Last week was Fashion Revolution week and it week got me thinking about my own sewing practise and what sustainable means to me. On 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed. 1,138 people died and another 2,500 were injured, making it the fourth largest industrial disaster in history. That’s when Fashion Revolution started. This year, 22-28th April 2019, marks the 5th Fashion Revolution Week, a campaign designed to enourage consumers to ask brands ‘who made their clothes?’ and to promote transparency across the manufacturing process.
Fast fashion comes at a price to both people in the manufacturing process and to the planet. Slowly sustainable fashion is becoming more mainstream, the BBC’s documentary ‘Fashion’s Dirty Secrets’ broadcast at the end of 2018, opened eyes as it gave light to the enviromental impact of the fashion industry. Honestly, I’m not an expert in sustainable fashion, there are plenty of people out there who are, I recommend going and listening to the Wardrobe Crisis podcast as a starting point. Sustainable fashion can feel like an insurmountable task, but there are small ways in which as sewists and makers we can play our part.
Make where you can
As makers, dressmakers, seamstresses, however you want to define yourself, being able to sew your own clothes is empowering because you cut out all the manufacuting process used in the garment production. The only way to know who really made your clothes, is well, making them yourself. This removes any grey areas in the supply chain. When brands outsource different parts of production, safe practises for employees and enviromental standards begin to slip. Being 100% self sufficient by sewing all your own clothes may not be possible. Upcyling is a great alternative to breathe life back into previously loved clothes. Ready to wear is a last resort, but all the knowlegde you have on fit and fabric means you’ll find it easier to make more informed choices. People Tree is a great choice for both basics and underwear, and you’ll be safe in the knowledge that the whole collection is responsibly sourced.
Learning to sew puts you in control, you decide the fabric, the weight, the composition, print or plain, but with great choice comes great responsbility. Not all fabrics are created equally. There is a growing awareness in the sewing community with makers asking for GOTS certificates. There is choice between natural fibres, man-made or semi man-made. I wrote about how to choose fabric to help idenitfy what is right for your project. As a maker, it’s important to consider the whole lifecycle of fabric and how long certain fibres will take to break down. Biodegradeable organic textiles are produced and disposed of in a closed loop system, cotton, silk, wool, cashmere and hemp are all examples of closed loop fibres. Synthetic fabrics like polyester, spandex, nylon will eventually break down, but this process might take between 20 to 200 years. So choosing what your fabric is made from and how it is produced can have an impact on its enviromental cost.
Use every inch of fabric
Once you’ve decided on your pattern and you’ve invested in some fabric, preferably one that comes from a sustainable source, it’s important to make the most of this fabric. After all natural resources have been used to produce the cloth, so it is precious, not to mention you’ve spent your hard earned cash on it. There are a few options to ensure you’ve made the most from your fabric, you can chose to cut your pattern pieces out flat, instead of on the fold which is most common for home sewers for its ease and speed. Alternatively you can use a zero waste pattern, like this Zero Waste Shirt and Dress Pattern here by schnittchen patterns. Lastly, you can save your off cuts of fabric for smaller project, Spoonflower have produced a book for smaller pieces of fabric. You can use offcuts for Bee’swax wraps, washable cotton pads, dishcloths, pocket linings, kids clothes, the list is endless, but the mentality remains the same, use all of what you have.
Making for making’s sake?
After all this and before even starting on a project it’s worth asking, do I really need to make this? Be considered in your choice of projects, will this suit me? Will I wear it? Does this fit into my lifestyle? I’m a big advocate of a capsule wardrobe and ask a lot of questions about my style with the Collete Wardrobe Architect series which I would highly recommend. It’s difficult, because as a dressmaker making clothes is more than just a means to an end, it is an expression of creativity, so I’m not saying never make anything just for the pure joy of making, but maybe just make one or two fancy dresses a year, instead of 10, if you only wear fancy dresses once or twice a year.
It’s not just about the clothes
Finally, Fashion Revolution asks questions about manufacturing and transparacy of supply chain and these questions raised apply all year round and not just during one week of the year. The same questions rasied apply to shoes, bags, accesories and homeware. By being part of Fashion Revolution it’s a lifelong commitment to fairer production and attempting to leave the smallest impact on the planet. Jewellry designer Alison Macleod (who made my wedding rings) raised the importance of ethical and fair jewellery (blood diamonds still remain a problem today). Cambridge Satchel Company manufacture their leather bags in the UK. Consumers are becoming more savvy to this and brands have to adapt accordingly.
Fashion Revolution is a movement, it’s a mindset, it’s about asking questions about where all things came from, how they were produced and at what cost to the people involved and to the planet. This week raised a lot of questions for me, as a maker and as a consumer. I try to be as responsible as possible, my sewing output has radically decreased and I choose to invest in better quality fabrics and spend more time on quality of finish, focusing on fit and longevity. If I have to buy something ready to wear, I see it as an investment, not a throwaway purchase. In the future if I’m producing something out into the world, I want to know it’s not going to cost the earth.