The true cost of clothing and what I am doing about it.

A man walks into a charity shop, has a look around, then heads to the cashier with a handful of long skirts......OK I know it sounds like the start of a joke but that man was me and after a few awkward moments, as the cashier eyed me up and down, I explained what I planned to do with the skirts (more on that later). The cashier seemed impressed and told me I should have a word with the manager as they get a lot of skirts donated but most of them don't go onto the shop floor but are thrown away.

It was while I was driving home that the conversation really hit me: The charity shop throws lots of clothing away that, I quote, "isn't perfect". Now looking back I do remember when charity shops were generally full of 'junk' but over the years, more and more of us donate our unwanted clothing to one charity or another. The problem, however, is that with so much more arriving at the shops, they can select the garments that will make them the most money off the peg: No longer will you see a shirt on the rack with a missing button or a small tear, instead you will find a lot of 'as new' clothing (many still with labels on!) commanding a higher price. Yes good for the charity concerned as it helps them generate much needed funding but what about the other waste?

Last year a film was released by filmmaker Andrew Morgan called 'The True Cost'. A documentary that examines the untold story of the clothing trade. (If you haven't yet seen it I suggest you have a look). Whilst we are constantly reminded about the horrors of low pay, poor conditions and slave labour evident in so many clothing manufacturers the real message is we buy too many clothes and don't spend enough on them.

One thing really stood out for me from the film:

So I did a little research and indeed it is true. Well, figures vary depending where you look but generally between 10-30% of all clothes donated to charity shops are resold to us. What about the rest? Well about 10% goes to landfill and the rest is sent overseas. It gets sent to developing countries (via a middleman) and generates revenue for the charity shop and middleman, of course. The UK is the second largest exporter of used clothing in the world, after the US. That equates to over £400m or 380,000 tonnes of our discarded clothes: In fact globally around £3.1bn is sent abroad. 

This might sound OK as your discarded clothes are going to help people less fortunate but in fact it is having an adverse effect. The millions of pieces of clothing are saturating the market and having a detrimental effect on their own textile industries and creating unemployment. 

So what can we do? We know we buy too much and living in such a 'throw away' society doesn't help. We also have to live within our means and can only spend what we can afford on clothing: But it is a vicious circle; we buy cheaper garments (that we can afford) and this usually results in poorer quality items that wear-out quicker, zips that break after the first use or start shedding buttons over the carpet. So the piece of clothing gets dumped into a black bag and heads to the charity shop, possibly ending up further afield.

I know the vast majority of us that sew at home do it because we enjoy the hobby, not for financial gain. Indeed only today I went to a local shop to buy some fabric to make a few T-shirts: I could have bought 4 ready-to-wear T-shirts for the cost of the material to make one at home! We sew to get something a little different or to show of our creative side. We sew for friends but never charge them the true value of the garment we have made. 

Long gone is the era of 'Make do and Mend' and I think we need to rethink this, not just the craft-orientated types but everyone. If clothing is sold at a more realistic price we will take better care of it. We will treat it with respect: When a button falls off we will sew one back on. When a zip breaks we will put in a new one, when it stops fitting correctly we will alter it and when that treasured garment finally comes to an end we will think how to reuse or up-cycle it. What do you think?

You may have seen a new sewing magazine in the shops this month called Sew Now, well I'm excited to say I will be featuring regularly in the publication and hope to inspire you in addressing some of problems I have mentioned here. Go buy your copy!

So back to the start of this post and my handful of skirts I purchased in the charity shop. I had an idea of what I wanted to do and thanks to seeing the Korbond Creative Upcycling Challenge I went for it. You know I love making menswear, especially shirts and jackets, so what better than to up-cycle 4 of the skirts into a tailored mens jacket?

After carefully taking the skirts apart I looked at how the colours worked together. I cut out the pattern and went for it. I managed to use the lining from the skirts for the jacket lining...just! 

Apart from the thread and the interlining everything else was reused/upcycled. The buttons came from my 'old' button stash and I even managed to find a nice green one for my trademark odd cuff button.

Everything else went together well and I am really pleased with how it looks. OK it might be a little 'wild' but actually looks pretty good on.

I didn't spend my normal amount of time with tailoring techniques such as hand-sewn button holes or complete pad-stitching but overall it's a success.

Considering I have seen similar 'patchwork' jackets for sale costing upwards of £500 I am more than happy to do my little part in up cycling and saving these skirts. I also have a really fun jacket made of really nice fabric for £12!

So with Christmas rapidly approaching and the start of the 'Sales' have a little think. Stop and think about if you really need that bargain. Think about the clothing you already own and before you send it off to the charity shop, think about refashioning or up cycling.

Until next time......Happy Sewing