You are about to wear your favourite pair of jeans when you notice some blemishes on it. What do you do? Do you decide to throw them away or repair them?
Every year, approximately 50 billion garments are made and sold, out of which about 92 million tonnes end up as waste in landfills. That means that a truck full of clothing waste ends up in landfills every second! If you now, reconsider the above question then the right answer is...repairing!
The ‘art’ of repairing
Repairing is the process of fixing old clothing, shoes and accessories that are ripped, have holes, stains or other blemishes. One of the processes is also mending where a variety of materials is used and one can be as creative and artsy as they feel. ‘Materials’ means things we already obtain in our household and they have none or little use: from safety pins and threads to rags and fabrics from old garments. It is about using what we already have, embracing imperfection and rejecting the notion of perpetual consumption. Repairing is mostly done by sewing, glewing, painting or other handcrafted processes one can bring in mind.
Repairing was popular both as an activity and a profession in the pre-industrial era where knowledge of fabrics and textiles was a prerequisite in every household for the sake of the domestic economy. Especially clothing was considered valuable and worth retaining or repairing due to scarcity of resources. That is also the reason why clothing and accessories back in the days were made out of materials and with methods that rendered their repairing viable. Replacing was not that easy, therefore the poor were mending their ‘damaged’ items by themselves and the rich were giving them to the many repairing stores that held a big part of a country’s labor.
During the 40s, repairing was an inextricable part of societies due to lack of raw materials since all resources were being provided as supplies in the military campaigns of World War II. Therefore, due to severe deprivation of many resources, governments were campaigning detailed messages and instructions of how to refashion, repair and reuse fabrics in order to be preserved longer. The so-called ‘Make Do Mend’ movement became not only popular but also imperative especially in the UK, France and the US. It was also advertised, by governments’ orders, through booklets, magazines and posters that shared tips and techniques of the ‘art’ of repairing.
From the 1950 with the mass consumption and the abundance of goods and until today the average consumer finds it a lot easier to throw away garments that are even worn one or two times than to give them a new life through repairing. Fast fashion has a fair share of responsibility on this ‘habit’. However, many attempts are done towards a more sustainable future in fashion. Various initiatives on repairing are taken around the world, such as the Repair Cafés in Amsterdam that offers customers a variety of material and techniques to repair their clothes, electrical devices, bikes etc. Scrapiana is another repairing - enthusiast that takes scraps and used clothes to sew them and give them a new life. Many books about proper repairing processes exist in the market.
Why to repair?
Deciding to repair a damaged or old piece of clothing has a vast amount of benefits for one’s mental health, closet and most importantly for the environment. The less we throw the less we pollute. The current fashion system uses tonnes of water and non renewable - toxic sources such as petroleum in order to produce garments. This system puts pressure on the environment and degrades ecosystems. Even more sad news is that a mere 12% of the material used in clothing production ends up being recycled. This is partly due to the fact that many textiles are a complex combination of fibres, fixtures and accessories such as plastic and metal. Coming back to your typical pair of jeans: it is made out of cotton yarn which is blended with elastane, and other components such as zips, polyester and chemical dyes.
The benefits on the everyday consumer are multiple as well. Focusing on repairing builds patience and focus and activities such as sewing are generally considered stress-relieving. It keeps one productive and increases satisfaction. It is like learning a new skill to increase creativity while at the same time you individually add your effort on saving the environment. There is only one rule on it: leave your imagination unfurl and try different things, mix and match, give your old clothes not only a new life but also your personal style and touch.
König, A. (2013). A stitch in time: changing cultural constructions of craft and mending. Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research, 5(4), 569-585.