Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can. Using observation and instinct, Jane Milburn and Textile Beat join the dots and explore a science-based narrative about clothing.
Clothes do for us on the outside what food does on the inside – they nourish and warm our body and soul. In the same way that conscious eaters are sourcing fresh whole food and returning to the kitchen, conscious dressers are seeking to know more about the provenance and ethics of clothing and curious about how it is made. Every day we eat and we dress to survive and thrive, and it is not just the style that matters, substance does too.
War on Waste with Craig Reucassel, coming to ABC TV in 2017
Fast and processed industrial food has had a dramatic impact on our health in recent years and similarly there has been transformational shift to industrial factory-made clothing, the social and environmental impacts of which we are only now coming to understand.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that at least one-third of food produced is never eaten and creative solutions are emerging to divert and reduce that waste. In the same way, there is growing evidence a third of clothing is wasted, with much potential to upcycle and redeploy it. My purposeful work is bringing awareness to these and other material issues.
More than 90 percent of garments sold in Australia are now made overseas, mostly in Asian factories. Most people buy off-the-rack or online, with very few making anything for themselves to wear. As a natural-fibre champion, I am troubled that synthetic fibres made from petroleum now dominate the clothing market at a time when research shows these plastic clothes are shedding millions of microplastic particles into the ecosystem with every wash.
Michelle McRae from Orange in New South Wales believes handmade skills – such as sewing, knitting/crocheting, gardening, cooking – are important for many reasons. They provide an outlet for creativity and sense of accomplishment. In turn this improves self-worth, independence and resilience. They also provide a connection to others, family and community, as skills can be taught and shared. In addition handmade skills provide for a sustainable community, both financially and emotionally.
With help from mum Michelle, Grace McRae created her own overalls as part of The Slow Clothing Project
Knowing the story behind the garment is a certainty when you’ve made it yourself, and when you’ve been creative and resourceful in the making then you are wearing something totally unique. Such was the case when a friend gave Vivienne Poon some 1936 Fiji pennies and she set about developing a design to incorporated them – in a bodice featuring two-coin tassels which chink when she walks, and a hemline with one-coin tassels that are not too weighty.
Vivienne Poon wears the garment she created for The Slow Clothing Project.
Slow clothing is a different way of dressing and thinking about clothing than the way most of the world sees it, says New South Wales teenager Eliza Kelly. “It is exciting to think that I can dress in a way that uses old, or out-of-fashion clothing to make something new. I love the way that I can create something original, unique and different. Isn’t it awesome when someone says ‘what a nice …… where did you get it?’ and I can say that I made it! It makes me warm on the inside when I know that I have recycled something and given it another life,” Eliza said.
Eliza Kelly from Parkes NSW wears her upcycled denim skirt for The Slow Clothing Project
“The attitude of the world today seems to be that ‘new is better’, and ‘more, more, more’, but I think that there is so much beauty, uniqueness and stories to be told about recycled and re-modelling clothing. There is so much to be gained by recycling and re-using the materials that we have been given, and changing things with older fit, style or fashion to be useable today and tomorrow,” she said.
Kate Fletcher from Tasmania has been involved with making and recycling clothing as long as she can remember. For the past 10 years she has organised a sustainable clothing show at the Local Sustainable Living event in Hobart, motivated by growing awareness of the environmental and social impacts of the global clothing industry.
Tasmania’s Kate Fletcher wears her story-filled garment hand-stitched for The Slow Clothing Project
Kate’s individual style is influenced by people at home and abroad, many of whom she is connected with through the volunteer program Willing Workers on Organic Farms.
Mariana Kirova is a professional upcycler, an eco-fashion educator and an agent for change. She transforms rescued clothing into unique timeless pieces through her Perth-based business Eco Fashion Sewing which she established after studying fashion design in Western Australia.
Mariana Kirova wears an eco-fashion statement ensemble she created for The Slow Clothing Project.
Mariana said it is sad to see lots of fashion students graduating in Australia each year yet only a few stay and work in the fashion industry. “If Australian fashion brands have their production at home, this wouldn’t be happening,” she said.
Nina van Hartskamp loves hand-made things and discovering natural treasures. “When you wear a piece you made yourself (or was made by a friend) it has a story. And I have a big love for natural fibres, which are expensive when you buy them new. Luckily there are op shops! I can spent ages in second-hand stores. It’s such a kick to find hidden treasures,” she said.
Nina van Hartskamp wears an eco-print wool jacket she transformed for The Slow Clothing Project
When Nina was a little girl growing up in the Netherlands, her grandma used to make her dresses and she loved choosing the fabrics and looking through pattern magazines.
Saadia Thomson lists many reasons to value slow clothing – sustainability, creativity, self-expression, uniqueness, enjoyment, learning and honing skills, sharing and being happy. She has come to dislike the culture of consumerism or affluenza and believes people get so caught up in the next fad (fashion or otherwise) they lose sight of what’s important.
Erin Thomson wears an apron made by her mum Saadia from a rescued business shirt for The Slow Clothing Project
“Instead of collecting things – and getting into debt for stuff they neither need or really want – we can focus more on building skills, friendships, family connections and taking time to enjoy what they already have, being with family and friends; giving freely to others by sharing their skills and knowledge,” Saadia said.
Clothing has become so available and affordable in the past decade that most people no longer sew. Yet there are intangible rewards from making your own wearables, including a sense of achievement from reusing natural resources.
Sally Harris wears a wool poncho she made from a knee rug for The Slow Clothing Project.
Canberra-based Sally Harris credits The Slow Clothing Project with giving her an incentive to sew again. “With such emphasis on new clothes these days, it is lovely to take part in the Slow Clothing Project and enlighten people to the good old ways.” Continue reading →
Maths teacher Xin Wang says the more she sews her own clothes, the more she realises how much effort goes into making one simple garment. She cherishes garments more, whether they are made by her or other people, because of the effort and time put into them.
Gorgeous Flora Hanisch wears a dress handmade by her mum Xin for The Slow Clothing Project
“I love making my own clothes because I enjoy making things with my hands. I like clothes that are different – the worst thing to me in terms of clothes is wearing the same clothes as somebody else and that applies to my two kids’ clothes as well. Finally, it’s cheaper to make my own to achieve the uniqueness rather than buying designer clothes,” Xin said.