How to Keep Your Beloved Clothes for Life – Clothing Maintenance & Repair
This article was written by Anca at ethical.net – a social enterprise building a platform for discovering ethical brands and products.
Happily, if you don’t want to buy new stuff — even the kind that lasts a lifetime — you can repair, maintain and prolong the life of your beloved clothes.
I’ve seen too many perfectly good jackets thrown away just because the zipper wasn’t working. That very jacket was the result of large amounts of energy put into its production and distribution, with materials that most likely have been “harvested” from various parts of the globe.
Hm, have we really forgotten what it means to repair clothing?
Kurt Vonnegut said it best: “Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build, and nobody wants to do maintenance”. It can be applied to production of pretty much everything. In the unsustainable craziness that got hold of our species, we ended up making poor quality products, piling them high and selling them cheap, rather than creating quality products that last longer and can be easily maintained, mended, fixed, darned…
In my childhood — just a few decades ago — it was inconceivable to throw away a piece of clothing before it became beyond repair. I grew up wearing my elder siblings’ clothes and it made perfect sense to repair clothing. This inter-generational swap turned clothes into well-loved and valuable items squeezed for years for every fiber and ounce of life, until the colors would fade away along with the worn-out heart shaped patches.
My grandmothers would take pride in their mending skills and Singer sewing machines. In the last few decades, with the many cheap clothes flooding the world, there was a general feeling that mending was a dying habit. Still popular in certain countries, usually associated with poverty or at least a lack of financial resources, mending is finding its way back even in so called prosperous societies that guzzle fast fashion down at a worrying rate.
It won’t stop mending, repair, and clothing alterations shops and tailors from disappearing off the map of independent businesses, but the corner knitting associations, bloggers and charities are making sure they bring mending back. It might be nostalgia too, but it’s also the best way individuals can fight back, showing the fashion industry that it needs to change its ways now, before it’s too late.
Meet the Menders, Darners and Fixers
Yes, they exist and sometimes even thrive. If mending is not your cup of tea or if you simply don’t know how to repair clothing, chances are you are within walking distance from someone willing to fix your favorite sweater for a small fee, a large fee, or for free.
For instance, in Brighton, UK, we discovered The Visible Mending Programme ⎯ “a self-taught textiles practitioner” working mostly in wool. It’s a personal exploration in traditional techniques for creating and repairing textiles, but something exciting can come out of this. Have a look.
Some people not only make their clothes from scratch, they also blog about it. This is the kind of DIY achievement that encourages you to share and spread the good deed. Check out Karen Templer — “devout yarnophile and knitting enabler” and her Fringe Association blog. You can find out why she makes her own clothes. Knowing where they come from and simply because it’s fun, are high on her list of priorities.
There are books too. Take for instance Mending Matters: Stitch, Patch, and Repair Your Favorite Denim & More published this autumn. The book contains how-to projects to repair clothing, essays on slow fashion, the author’s fashion fast, and other such treats. Look in the unlikely places too, like the Zero Waste Chef. Her main focus is cooking waste free, but her new posts on bags made out of old clothes and leftover materials are a joy to see and, most likely, use. She’ll even teach you how to sew a bento bag.
It’s OK to Be in Fashion. You Own Fashion.
A consumerist society that constantly tells you to be up to date, to be on trend, has no interest in also asking you to be careful where and how you invest. Occasionally, the brands tag washing and drying directions on your clothing, but they’ll hardly ever encourage you to put thread and needle to good use. That needle might bring more benefits than you bargained for. And yes, we will come back and talk about the exceptions too.
So, spread your wings and find the inspiring mending project near you. Or even better: start one. Good luck!