Everything old is new again

I rescue natural fibres. I already have many, yet I bought a $2 wool blanket with holes at an RSPCA op shop recently. It has no label, just remnants of blanket-stitched edges. I know it is wool by the feel of the fibres which glow in the sunlight after I wash it. I admire the texture and beauty of the old woven threads. There is life there. I will upcycle this ‘dog blanket’ into a garment with a story to tell about how it came to be.

Jane Milburn with scissors

All my clothes are handmade or secondhand and they feel good on many levels. My clothes are imprinted with individual spirit, my kansei. I refashion existing garments to suit my body shape, or completely transform discarded resources into something of my own making. I buy almost nothing new, except underwear and shoes.

Even though I have bought secondhand on and off forever, I did not talk about it. There was a stigma of poverty, of less than, in secondhand although vintage was OK if slightly quirky.

That was before I stepped up, before I did leadership study and learned about self-actualisation, before I upcycled my career as a rural advocate and communications manager to found a start-up called Textile Beat in 2013. Now I champion slow clothing, raise awareness of textile waste and the potential for upcycling old natural fibres into new.

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Revive style for planetary health

Brisbane is the first city in the world to host a pop-up secondhand fashion festival as a waste minimization strategy, to the best of my knowledge. I (Jane Milburn) checked with New York refashion academic Sass Brown and Sass knows of no other.  Do tell if you know of another.

Stiltwalkers showcase refashion at the 2016 Revive event in the heart of Brisbane. Photo by Brisbane City Council

Stiltwalkers showcase refashion at the 2016 Revive event in the heart of Brisbane. Photo by Brisbane City Council

Revive is in its second year and pops up again on 18 August 2017 at South Bank Forecourt from noon to 9pm. Hats off to Brisbane City Council, Cr Peter Matic and Cr David McLachlan for leadership. With textiles being one of the fastest growing domestic waste streams, fuelled by fast-fashion turnover, I am proud to have been in the room at its conception. Thank you to Cr Matic for acknowledging my contribution.

The advent of Revive followed a 2015 opportunity I had to address a council meeting on a matter of public importance.  Here’s the link to my 2015 address (including Hansard pdf) when I spoke of the need to develop a more sustainable clothing culture. Revive is a huge step in this direction.  Continue Reading →

A slow clothing approach

Jane Milburn at ABC 702

Jane Milburn wears eco-dyed merino at ABC 702 Sydney

A transformational shift during the past two decades in the way we source, use and discard our clothing has major social and environmental implications caused by increasing volumes, changing fibres and loss of repair skills.

These changes in clothing culture brought Jane Milburn of Textile Beat to Ku-Ring-Gai Council in Sydney on Saturday (June 25) to workshop more sustainable approaches, including reviving garments in your wardrobe.  Jane was also interviewed by ABC 702’s Wendy Harmer about slow clothing, audio link below.

“Local councils report that about 4 percent of the household waste is textiles and most people know they can donate unwanted clothing for charitable recycling,” Ms Milburn said.

“Charities says about 15 percent of these donations are on-sold through op shops, 15 percent are ragged, 15 percent go to landfill and 55 percent are exported into the second-hand clothing trade.”

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Timeless styling – Elizabeth Kingston

There is much evidence that our planet cannot continue to provide the resources for mass manufactured garments and that so much is wasted in oversupply. Textile enthusiast Elizabeth Kingston believes that if people can be educated to shift from being ‘in fashion’ to being ‘in style’ then the concept of what it means to have a new wardrobe every season can move sidewards.

Elizabeth Kingston wears her Frida Kahlo-inspired ensemble handmade and styled from existing resources

Elizabeth Kingston wears her Frida Kahlo-inspired ensemble handmade and styled from existing resources

“For those of us who can make, it is vital that we continue to do so as these skills are becoming a dying art and an example needs to be set that it should be all about quality not quantity. For those who can’t/choose not to learn how to sew, then to support the artist/designer/creator of these handmade/limited creations through purchase is the next best option,” Elizabeth said.

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Our clothing stories – Jane Milburn

Jane Milburn

Jane Milburn in eco-dyed t-shirt dress. Photo by Darcy Milburn at South Mossman River in north Queensland

Clothing is as essential as food for our health and wellbeing because clothes do for us on the outside what food does inside – they nourish, warm, and engage body and soul. What we choose to wear impacts how we feel and how we present to the world.

As conscious eaters are now aware of sourcing fresh whole food and returning to the kitchen – conscious dressers are engaging in the process of learning where and how their clothes are made. Our choices have profound influence – yet sometimes we are too busy to think much about them.

Fast, processed food has had a dramatic impact on health across the population in recent decades and similarly the transformational shift to fast, manufactured clothing is having impacts we are only now coming to understand.

Without doubt there are thousands of wonderful designers and billions of beautiful clothes available for purchase through the trillion dollar global garment industry.  Yet this industry flourishes through the hard work of garment workers in developing countries who may, or may not, be paid appropriately for their efforts. Read about the global garment industry here from Clean Clothes Campaign.

Meanwhile in Australia and other developed nations, two generations have largely missed the opportunity to learn to sew and 70% of millennials don’t even know how to sew on a button.  Continue Reading →

Be a fashion revolutionary

Fashion Revolution DayThere is a slow coming to consciousness about the exploitation of people, places and planet that our current clothing culture engenders.

This revolution in fashion was sparked by a Bangladesh factory collapse two years ago when thousands were killed and injured making cheap clothes for Western bods. April 24 has become Fashion Revolution Day.

While global supply chains are churning out clothing choice for the masses – thoughtful consumers are alive to the fact that quick easy on/off-trend fashion comes with invisible price tags of waste, contamination and human suffering. 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.

Upcycling 365 days, forever

Jane Milburn wears upcycledBrisbane-based upcycler Jane Milburn spent every day of 2014 restyling cast-off clothing and engaging others in the process of refashioning old into ‘new’ as part of the eco-social change project Sew it Again.

Using simple home-sewing skills to snip-and-tuck unworn textiles (mainly linen, cotton, wool and silk from op shops and friends) Jane then posted the upcycles at sewitagain.com to demonstrate ways to re-new rather than buy-new.

“Every day, we eat and we dress. We are now more conscious of our food and it is time to become conscious of our clothing and its footprint on the world. A global rethink about the way we dress is beginning, as people question where clothing is made and what from, is it ethical and sustainable, and does it exploit people or planet?” Jane said.

As an agricultural scientist turned creative, Jane is raising awareness about the ecological impacts of our cheap/disposable fashion culture that consumes finite resources and generates textile waste at an alarming rate. Continue Reading →

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 →