Freeing Fashion – An Interview with Laura de Jong

Posted by Jill Chivers in Interviews and Profiles

Welcome to another Profile of an inspiring woman who is slaying her shopping dragon.  I asked Laura de Jong some penetrating questions about the Free Fashion Challenge she initiated late 2010.  Well I thought they were pentrating.  Here’s what she said:

What is the primary motivation behind Free Fashion Challenge? Why did you want to do it?

In 2009 I had my internship with fashion designer Camilla Norrback in Stockholm. During my stay in Sweden I saw people with a great sense of style. They are less influenced by trends and for this reason they are more willing to invest in good basic items which they can wear for a longer period. I realized that this Swedish mindset can have a more lasting effect than the trend clothing.

 That’s why I decided to graduate with a new vision on sustainability and fashion. The problem with fashion is, that it is unsustainable in it’s definition: it’s about being modern or even ahead of your time. While most ‘green’ brands focus on the use of sustainable materials  and technical solutions, I believes the real barrier is the way people consume and how brands stimulate this over consumption over time. This makes it united to consumption.   

Who inspired you, when you first started FFC and since then?

I was really inspired by the sense of style of the inhabitants of Stockholm. They made me realize how crazy our fast, trend-based fashion system is. I wish that we all dare to wear what looks good on us and I would love it if we all would be less influenced by crazy fads.

Right now I get inspired by all the projects and designers who think about fashion in a different way, like the Uniform Project, where Sheena Matheiken wore the same dress for 365 days and still looked fashionable everyday. She proves that fashion is not about consumption.

And Monique van Heist, she is a Dutch fashion designer. She doesn’t work with seasonal collections anymore, but works with her “Hello Fashion-concept’. The designs that are in this collection will stay in there forever, as they are good as they are. She only adds some items every now and then. She wants her customers to be able to buy a new item when it might gets worn out. How often do we wear garments till they fall apart? Rarely… I think that’s strange, fashion isn’t a throwaway product!

Tell us about the fortnightly assignments.

The participants get an assignments every 3 weeks. With this assignment we try to help the participants/fashion addicts to make it through the shop-free year. And we try to inspire the visitors of our website: fashion is not about shopping, but about creativity.

We -the editorial team of Free Fashion-  make the assignments ourselves. Sometimes one of the participants comes up with an interesting assignment too.

Examples of our assignments are: Make an inventory of your wardrobe (challenge #2) to create awareness about what’s actually in your wardrobe. OR the challenge where the participants had to make a picture of their oldest and newest outfit and let it judge by some fashionable friends without telling the background of the pictures (challenge #5). It was interesting to see that the old outfits were almost never marked as outdated by the judges, which shows that old does not automatically means outdated. 

What lessons have you learned with the FFC so far?

The hardest part so far is to control my shopping habits. It was just a routine to go and buy something when I don’t feel that well or when I have something to celebrate, or, or, or… It’s really weird and difficult to just not do that! I noticed that there are certain things that I even buy ‘unconscious’. For example: I tend to just throw stockings in my basket and walk to the cashier to pay for them.

What I am quite surprised by is that it is not as difficult as I thought it would be. People are often really shocked when you tell them you won’t shop for a whole year. But I found out it is so much easier to shop not at all, then to shop less. Therefore I am more worried what will happen after this year!! As I am the founder of the challenge, I just can’t fail/shop. But after this year I will have to shop responsibly all by myself again.

What advice do you have for others who are currently (right now) slaying their own shopping dragon or dealing with a shopping issue of any kind?

  1. Avoid going into shopping areas…. It’s easier to not buy anything when you don’t see it. When you’re at home/work/the beach it won’t pop up into your mind that you need a purple dress with white flowers. You only know that you want it when you saw it.
  2. Realize that fashion is not about shopping, it’s about creativity and quality. Challenge yourself to come up with a creative solution if you feel the urge to buy something new. Google for instance on DIY blogs, there are so many budget friendly inspiring ideas on the web.
  3. Try to analyze your wardrobe: what pieces to you wear most and how can you categorize them? Also try to analyze your mis-buys: do dresses without sleeves always end up unworn in your cupboard? Put them on your “black (shopping) list”!
  4. Try to avoid extreme trendpieces. They usually look great on models in Vogue, but are not that easy to wear in daily life. Try to define your own style, so you can buy pieces for the long term.

It is not our goal to make the whole world stop shopping. We would like everyone to shop responsibly and for the long term.

Shopping is like an addiction for a lot of people. I often compare it to going on a holiday. When you have been away from your daily routine for a while, it’s much easier to define what you really want and need in your life. I think it’s the same when you do a shopping sabbatical.

If you join the Free Fashion Challenge or another non shopping program, like Shop Your Wardrobe: Think of why you want to do this.

I compare it to going cold turkey: it’s OK if you like fashion, but it gets scary when you are really addicted to buying fashion.

Find people around you who want to shop less as well, so you can help and stimulate each other. And if you’re really feel the urge to get something new, organize a swapping party with your friend!

Laura de Jong has a dream.  “My dream is to change the fashion industry into a long term, quality driven business. Their main goal should be to make people feel beautiful and confident instead of that consumers feel afraid to be ‘out of fashion’. At the moment fashion is not as forward as they pretend to be…” 

Find out more about Free Fashion Challenge here.

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