A Former Shopaholic On Becoming A Sustainable Fashion Advocate

A process of letting go

Having a wardrobe brimming with countless clothes seems like a dream. But it could quickly turn into a clutter nightmare if our desires go unchecked. In fact, owning too much stuff is said to be detrimental for both mental and physical health. Just ask Jasmine Tuan, a former self-confessed shopaholic and hoarder who is now a sustainable fashion advocate.

“I used to own a room full of clothes, bags, shoes, accessories,” she said. “I would keep buying more to the point [that] when I enter my room, I am not enjoying that walk-in wardrobe fantasy anymore. It became a monster I need to face daily.”

Jasmine Tuan

But the real reckoning came when she faced a series of unfortunate events. Getting over depression, surviving a near-death experience, and dealing with the closure of her first-ever business on the day of her grandmother’s wake changed her perspective.

Jasmine began to question her purpose in life. “Has my life been about accumulation of stuff up to this point?” she asked “Is life about working hard and spending harder to buy stuff that I don’t even use? Surely life is more than that.”

Left with “nothing but a lot of time and a lot of clothes”, Jasmine began to downsize and started selling her possessions little by little to survive. She was eventually offered a job in Malaysia and left Singapore with a minimal wardrobe. “Sifting through my years of fashion collections was like facing my monster,” she said. “I used to attach my identity to what I buy and own. In the end, it was liberating and rewarding to see just a single rack of clothes left.”

Girl wearing green jacket sifting through clothes

(Photo from: Julia M Cameron via Pexels)

However, she confessed that the return of her purchasing power led her to rebound. “I was sucked right back to the vicious cycle I was in. I wanted change, I had changed my location, but I didn’t change at all. I was the same old shopaholic,” she said. Despite this setback, Jasmine didn’t give up and tried to steer herself back in the right direction.

She met a zero-waste advocate group in Malaysia and was introduced to the concept of sustainable living that focuses on reducing consumption. “I have been going straight to recycling all my life thinking this is how consumers close the loop,” she said. And so, she began to apply this to her own life and committed to zero shopping when it comes to fashion items. “It hasn’t been an easy ride, but it has been exciting for me to exercise my creativity to a whole new level. It is a whole new journey of getting to know myself all over again. I found out, there’s a lot of stuff out there I can do without. And less is indeed more,” she shared.

Today, Jasmine continues to share her experiences and learnings. In September 2020, Jasmine joined forces with Cloop founders, Sindy and Yin, to build an organisation that hosts fashion swaps with the goal of preventing pre-loved clothes from going to waste. Jasmine shares that, as of writing, they have rehomed 1,859 items that could have gone to the trash bin and were able to raise SGD2,213.80 for Charity:Water, World Vision and Fashion Revolution.

She also recently joined Singaporean social impact hub Temasek Shophouse in their #CarbonCopyChallenge. It’s an initiative that aims to reduce carbon footprint by getting people to copy simple sustainable acts like Jasmine’s practice of mending clothes rather than buying new ones. “I think it is a good initiative to activate, challenge, encourage and motivate everyone to do something green together. Unity is the power. Collective consciousness, collective carbon copy challenge,” she said. Apart from fashion-related challenges, Jasmine shares that she's also gonna partake in others like taking public transport, cycling, or walking, spending time with nature and learning about its biodiversity and more.

Eager to know how you can follow in Jasmine’s footsteps? Ahead, our chat with her about downsizing her wardrobe, continuing to keep it that way as well as her thoughts on the future of sustainability.

How did you decide what to keep and what to toss?

I will try on each and every single piece. I have a sure “Yes” (hang back to the closet), a sure “No” (sell/give away), and “Maybe” (to revisit later) piles. Thanks to a deadline to move out of Singapore, I was “forced” to donate everything else my friends and family didn't take. I had to let go or carry them with me to Malaysia, which would have cost me a bomb.

Are there any challenges you encountered during the transition to a minimalistic, zero-waste lifestyle? How did you overcome them?

I don't think I have achieved a minimalist approach just yet. I still think I have a lot of clothes as my single rack is quite packed. I have left with about 50 hangers. And some hangers have two to three pieces of clothes on them. My aim is to fit my life with the bare minimum essentials into a 7kg duffle bag. I am nowhere near it, and I am still downsizing my life and letting go of items bit by bit. I am still pretty much a hoarder, especially [if what I aim] for [is] a zero-waste lifestyle.

What works for me when I downsize my wardrobe is to stop adding anything into my life first. When I stop adding stuff to my life, I start to see results as I downsize, and I am encouraged to go on, to let go of more stuff. It's like momentum.

What are your tips for others who want to do the same thing?

Why do you want to do this? Find your "why". Write it and pin it to your wall or wardrobe to remind yourself constantly. Before you start, stop adding new stuff into your life.

Jasmine shares the ways she fights the urge to buy fast fashion.

Be aware of your existing wardrobe, appreciate and use what you already have. I stopped buying new [items] since 2018 when I went zero-waste. I wear what I already have. It's okay to repeat outfits; I used to think otherwise. I now swap instead of shop! And it has been the best thing ever. Give Cloop Fashion Swap! a go. Our next event is on 8 May at Trehaus @ Funan, and 5-6 June at 50 Tagore Lane for the World Environment Weekend.

One major criticism of the zero waste movement (and in extension the sustainable fashion movement) is that it isn't inclusive and "shrouded in privilege". In your opinion, how can zero waste, and environmentalism as a whole, be more inclusive and accessible to the average person?

A good, well-made product can cost a lot more, [but] if you think long term, buy one time and it lasts forever. You actually save money and create less waste in the long run. It is worth the investment. Take for example a period cup. I buy [only] one time at [around] SGD30; it seems like a hefty price tag now, but lasts me for 10 years versus buying disposables at SGD3 to 4 forever for the rest of my menstrual life. I would happily make that switch.

Another example, I needed a water tumbler to refill water wherever I go. The first place I 'shop' for it is the kitchen cabinets. I found one, kept unused in a box. Took it out and used it instead of buying a new one. Often, we are trained to buy solutions. When in actual fact, the solutions and resources are around us, in our homes. It is really to rethink our consumption habits. Think before we buy and think before we throw. Put on your creativity hat and start rethinking.

It's been said that climate change has a communication problem and that the doom-and-gloom messaging dominant in environmental discourse isn't working to make people care. As an advocate, how does your work contribute to the reframing of the climate change discussion?

I share my true stories, and learnings along the way in hopes of inspiring others to do the same. I do my best to walk the talk, and lead by example, not blaming or shaming. Sometimes a straw does end up in my drink because I wasn't mindful. And I know how hard and stressful it can be to be addicted to shopping or any other vice. No one really talks about shopping as an addiction or problem because it's so good for business. [I was a] crazy shopaholic who needed to buy all the nice and pretty and cute things in the world in all the colours possible to [now] buying zero fashion items. If I can do it, you can do it too. I chose to spread the message through the route of love, not fear.

What are your future plans to continue advocating for the sustainable fashion industry?

I hope to be able to share my story with more people. Be it in schools, in corporations, or in organisations. Cloop also hopes to be able to bring swapping to the offices. We have been popping up at venues and hope to have a permanent space to do collection, sorting, restoration, curation, swapping, talks and workshop, all under one roof and create a space for the community to enjoy sustainable fashion together.

Are you hopeful about the future of sustainability? In your opinion, how can big entities be involved?

I am hopeful because eight billion of us on this planet can either create eight billion of waste or eight billion ways to be sustainable. No action is too big or small. The keyword is “start”. Even a simple switch from giving out bottled water to refill water from a dispenser can save so much from going to waste. Big entities are run by individuals. I hope more people can spread the love of the planet to more people. I was recently touched by a friend who once told me, there's no use to stop using disposables because this is the way life is now. Many years later, he is now trying to make his company more sustainable from production to end product. I am speechless and overjoyed at the same time.

(Cover photo from: cottonbro via Pexels)

Next, find out how you can make your beauty routine more sustainable.

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