s holding a giant needle.
“I think partly I just feel like I need a new challenge, and I want to see where this journey takes me. I want to challenge my creativity and see what happens when I get really, really bored of the clothes I have and am forced to get inventive with them. Or see what happens when I run out of socks that don’t have holes in them, or my jeans are beyond repair,” writes Jen on what inspired her to start the challenge.
More than 100 people have taken up the No New Clothes Challenge with Jen. Challenge members have even started a Facebook group to support each other in the effort.
Here are the rules to the new Make Do and Mend Challenge (though participants are encouraged to come up with rules that work for them):
- No new clothes—either brand new or second hand.
- You can make new clothes, but only from material/fabric already in your possession.
- No new shoes, accessories, or bags.
We anticipate that challenge participants are going to get pretty handy with a needle and thread in the coming year. In fact, Jen just posted a “How to Patch Your Clothes” tutorial on her site. By the way, if you’re interested in the challenge but are bad with a sewing machine, iFixit also has a ton of clothing repair guides designed to take your sewing skills to the next level.
You can find out more about Make Do and Mend’s Clothing Challenge here.