mending and making do

In a world of throw away fashion and identical high street shoppers, should we regain our sense of making do?

We live in a financially challenging age; especially as students, either struggling to manage our money or about to step out into the real world already burdened with more debt than we’d care to admit. Could the answer to our financial fashion woes be found in the thrifty mentality of our ancestors? Over the last hundred years, the price (and quality) of clothes has dropped whilst the rate at which we as a nation buy clothes has substantially increased. Discount high street stores have kept the fashion consumer in style throughout the recession and allowed those with lower incomes access to instant and affordable fashion – but this consumer driven cycle is proving to be a false economy. As an environmentally aware generation, can we continue to buy and throw away clothes at the rate that we have been doing so? The natural products used to make clothes in the past were durable, and designed to last a lifetime; these high quality fabrics were the only ones available when our grandparents were our age. In comparison, the quality of clothes churned out by bargain high street stores has become so poor that much of what we throw away is utterly unrecyclable. As a result, textiles are now the fastest growing waste product in the UK.

We need to find a way to make modern day fashion sustainable. Arguably, we can shop “green” by buying what already exists. Vintage and charity shops are great places to find affordable clothes with the added bonus that they stand out from the high street crowd. Second hand finds have histories and their quality means they can continue to be loved and passed on. Alternatively, buying clothes on eBay is a way to save money whilst helping the environment, and by selling your own unwanted garments online, you could also make some money being green!

Our modern desire to buy into the swift successions of fashionable trends has been challenged recently by Sheena Matheiken’s stylish and socially conscious experiment in sustainable fashion – The Uniform Project. Matheiken’s project ended last May, after she completed her challenge to wear the same dress for 365 days. As well as raising money to help buy uniforms for children living in Indian slums, Matheiken intended the Uniform Project’s catalogue of outfits to inspire us to ditch our groaning wardrobes in favour of fewer, more versatile garments. By adorning the dress with vintage, handmade or reused accessories, Matheiken wore the same black dress for an entire year whilst still looking chic. Surely with a little creativity and imagination we could all turn our old wardrobes into something that looks and feels new?

Many companies, such as, whose inspired tagline is “Do your part to save the environment, one dress at a time”, are selling reworked vintage clothes. This is a brilliant way to prevent waste, but there is nothing stopping us from doing it ourselves. We need to learn how to make do with what we already have and adapting old clothes will give them a new lease of life. Unlike our generation, our grandparents thought nothing of darning their stockings and making their own clothes. I think we can learn a lot from our grandparents’ attitudes towards clothes and waste. If we learnt how to fix a ladder in our tights, or sew up those holes in our socks we could prolong the life of our clothes and reduce the number sitting in landfills. The modern mentality that the amount we throw away is acceptable has got to change. As consumers, we should all consider the victory pledge printed in Make and mend for Victory in 1942 “I will buy carefully- I will take good care of the things I have- I will waste nothing”. At the very least, next time you go to buy a three pound top, think about what you are going to do with it when it’s no longer in fashion or when it shrinks after its second wash.

Take a look at The Uniform Project and be inspired…

Published in the Autumn 2010 issue (issue four) of Razz My Berries Magazine.