The Clueless Consumption

“We don’t need a few people doing perfectly. We need millions of people doing better.”

by Camila Becerra
Edited by Camila Becerra and Lavinia Beddard

At the beginning of the year, the newsfeeds across my social media accounts were full of posts about the Rule of 5 challenge, launched by the journalist Tiffanie Darke, which invites consumers to only buying 5 garments a year, excluding second-hand items, with the aim of curbing the overconsumption epidemic within the fashion industry as well as articles about people within the sector who are stepping up for the planet, like Alexandra Shulman former Editor in Chief for British Vogue, who co-hosted a pre-loved sales event back in January. Much of this news quoted the 2023 report from the Hot or Cool Institute, which states “If no other actions are implemented, such as repairing/mending, washing at lower temperatures, or buying second-hand, purchases of new garments should be limited to an average 5 items per year for achieving consumption levels in line with the 1.5-degree target.” – a clear call for systemic change within the industry and an urgent invitation to reevaluate our consumption habits.

Having devoured all this content, I was totally hooked by the Rule of 5. I even told my family about it, so there would be people who would literally judge me, if I didn’t stick to it. I have to say that the challenge particularly resonated with me for other reasons too. I work in the fashion industry, so I’m well aware of its contribution to the climate crisis, and because my journey in living more sustainably started a few years back.

But, let me tell you how it has been so far.

Two years ago, I bought the book Project 333 written by Courtney Carver, but I didn’t read it until last year.  Project 333 is a minimalist fashion challenge in which you dress using only 33 items for every 3 months.   The book guides you through the challenge, all the steps and tools needed to build your own capsule wardrobe for 3 months, and shares multiple Project 333 lists of people with different lifestyles so you can get inspiration for your own wardrobe as well as highlighting the benefits of living a simpler life.

After finishing the book, I felt I couldn’t be limited to only 33 pieces in my wardrobe. I understand what a challenge means but I didn’t want to sign up to this one. For me, fashion has always been a form of self-expression, an avenue for creative exploration. Sometimes, I go to my closet to try out different outfits, just because. However, what I do love about Project 333 is the idea of being able to see everything that is hanging in my closet and having a deeper appreciation for what I already own. I can find other avenues for my creativity, perhaps by modifying my own clothes, converting a long wedding skirt into a midi one and wearing it casually during the summer, finding ways to extend the life of my clothes and, in turn, buying less – experiencing fashion in a different way.

Last September, I went to the Regenerative Fashion Conference held by Fashion Declares and I got to meet and listen to brilliant people, one of whom was Emma Hakansson, the founding director of Collective Fashion Justice and the author of The Total Ethics Fashion book. Her book talks about how to put people, animals and the planet before profit, and shares a number of insights into the role that over-consumption in the industry plays in the climate crisis.

One of the numbers that shocked me the most was that people living in wealthy nations are buying on average 1 garment per week. My immediate reaction was “What? That’s why we are so screwed, how can people justify buying something new every week?”… followed by many more ‘judgy’ thoughts and me drawing up my own list. “I’m definitely below the average”, I thought, “I’m someone who cares about the planet”, I believed.

Below is a picture of my list, I promise I’m cleaner than this page and less messy than my handwriting.

Surprise, surprise – I bought 46 pieces in 2023, a year has 52 weeks. I didn’t shop every week, but when I did, I bought more than 1 item. I’ll justify myself by saying that in 2022 I bought almost nothing. I was unemployed and couldn’t afford to go shopping, but clearly as soon as I got a job, I went crazy.

After realising how many things I had bought, which led to some eye-opening revelations, I knew something had to change. I didn’t have an exact number in mind, but I knew that I needed to consume less.  So, when I read about “the rule of five”, I thought that it was right up my alley – I could definitely commit to buying only 5 things this year…

But let me tell you; so far, it has been tricky.

At the moment, I’m in Italy with my mum, one of my sisters and her kids, and it’s sales season. In a family of mostly women, shopping is a big thing, especially, when in Treviso.

A few weeks back we went to Venice, and I succumbed. Following the suggestions of the Rule of 5 challenge, we should only buy one piece every three months (starting in January) and you can indulge yourself in December with an extra piece. I had already bought one coat and a pair of trousers and we were not even in March. Once, I even told a store manager who was helping me that I had promised myself not to buy more than 5 pieces this year, as if that would stop her or me from trying on the whole store.

So that led me to the question, if someone that is already committed to doing better and consuming less finds it hard to stick to these challenges, how do we go from buying on average 1 piece a week to buying only 5 new pieces a year? Certainly, we won’t get there overnight; we might get to a point where we could have a cap on the number of new clothes we are allowed to buy, who knows. I don’t think we can imagine what life will look like if we keep doing business as usual, but for now what we know for sure is how to avoid it and the simple answer is to cut our greenhouse gas emissions and one way to do this is simply to consume less. For some reason, when we talk about sustainability in fashion, we mainly focus on how to decarbonize the supply chain, to create sustainable/circular materials, to eliminate waste and so on, but we forget that our consumption patterns are also crucial.

Clothing consumption has grown exponentially over the years. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation states that “between 2000 and 2015, clothing production doubled, while over the same period, utilisation (the number of times an item of clothing is worn before it is thrown away) decreased by 36%”.

Source: Ellen Macarthur Foundation


The Fashion On Climate Report authored by McKinsey, in partnership with Global Fashion Agenda (GFA), reported that in 2018 the fashion industry accounted for around 4% of the total global greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to the combined annual reports of France, Germany and the United Kingdom. It also argued that the much-needed emissions reduction relies 60% on producers, 20% on brands and 20% on customers, making it clear that we have the same level of responsibility and power as brands when it comes to doing better for the planet.

As consumers we have gotten to a point where we all wear the same things, we all jump at the latest pieces launched every week by certain brands, making us believe that we need them all, and we all follow influencers who insist on how cool we will look if we have the newest jeans, bag, t-shirt and so on. We have lost our sense of individuality when it comes to getting dressed, we just follow blindly.

So, how do we lower our consumption levels when we live in a world with a pro-consumption agenda that keeps telling us to do otherwise?  It requires a whole lot of willpower and another lot of self-discipline.

Grappling with these factors made me think, instead of following a prescribed challenge, why don’t we create our own bespoke approach as we do every December when we list all the things we want to achieve in the year ahead? This could be a personal list based on our individual needs and goals. We may have a common goal to reduce our level of consumption, but how we achieve it and how much we are willing to challenge ourselves, is up to us.

I don’t want to diminish the Rule of Five challenge in any form or shape, if you feel you are up for it, please go for it!

But we know that one size doesn’t fit all, my challenges are not necessarily the same as someone else’s. For me, it is hard to stick to wearing only 33 pieces every 3 months, but for someone who wears a uniform to work for instance, it could be easier. For me, avoiding fast fashion brands is no longer a challenge, as I have managed to for over 2 years now, but for someone who has to clothe a whole family, it could be harder. For me, buying second hand is a new thing, I have already had so much fun experimenting with it, but it doesn’t come naturally to me yet. For people who have been buying from vintage stores for years, it would be a piece of cake. However, for someone who has never even considered it as an option, it would be much more daunting.

Ella Gould, Head of Sustainability and Innovation at Selfridges, tracked everything she bought last year, specifying whether each item was new or preloved, and recording how often she wore it. She discovered that almost 60% of her impulse buys were worn very little. In my case, my list revealed that when I bought something because it was discounted, I either only wore it a few times or not at all.

It is clear that understanding our consumption habits will help us to identify the areas we need to work on. This could mean shopping more consciously, avoiding impulse buys, increasing the level of utilization, purchasing preloved items, renting instead of buying new, reducing our fast fashion consumption and so on, the solutions are endless.

So, here is my own challenge: a me vs me situation

  • Buy max 1 piece a month. (-70% vs. last year [LY])
  • >50% of my purchases have to come from second hand shops. (+90% vs. LY)
  • >40% of my purchases will be for sustainable or small/local brands. (+50% vs. LY)
  • Continue not buying from fast fashion brands. (same vs. LY)
  • Wear 100% of the clothes that are in my closet. (no previous data)


Probably for some people ticking all the boxes will be a breeze, yet for me it won’t, but even if I do fall short in some or all of my goals, I will still have done better than last year. I know that the clock is ticking, that we are already far behind in achieving the Paris Agreement, signed in 2015, to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. In fact, fast forwarding to 8 years later, Europe’s  Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) reported in February that we experienced the warmest January on record and a 12-month average above 1.5°C. This doesn’t mean that we have failed the Paris Agreement threshold, but it takes us closer to doing so.

I believe that at this point in time, we have all come to understand that the hotter the planet, the more frequent the natural disasters and the more severe the consequences. As Samantha Burgess, Deputy Director of C3S, and many other experts are desperately repeating:     “… rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are the only way to stop global temperatures increasing,” and we should all be planting trees as if our lives depend on it.

I’m sure that, wherever we are in the world, we have all been exposed to unusual weather or even worse, a natural disaster.  I’m Peruvian, live in London but I’ve spent this winter in Italy, and I’ve been fortunate enough not to have faced any severe natural disasters. I’ve only experienced odd weather and heard a lot about it, since it is no longer a hot topic exclusively on British streets. From the north of Italy where the high level of fog this winter was unprecedented, to Peru where the temperatures this summer are breaking records across the country, and in the UK which has already faced ten named storms and is only halfway into storm season.

So, I can conclude with two things, that we all have a role to play and what matters is that we all do better, and not have just a few people fighting the cause.

I’m a data person, I like to look at numbers and percentages, but you do you. Let’s assess our existing closet, be conscious of what we already have, what we bought last year, what we have worn and what still has the price tag attached. We could even just start by tracking and recording everything we have bought or buy this year. Becoming aware of our purchases and understanding our consumption habits, is already a huge step.

If you are keen to start by recording your purchases this year, below is the table I created for myself, but again you do you.

The most sustainable wardrobe is the one we already have. Let’s re-evaluate our relationship with fashion. Let’s wear clothes that fit our values. Let’s buy more consciously and dress proudly, with intention. Let’s all take accountability and do something for our planet. It doesn’t matter how big or small, let’s just do better, as we all strive for a sustainable and just world.