”I bought premium clothes and hoped I paid for quality, but realized I had no clue if it was true — so I set out to find out”

On how a hobby project tracking his clothes every day for three years went viral
March 08, 2021

Hoverfält lives in Helsinki and works as strategy & business design consultant at technology company Reaktor.

— I focus on building evidence-based decision-making at work and sometimes off work. I like high-quality clothes and have for a long time been seeking to make conscious consumption choices, he tells.

Three years ago, he started a special hobby of tracking everything he wears, to analyze how each garment is performing in terms of use and cost per wear.

— In essence, he tells, it is a data-driven approach to understanding the underlying dynamics of wardrobe performance.

— Before I started, I had for some time wondered whether my past fashion consumption choices made sense. I bought premium clothes, like Swedish Stenströms button-down shirts, and hoped I paid for quality but realized I had no clue as to whether that was actually true. So I set out to find out.

How did you do it?

— So, I started on January 1 2018 by putting all my clothes into Excel. I have recorded the use of every single piece of garment since then to this date. At the time of writing, that is 1135 days and 427 garments. I built a system that computes and visualizes the Cost Per Wear (CPW) and frequency of use for each garment, each category (e.g. button-down shirts), and the portfolio (the entire wardrobe). Everything is visualized and updated daily online. I built it for myself, but now I am sharing it openly.

— This has helped me understand and improve my own purchase and use behaviour. I’m thinking that if it were to help someone else in any way, I am happy to share what I have built and learned. That is why I wrote the blog post “Why I’ve tracked every single piece of clothing I’ve worn for three years”. At the time of this writing, the story has just passed 100,000 reads and generated hundreds of comments and threads across discussion forums, news bulletins, and social media. I’m awed and humbled by the interest this little hobby experiment is attracting among fashion industry folks and consumers alike. So that is where I am at this point.

What’s been your hardest challenge?

— It should have been finding the persistence to insert the use data every single day. I guess my curiosity kept me going as this has never been a problem, Hoverfält tells. I’m happy to spend that one minute each evening. It has become an automatic routine. I built everything myself, so I have spent quite a lot of time coding the system, photographing my clothes, and processing the images to get the visually intuitive look and feel. None of this has been challenging though as it has been my own tinkering project with no deadlines nor pressures. Just pure curiosity and exploration. After publishing the blog post, my main challenge has been to keep up with all the wonderful contacts and requests I am receiving.

Which insight was the most important for you?

— To see how many times I have actually used my clothes and what in my case is normal. My initial estimates were really wrong. They were way too high. This bias has been particularly valuable to correct as it has biased my attitude too positively. Now I know the brutal truth, and now I am adapting. Another key insight, or rather validation of an existing hypothesis, is that buying cheap can, indeed, be more expensive as clearly shown in numbers.

What surprised you the most?

— The vast differences in performance within a category really surprised me. The best shoes or jackets outperform the poorer ones significantly.

Has the project changed your consumer behaviours in any way?

— Yes it has. I now know that my principle ”Find what you need and love, then only buy that” works and that a wardrobe with only favourite clothes may actually also be the best in terms of cost performance. The project has validated some behaviours, like buying high-quality shoes, jackets, and underwear shirts, and corrected some, like never buying anything on impulse unless it is for an existing need. This might sound like I have outsourced my fashion choices to an algorithm. But that is not really the case, rather I am using the insights to support my decisions of what I want and like, and what I should avoid. My overall cost has not gone down significantly, but my spending is better. I get less garments but of higher quality for the same money.

You mentioned how you may evolve the project into something else, bigger. What could that be?

— I started by building something that helps myself. Now, I see it might serve a broader good. As a result, I have shared all my data and solution code, and also a data collection Google Sheet for all the people who want to easily get started tracking their own wardrobe. In a bigger picture, I have learned that using data is a key missing piece in understanding fashion sustainability. We have come pretty far in the supply chain and recycling perspectives, but the actual value-creating part of a garment’s life cycle, the actual consumer use, is largely missing. In order to help improve this, I imagine a solution, perhaps an app, that is beautiful and dead simple to use. In addition to helping people make conscious consumption choices in accordance with their own preferences, perhaps we might all collectively be better equipped to understand and improve overall sustainability in fashion. Tall order, I know, but I believe it can be done.

Hoverfält’s progress can be followed on a special site.

— If anyone gets excited and perhaps wants to take part in building something bigger, please feel free to reach out!