EcoSPHERE: Are You Ready for the Rule of 5?

Words by
Melanie Rickey

24th January 2023

If you appreciate luxury fashion, you're probably already committed to buying less but better. Could you, however, go that bit further and sign up to the Rule of 5? Campaign founder Tiffanie Darke maintains it will not only slow climate change, but vastly improve your appreciation of style.

While we all know fashion and textile production is one of the leading causes contributing to climate change, most of us don’t actually know what we can do about it. Well, this week, as we introduce EcoSPHERE to our online space, the answer is pretty straight forward: buy less, and buy better.

This is something we believe in at SPHERE. One well-chosen luxury product is always going to be better made, and with some vetting, it's source materials easier to discover than a cheaper, more mass produced item. With that in mind, we introduce an initiative from Tiffanie Darke called The Rule of 5.

Rule of 5 - How can I make a difference
Rule of 5 invites individuals to commit to buying less

The initiative comes off the back of a report shared last December by the Berlin based think tank, the Hot or Cool Institute. Their report  ‘Unfit, Unfair, Unfashionable’ concluded that to have any hope of meeting the goals set out in the Paris Agreement (which every country signed up to) to limit global warming to 1.5C, we need to cut the number of new clothing items we acquire per year down to five items.

Tiffanie Darke
Tiffanie Darke launched the Rule of 5 campaign last week, inviting people to pledge to buy only five items of clothing this year

Yep. Just five. For some UK based consumers, amongst the biggest fashion shoppers in Europe, it would mean reducing their consumption of clothing by up to 80%. For fast fashion shoppers, their quota might well be used up in a single splurge on Boohoo.

So hats off to author, journalist and ex-fashion magazine editor Tiffanie Darke, who took the conclusions from the report and did something meaningful with it, creating the Rule of 5 campaign, which launched last week. Tiffanie kicked it off by inviting her fashion friends to pledge to buy just five items of clothing this year  - not including, I hasten to add, socks and underwear. Many have already jumped in, including Jane Shepherdson, CBE, and Rachel Arthur. I’ve made my pledge too.

As SPHERE continues our style coverage this year, we'll be highlighting products that are worthy to make the shortlist of purchases you make in the months ahead.

When the report first came out, journalists like myself who are passionate and clear-eyed about the need to take action on sustainability in fashion, were quietly smug. Last year I bought four new clothing items, a Valentino belt and a pair of trousers from Sunspel, and a grass green linen summer suit from Zara. But even though I sold five times as many items back into circularity via resale sites including Ebay and Reluxe, ultimately I failed the Rule of 5 because of clothing gifts I received.

Rule of 5 - we throw away our clothes after seven months
Rules of 5 encourages people to buy clothes that will be worn for years, rather than months

In their report, the Hot and Cool Institute even went so far as to prescribe what our wardrobes should consist of, namely 74 items, broken down into categories. The Institute describes it as a “sufficiency wardrobe”, and it should be made up of six outfits for work (with up to four items per look), three pieces for home lounging, five sports outfits, four outdoor jackets and two party looks.

Here I also failed miserably: after many years spent as a fashion editor, I have more than enough clothes – well above 150 items - enough to last me for the rest of my life. But others of my peers who are equally passionate about the subject, including Rachel Arthur, a sustainability journalist, and founder of FashMash, found she had purchased 11 items last year.

Do you think you’d be able to do it? It is definitely a challenge to limit yourself in an area in which you are not used to acting with restraint, but this is the secret of this challenge. “It’s a mindset,” says Tiffanie Darke, who recently confessed on Instagram to buying 20 new things last year, not counting gifts. 

“After you’ve got over the initial shock,” she says of facing down only buying five clothing items in 2023, “its actually quite a nice thought. If it’s only going to be five… make them count. They will be good quality, long lasting, resilient and beautiful.”

Having to really thinking about what you buy has the effect of making each item feel special, and certainly less throwaway, and this is the crux of the whole exercise. The result? We value more, we cherish more, and we contribute to reducing the climate crisis in a meaningful way.

How to do The Rule of 5
The Rule of 5
The Rule of 5

“Let's think of this like a diet,” says Tiffanie. “If we fall off the wagon, the important thing is we get back on it again.”

Tiffanie has broken the year into five seasons, during which those who have pledged to the Rule of 5 can buy one item, not including underwear, lingerie or socks. The idea here is to have a fashion credit to “spend” in that period. If you go through one season without buying anything, you can buy two in the next. Or borrow from the period ahead if you see something you need.

The Seasons you can "Spend" your Fashion Credit 

1. Winter: Jan 1st to March 7th

2. Spring: March 8th to May 25th

3. Summer: May 26th to August 16th

4. Autumn: August 17th to October 31st

5. Christmas: November 1st to December 31st Christmas

Ask Yourself

Is it re-commerce or second hand?

Will you wear it a minimum of 30 times?

Can you re-gift it to a friend or family member down the line?

If it breaks or wears, could it be mended?

What's Allowed

Lingerie (but don’t go mad)

Socks (but don’t go mad)

Renting or borrowing - subscriptions



Mending and repair

The Bad News

Buying a second hand or vintage piece counts as one of your five. The idea is to cut the number of clothes in circulation, to use what we have more, instead of replacing it. The Hot and Cool report says at least 20% of our 74 piece wardrobe should be second hand. However, at the end of the year when we add it all up, anything over five purchases that are second hand, is better than anything that’s not.

Subscribe to the Rule of 5 here.