At the intersection of fashion and sustainability is the underutilisation of clothing. Each year, Ireland disposes of 110,000 tonnes of garments which continue to lie limp and unloved in landfills. With these damaging figures persisting globally and threats of diminishing natural resources rising, there seems to be an increased recognition of the environmental damage caused by the production and consumption of clothing. This awareness has resulted in the fashion industry turning towards circular fashion and reusing as solutions to combat textile waste.
Many recognise the importance of prolonging the lifespan of clothing, existing as a central component in the circular fashion system. Often, this is achieved by supporting second-hand stores or renting clothes. Such activities illuminate that the importance of reusing our clothing is recognised by many. That said, we fail to question why our activities are limited to buying or renting other people’s clothing? While we are happy to support charity shops, purchasing other people’s knitwear and scuffed-but-mendable boots, we fail to invest and revive our own wardrobes. By supporting shoe menders and sewists, we can be freed from the stress-inducing situations of rapidly removing layers in the box- like spaces of thrift store changing rooms, which usually consist of no more than a curtain to cover your torso to thigh region- and if you’re lucky a stool to rest your legs.
When it comes to curating a sustainable wardrobe, the issue appears to be the advice we are given. The consumer conversation time, and time again is presented from a buying perspective, telling us what brands to support or what material will last longest or is most flattering. This becomes overwhelming and confusing as we are fed conflicting advice. This does nothing but prevent us from considering the fact that the most sustainable garments are those right in front of us- those already in our wardrobes. And believe it or not, taking care of them is the most sustainable thing that we can do. So, while being aware of shopping habits and making sustainable purchases are crucial, it is arguably of greater importance to shop and mend our pre-existing closets rather than buying more preloved items for them.
Fast fashion world versus the state of slow fashion: a modern-day remake of the tortoise and the hare.
Like our “no time” society, the fast fashion world thrives of the accessible and the instant. Cheap clothing options are provided to the impatient and the impulsive, trapping us in a cycle of environmentally damaging consumption. Providing clothes in an accessible manner is a huge incentive for individuals in a society where we find ourselves constantly under pressure. However, we must reject the rhetoric that is fed to us: newer and faster is not better. Regardless of the monetary value of our fabric, caring to invest time into fixing our garments will encourage us to value them more, to take better care of them, and thus wear them more often. In short, rather than contributing layers to landfill, we must rework the current linear ‘make-take-dispose’ model, replacing it with a circular one. Thus, there is no question of the role that aftercare plays in the fashion experience- it is as important, if not more important, than the initial purchase.
We must shift from a buying perspective to an aftercare one.
As solutions such as the renting and reselling of clothes transform from niche to recognised, consumer perception is recalibrated from previous views of clothing as disposable to ones worth keeping. Despite this, we fail to acknowledge the importance of repairs, which also provide a substantial opportunity for the fashion industry to modify revenue from production and resource use. Unlike resale which relies on consumption, repairs provide an alternative to throwaway culture, reducing the environmental footprint of our garments by repairing and building the relationship with clothing in all spaces- from our personal wardrobes to shared rails.
As the fashion industry moves towards a more circular economy, many brands offer aftercare services to show support for long-term use. However, post-purchase services haven’t been a priority at scale across the industry. Even when it’s available, there are often barriers to slow fashion, such as proof of purchase. Therefore, the focus should be on educating customers on methods of caring for their clothes or visiting menders for all repairs, from small holes and missing buttons to replacing the entire souls of shoes; repair services are a crucial way to influence consumers of the importance of investing in their wardrobe beyond the initial purchase, moving away from a throwaway mindset, and embracing the beauty of repairs.
Recently, there has been a repairs resurgence, gaining popularity alongside other crafts such as knitting. Mending can drastically slow the buying habits of modern clothes by encouraging us to value the clothes we own instead of buying new items every time they show even the smallest signs of wear. However, if you fix your clothes and provide them with a second, third, or fourth life, you are saving not only the planet but also your bank balance and hours consumed in changing rooms, experiencing disappointment at how the new sweater doesn’t fit how the one that hangs unworn in your wardrobe does. So, supporting the slow fashion movement by repairing clothes enables us to become aware of our consumption and spending.
Let’s repair the rhetoric and expand the repair economy. Encouraging post-purchase services must become central to the conscious closet conversation.
Visible mending has become a popular online trend, inspiring many to view the repair process itself as part of the beauty of the garment. By celebrating individual style, instead of concealing stitchwork and patchwork, visible mending showcases not only individuality, but also care for conscious clothing.
Conclusion: The focus needs to shift to how we can make repairs attractive to consumers, altering the mindset to view their clothing as valuable and worth spending money to mend.
Ultimately, it is fast fashion and the marketing machine that drives it which continues to tell us that clothes are disposable. Fixing a tear or hole in your favourite sweater may seem unexciting, but in reality, it can be both an enjoyable experience and an act of pro-environmentalism. So, embracing the imperfect state of our clothes may be the alternative to fast fashion that we have been searching for, and those hoping to repair their relationship with their clothing and the environment should turn to sewists and shoe menders as answers to lacking creative drive and environmental deterioration. Simply put, repairs provide a means for us to better create a world with less consumption and more sustainability.