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No Clothes For One Whole Year

For the next twelve months, and as part of the Free Fashion Challenge, twenty seven fashion addicts from across the globe will stop buying clothes.  We check in with participant Suzanne van Heerde.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 18-11-2010

Suzanne van Heerde has a problem.  She’s recognized it, defined it, and via the Free Fashion Challenge is rising to the challenge of curing it. 

Fashion’s dilemma is that it has become inextricably entwined in the industrialized world’s fetish for consumerism.  Distilling one’s love of clothes from the fast and furious hunger to consume is the challenge – discovering ways to remove fashion from the lifestyle that makes it unsustainable.

“I first heard about this concept from my teacher Frank Jurgen Wijlens,” says second year Amfi fashion and branding student Van Heerde.  “When he talked about it in class, I literally started to shake.  The very thought of it made me nervous.  I realized then that I had a problem.”

Van Heerde shops multiple times per week and ever since she left high school has spent all her earnings on clothes. “I am a fashion store’s wet dream,” she says.  “I spend thousands of euros a year on clothes, but it isn't really the expense that is the problem, it is the need to constantly purchase more.”

Jill Sander, Rick Owens, Alexander McQueen, and Hussein Chalayan are names that make Van Heerde giddy.  “I love unwearable fashion,” she says going on to say that she fantasizes about becoming good friends with the Arabic women who buy and collect European couture gowns.  “They go to Paris and buy what we see in magazines and then put them in glass cases and have tea parties with their friends.  They all come over to look at the clothes.”

Van Heerde’s bedroom always elicits a reaction.  “People draw breath when they see my racks of clothes,” she admits.  “I have 120 pairs of shoes and all my clothes are lined up like in a boutique.  Most of my things I never wear, but I just keep them to look and touch.”

Which all makes her the ideal candidate for the Free Fashion Challenge - smart, sassy, and obsessed with fashion.  She understands how the system works and is well cognizant of the way that industry manipulates her mind.

“People are sick of fashion,” Van Heerde says.  “They see it as only being about buying, fake advertising and a false idea of beauty. They see it is as something despicable.”

For a serious fashion student, this reality poses a challenge. “It’s all about trying to separate the two - consuming and fashion,” says Van Heerde.  “Now they are practically synonymous because you are not in fashion if you are not buying the latest things.”

In preparation for the Free Fashion Challenge, Van Heerde spent 800 euros on underwear, stockings, black trousers and shoes. She feels prepared despite friends suggesting that by the year’s end she will look boring. “Of course that makes sense,” she says.  “I won’t be able to buy any trends, but fifty years ago people managed to look beautiful without the same sort of fashion industry we have today.”

The rules of the challenge are simple: no new clothes, no gifts and no fabric.  Participants are allowed to swap clothes and remake their existing clothes.  

“It feels like the end of an era,” Van Heerde says.  “I will come out of this changed and with a better focus on sustainability.”

And by that she means something more than just green branding.  “You see that is the problem,” she says.  “‘Sustainability’ has become such a boring word.  We hear it everywhere, but nobody really knows what to do.  How can someone like me who loves fashion be sustainable?”

The challenge of the Free Fashion Challenge is to come up with the answers.

The Free Fashion Challenge is an initiative of Laura de Jong in collaboration with AMFI -  Amsterdam Fashion Institute and Beyond Green. The original idea for the concept came from Kate Fletcher, sustainable designer/consultant/author, and Frank Jurgen Wijlens, lecturer at AMFI - Amsterdam Fashion Institute.

Participating fashion addicts will blog and share their experiences here over the next twelve months. 

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