Embracing the Six Items Challenge

Kate Martin draws attention to the Six Items Challenge display at the front of Wastebusters in...
Kate Martin draws attention to the Six Items Challenge display at the front of Wastebusters in Wanaka, to highlight the problem of fast fashion waste. Photo: Abbey Lewis
We’re all about meeting challenges just at the moment; globally, nationally, and in our wardrobes, writes Gina Dempster.

At the time of writing, I’m wearing the same jeans and t-shirt as at the start of March. But don’t worry, out of consideration to my family living in the bubble, my t-shirt is freshly washed.

Wearing the same items is not (entirely) due to laziness, but because I committed to doing the Six Items Challenge during March.

As events unfolded in March, what I was wearing turned out to be the last thing on my mind.

Fashion seemed slightly irrelevant in the face of Covid-19.

At the same time, we started the hunt for a new general manager here at Wastebusters after our chief, Sue Coutts, snaffled an exciting zero waste job elsewhere. (Go to the Wastebusters website if you think you could be the one!)

Faced with a global pandemic, the Six Items Challenge seemed much more manageable, so I pushed on.

Under the rules of the challenge, you must wear just six main things for the whole month.

I chose one dress, one pair of jeans, one pair of shorts, one t-shirt, one shirt and a long-sleeved top. You also get unlimited active wear, foot wear and underwear, plus a jacket (a life-saver, given the unpredictability of March temperatures.)

The Six Items Challenge was started by Labour Behind the Label, which campaigns for garment workers’ rights.

Wastebusters decided to run one here in New Zealand because a fashion fast sounded like a great way to rethink our relationship with our clothing.

How can we love fashion without the waste and shop more sustainably? Why are we making so much cheap clothing with such a high cost to the environment and to the people who make our clothes?

Maybe it was just this crazy March, but instead of being a challenge, I found that having just a few clothes to wear was a relief. One less decision to make in these challenging times.

Now we’re in our month-long nationwide isolation period, we’ve freed ourselves from the expectations of others around our clothing choices (except for the days with video meetings).

The entire country is pretty much joining an impromptu fashion fast.

PJs? Frocks? PJs with frocks? Active wear? Gardening clothes? What will you choose to wear to do all those home jobs we never get round to?

It feels like we’re pushing a reset button. How did we get so busy? Why do we have so much stuff? And now we have some spare time at home, what activities make us happy? Never have I seen so many people in the paint aisle at Mitre 10 as in the 48 hours before the lockdown began.

The Kiwi DIY gene is alive and well.

Now that March is over, one thing I’m planning is to give my wardrobe a good clear-out. I’m going to set aside all the clothes I don’t wear to donate to friends and op shops once the virus is beaten.

It’s finally dawned on me that life’s too short to wear clothes you don’t love.

Summing up what I’ve learned from the Six Items Challenge is easy.

Here’s how I’m going to approach fashion from now on, (with thanks to American author and activist Michael Pollan): "Wear what you love. Choose quality. Mostly second-hand."

And in the meantime, enjoy your PJs.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Meeting the challenge 


1. Shop your wardrobe

It’s not easy to find clothes you love. Your wardrobe is a great place to start. Get out the things you love and are saving for a special occasion and wear them.

2. Plan a bit more

There’s no point having six pairs of black jeans you love and no tops to wear with them. Spend more time choosing the items you find hardest to buy.

3. Choose style over trends

Buy what looks good on you, not what looks good in fashion magazines. Models look good in everything. Most of us don’t.

4. Repair

Losing a button doesn’t have to be the end of the road. Ask Google how to do it. Darning and mending just takes time and internet access, which we all have lots of just now.


1. Longevity

Fast fashion seems cheap but the environment and garment workers are paying the price. Paying a bit more is worth it for clothing that lasts longer and is designed to fit you better.

2. Go round again

Quality clothing can be donated to op shops for a second life. Op shops are swamped with fast fashion clothing, which often ends up in the landfill as customers don’t want to buy it second-hand.


1. Shop second-hand first.

Buying clothing second-hand saves on energy, water and resources.

2. Let go

Why hang on to clothing you don’t wear? It’s not only a waste of resources, but it weighs us down. Set it free by passing it on to a friend or an op shop so it can be worn.

3. Rent for special occasions

One-off outfits are expensive and are often only worn once or twice. Online rentals (e.g., Designer Wardrobe) are increasingly popular for events such as school balls or weddings, once we're able to get together again.


 - Gina Dempster is communications officer at Wanaka Wastebusters. Each week in this column, one of a panel of writers addresses issues of sustainability.


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