Merle and Annewietske know that they buy too much clothes, but cutting back is difficult. ‘We really like shopping’

What do orcas and women have in common? Both were (often) crazy about fashion in their younger years. Milieu Centraal thinks this may be a bit less for people, but the temptation is great.

With well-filled bags, Froukje Visser (29) and Jantine Bleekveld (29) leave the Costes on the Nieuwestad in Leeuwarden. The two friends from Menaam are out shopping for a day and have just bought some shirts, pants and a suit.

“This is really fun,” says Bleekveld. “We will definitely wear this.” Yet there are still some textiles in their closet that hardly see the light of day. “If you just bought it, you usually put it on,” says Visser. “But after a few months you don’t like it anymore and it stays in the closet.”

85,000 car trips around the earth

They are exactly the target group that Milieu Centraal has in mind with a new campaign to reduce the amount of clothes they buy. According to the information organization, if every Dutch person buys six fewer articles of clothing every year, this will result in CO2 emissions equivalent to 85,000 laps around the earth in a car.

The German think tank Hot or Cool Institute puts it even more sharply and calculates that we can limit global warming to one and a half degrees if every world citizen buys a maximum of five new items of clothing per year. In order to make a difference, Milieu Centraal focuses on women between the ages of 16 and 35.

Orcas and teenage fish

This is the group that buys the most clothes and is also the most susceptible to new fashion trends. According to behavioral scientist Judith Roumen, people are not unique in this regard.

In the online course that Milieu Centraal set up for the campaign, she points out orcas. In 1987, an orca was discovered off the coast of Canada swimming with a dead salmon on her nose. At first glance this had no function at all, but other orcas followed suit and over time it faded away.

Scientists concluded that this was a fashion trend. They saw something similar in female chimpanzees who walked around with a blade of grass in their ear. “It is a form of self-expression,” says Roumen. “Show who you are to be included in the group. That runs very deep in social mammals.”

The temptation is great

Both cases involved young females. Also in the Leeuwarden city center, the teenage girls, or girls aged fourteen to seventeen, are especially sensitive to fashion trends.

The temptation to buy something is great according to Merle Okkema and Annawietske Sikkens. “Very big,” Merle emphasizes again. The sixteen-year-old Wommelsers love shopping very much.

“You want to go with the trend,” says Merle. “It’s really nice when someone tells you that you’re having fun.”

130 items of clothing and shoes

How many articles of clothing and shoes do they have? Too much according to Annewietske. “It’s not normal what I have in my wardrobe,” Merle adds.

In any case, they estimate that it exceeds the Dutch average of 130 items of clothing and shoes. “My mother corrects me that it is too much,” says Merle. “But I also buy second-hand clothes.”

Shopping every week

Visser and Bleekveld shop less these days than before. “When we were still eighteen, we went every week,” says Bleekveld. “I now have two small children and that is no longer possible,” says Visser. “But now I order more online. I do buy second hand for the children. They grow out of it so quickly.”

They want to buy a little less. “That’s better for the wallet,” says Visser. But sustainability does not yet play a major role in this consideration. Bleekveld: “When I clean out my closet, I take the old clothes to the Salvation Army.”

Own style

If clothes stay in the closet a lot, this is often because they do not combine well with other items of clothing, according to friends. To prevent this, Milieu Centraal helps young women discover what their own style is.

“If you buy something that is fashionable, but does not suit you, it is a bad purchase,” says style coach Mirjam Hamming in the online course. “If you know what your style is, you can buy more specifically and you need less.”


This appeals to Melina de Jong and Anna Paulusma. The twenty-somethings have just had a look around vintage shop Laura’s Wardrobe. “If you buy something second-hand, there is a much smaller chance that you will meet someone wearing exactly the same thing,” says De Jong. “That’s fun and makes you unique.”

Paulusma also points out the quality of older clothing. “Fast fashion is aimed at quickly buying new clothes and the quality is often less good. Vintage clothing is often made of stronger fabrics and lasts longer. That is also better for the environment.”