Fashion Detox Challenge (FDC) – An experiment in reduced clothing consumption in partnership with Glasgow Caledonian University
Fashion Detox Challenge C.I.C. (
Over 1 billion pieces of clothing are purchased globally every year. Less than 1% of this clothing can be remanufactured into new clothes, which means the remaining 99% will eventually be incinerated or sent to landfill. Global clothing production also emits vast amounts of carbon dioxide. The environmental impacts of clothing overconsumption are immense, yet clothing utilisation in the developed world is in sharp decline. The Fashion Detox Challenge is a public intervention project which aims to provide practical support for the adoption of responsible clothing consumption habits and practices, and encourages individuals to develop well-being oriented approaches to personal consumption.
Despite many years of research into sustainable consumer behaviour, promoting sustainable clothing consumption continues to be a pressing contemporary problem. The Fashion Detox Challenge (FDC)is a public intervention designed to overcome complex barriers and systemic lock-in to overconsumption at the level of the individual by engaging citizens in a ten-week process of voluntary abstinence and reflection. Aimed at interrupting the flow of automatic actions relating to clothing consumption, the intervention invites citizens to deliberate afresh over less conscious behaviour and to develop a wellbeing-oriented approach to responsible consumption. The FDC is an innovative, inclusive, and accessible approach to individual behaviour change which targets the synergistic satisfaction of fundamental human needs, to holistically meet multiple SDG’s.
The FDC is tailored to support the SDG’s by ‘unfreezing’ an individual’s unsustainable consumption habits for ten weeks, so that a new level of awareness, and thus, responsible action, can emerge. In relation to buying and using clothes, FDC participants develop a form ‘mindfulness’ which is a necessary prerequisite for achieving responsible consumption at the level of the individual (SDG 12). This competence of mindfulness is also a precondition for motivating the adoption of the UN’s (2019) specified zero-waste fashion actions in citizens who are locked-in to routine overconsumption.
The Fashion Detox Challenge (FDC) is based upon previous academic research in the field of Education for Sustainable Consumption from the United States (US) called the Fashion Detox which was conducted by Joyner Armstrong et al. (2016) and Ruppert-Stroescu et al. (2015). To expand upon this pioneering research from the US, a public version of the FDC was launched in Scotland in 2019 as a research project at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU). The FDC is an online initiative involving ten weeks of voluntary abstinence from frequent clothing consumption, supported by weekly emails, and encourages weekly reflections from individuals in the form of short written diary entries submitted to a private online Detox Diary forum and/or via social media. Members of the public are challenged through a variety of posters, emails, social media and digital media to go ten weeks without buying any new clothes and are invited to sign up on the www.fashiondetoxchallenge.com website. The online forum provides private peer-support and is moderated by the project founders and volunteers. After launching the FDC in Scotland as a research project the transformative nature of the challenge was recognised so it was developed into a standalone public engagement project which could accept a continuous recruitment of participants. The FDC website has been developed on a shoestring budget of less than £500, funded by GCU and through donations, and has grown into a global project through using in-kind donations of time from the primary researcher and volunteers for all other tasks. The FDC has gained much interest from the national and international media, including from the BBC, New York Times, El Mercurio and Cosmopolitan, providing focused boosts for recruitment and participation.
Quantitative: Significant reductions in CO2 emissions, increased clothing utilisation and significant reductions in purchases 1yr+, contribute to SDG 13 and SDG 11 through reducing carbon, waste and water footprints. Improvements in personal finance were also reported which contributed to the development of sustainability competencies such as good money management. Qualitative: A personal transition from emotionally motivated impulse buying to more responsible, mindful consumption practices emerged. Increased subjective well-being was an unexpected finding (SDG3). A beneficial spill-over to non-clothing purchases was reported. ‘Doing more and better with less’ in relation to clothing could be promoted most effectively through emphasising the personal benefits. However, participants reported that ‘consumer societies’ heavily promote a process of ‘doing less with more’, the exact opposite of SDG12, thus needed active help and support to overcome this complex, contextual barrier.
Promoting the FDC within a large University enabled us to immediately contact a wide, diverse group of citizens. National and international media coverage then provided boosts to grow the reach of the practice. To maintain recruitment over time, new ways of connecting with citizens needs constant development and maintenance, as such, the need for continuous recruitment provides a constraint. FDC is highly cost efficient and leverages a completely fresh approach to SDG12 through functioning as an inclusive, accessible action-oriented solution which transcends the attitude-behaviour gap and the ineffectiveness of information-only campaigns.
The project outcomes are consistent and sustainable. To become even more effective in the implementation of the SDG’s, evaluation of the practice’s outcomes is constantly evolving and improving, for example, through the collection of longitudinal data. The practice is very low-cost, it simply invites citizens to pause routine consumption habits, to reflect on the process and to share those reflections. This practice could be replicated in a wide variety of contexts and locations, particularly amongst pre-existing groups, such as within individual companies, individual schools and colleges, or local community groups, either with or without technology. Plans are underway to extend the FDC to non-English speaking candidates through providing new versions of the forum in foreign languages. To encourage the FDC to be adopted more widely by a younger audience, we are considering the development of an app.
Due to national lockdown measures, COVID-19 has affected the recruitment of citizens whose consumption is focused on retail stores. The FDC remains highly relevant, however, as online retail, especially of fast-fashion goods, has soared during the pandemic. Citizens are arguably more vulnerable to the predatory targeting of ‘retail therapy’ habits by retailers during a pandemic due to increased emotional instability and vulnerability at the level of the individual. The FDC supports efforts to build back better by; focusing social media posts and online talks on the positive well-being benefits of SDG 12; providing practical tips and advice for reducing clothing-related stress, such as decluttering; and raising awareness of the connection between emotional purchasing and overconsumption.
SDGS & Targets
Deliverables & Timeline
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