Written by Teghan Acres
We have suddenly all found ourselves with an abundance of time at home, bringing about a resurgence of laborious yet rewarding practices we had let go of in our fast-paced lives. Things like baking bread, planting vegetable gardens, and home improvements all come to mind; but the art of mending clothing should be added to that list. What was once a valued skill has long been forgotten as the clothing industry has made their products cheaper and lower quality to please consumers. It was no longer worth our time to repair a $10.00 t-shirt and we grew accustomed to replacing versus repairing an item when it was worn out. The majority of clothing is thrown away for minor fixable flaws such as a missing button or loose stitching. However, keeping clothing in use for just an extra nine months can reduce the related carbon, water and waste footprints by 20-30% . Therefore, you can save money while saving the planet by lowering your consumption and keeping the pieces in your closet in tip-top shape for years to come.
Figure 1. Graphic by Fashion Revolution
Credit: Textiles Environment Design | Chelsea College of Art & Design, London
The task of mending clothing yourself might seem daunting if the last time you picked up a sewing needle was in a middle school home economics class (like myself). It is actually very simple and requires only a few basic supplies and an internet connection. To assemble your home sewing kit, you will need hand sewing needles, thread in a few basic colours, scissors, straight pins, and a seam ripper. Metro Vancouver offers easy to follow video tutorials for repairs including stitching a hole and sewing a button and alterations including hemming pants and skirts. Find more tutorials on YouTube by Elizabeth L. Cline, the author of Overdressed and The Conscious Closet, for even simpler steps such as threading a needle and basic darning.
Figure 2. Creative additions to clothing after a jean hole was patched up
Credit: Wren Bird Arts
Communities around the world are embracing this idea through repair cafés. Repair cafés are pop-up events or workshops where residents can come to fix up household items together. This idea was born in Amsterdam in 2009 and has grown to the point where there are over 1,500 permanent locations worldwide. MetroVan Repair Cafés holds monthly events at different community centres around Metro Vancouver. These pop-ups are free to attend and are run by volunteers that are passionate about disrupting our throwaway economy in favour of a more circular system.
Figure 3. Recent MetroVan Repair Café in February 2020 at Marpole Neighbourhood House Credit: MetroVan Repair Cafés
Frameworq is a similar organization but their focus is specifically on advocating for the principles of a circular economy through upcycling workshops and the reduction of textile waste in Vancouver. They host monthly Clothing Fix It events and have continued this trend during our time of physical distancing. Their new ‘Clothing and Textile Fix Its’ Facebook group offers digital workshops for upcycling clothing and even sewing your own reusable masks.
Figure 4. Frameworq’s Clothing Fix It Facebook Group
Figure 5. Attendees at a Pockets Workshop hosted by Frameworq
Credit: Frameworq Education Society
Metro Vancouver’s ‘Think Thrice About Your Clothes’ campaign promotes reducing, repairing and donating, rather than sending items to the landfill. Their goal is to reduce the amount of clothing being thrown away in our area, which was a shocking 44 million pounds in 2018. They work to connect residents to share skills and mend clothing together. Their community page is a hub of ideas and tips for the reduction of clothing waste through repurposing and repairs.
Your favourite brands are also jumping on the repair bandwagon. Patagonia and Lululemon offer free minor repairs in-store. Patagonia will even ship away items for more complicated repairs and offers repair guides on their website for more experienced sewers. These services are currently suspended due to COVID-19 but are assumed to resume when it is safe to do so. It is also worth noting that our city is full of highly skilled tailors and cobblers that can tackle more complicated repairs and refurbishments at affordable rates.
Revolutions come in all shapes and sizes, and the rebirth of a repair culture falls into that category. Fast fashion is a huge polluter and we need to fight it from as many fronts as possible. Take some of your extra hours at home to learn these basic sewing skills that will last a lifetime and add another weapon to your climate action arsenal.