In the age of disposable fashion, Elysha Schuhbauer thinks it is a radical act to mend a piece of clothing instead of throwing it away.
She mends her own well-worn favourite garments with vibrant patches of fabric and colourful thread to save them from the landfill and make a meaningful impact on the environment.
“When I find something that fits really well and that I like, I just want to make sure that I can keep it as long as I can,” she said.
“To me, [mending] feels like a really tangible thing that everyone can do in their daily life.”
Schuhbauer is the founder of Worth Mending, a Kitchener business that makes and sells darning looms used to mend clothing.
Using simple tools and techniques, Schuhbauer gives new life to a worn pair of jeans or a favourite sweater. It deepens her relationship with her clothing, reduces the amount of new clothes she buys and gives her hope for the future.
The fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest pollutants because of the amount of water and energy used to create clothing that ends up in the landfill after a short lifespan. Schuhbauer thinks mending your
clothing is a way to counter the industry’s cycle of waste.
“It just it feels very hopeful in a world that, if you look too closely, it has a lot of pain and a lot to work through,” she said.
More than half of the 500 million kilograms of fabric thrown away by Canadians each year can be reused, according to new research from University of Waterloo. The researchers created a grading system to sort textile waste and save it from landfills.
Olaf Weber is a research chair and professor in the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development at the University of Waterloo. He said selling or donating clothes is an easy way to keep clothes out of the landfill.
“We use a lot of energy and water to produce clothing, so if something is bought cheaply and worn only three times, it is not sustainable,” Weber said.
Weber thinks mending is also a good alternative for those who have the skills and will to make their clothing last longer.
The issue of textile waste lies also with marketers and the fashion industry, Weber said.
“The companies themselves can use renewable energy, use recycled materials or cotton grown without pesticides and establish environmental standards for textile production,” he said.
The search for meaningful ways for people to make their lives more sustainable is what drew Samantha St. Armand to mending clothes.
St. Armand works at the University of Waterloo Sustainabilty Office and volunteers her sewing skills at repair workshops hosted by 4RepairKW at University of Waterloo, a community group that helps people repair electronics and clothing and give broken items a new lease on life.
St. Armand uses a basic sewing machine to help people mend their clothing.
“This was a way to sort of merge my love of sewing with my interest in sustainability on campus,” St. Armand said.
“The fun part about mending is it’s like problem solving. You have to diagnose the problem or what caused the issue and figure out how best to repair it,” she said.
Jeans are the most common item of clothing St. Armand sees come through repair workshops, with jackets as a close second.
She said she sees different kinds of people bring their clothing to 4RepairKW’s workshops: those who want their well-worn clothing fixed, others who want to watch and learn and young people bringing in clothing they purchased second hand.
St. Armand said she sees hope in younger generations who see the value in owning fewer articles of clothing than their predecessors. Not only is this a positive trend from a sustainability point of view, but it also shows they have more care for their possessions.
“Mending, it empowers people to be able to sort of build a relationship, as romantic as that seems, with the items that they own,” St. Armand said.
Skilled volunteers at 4RepairKW workshops can also repair electronics, leather products and jewelry to save household items from the landfill.
“We’re more likely to refuse something if we already have something that works well. And we’re going to reduce the amount of stuff we have because we’re caring for the things we do have. We might like to reuse items that other people are throwing away because we see the value in it and we want to take care of it. So it kind of all feeds into all the aspects of sustainability,” St. Armand said.
Schuhbauer would like to see more people taking care of the clothes they already own, and she said that begins with understanding care labels on clothing.
“If you notice a label says ‘dry clean only,’ maybe wash it on a gentler cycle to make it last longer,” she said.
Want to make your favourite clothes last forever? Anyone can learn how to fix holes and rips in their clothing as the process doesn’t require any specialized skills—and you may end up with an even more unique piece of clothing when you’re done.
Schuhbauer said all you need is a basic sewing kit: A few sewing needles; sewing thread in neutral colours; snips or small scissors; and a source of fabric for patches from old or stained clothing.
“I like to take a look at how a garment is constructed and suss out the way that I should mend something for it to last as long as it can,” Schuhbauer said.
Three types of damage she looks for are abrasion, snags or holes, and loose seams.
An abrasion or hole may need a new patch of fabric to strengthen the fabric’s integrity, and stitching the patch into place can freshen up a piece of clothing. Loose seams may just need a few simple stitches to reinforce the area.
Schuhbauer likes to use a darning loom to weave new fabric to make patches. She sells the handmade looms in her shop. The looms are made with repurposed wood from discarded furniture and stainless steel bicycle spokes.
While Schuhbauer likes to work by hand, the most basic sewing machine can speed up the process of mending clothes. St. Armand said she uses an affordable starter sewing machine to mend clothing at workshops.
Worth Mending does not have any upcoming workshops scheduled yet, but new dates will be posted at www. http://worthmending.com.
4RepairKW offers free repair workshops at the University of Waterloo. Find upcoming dates at @4repairkw.