Last updated: December 2015
Reduce, reuse and recycle your wardrobe
Jacky Hall, a passionate knitter and a founder member of Stitched Up – a hub for garment menders & makers in Manchester – tells us how.
“Fashion,” said Coco Chanel, “is made to become unfashionable.” She had a point, because if garments were made to be timeless and classic then how would fashion houses and retailers make a profit?
The French designer was working at a time when fashion adhered to two seasons a year: woollen jumpers and coats for autumn/winter, and cotton frocks for spring/summer. Today, fashion is as fast as the Grand National. Big high street names have abandoned seasonal dressing out of a desire for double (or perhaps triple) turnaround.
Garments can leap from a design brief to the shop rails in less than two months, frequently dictated by celebrities. The Duchess of Cambridge can be pictured accepting a bouquet of pansies from a child while wearing a fetching and fitted blue lace shift dress, and a copy can be in store before the month is over.
Some might claim it’s good for the economy, but examine the production closer and it’s clear there are huge costs. From the millions of gallons of water used in dyeing to the globe-hopping transport of raw materials and finished products, making clothes is a wasteful business. But clothes are a necessity. How can you reduce, reuse and recycle your wardrobe without compromising on style?
Do it yourself
One solution for the ethically-minded fashionista is to get stitching. Domestic sewing has experienced a recent resurgence, and newsagents’ shelves are stocked with crafty titles such as Burda Style, Threads and Mollie Makes. BBC2’s primetime dressmaking competition, The Great British Sewing Bee, has excited new audiences over French seams and rolled hems.
Learning dressmaking can appear daunting. Complicated garments like tailored jackets or collared shirts do require a skill level that can take years of pricked fingers to acquire. However, for the entry-level seamstress, dresses and skirts can be whizzed up on a sewing machine with ease.
There are also organisations offering courses, such as:
- Stitched Up (Manchester)
- The Goodlife Centre (London)
- By Hand (London)
For those restricted by time or inclination, there are also dressmakers and tailors sewing clothes madeto-measure. A garment, such as a dress, made from a commercial paper pattern can start at around £25. These skilled artisans are usually working away in hidden nooks off the high street, and can be found through local classified adverts, searching online or simply through word of mouth.
Knitting and crochet have also enjoyed a resurgence, and online community Ravelry – a kind of Facebook for the fibre arts – recently welcomed its four millionth member. Those with the computer know-how can download PDFs from Ravelry’s legendary pattern database to print at home. And forget those shapeless jumpers of yesteryear, as today there are independent designers such as Kate Davies or Brooklyn Tweed producing contemporary designs like sleek cardigans or lacy shawls.
The British wool industry is one of the few in the UK which are growing. Laxtons, for example, have been spinning high-quality yarns in West Yorkshire since 1907. British wool itself is no longer the itchy irritation of a 1970s school jumper.
Specialist sheep breeds such as Blue Faced Leicester produce a fine fleece that is not only warm and strong but also has a delicate sheen. Alpaca yarn (apparently the South American camelid is suited to the Yorkshire climate and there are now smallscale breeders across the Peak District) is as soft as a spring morning.
Specialist wool shops can offer a range of tempting, luxurious handknitting yarns and offer expert advice. Here’s a small selection:
- Purl City Yarns (Manchester)
- Loop (London)
- Baa Ram Ewe (Leeds and Harrogate)
- Ginger Twist (Edinburgh)
Less is more
Finally, one extreme solution to overconsumption is anti-consumption. The internet is full of bloggers who have downsized their lives to the minimum of gadgets, books, kitchen utensils and, of course, clothing. Sheena Matheiken, for example, wore only one dress (well, she had two duplicates) for a year as part of The Uniform Project.
As a fundraising project for the Akanksha Foundation, Sheena documented her outfits online. By wearing her versatile dress backwards, inside out or dressed up with a variety of jewellery, hats and scarves, she made minimal dressing look fun, fabulous and ethical.