A brown merino wool jacket with three different visible mends and a needle threaded with blue thread. One mend is pink and blue woven darning. One is bright orange darning and one is blue darning

Is #MendItMay ready to break out?

You reach over to the other side of your desk and hear that unmistakable sound of a seam ripping and you know that everybody now knows that you have a pair of funky pink and purple spotted knickers.  But equally annoying, your otherwise perfectly good trousers are now unwearable.  What do you do?

According to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency (2021) 57% of people would do nothing.  A more recent report by WRAP (2023) found that 30% of people had clothes in their wardrobe that they never wore because they needed mending.  Thousands of otherwise perfectly good, and quite possibly much loved, garments lingering in cupboards and wardrobes for want of a button, a zip or a darn.

I am guilty of having a huge mending pile.  I have tried having it in different places to encourage me to pick up a needle and thread and get on with at least the low lying fruit.  I have tried sorting it into different piles depending on the type of mending required.  Seams, tears, darning, buttons etc.  But at the end of the day the only system that worked for me to was to blank out some space in my diary, write “Mending” in large letters and just get on with it  Like most jobs that I have put off again and again it was nowhere near as onerous as I expected.  In fact quite the reverse it was both soothing and satisfying.  Radio 4 helped!

#MendItMay is one of many hashtags that have sprung up in the sustainable fashion arena.  During Fashion Revolution Week Saturday 20th April was designated Mend in Public Day and people around the world took their chairs, their sewing boxes and their mending piles out on to the streets to get people talking about mending.  Does it work?  Does it matter?

Perhaps before answering the first question we should address the second?  One of the common reasons given to an Irish study on mending as to why respondents didn’t mend their clothes was that it was cheaper to buy a replacement than it was to send something to be repaired.  If you don’t have the skills yourself and you have to send it to a specialist then it may well be cheaper to buy a new pair of trousers from Primark than repair your original ones.  Of course that is only true if the originals came from Primark in the first place.  Repairing a pair of lined heavy linen trousers with good pockets and great fit may cost more than buying a pair of £10 polyester trousers but in the wider picture is it not worth paying £20 to have the better trousers repaired?  They will probably last longer, you already know they fit and look good etc.

The cheap price of fast fashion is problematic.  Expensive clothing is no guarantee of ethical or sustainable practice, only recently Loro Piana, who produce some of the most expensive clothing in the world have been accused of exploiting the Andean herders to maintain the flocks of vicuña vital for the production of their £5000+ jumpers.  However choosing brands that are transparent about their supply chains and manufacturing methods and the materials they use are, as a result of their general due diligence towards sustainability, more likely to be more considerate and careful in their product design and creation.

Cheap fast fashion is flooding the second hand market.  Why buy a slightly tired T-shirt for £1.50 from a charity shop when you can buy a brand new one next door for £3?  Likewise the Irish respondents had a point.  Why spend money repairing something when it’s cheaper to buy a replacement?

So why does mending matter?  There are so many reasons both practical and psychological.  The practical ones are perhaps more easily to define.

  • It keeps clothing in the market and prevents the unnecessary purchase of something new.
  • It keeps perfectly good clothing out of landfill/export/incinerations
  • It preserves our personal and cultural history
  • You can keep wearing your favourite clothes even when they do have an accident!

What about the psychological ones?

  • It is a slow and  mindful process, there is something soothing about taking something broken and returning it to use.
  • It can be a radical act of defiance, it can feel quite empowering
  • There is huge satisfaction to be gained from mending something yourself.
  • There is opportunity for creativity and alteration with visible mending and patching.
  • There is potential for upskilling and growth.  You may start by sewing on a button and gradually progress to elaborate and artistic visible mending or skilled invisible mending and the dark arts of inserting an invisible zip!

 

Do campaigns like #MendItMay or Mend in Public make a difference?  It is a challenge to measure the effect of specific campaigns but the interest in mending has grown exponentially over the past ten years.  I put “how to mend” into google as I was curious as to what the algorithm thinks we want to  mend.  Apart from the second item in the list which was “How to mend a broken heart”  they were all related to clothing.  I did a quick check with my daughter’s and husband’s laptops just to check whether my algorithm was biased towards clothing.  Well we all got the broken heart one, but we also all got predominantly clothing related clothing repair information.

The internet is full of information about how to mend holes, replace zips and reinforce weakened seams.  Repair cafes are springing up and perhaps helped by programmes such as Sewing Bee, sewing classes are almost universally full.  Meanwhile brands from Beaumont Organic to Barbour offer repair and refurb services.  London based repair app SoJo has a permanent concession in Selfridges offering bookable and walk in repair services.

When I moved down to Durham in 1994, there was a fantastic cobbler and shoe repair business on Claypath. The Durham Cobbler also had a rather excellent sideline in exposing bureaucracy but he was first and foremost a cobbler and a very good one at that.  He closed in 2001 and thus begun the exodus of useful shops and services from Durham city centre, the electrical repair business remained until last year but it too has now gone.  A phone number in the window asking you to ring him at home.  Perhaps this trend is about to be reversed?  I hope so.

 

 

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