Can we mend our relationship with repairing clothes? – #MendItMay

By Lauren Rees

1 month ago

Our relationship with our clothes is broken. Just a few decades ago, clothing was priced in a way that reflected its true value, garments were designed to last, and the person who bought the garment was implicit in this longevity. However, with cheap clothing now abundantly available, fashion has become disposable and waste is prevalent in every part of the industry, as a result of overproduction, overconsumption and problematic end-of-life solutions.

The world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. This is 400% more than the amount we consumed just two decades ago. Trend cycles used to last roughly 20 years, meaning that clothing produced was made with intention and people invested in staple pieces, but now that cycle can be as short as a few months. Modern clothing just isn’t built to last; the fast fashion business model and micro-trends drive constant change, resulting in the mindless consumption of cheap, poor quality clothing that sometimes seems easier to throw away and replace than it is to repair. 

The perceived value of clothing is only one of the reasons why we are so reluctant to make do and mend. A lack of sewing and textile education, in school or at home, is leading to the loss of traditional skills that are essential to clothing longevity. According to a survey by British Heart Foundation, around 57% of Brits said that sewing is a skill that is being lost in today’s generation, and a third of people surveyed revealed that they were never even taught how to sew. Additionally, a study by the University of Missouri-Columbia found that, as an increasing number of schools drop home economics classes due to budget cuts or changes in educational priorities, many high school students are left without basic sewing skills. This lack of education combined with cheap, disposable clothing has left us without the desire or skills to really make our clothes last. 

 

 

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The ancient practice of mending

Although today people are less inclined to repair their clothes, mending is an ancient practice with a rich history that has been around for over 2000 years. An Egyptian children’s tunic in the Whitworth Gallery’s collection in Manchester is dated to 600-700 BC. It’s extensively darned with coloured wool threads making it one of the oldest pieces of evidence we have that humans have been darning for thousands of years. Boro in Japan creates new fabrics from fabric scraps and old clothes and in India, Rafoogari, the traditional art of darning, has been used for centuries to repair damages in textiles, preserving old clothes and giving them a new life. 

Many clothes in museum collections show marks of alterations – either for different fashions and styles, for different wearers or for changes in bodies over time. The article Lessons in Reuse From… French Couture? by Elizabeth Block, reveals that in the 19th Century, wealthy women would spend thousands on couture dresses and maximised their investment by reworking them and wearing them for years. This practice reflected the value placed on these luxurious fabrics and was undertaken by upper-class women, actresses and royals. While this meant that fewer of the original garments survived, it is interesting to see how women kept up with current trends while being resourceful. Rather than being relegated to a trunk in the attic, these gowns were given new life over the decades, a testament to clothing and fashion that lasts a lifetime.

We have lost touch with this age-old tradition but it is vitally important that we revive it. By investing in your wardrobe and mending your clothing, you are ensuring that you can wear the pieces for longer, slowing down how much you consume and making sure that less goes to waste. Fundamentally, mending is a radical act of care in a fast fashion system that thrives on carelessness.

 

 

#MendItMay

Sustainable Fashion Week UK’s #MendItMay campaign was started on the back of the findings from behaviour change research conducted by students at the University of West England. The campaign is all about encouraging people to mend the clothes that they have, rather than buy new. Throughout the month of May, people are encouraged to share their mending projects on TikTok, inspiring others to reconsider their clothes before they dispose of them. Taking part and mending is not only good for your purse and the planet, it’s also a great mindfulness activity; find a moment of peace, disconnect from distractions and get creative.

Below, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite mending projects and collated a list of resources to help you get inspired and take part… 

 

@sustainablefashionweek Fix your broken button with us!!! #menditmay is all about upcycling and repairing your clothes instead of throwing them away! Fixing a button takes 5 minutes and avoids discarding clothes 🌼 #sustainablefashion #fyp #repair ♬ Sleepy – Gui

 

 

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Resources

Our Loved Clothes Last pinterest board is full of mending inspiration, sewing tutorials and clothing care advice

Check out our #LovedClothesLast playlist on the Fashion Revolution Youtube channel

Try out Remake’s 5 easy stitch fixes

Read this beginner’s guide to mending your jeans

Learn how to darn a hole in sweaters and socks

Get involved in Sustainable Fashion Week UK’s #MendItMay campaign on TikTok

 

Further reading

Five things fashion history can teach us about clothing longevity

Care, repair and rewear to transform the fashion industry

Loved Clothes Last fanzine

Fashion Craft Revolution fanzine

 

Cover Photo by Dinh Pham on Unsplash