Where my clothes come from – No. 13

Jessica Böhme

“One outfit, 365 days, 365 new experiences”

The #30wears campaign challenges the throwaway culture of fast fashion. But how about #365wears . . . ? That’s the challenge Jessica Böhme set herself on her birthday back in April 2016. I was intrigued so I contacted her to find out more.

wscf: The same outfit every day for a whole year?

Jessica: One black dress, a white shirt to wear underneath sometimes, and three different black cardigans or blazers according to the weather. And that’s it, apart from lingerie and footwear obviously, plus limited accessories and sportswear. Well, actually, I started off with literally just one black dress which I could wash whenever I needed to (as it dried in a couple of hours). But, after not even two months it shrank so much that it barely covered my butt, so I replaced it with a different dress. This time I chose a dress I had two of so I could alternate wearing and washing.

Jess's black dress
Photographer: Jessica Böhme

What originally inspired you to embark on ‘One outfit, 365 days, 365 new experiences’?

My entire life, fashion was really important to me. I loved to buy clothes and to create new outfits. I was also very focused on materialistic wealth and superficial achievements. A couple years ago though, my life took a turn. I noticed that I want more out of my life, and I started to focus on what is actually essential to me. One of my greatest goals became to not just spread the word about social and environmental problems, but also to find ways in my life that tackle those problems.

For me, one of the obvious things I could do was to change something about the way I consumed fashion. It had become more of a burden to me, than joy. New collections out every months, all the money and time it took . . . It wasn’t good for me or the planet. I wasn’t acting in line with my values. So I decided to trade outfits for experiences. Instead of focusing on what I wore, I’d focus on what I experienced: I’d do something differently or new every day for the next 365 days.

It’s February 10th 2017 now, so you’re 309 days through the total 365 days so far. Doing something differently or new every day for the whole year sounds like it might take even more time, money and energy than fashion! How are you approaching finding something new to do or experience every single day?

Sometimes it does take more time. Yes. But so far it’s been worth it. I don’t do anything major everyday, it’s mostly just really little things, like keeping on my bike helmet in the supermarket, walking backwards for a minute, taking a ballet class . . . To me it’s not so much about the outcome but rather about the way I approach life, and to be more mindful about what I am doing. I usually plan a day ahead about what I want to do; sometimes it’s spontaneous.

What was the new experience that’s meant most to you so far? 

I bought a stranger a cup of coffee and ended up talking to her for almost an hour. We were very different, but somehow we really connected. I keep thinking about our conversation.

A lot of people express their personality through the way they dress. It’s an important aspect of non-verbal communication. And for some people it’s an essential outlet for creativity. But quite early on you said: “To me the whole challenge is about the simplicity, about making a point that we can express ourselves apart from our clothes, showing that life is about so much more than fashion . . .” Has it changed your relationships with other people?

I believe it can be a great outlet for creativity. But more often I think it’s an imagined outlet. We usually wear what is fashionable and even if we have the impression that it was us who made the choice, the choice was usually made by a few designers who market very well, what’s in. To me, that’s not creativity. I believe there are better, more individual outlets for creativity. When I started the project a lot of my friends were shocked. I got comments like: “But fashion is your thing”, or “It’s part of you”. It didn’t change my relationships to them though. I don’t even think they notice anymore.

Does wearing the same outfit every day affect how you feel about yourself?

I feel better and better about the project every day. I am so glad I am finally doing it. It has been on my mind for a long time, but I was always concerned with what others might think. It is totally in line with my values and that makes me feel better than anyone else could make me feel. This was a great Aha-moment for me. 

You’ve referred to the relationship between inner transformation and sustainability. Could you tell me a little more about this?

I will try. I am still researching about the topic, and doing my PhD about it. I believe, and this is backed up by some science, that once we start to transform from the inside, like changing our world views, questioning our values and belief systems, being more mindful and/or developing compassion, system change is possible. If you take consumption for example – which is a major environmental problem – we believe that we need to keep buying stuff to make us happy. If only we could get this pair of boots, we’d feel good, if only we had the new phone, our life would change . . . On a conscious level we know this isn’t true, but our unconscious believes it. If we want to stop overconsumption that is depleting our resources, we need to make that shift on a deeper level. It can quickly sound esoteric, which makes it hard for scientists to find its place. But more and more institutions open up to the idea.

Quite early on, on Day 16, you talked about the Rana Plaza disaster when 1,134 people were killed in a garment factory in Bangladesh. And you’ve also referred to other fast fashion issues including child labour and polluting manufacturing practices. Which was most important to you: your internal journey, or the opportunity to increase public awareness of the social and environmental costs of irresponsible fast fashion? 

At first I definitely focused on the social and environmental problems. I thought if I connect to experiences I will be able to show that a good life is not connected to consumption. During the process though, I noticed more and more how much it supported my inner journey. I never imagined it would have such a huge impact on my well-being.

I’m sure a lot of us know men who appear to wear practically the same outfit year in and year out. Why do you think this is so much easier for men than for women?

I think it’s part of our belief system. It’s like smoking in the ’20s. In America only men smoked, it was unfashionable for women. The American Tobacco Company wan’t very happy with this, of course. So a smart guy, named Bernays, made a bunch of women light up a cigarette at a parade. He had people take pictures, send it out to all major newspapers and said they are lighting the “torches of freedom”. The women’s rights movement was big at that moment and women wanted to be free. He connected freedom with cigarettes and now had a whole new group of customers. He was Sigmund Freud’s nephew, by the way, and was very familiar with the power of the unconscious. He was also the founder of PR and the new way of marketing. Therefore, I don’t believe there is an innate difference, but rather that it’s a social norm.

You’ve said; “I know having only one dress is extreme, but if we have two or three outfits we feel good in, isn’t that enough?”. How many times were you tempted to go shopping for a new outfit? Do you think you might spend the rest of your life with a tiny capsule wardrobe? Or would things be different for you if the fashion industry operated differently?

I wasn’t tempted very often. It’s so ‘implanted’ in my mind that buying is not an option that I don’t even think about it anymore. It’s very freeing. I am positive that I’ll keep a tiny capsule wardrobe. At the beginning of the project I kept a lot of my old clothes. A month ago I gave almost all of them away. I know I won’t need them anymore.

What will you wear on Day 366?

It’s my birthday, and the date for one of my best friends’ wedding. I am one of the bridesmaids, and she has us wearing a pink tulle skirt and a glitter gold shirt. So that’s going to be my outfit after 365 days in black and white. 🙂

If you want to know more, you can follow Jessica’s journey on Instagram.

Jessica portrait
Photographer: Jessica Böhme

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Sue Written by:

I'm an accountant (ACCA) who's interested in whether we're accounting for the right things in the right ways.

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