'I've worn charity clothes every day for a year to raise money for cancer in memory of my beloved mum'

Caroline Jones 
Caroline Jones 

On October 24 last year my mum, Mary, died after a long and brave battle with breast cancer at the age of 72. I knew it was coming but watching someone you love with all your heart fade away as the body finally gives up the fight was the most heartbreaking thing I'd ever seen.

Losing my mum left a permanent, deep, black hole that nothing could ever fill. But one day, soon after her death, I decided as so many people do when faced with grief that I needed to just do something. I decided to fundraise for Cancer Research UK (CRUK) in a way that my mum would have loved.

I chose the charity because my mum was a long-serving volunteer at the organisation's Harpenden store and in recent years I too had become a volunteer as our shared love of clothes, rummaging and chatting to people came together in this shop. But my way of raising the money was something new to us both.

Caroline Jones in one of her outfits

The plan was to spend an entire year wearing only preloved clothes sourced from CRUK shops. I would empty out my wardrobe, start creating a whole new one from charity pieces, and post a photograph on social media every day of my outfit. It had to be a different outfit every single day - though I gave myself the option of rotating certain pieces.

The only clothes I let myself keep from my old wardrobe were my pants - and so the name of my project, 'Knickers Model's Own' was born.

I set myself a target to raise £1,000 by the end of 2015 and began my campaign. I was expecting it to be hard - I wasn't allowed to buy any new items of clothing and had to create an outfit each day, preferably something stylish, bought or borrowed from CRUK shops.

But pulling an outfit together was actually the easy part. Mixing up styles has always been my thing - I love the idea of looking slightly different from the pack and wearing secondhand clothing is the perfect way to express myself. My musical taste has also been a huge factor in how I like to dress. Growing up I would listen to 60's music (Beatles, Motown, Northern Soul, the Jam, Dexys) and that has heavily influenced, and still does, my love of all things mod (my hair, my liquid eyeliner, my love of strong colour, my love of mid-century design).  Throughout the year I didn't once yearn for 'new'.

Caroline Jones in one of her outfits

The harder part of the challenge was the actual photograph. For me, finding the right backdrop is just as important as the outfit, so I look for a brick wall with great texture or a complimentary block colour garage door. I now have a list of 'go to' walls in my head.

Using my iPhone to take all the photos is also something I have learnt 'on the job'.  The importance of finding good, natural light through the seasons; approaching a complete stranger who I've asked to 'shoot' me to crouch low and to keep clicking while I pose, and at the same time try and feel relaxed takes a lot of getting used to. Editing images, cropping and adding filters is all new territory.  

I gave no thought to any of this at the start but now as the end of my challenge dawns, I'm proud of how I've learnt new skills and how my creative style has changed through the year. My smile is more relaxed, I'm far more comfortable in front of the camera and I have an instinct for a photo that's 'in the can'.

Today I have been dressing in charity clothes for 356 days. I have just nine days to go before my challenge ends, and I have raised more than £40,000 - that's 40 times my initial goal. My campaign has had an amazing response - it was picked up by local media, and now I have more than 10,000 likes on my Facebook page.

Caroline Jones in one of her outfits

My regular followers have been on this journey with me and this kept me going on the lonely days and weeks when it felt like someone had stopped the calendar. In a way never missing a day's photograph, taking my photos whilst away on holiday, living with grief, being a mum, a wife, a daughter and doing the usual juggling that modern life throws at you whilst campaigning for a whole year is the hardest thing I have ever done.

But everything that has come out of this year has been amazing. I won the JustGiving Awards 'Creative Fundraiser of the Year' and was presented with a Special Commendation for 'Pioneering Volunteer of the Year' from CRUK. I am now working on a book about my year and I have been invited to speak publicly about preloved fashion and style.

"I'm proud of how I've learnt new skills and how my creative style has changed through the year."

I've also discovered so much more about myself. I know now that I can stick at something and see it through, that I love my 47 year old self and that as hard as grief is, my life is about being happy, with people who I love, living my life to the full - just how my mum would have wanted it.

As the challenge ends, so does my existing wardrobe. I already sold some of it last month for £2,600 and the rest will be returned to the CRUK in Harpenden. I'll be able to return to buying and wearing new pieces- but this year has changed me and my shopping habits. Yes, I may treat myself to a new pair of shoes in early January, but I have proved to myself that I can still be fashion forward in preloved, second hand clothes.

So my tip to you is to step through the door of your local charity shop and have a good old rummage. You're not just getting a bargain whilst giving to a good cause - there are gems in there just waiting to be discovered.