Refashioning. Recycling. Upcyling . . .
What exciting words full of promise and possibility! Here is the chance to turn something old, ugly and unusable into something new, special, creative, and, well . . . useable.
I wholeheartedly agree with all of these sentiments, as refashioning is such a great idea. It’s eco friendly by using something that would otherwise be thrown out, and instead of letting it become end-of-life, rescuing it and transforming it into something better. Refashioning saves existing textiles by recycling them, so that the garments are kept out of the landfill. Someday it is my goal to be zero-waste, so it totally makes sense that I would be completely into refashioning. And yet. . . I have a confession to make. . . I don’t really love refashioning garments. I hate altering things, and I love cutting into brand new fabric. To be completely honest, I just don’t enjoy the process of upcycling, as much as I love the idea of it.
On the surface it sounds so great- take something that is old and useless and transform it into something good again. Our thrift shops today are overrun with used, ugly, or cheap clothes. They are full of garments from the 80’s and 90’s, that were never cool and definitely won’t ever be again. There are clothes that are ruined because they are either stained or ripped, and are only good for rags, but if something can’t even be used for a rag, what happens to it then? All that is left is for it to be thrown away as an end-of-life textile.
I don’t know why people don’t talk about it more often, (maybe it hits just a little too close to home) but the fashion industry is the second largest contributor of pollution on earth. That’s right: the second largest in the world, behind only the oil industry. I don’t know about you, but when I think of things that are damaging to the environment, I think of, yes the oil industry, but also things like, clear cut logging, or chemicals in farming practices. I don’t think about the innocent t-shirt hanging in my closet.
While we hear a lot about the impact the oil industry has, we hear hardly anything about what the fashion industry is doing to destroy our planet. The fashion industry is full of synthetic dyes and chemicals, abundant water usage and waste, and airborne pollution to name just a few. Not only are the chemicals, water usage and pollution bad enough, but many of the cheap garments being manufactured today are made from fabrics like polyester blends, that cannot be recycled, do not biodegrade, and are so poor in quality that they wear out and are almost immediately thrown out, contributing to landfill waste.
I get depressed just thinking about it all.
This is where I start thinking- what can I do to put a dent in this endless cycle of waste? There are a few ways we can help to turn the fashion industry around, and one of those things is refashioning existing textiles. Because refashioning uses textiles that have already been produced and cast aside, they are no longer a harmful part of the fashion industry cycle. By refashioning them you are giving them new life.
These are the inspiring things that I hear and tell myself, and so I decide that I am going to refashion! Instead of buying new fabric all the time, and continuously adding to my stash, I start buying fabrics and garments from the thrift stores that I can restyle and upcycle instead. I decide to join in challenges like the recent Refashioners challenge. I see a dress at the thrift store, and say to myself “This has potential. I’ll take this old thing and make something new out of it. If I just alter this, it will be perfect. If I just remove the sleeves, recut the hem, etc. then I can make this unusable thing useable again.” And I forget to take into account that a preloved garment, comes with predetermined issues.
Often the fabric is skewed or stretched over time. Sometimes I find snags or stains I didn’t notice before, or the fabric is unevenly faded and I have to make some strategic, emergency adjustments along the way. Often there isn’t enough fabric to make what I originally wanted to, so there is a lot of pattern hacking involved and changing plans midway. There are seams in odd places, and sometimes the seams have weakened the fabric, or left holes in it. Hours of frustration ensue in which I question everything, “Who made this ugly thing in the first place? Who sewed that seam crookedly, so now I can’t measure or cut where I want to? Why did they do this or that or the other? Why did I ever get the idea in my head to embark on this project????”
In short- what sometimes seems like such an easy and quick fix, is not. There are a whole host of problems with refashioning. But, nothing in life is easy, and sometimes the best things in life are a challenge to overcome, right? There are sometimes a whole host of problems that come along with sewing something brand new too.
So, after the hours, days, (weeks? months?) of my refashioning project, I put the final touches on the garment. It’s done, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I persevered through it all, sometimes with mixed results. But then I look at what it was before, and what it is now, and I feel that sense of accomplishment! I promise myself I’ll never do it again… but boy did that turn out great!
And then much to the consternation everyone around me, who is forced to listed to my agonizing over the project, I’ll invariably end up starting another refashioning project. Is it possible to hate something so much, and yet love it too? It really is so satisfying to be able to look at something that was once wasteful and is now a productive member of society again 🙂 Some of my favourite garments are ones that were refashioned. I love them, just like I love my vintage pieces, because they have history. They have a story behind them. And I put a lot of work into them even if, like my latest refashioning project, it wasn’t a beast to sew, I still invested the time and effort into it. But isn’t it true that we tend to love those things that we had to work for?
So, I hope that, even if you aren’t into refashioning, you will take some tiny steps too. Maybe it’s fixing that blouse where the seam came undone, or the button fell off, instead of tossing it out. (Or getting someone to mend it for you, if you can’t do it.) Maybe it’s seeking out garments that are made of recycled materials instead of new materials. Maybe it’s choosing to buy your clothes at the thrift store, even if you aren’t refashioning them. (There are, obviously, a lot of nice clothes in the thrift stores that require no refashioning- and I think my fellow vintage lovers will have this one down-pat. Wearing vintage is like the ultimate planet saving practice!) Maybe it is buying quality, timeless garments in the first place, so they don’t end up in the thrift stores, stretched out of shape, pilled and out of style within a year, destined for the landfill. Or, maybe it is a more ambitious project of refashioning an existing garment into something completely new. (And if that is the case, good luck, and you can look at this year’s Refashioners challenge for tons of inspiration!)
The bottom line is, if we each take some tiny steps, even if they seem rather insignificant on their own, then together we can make bigger difference. Sometimes it really can start with something as simple as refashioning an old pair of jeans into a retro top, rather than buying a new one. You’ve got to start somewhere, so it may as well be there, right?
What do you think of refashioning? Have you ever refashioned anything before? Do you have any other ideas for ways to help decrease the impact of the fashion industry on our world?