With Christmas behind us and a new year full of new resolutions stretched out in front of us, now is the perfect time for a fresh start. For lots of us, that means tightening the purse strings and taking a more frugal approach to the year ahead.
As part of our “Make Do and Mend” month, we sat down with Zoe from The Good Wardrobe to talk about sustainable fashion, restoring garments and passing these skills on to the next generation. Her site, The Good Wardrobe, is a veritable goldmine of resources and information on sustainable fashion and long-life clothing with a thriving community of avid supporters sharing tips and tricks with each other. Read on to find out more…
Zoe promoting the “Sew It Forward” initiative.
• Tell us a little about how The Good Wardrobe got started…
“I wanted to create a space online where people could share knowledge about sustainable fashion and how to look after their clothes. There is a lot of information out there but there was no single website or hub you could go to find the information you needed or ask advice. I first had an idea for creating the site around two years ago and it has developed from there.”
“The Good Wardrobe launched in November – it is an online community hub that mixes the best sustainable fashion with services that prolong the life of clothes. The aim is to make it as easy and enjoyable as possible for people to dress sustainably. It is primarily focussed on London and online resources for now but there are plans to grow nationwide. The site is in beta now and over time the intention is for it to become a comprehensive resource. It is a collaborative effort though and as more members join the community, the more knowledge can be shared. We are currently busy adding to our ‘long-life’ style directory. You can already search for clothing hire in London, dress agencies, local sewing cafes or even natural moth repellents. Soon you’ll be able to review shops, sites and services in the directory to help others find what they are looking for too.”
• Tell us a little about the Sew It Forward scheme…
“Sew It Forward is a frock-friendly initiative which encourages people to share their sewing skills. I was lucky to have inherited skills from my family and to study textiles at school but sewing is not passed down through the generations like it used to be. I thought if I can find a way to encourage people to pass on the skills they have, however modest, we will all be better equipped to look after our wardrobes.
I am an avid charity shopper and love it when I find a garment that needs a little TLC to bring it back to its former glory. However, it started to depress me that so many clothes that are donated to charity shops have essentially been discarded by their owners because a hem has come loose, a small moth hole has appeared or worse still, a button has fallen off. When you know how, these things are so easy to fix, enjoyable to do, bring a huge sense of satisfaction and save money.
A couple of years ago my aunt taught me to knit as a Christmas gift – I love the idea that rather than buying one another often useless ‘stuff’ we can instead give something more meaningful. You can download a Sew It Forward voucher from The Good Wardrobe and give it to someone with a promise to share your sewing skills. Not only can they learn something incredibly valuable and feel a sense of achievement but you can spend time together in the process.”
Make a pledge…
• The directory section of your site looks like it’s becoming a great resource, tell us a little more about the upcoming skills sharing section…
“Members of The Good Wardrobe community can pledge to swap their skills or ‘Sew It Forward’. Soon those pledges will start to appear in the skill share section on the directory. Anyone interested in learning or swapping skills can search the skill share listings to find someone offering the skills they would like to learn.”
• What role does wool play in the Sew It Forward campaign? What are your top tips for restoring wool garments in particular?
“We have a number of wool experts supporting the campaign: Rowan sent a team of knitters to our launch event to pass on their skills and kindly gave us yarn, patterns and knitting needles for our guests to take home – I’ve already heard from many of them that they’ve either re-found their love of knitting or are enjoying learning for the first time. Darning guru Tom of Holland also inspired a number of guests to learn to darn properly, myself included.”
A tragedy? Or an opportunity?
“My tips for caring for and restoring woollen garments:
- A stitch in time saves nine – mend a woollen garment at the first sign of wear or moth holes and do not launder before doing so or the damage will only get worse.
- Launder carefully with natural detergent, by hand if possible and do not agitate too much as it causes woollen garments to shrink. After gently squeezing out the water, carefully roll the garment in a towel and ideally dry flat. Try not to launder or dry-clean too often – less is better for the wool and the environment. Instead hang garments up after wearing to air them.
- A great tip I had from Orsola De Castro, founder of From Somewhere, is to make a feature of holes in knitwear by crocheting around them. Likewise Tom of Holland has a visible mending programme, the results of which are beautiful, practical and hard-wearing.
- If moths find your wool garments they can still be saved. Fold them up, place in a sealed bag in the freezer for two weeks to kill any remaining larvae. Assess the damage when you remove the garment – if it’s beyond subtle darning, patching or visible mending then think about more creative alterations. Brands like Junky Styling can re-work existing garments for you with their Wardrobe Surgery which is a great way to save your tailored wool garments.”
• What advice could you give to an knitting/sewing newbie like myself? What’s the best way to get started? Any good classes or groups you can recommend?
“It depends on what resources you have. If funds are limited then ask friends and family if they can teach you. If none of your nearest and dearest can help then search online for local knitting groups which can cost very little – these often take place in independent cafes or haberdashers. There are lots of sewing cafes springing up around London too, many of which offers classes as well as sewing machine hire. I’m actually a pretty inexperienced knitter but I am in the process of learning.”
The Sew Over It café in London
• What does sustainable fashion mean to you?
“The sustainable fashion movement is exciting and is growing daily. The best designers demonstrate excellence in design, use of traditional craftsmanship and materials, ingenious upcycling techniques and display innovation in sustainable textiles. I am passionate about highlighting and promoting all their amazing projects.”
“Until around six years ago I was a fast-fashion addict, blissfully unaware of where my disposable fashion purchases had come from or where they would end up. Fashion is about self expression and creativity and on the basis that we actually need very little of what we have in our wardrobes, it is a luxury. I don’t feel at all comfortable about expressing myself through clothing that may, during production, have been harmful to the environment or the people making it.
It’s also exciting that, through our love of clothes and fashion we can learn to consume more consciously – this can in turn impact the decisions we make in other areas of our lives. For example, becoming aware of the huge amount of waste in the fashion industry may make us consider other industries: we might think more carefully about buying a new TV we don’t really need; we may recycle our threadbare bed linen at a textiles recycling bank rather than throw in the bin; or we may decide to borrow a drill (or other household appliance we will rarely use) from a neighbour rather than buying new. These may seem small, insignificant steps but they can be satisfying, fun and save you money. And if we all made these small changes, it would have a hugely positive impact on the environment.”