Fashion Revolution Week 2021 is here again. It is something I’ve been following for some years now and I like everything that it stands for. In particular, it is the one time of year that there are a lot of interesting talks about new developments in sustainable fashion that are accessible to the public. But as the years pass by, I find my enthusiasm waning a bit … in some ways, these kinds of spotlight weeks have started to feel a bit like birthdays. A lot of build-ups, a big hoo-ha, and then we kind of “forget” about it during the year. However, Fashion Revolution Week 2021 did trigger me to write this so I guess that can only be a good thing to serve as a reminder to me too!
Do I forget about sustainable fashion when it’s not Fashion Revolution week?
Well, a mininalistic wardrobe is not something I own so I’ve already failed if “own only what you need” is the aim. My tally says I made 63 things in 2020. That’s >1 new item of clothing a week. A lot of it was work-related sewalong sewing, and I gave away a load too. If my H1-20 (first half of 2020) was anything to go by, about ⅓ of it was leisure sewing. In 2021 I have more sewalongs for a new client so I think the makes will continue – you’ll hear more about that soon!
Whether or not my sewing volume is justified in the name of work is irrelevant if I still choose to do it. However, it may have had an influence on my views on the matter of sustainable sewing. But over time I have tweaked my approach a little and now I’m firmly of the opinion:
Sew because you love to sew.
More than because you want to live a more eco friendly (sustainable?) life.
When I first started banging on about sustainable sewing some years ago, it was very much along the same lines promoted by sustainable fashion line – buy less, choose well, make it last kind of vibe.
But there are a few issues with this that I’ve come to see over time when trying to apply this to sewing and I wanted to talk about that today. The issue of sustainability is extremely nuanced, whether it’s fashion, food or anything else. So here are my sustainable sewing considerations. Note that I write these from an environmental perspective. It might appear that I am ignoring the human angle – that is because it is far too big to cram into this post as well.
Note! The points below are just my opinion. I would always encourage you to do your own reading and research from the websites of reputable organisations or speaking to people in the know where you can (i.e. not only looking at random posts on Facebook) so you can have a good base from which to form your own opinions.
1) Sewing is my hobby.
If I didn’t sew, I might choose to collect china, throw pottery, garden, run, race cars, go scuba diving… you get the gist. You don’t need me to tell you about the mental health benefits of hobbies. It just so happens that I really like clothes (and I started learning to knit). So maybe it was unrealistic for me to ever think that I could have a minimalistic wardrobe.
2) Sewing only removes the garment worker from the fashion supply chain.
The rest stays the same. Sewing has the benefit of attempting to opt-out of the fast fashion cycle, but you could argue the impact is less than we’d like it to be because of this.
Fashion Revolution has historically concentrated a lot of Who Made My Clothes? but this year they have moved past that and I see a new campaign #WhoMadeMyFabric. This is to look beyond the garment worker and consider who else is working in the supply chain. From the looks of things it is the same kind of campaign as the garment worker one – write to brands and ask for transparency.
A lot of fashion people I have spoken to across the years had this belief that sewing is inherently sustainable because you build a connection with your clothes. Whilst this can be the case, I’d wager that most sewists also have a number of sewing fails. And some of us a stash. For me a lot of the time, sewing doesn’t always feel better than buying fast fashion.
3) Nuances and contradictions are everywhere
- Polyester is plastic, but it will probably last longer than cotton (see here).
- Organic cotton is not necessarily the answer (see here).
- Do smaller sustainable fashion brands really have the bargaining power to effect wholesale change? What about sewists whose niche is tiny compared to fashion?
… just a few examples that come to mind. Basically, there’s no easy right or wrong on a sustainability scale, particularly when it comes to choosing fibre types.
4) Greenwashing galore
There is little that makes me madder than greenwashing. Terms like “sustainable”, or “eco” are meaningless. Or slapping on labels like OEKO-TEX100 and including it in an “eco range”, that really irritates me no end.
Let me rant about this for a moment… OEKO-TEX has a number of certification types. OEKO-TEX100 which you commonly see in fabrics is about testing for harmful substances of the END product. In fabric terms, this means the finished fabric (read it on their website here). It does not include the substances that are used in the production of the fabric. So that means you can have an OEKO-TEX100 for viscose. If you ever looked at the production process of bog-standard viscose (or bamboo for that matter) you will know there’s nothing eco about it. But as far as I understand it, the certification doesn’t take this into account.
5) Overall impact of a reduction in textiles is low
… compared to other personal measures when it comes to climate change.
I’d encourage you to read this article by Dr Grace Peng, who is actually qualified to comment on such scientific matters. Bottom line is this: fewer textiles is pretty low on the list on an impact scale compared to cars and planes. Does that mean we shouldn’t bother doing anything about it? No, but we should also keep our eyes open on the big picture. For example we could try switching our homes to green energy and ditching the car more often if it is economically feasible.
Where to after all of that?
When it comes to approaching fashion and sewing, I still really like this diagram by Sarah Lazarovic on the hierarchy of needs, I’ve posted it before on all my social channels!
Buying less stuff is the most direct and simple way of engaging with sustainability issue. For the rest, I’d say, buy the fabric that works for the garment you want to make. Feel guilty about making it? Ditch the guilt and just make it, it’ll be good for your mental health. Feeling bad about buying? Shop second hand if it’s possible for you, whether it’s clothing or bed sheets for toiles etc. Or just wait it out before you buy … who knows, in a few days/weeks/months you may not be interested in it anymore anyway.
If you want to hear me natter on more about sustainability, then head over to the podcast episode I did with un:CUT here.
What I’m doing during Fashion Revolution Week 2021
Well, there’s the #WhoMadeMyFabric campaign, which I think is really important from the human angle.
Also due to COVID, there are many events that have moved online. So I don’t have to miss out just because I don’t live in a big city anymore (although there is always the possibility that the kids don’t allow me to watch/listen and the timings don’t work out). But for the rest, I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing – write and talk about sustainability occasionally because it’s a topic I’m interested in. And maybe some of you want to read it!
Will you be doing anything for Fashion Revolution week 2021?
Till next time,