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Dr. Aisha Mays Took The #nonewclothes Challenge – Here Is What She Learned

What are the biggest challenges and the most meaningful takeaways when you stop buying new clothes?
Dr. Aisha Mays Took The #nonewclothes Challenge – Here Is What She Learned

Last year we collaborated with the Oakland vintage brand LaliSimone on a blog post about how not to buy new clothes. We invited our readers to start the challenge as well. Many responded with great ideas on how to avoid buying new fashion, especially fast fashion. Others had questions on how to start. Some took the challenge on.

In this follow-up post, we feature Dr. Aisha Mays, an adolescent medicine physician and founder of Dream Youth Clinics in Oakland, California. As a lover of fashion and creativity, Dr. Aisha is a style maven and fierce advocate of sustainability and supporting BIPOC-owned small businesses. She accepted the #nonewclothes challenge in August 2021 as a 45th birthday gift to herself.

Now coming up on the one year anniversary of her #nonewclothes journey, Dr. Aisha shares with us the growth, challenge, and life lessons learned through this experience.

In collaboration with LaliSimone and Neutral Ground, another Oakland-based vintage store, we interviewed Dr. Aisha to hear about what she has learned so far. Here’s what she wants you to know about the #nonewclothes challenge.

Dr. Aisha Mays wearing a 70s turtleneck, 60s mohair cardigan, 80s silk skirt, 80s belt, and 80s Max Factor pendant with Napier gold chain from Neutral Ground. Leather booties model’s own.
Dr. Aisha Mays wearing a 70s turtleneck, 60s mohair cardigan, 80s silk skirt, 80s belt, and 80s Max Factor pendant with Napier gold chain from Neutral Ground. Leather booties model’s own.

Tell us more about yourself. What do you and what are your favorite pastimes?

I am the Founder and Director of the Dream Youth Clinics, youth-led, #healthiseverything, teen clinics in Oakland, CA. Very early on in life I knew that I wanted to contribute to the growth, empowerment, and health of others in my community. So I became a doctor. Along my journey, I’ve been consistently inspired by the energy, excitement, and joy of young people. They influenced me to focus my medical career on adolescent medicine.

Working with youth I find that they are most easily able to envision and live in a world free from boundaries. They are creative, define life for themselves, question ideologies or rules that don’t seem right, and staunchly advocate for change.

Also, being a creative person and a lover of life who is full of ideas, hobbies, and passions, the youth reminds me of an important principle: ‘How do I want to show up in the world?’ I show up as a doctor, a creative, a maker. I make space in my life for all that I love.

Upcycled Tupac t-shirt, Japanese hakama pants, and 60s Lee jeans from Lali Simone. Pink clogs and jewelry model’s own.
Upcycled Tupac t-shirt, Japanese hakama pants, and 60s Lee jeans from Lali Simone. Pink clogs and jewelry model’s own.

Did fashion and your work in the community influence your decision to take the #nonewclothes challenge?

As a physician, I have struggled with how to incorporate my love for fashion and vintage into my professional life. As a doctor, society often puts you in a box where you are expected to look and act a certain way to be considered competent – mostly in line with a conservative structure. I’ve never fit into that conservative box and as a teen doc working with youth, who as a subculture, have their finger on the pulse of fashion, I don’t have to explain why I’m wearing a creative outfit or have braids down my back. They just get it. They embrace my style and connect with it.

Also, my youth clinics are in homeless youth shelters in Oakland where we have ‘free closets’. These closets are full of donated ‘many-time-loved’ clothing for any youth that needs them. Sometimes our young people don’t want to wear used clothes from the closets because they feel that it labels them as ‘needy’ or ‘less than’. I hope that when they see me they not only embrace used and free clothes, but can also be excited about them. I hope it will help destigmatize their need for donated clothing and encourage them to see the ‘free closets’ as an accessible opportunity to express their creative style.

80s silver fox fur coat, 70s tube top, Chloe skirt, and vintage brooches from Neutral Ground. Earrings model’s own.
80s silver fox fur coat, 70s tube top, Chloe skirt, and vintage brooches from Neutral Ground. Earrings model’s own.

You’ve always been a proud wearer of vintage. Why start the #nonewclothes challenge now?

I love the style and the story that used clothes tell. As a person who loves the experience of shopping, I have felt discomfort with the overconsumption, overspending, and waste that goes hand in hand with shopping. Even with used and vintage clothes, we can still be impulsive and buy too much. I’ve had to work to unlearn many of those wasteful shopping habits and retrain myself to shop with more purpose.

Purposeful shopping is a journey. When I read LaliSimone’s blog post, it resonated with me. It was about taking the #NoNewClothes challenge to celebrate fashion and take a stand against its destructive effects. I knew that it was something that I wanted to do to strengthen my commitment to responsible buying and resist overconsumption. I decided to take the challenge on my birthday and to do it for 1 year. In my challenge, I chose to buy only secondhand clothing and accessories with a specific focus on buying from local and BIPOC retailers.

Opera Coat by Malcolm Starr for Rizkallah and 70s denim bell-bottom jeans from LaliSimone. Lace corset top, shoes, and jewelry model’s own.
Opera Coat by Malcolm Starr for Rizkallah and 70s denim bell-bottom jeans from LaliSimone. Lace corset top, shoes, and jewelry model’s own.

For people that are thinking about starting a #NoNewClothes challenge, describe how you started and what are the lessons you have learned so far?

My first approach to not buying new was to refrain from window shopping for new clothes both online and IRL. I had to make an effort to shift to only browsing pre-loved and vintage clothes. Once I truly made that shift, the entire process felt easier and more enjoyable.

When I decided to take this challenge, it was of utmost importance to continue supporting and publicly highlighting some of my beloved local small business boutiques that sell responsibly sourced, BIPOC-centered new fashion. I believe their approach to fashion is integral to the #NoNewClothes movement as well. That’s why I chose to continue to patronize local BIPOC and allied businesses that sold new sustainable items for undergarments and swimwear. For me, thriving Black-owned boutiques and Black designers were central to my #NoNewClothes challenge.

I didn’t have a detailed plan on how I was going to do the #nonewclothes challenge. I just knew that I wanted to have fun with it. When I told my favorite vintage friends, Judith of LaliSimone and Alysha of Neutral Ground, they were both thrilled and supportive! Having a community of support helps me stay on track.

It was also important for me to chronicle this experience on Instagram where I connect with other creative folks. I wanted to inspire others on how to do #NoNewClothes. I shared photos of outfits I styled with all secondhand clothes. I connected the looks to a metaphor for life – a reminder that often what we wear is about so much more than the external look; it’s really a way for us to communicate something to the world. Creating this online journal was really an organic process, I didn’t control the looks and the metaphors really just came through me. That experience was really beautiful and inspiring for me. To summarize it: have fun, be intentional, tap into the community, and spread the word!

Adele Simpson dress and Hanae Mori belt from Neutral Ground. Necklace and shoes model’s own.
Adele Simpson dress and Hanae Mori belt from Neutral Ground. Necklace and shoes model’s own.

What have been the biggest challenges?

This journey has not been without challenges. At the beginning of each season is when I have the strongest cravings to buy new clothes. I see new seasonal pieces from my favorite designers and I want them! When I felt those cravings, I visited my favorite vintage and secondhand stores to browse or treat myself to a few ‘nonew’ items for the season.

Buying shoes and undergarments has been a challenge. As a diehard fan of clogs, one of my favorite pastimes was browsing my favorite clog designers’ latest collections to score a new pair of clogs. But that changed.

It’s been a very different experience shopping for previously loved shoes. It hasn’t brought me the same joy as when I shop for secondhand clothes. So I have chosen not to buy any new shoes this year. That has been an accomplishment in itself!

Regarding undergarments and swimwear, I took a different approach and discovered many new brands with whom I share the same fashion ethical principles. It also allowed me to buy from some of my favorite local new clothes boutiques that now carry sustainable items.

Vintage couture parachute dress, 50s long leather gloves, Maison Margiela boots, long strand rhinestone, and gold chain necklaces from LaliSimone. Earrings model’s own.
Vintage couture parachute dress, 50s long leather gloves, Maison Margiela boots, long strand rhinestone, and gold chain necklaces from LaliSimone. Earrings model’s own.

How about the easiest part of the challenge?

Shopping my own wardrobe! I have lots of clothes and accessories. Rather than going out to shop secondhand that was new to me, I decided to shift my focus to ‘shopping my own closet’. I started wearing pieces that I hadn’t worn in years. There were many things that I forgot that I had. I also rediscovered my appreciation for pieces that I had tagged to give away or sell. It felt like a wardrobe refresh that inspired me to wear my own clothes in new ways.

As you began your #nonewclothes journey, where did you shop?

I intentionally made a list of my favorite second hand and vintage shops to remind myself that I could still shop (and do a bit of virtual window shopping, too). I continued to go to the flea markets. When I was traveling, I made it a point to visit consignment and vintage shops to check out fashions in other areas. This was not different from what I already had done before this challenge. But because I started the challenge during the pandemic, and during a time when brands and people were ever more active on social media, I was introduced to more secondhand and vintage boutiques through Instagram Live events and virtual pop-ups. A major highlight was learning about more Black-owned vintage and pre-loved fashion brands across the country.

Vintage couture parachute dress, 50s long leather gloves, Maison Margiela boots, long strand rhinestone, and gold chain necklaces from LaliSimone. Earrings model’s own.
Vintage couture parachute dress, 50s long leather gloves, Maison Margiela boots, long strand rhinestone, and gold chain necklaces from LaliSimone. Earrings model’s own.

Has the #nonewclothes challenge been worth it?

I gained more than I could have imagined from this experience! I hoped to sharpen my focus on sustainability and reduction of waste while continuing to love and have fun with fashion. I also wanted to serve as an example of the joy and creativity that can come from just shopping your closet and buying pre-loved and vintage fashions.

This experience has made me a much more purposeful and intentional shopper. I used to do more impulsive buying. I didn’t really enjoy that, but I found that I just couldn’t help it. That practice felt unhealthy for me.

The #NoNewClothes challenge has changed that for me. Because I am not buying new, I completely stopped that practice. When I did shop, it felt much healthier.

I also can’t overemphasize how much money I’ve saved through intentional shopping of preloved fashion. With the money I’ve saved, I have been able to travel more, support art events and other experiences that celebrate life – which deepen my love of fashion. To start I just had to commit! I knew that it would be a challenge because I love buying clothes. I knew that in order for me to stick to it, I had to know exactly why I was doing it. I chose my birthday because I intentionally celebrate it every year. This solidified the importance of this challenge and my commitment to it.

Photos: LaliSimone and Neutral Ground styled Dr. Aisha and showcased how to blend her existing wardrobe with vintage fashion. Together, they created stylish day and night looks with all-secondhand clothes.