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What defines an ‘old’ piece of clothing? Is it ‘old’ because of its age or is it ‘old’ because we simply don’t wear it anymore? 

By now, it is almost unavoidable not to be aware of our current clothing waste crisis. So much so, that our unwanted clothing is now a mountain visible from space!

What will it take to create a lasting impact on our consumer habits? And can we truly re-love our existing wardrobes?

Clothing to excess

According to the UN, fast fashion holds 20% of the total waste produced globally.

The awareness and the abundance of unwanted, and sometimes unused fashion items has built itself into a ‘fixer movement’, promoting the repair and mending of fashion products that further embraces the new materialisms and aesthetics emerging from it.

The motivation to repair and mend our clothing is determined by several factors identified in a study highlighting three main aspects that affect people’s repair behaviour; emotional, technical and value.

Our wardrobes are currently determined by trends, not longevity. So how might we take it upon ourselves to tune into garment sentiment, learn repair skills and decide that a garment is always worth repairing, despite its readily available, cheaper replacement?

Our trust on trends

As trends change, so do our clothes. Our wardrobes are living examples of the pace in which fashion trends instruct our increasing consumption of clothing, with studies showing that garment use time is decreasing rapidly, by up to 36% every fifteen years. The fashion industry’s global trends are estimated to reach a staggering value of around $2.25 trillion by 2025, up from $1.5 trillion in 2020. 

Although fashion trends have the capacity to symbolise change and movement in society, they can also be linked to holding responsibility for consumer disposable behaviour and the overproduction, overconsumption and compulsive buying of clothing. Particularly within fast fashion environments, our throwaway culture possesses high rates of purchase and disposal, simultaneously culminating in our collective consumer behaviour that is fuelled by a prevailing, unattainable ‘’currentness’’.

The unworn and unseen life of a piece of clothing does not always begin inside of our wardrobes, some clothing remains unsold and never seen, due to such high volumes of garments being produced. Unsold garments are often sent to landfill or sacrificially burnt to ‘‘safeguard the brand value’’. 

Individually, we may not have the ability to change the production systems within fast fashion, but what we do have is buying power, with the ability to redirect our purchasing habits into more circular businesses and restoration services to extend the life of our clothing. The repair and alterations sector is now booming, showing us exemplary techniques to restore our clothing, at affordable prices.

Aesthetics of repair

Patching, darning and fusing are all processes some of us may have heard of before, however what imagery do these words bring to mind? The stigma attached to repair aesthetics and the act of garment care refers to the socio-economic perception that damaged, frayed, and repaired products are associated with economic hardship and poverty

How can we begin to shift our perceptions of repair and alteration in order to see beyond our own image, to wear our restored clothing unashamedly?

Research has highlighted that several public garment repair workshops and events have used visible mending techniques in order to protest against the connotations attached to wearing mended garments. 

Repair workshops and studies also demonstrate the educational factor visible mending has to offer, guiding us into new found creative engagement with our existing clothing, through sensory exploration and further self expression through material involvement. 

Avant Garde couture house Maison Margiela has been showcasing deconstructed aesthetics since their inception, showcasing the beauty in the ‘marks’ of the maker, as opposed to clean seams hidden inside. 

It is this engagement and understanding of, and with, material that is overshadowed by our trend fuelled desire to ‘‘keep up’’, encouraging us to compete with our social comparisons, eliminating the very human aspects of wearing clothing. 

Circular incentives

Repair practices represent the shift we need to establish in the fashion industry, psychologically, practically and financially. Finding new relationships with our existing wardrobes may influence us to take ownership of our clothing again, to break away from our dependence on trends, causing our compulsive buying habits to grind to a halt. 

Promisingly, this was recognised by French lawmakers recently, where a bill has been approved to impose increasing penalties on fast fashion products, and limit the advertising of fast fashion.

Perhaps, it is also through practising new perceptions of waste and repair, where we can begin to realise the space above trends to create a new aesthetic language for ourselves, to gain sight, quite literally, through our global mountain range of clothing.

Alice Taylor

Author Alice Taylor

Alice Taylor is an artist, designer, fashion practitioner and co-founder of sustainable clothing brand Point To Point. Holding an MA in fashion from the RCA, her practice explores and researches the emotional connections found between maker, material and landscape, drawn from her experiences working with rural artisans around the world.

More posts by Alice Taylor
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