Sewing & Sustainability

Because Seamwork magazine didn’t have room for my essay in their coming issues, I’m free to publish it anywhere now and I’m doing it here. This is the exact same version I sent to them: I wrote it in one go, very personal, with a lot of emotions going through me as I typed. I think it is a super important topic and (hopefully) worth a read, so here you go!

sewing and sustainability

For a long time, sewing has simply been a creative outlet for me. I taught myself how to sew when I was fifteen because I wanted to do something with my hands, create something from scratch and have a possibility to visualize my ideas. I loved playing with fabric, matching the right prints with suitable patterns and overthinking on the buttons. And I loved to be able to say: I made this. It is unique, noone else has it and it is exactly my style.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love sewing for all of these aspects. But lately, I can feel a certain shift in my motivation. Now, I think of sewing more as a statement: A statement against fast fashion, terrible working conditions and environmental damage.

I recently saw the movie ‘The True Cost’ and I couldn’t get it out of my head. How is it possible that we let other people work for us under such dangerous conditions? How can we justify buying at stores that support this kind of labour?

Personally, I’ve never been much of a shopping-fanatic. I always prefered having one sepcial and expensive piece over owning several cheap ones. Since I started sewing, my shopping habits declined even further. I now prefer to make the things I need myself – and I generally realized that I need much less things in my life anyway, clothes included. Every garment in my closet has either a story to tell (I’ve owned it for a long time) or is handmade. The only new addition in several months was a swimsuit, because I haven’t yet taken the plunge to make my own swimwear (or lingerie, for that matter).

For me, sewing has become a way of taking myself out of the equation. And I do it gladly – after all, it is a hobby and a skill that I love. And if I can do something good with it, it is even better. I know now how much time and effort goes into making a single garment, so how can it be that I could buy something similar for less than 10€ in some stores? Someone has to pay for it and the people who are usually the victims are the seamstresses in developing countries. Thinking about this continues to justify the hours I spend alone in my room at my sewing machine, forgetting everything that surrounds me and just trying to match those stripes perfectly. Because when I wear the finished garment, I know that it has been made with love and care and noone had to suffer. So for me, sewing turned from beeing simply a creative outlet into a thought-provoking statement.

I believe that sewing is definitely the best and most sustainable alternative to fast fashion. But since I saw this movie, I’m starting to think beyond. Through sewing my clothes myself, I break the chain of exploitation. But what about the fabric I use? Where does it come from? Who wove it, who dyed it under which conditions, where were the original fibres planted/produced? I personally have not yet found the answers to these questions, sourcing organic cotton/linen/wool etc. that was produced locally (in Austria) is difficult, especially because I prefer to buy fabric in stores and not online: I need to be able to touch it, feel it, drape it over my arms to get a sense of the quality. I did find some stores near me that sell organic, apparel-weight fabric: Another problem I encountered is that very often, organic fabrics come as quilting cottons in ‘fun’ prints, which aren’t always suitable for garments. A gap in the market and I would love to discover more stores who fill it.

Of course, the ideal would be to just stop consuming all together, but this just wouldn’t work for me. I love going to fabric stores, stroking the bolts, scheming and planning what I could make out of the material. Sewing is something I will never grow tired of. I love it so much that I’m even turning it into a career – I’m curretnly studying fashion design with a focus on costume design and I’m very happy with this choice. I think that especially for young, emerging designers, it is extremely important to think about sustainability and to rethink the production of their garments. You can imagine that I was shocked when some of my classmates recently returned from a shopping trip, with bags from big chain stores filled to the top. That just shows that not everyone has gotten the message yet and it is extremely important to raise awareness and continue to do so. I think that we, as sewists, are already going into the right direction and do have an impact, but there are still a lot of things that need to be changed. Small steps at a time!

I don’t yet know where my (career)path will take me. But I do know that no matter what, sewing will always be accompaning me. Not only because through it, I’m able to explore my creativity and satisfy my need to create something, but because it sets a statement against needless consumerism and exploitation and therefore helps making the world a better place.

Thank you for reading!

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One thought on “Sewing & Sustainability

  1. Taswegian1957 says:

    I haven’t seen the film you mentioned but I do think it’s terrible that people in some parts of the world are being exploited by the industry. I think that more should be done to make people aware of where fabrics and clothing are being sourced from so they can choose whether they want to support companies that allow it.

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