Culture

Discover the real value of your clothes thanks to a guy who tracked his for years

Sustainable fashion, but make it data.

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At a time when fast fashion could give Usain Bolt whiplash and the planet keeps churning towards shaking our polluting bodies off its surface, people are thinking more about sustainability, and whether the true cost of that new shirt or pair of shoes. Three years ago, Olof Hoverfält embarked on a mission to better understand the value of his clothes and their effect on the environment. He recently revealed the results of years of daily tracking of all the clothes he wore and gained insights well beyond his original scope.

The clothing log — Hoverfält kept a continuous log of his clothing choices from January 1, 2018 to New Year’s Day of this year. The roughly 300,000 data points covered the use and non-use of 426 clothing items broken down by 12 categories: jackets and hoodies, blazers, knits, shirts, T-shirts, pants, shorts, belts, socks, shoes, underwear shirts, and boxers. These are considered daily categories with sportswear being the sole outlier.

Data entry began in a simple Excel spreadsheet and now lives in a self-made database platform running on Google Sheets in order to handle all the information... and allow him to manipulate it more easily. Despite all of the data and coding, Hoverfält maintains that the process was generally not time-consuming with data entry taking less than a minute per day.

What did he learn? — Hoverfält’s analysis of the data relied heavily on the actual use of an item. One of the 10 insights he gleaned was to “focus on use, not price.” Sometimes, buying the cheaper version of something can cost you in the long run as we’ve all heard in the adage “you get what you pay for.”

This is echoed in two other points of advice to “shop for the long-term” and take care of your clothes. Babying a high-quality sweater could get you years of use instead of fraying due to corners cut in its creation or your mishandling of the item. But, at the same time, there's little value in spending a fortune on undergarments or socks, as these don't tend to gain significant lifespan in line with increased cost.

He also suggests staying away from clothes with “narrow contexts” and maximizing compatibility which can be easily achieved by limiting your color palette. Personally, black and white dominate my closet which makes mixing and matching effortless, but I still make room for bright statement pieces.

Know your weaknesses — Hoverfält acknowledges that everyone has a particular weakness (his is blazers), and it’s perfectly okay to have one. Fashion is as much about emotion as anything else, so you should feel strongly about your wardrobe. He encourages avoiding “second-tier” clothes that are nice, but not nice enough for you to actually reach for them. This can be improved by making your closet feel as luxurious as a store and help you remember why you bought these items in the first place.

His most important tip finds the middle ground between practicality and the intangible rush of shopping:

"Find what you need AND love, then only buy that. Sounds easy. Yet building this discipline is hard. There is a difference between need and 'need,' as there is a difference between love in the store, and love two weeks later."

And if you don’t love something or it’s past its prime, know when to let it go. His process is actually a very intricate way of assessing that. On a simpler scale, if you take a visual inventory of all your clothes every six months, you can learn a lot about what’s really serving you. Having a deeper understanding of how your clothes fit into your life can help you stop buying in excess and making more eco-friendly choices.