Category Archives: Sew it Again

Rethinking clothing culture and waste

By Jane Milburn Textile Beat founder and sustainability consultant

Textile Beat founder Jane Milburn clothed in wool garments given a second life using eco-dye. Photo by Ele Cook

Textile Beat founder Jane Milburn clothed in wool garments given a second life using eco-dye. Photo by Ele Cook

My campaign on clothing waste has been a lifetime in the making. It began as a child learning hand-making skills and continued as a student upcycling big old dresses and thrifted finds.

I made many of my clothes for decades then rediscovered op shops in 2011 after a Fashion for Flood fundraiser. I began visiting op shops and particularly seeking out natural-fibre garments – wool jumpers with a hole, linen shirts with a missing button. The waste of resources troubled me because I grew up on a farm and have an agricultural science degree. What was happening to our clothing culture I wondered?

I fixed and refashioned these finds into office wear for my day job as a communications manager.  After doing postgraduate study in leadership, I left corporate life in 2012 to found Textile Beat, a start-up re-thinking contemporary clothing cultures. The evident need for a more ethical approach to clothing was brought into sharp focus by the human tragedy of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, and the exploitative nature of fast-fashion supply chains was laid bare.

Through the 365-day Sew it Again project in 2014, I explored upcycling options and blogged every day for 12 months as a platform to explore and speak out about more sustainable clothing cultures. This evolved into a slow clothing philosophy to reduce our material footprint through behaviour change: think, natural, quality, local, care, few, make, adapt, revive and salvage. Textile Beat shares this message with individuals, teachers, creatives, community groups, sustainability groups, universities and governments.

Clothing, like food, is essential for health and wellbeing because clothes do for us on the outside what food does inside – nourishing, warming, influencing the way we feel and how we present to the world. Yet we may be too busy to think through the details of where food and clothing comes from because industrial supply chains currently deliver it so easily and affordably.

The transformational shift during the past two decades in the way we source, use and discard our clothing has major social and environmental implications. With rising international concern about the state of planetary health, it is time to consider ways we as individuals can contribute by living more sustainably.

Clothing is the cheapest it has been in history, mainly due to global supply chains accessing low-wage labour in developing nations. About 90 percent of clothes sold in Australia are now made overseas, mostly in Asian factories with the potential for exploitation of vulnerable workers.

Levels of consumption of apparel fibre have risen markedly as prices have fallen. Based on the annual global average, we now buy twice as much clothing as we did two decades ago, and Australians buy twice the global average. At the same time, there has been a major shift towards clothes made from synthetic fibres derived from petroleum. Two-thirds of new clothing is now synthetic, which research shows is shedding microplastic particles into the ocean with every wash. (Read more)

The outsourcing of clothing manufacture has led to a population-wide loss of knowledge of the making process and disregard for the time and resources involved. This loss of basic sewing skills means an inability to repair, even resew a button, leading to dependency and a lack of autonomy.

The connection between healthy-eating behaviours and teaching children to cook and grow food has been recognised by teachers, health groups, food leaders and governments. The rise of television cooking shows and cooking classes is providing some opportunities to re-learn these skills.

In a similar way, revaluing the skills of mending and making clothing can empower us to make something uniquely individual and reduce our footprint by extending the life of clothing already in circulation. This is the message we share through Textile Beat workshops and talks.

The Slow Clothing Project documents 40 maker stories about Australians choosing to sew something for themselves to wear. This 2016 Textile Beat project showcases a handmade approach to help advance the ethics and sustainability of our clothing story.

Anything old can be new again when we have the skills and willingness to invest the time in doing it. Perhaps we should stop using the term waste?  We need to think of fibre and clothing as resources and focus on reducing, reusing and recycling in the context of a shift from a highly consumptive economy to a circular one.

Craig Reucassel and the ABC’s War on Waste are highlighting fashion and clothing waste in the third episode of this series which airs on ABC 2 on May 30. Here’s hoping this light shining on how waste is impacting our planet will bring on more thoughtful choices.

#waronwasteau #slowclothing #slowclothingphilosophy #slowclothingmanifesto

 

Mendful, mindful, meaning in stitches

Mended garments carry a story of care. They reflect the triumph of imperfection over pretension while the act of mending itself brings transformation in both mender and mended.

By embracing repair as a valid and useful act we, the menders, are stitching new life-energy into something others step over in the scrabble onwards and upwards. To pause, apply creative problem-solving and add a mark of care to our clothes, we extend their life and bring meaning to our own.

The clothes we wear are a statement of values. We may go through stages of searching for newer, sharper images and think clothes, like makeup and leopard spots, can camouflage and attract the right sort of attention. Alas, the pipe dream.  Continue reading

Repurpose, instead of buying more

Repurposing workshopsAmid society which celebrates constant consumption of new stuff, a small community in the geographic heart of New South Wales is planning an event to embrace the repurposing of old.

Tottenham has chosen repurpose as the theme of its community expo on 14 March 2015, with upcycling workshops planned for March 12-13, a Waste to Art competition and the Sew it Again portable exhibition to illustrate creative reuse opportunities.

Through a series of five workshops, Brisbane-based upcycler Jane Milburn will guide locals in the discovery and exploration of their creative potential through the medium of under-utilised natural fibres.

“There are more clothes in the world now than at any time in our history. Because they seem to be so plentiful and relatively cheap to buy new, they’re often treated as disposable and only worn once or twice before being cast aside,” Ms Milburn said.

“What we’ll be doing at the Tottenham workshops is taking a second look at existing clothing, textiles and old kitchen linen – then using simple techniques like home-sewing, cutting and eco-dyeing to repair, restyle or repurpose them for another go at life.

“I upcycled every day last year with the 365-day Sew it Again project www.sewitagain.com. I’m looking forward to sharing ideas with resourceful country people who are not (geographically) in a position to run off to the shops and appreciate the value of our natural resources.

“Upcycling can be as simple as taking up a hem, cutting off the sleeves or neckline and replacing buttons. Just as we’ve rediscovered the value of traditional home-cooking for health and nutrition, home-sewing and repair skills enable us to dress with conscience and story.”

Ms Milburn is an agricultural scientist who values sustainable resource use, champions natural fibres and believes in slow-fashion awareness of who made your clothes and what from.

“When you buy cheap new clothes you are often buying into a global supply chain that is exploiting people and the environment. When you buy synthetic fibres (which 2/3 of new clothing is) be aware these fibres are derived from petroleum, coal or gas and shed microplastic particles into the wastewater stream every time they are washed,” she said.

“When you repurpose natural-fibre clothing resources that aren’t used in their current form you are engaging in conscious, individual and affordable dress. You also have a good story to tell about what you wear – it is sustainable, zero footprint, organic and the ultimate in green.”

Tottenham Community Expo is run by Tottenham Welfare Council and is providing upcycling workshops on March 12-13 with a grant from the Regional Arts NSW Country Arts Support Program. For more information about the workshops, contact Catherine Jarvis on 02 6892 8210.

Mindful conversations about clothing

Every day we eat and we dress. We are now more conscious of our food – it is time to be more conscious of our clothing.

Jane Milburn was immersed in slow fashion for 365 days during 2014 with a personal undertaking to upcycle existing natural fibre garments for the Sew it Again project. It proved to be a lesson in contemporary dress culture, making Jane more aware of how little we know about the back story of garments that wrap our bodies 24/7.

This awakening informs a reshaped future for Textile Beat. What began as a simple textile upcycling initiative now evolves into a more holistic approach to dressing. Jane dreams of making every garment story a good one – good for the wearer, society and planet.

There are many ways for individuals to dress with conscience. It begins with knowing more than what is visible from the outside. The art of dressing well is embodied in the character of what you wear, not just the look. Your options for mindful dressing might encompass the following characteristics: local, quality, pre-loved, handmade, good and fair, repair and care, zero textile waste, know your style, natural fibres, sentimental, upcycled or classic. Dress well to live well.

Slow fashion graphic

Fashion clothing creates waste

Toowoomba students upcycle

Every day, we get up and get dressed for the day – even before we have breakfast. Clothing is traditionally used for warmth and modesty. It meets physical and functional needs, for sheltering, shielding and protecting our bodies.

In earlier times, most clothing was made from natural fibres – cotton, linen, wool, leather and silk. Back then, clothing was valued and relatively scare compared with today. People looked after their clothes, they were mended and handed on to others until the fibres wore out.

In contrast to clothing – we have FASHION which meets non-material needs for participation, identity, freedom – and to signal wealth and social status.  Continue reading

Choosing to consume, or not

We humans are autonomous, we make our own decisions, or so we think. But watch this documentary The Men Who Made Us Spend and understand how our ‘free choice’ is easily manipulated by a few making lots of money while our environment is junked with unnecessary resource use and waste.

In The Men Who Made Us Spend, investigative journalist Jacques Peretti explains how planned obsolescence, the organised creation of dissatisfaction and computer-aided design cultivated competitive consumerism throughout capitalist societies.

The documentary includes an economist saying change during the past two decades has seen the average American’s clothing consumption double from 34 pieces of apparel per year to 67 – equating to a brand new item of clothing coming into their wardrobe every 5.4 days. Once the garments are no longer ‘socially valuable’ they either go into the waste stream or the global apparel trade. Such waste and indulgence is wrong.  Continue reading

Work life comes full circle

Jane Milburn wears upcycledAlbert Einstein said no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.

Excess consumption of clothing grabbed Jane Milburn’s attention because FAO figures show it is has increased by 80 percent in the past two decades, from 7kg each in 1992 to 11kg, when global population only increased by 25 percent. Most of the increase is in cheap synthetic-fibre clothing, made from petroleum.

Jane’s consciousness was raised by recent personal experiences and postgraduate study that provided reflection on ways to bring her wide-ranging career and life experiences together in a creative and meaningful way.  Continue reading

Upcycling remodels wardrobe waste

Americans each throw away 30kg of textiles a year, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong about 13kg per person according to their environmental protection agencies – and Australian charities process about 5kg of donated clothing per person each year.

An Upcycling exhibition to help us get a handle on how fast-fashion consumes resources and creates waste is coming to Coolah this week with agricultural scientist and communications consultant Jane Milburn.

Jane is one-third through the 365-day Sew it Again project to inspire creative upcycling of existing clothing, demonstrate slow fashion and revive home-sewing as a life skill akin to home-cooking.

“I’m demonstrating refashioning on sewitagain.com, empowering others with upcycling skills and ideas through workshops, and shifting society’s thinking about ecological impacts of clothing choices,” Jane says.  Continue reading

The Sew it Again eco-clothing project

ABC presenter Rebecca Levingston and Jane MilburnJane is excited to be merging her creative and communication skills into a campaign of her own making after years of running them for others.

Sew it Again 2014 will see Jane demonstrate upcycling through daily garment creation, share knowledge through social media and talks, empower others through upcycling workshops, and enjoy wearing clothes that are ethical, sustainable and original.

The project links Jane’s memories of childhood, training as an agricultural scientist, communications expertise, agribusiness networks and love of nature into the important ecological health issue which is our burgeoning global mountain of textile waste.

Continue reading