The next time you reach for your favourite pair of jeans, consider this: Do you know where it came from or how it was made? How long, do you think, did it take to get from the source all the way to your local store?
The idea of making your own clothes is not new. And sure, knowing what goes into the things we use and wear helps us make better decisions as individuals and as consumers. But is making your own clothes truly sustainable?
First, let’s talk about slow fashion.
Slow fashion aims to change the way we think about clothing and how we acquire it. It’s about producing less, consuming better, and buying thoughtfully.
So what does this mean for your closet? Well, for starters, you won’t be buying as many clothes because each piece is high-quality, well-made, and designed to last longer. But should you want something new, you’ll know that your outfit is made with natural materials and by people who are paid fairly for their labour.
Or even better, follow the example of slow fashion advocates and make your own clothes, instead of buying ready-to-wear garments.
But how sustainable is sewing your own clothes?
There is some debate around this question, and the answer seems to lie in how you make your clothes.
For example, we know that textile production uses a lot of energy and resources. If you’re using material that is not easily accessible (like rare animal hides) or has been shipped across the world from China or India (where much of our clothing is made), then no, making your own clothes may not be so sustainable.
Or let’s say you buy a shirt from a store. It’s likely that there will be some amount of waste in the production process – either fabric scraps or leftover thread from sewing machines. When you make your own clothes, you know exactly what’s going into what you wear and you have more control over the process. You can purchase only what you need, which means you incur less waste.
Moreover, while buying off the rack is convenient, for many people, getting just the perfect style and fit is not always easy. This is because ready-to-wear clothes are often made for a particular body type, so they may not always look or feel right. On the other hand, if you DIY, you can use a sewing pattern, adjust the size and style, even choose the colour you want and add your own flair – and at less cost.
14 tips for making your own clothes sustainably
More than just dollars and cents, making your own personalised, timeless pieces means you produce something that no one else in the world has, which makes your garment a lot more valuable. And that’s priceless.
Tip #1: Repair your existing garments.
If a hole forms in your jeans or jacket, don’t just throw it out. Patch it up, instead of buying a new one.
Tip #2: Learn how to use patterns.
You can reuse patterns forever and each piece you make will be better than the one before. Once you get used to working off patterns, you can even use actual clothes as a guide for designing your outfits.
Tip #3: Refrain from buying new fabric.
Especially if you’re just starting out, try to use up old clothes that are in good condition. This will save money as well as reduce waste by bringing old garments back into circulation.
Tip #4: Rummage through your own closet.
Pick out things that are too worn out to donate but still have some life left in them. Can you turn your old favourite jeans into cutoffs?
Tip #5: Raid your fashionable friend’s closet.
We all have that one mate who’s got a special sense of style. They might have an old dress or accessories that they don’t want anymore. Use your creativity, breathe new life into it, and make it your own.
Tip #6: Upcycle secondhand clothes.
Buying used clothing means that no new materials were used to make them. It also means that you support local thrift stores or flea markets, keeping money within your community, instead of sending it to big box retailers.
Tip #7: Use leftover fabrics.
If you know fellow slow fashion hobbyists, they might have leftover, recycled, or donated fabrics lying around after they’ve finished making something themselves. They’ll be happy that someone has found a use for it rather than letting it go into waste!
Tip #8: Add your personal touch.
There are Etsy shops where you can get pre-made materials like vintage scraps at low prices. Add a unique quality to your clothes to reflect your equally unique personality!
Now, if you can’t help buying new, at least, try to be mindful of the raw materials you use…
Tip #9: Pick fabric that you know is sourced locally and sustainably.
Besides supporting local businesses, you have a chance to ask questions before you buy, and you can make sure everything meets your standards for quality and sustainability.
Tip #10: Buy organic cotton.
Cotton is one of the most pesticide-intensive crops, so if you can afford it, go for organically grown. This will also help reduce water pollution and soil erosion caused by runoff of chemicals used on conventional cotton farms.
Tip #11: Pick fabrics made from natural fibres.
Besides cotton, natural fibres (like wool) are better for the environment than synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester, because they can be biodegradable and require less energy to manufacture.
Tip #12: Use recycled fabric.
There are fabrics now that are made from recycled materials, such as denim and wool. These can be fairly sustainable, although some say they may not always be as durable or long-lasting as clothing made from traditional materials. Ask your supplier.
Tip #13: Stay away from virgin polyester.
You can buy recycled polyester made from recycled plastic bottles. Recycled polyester uses 30 percent less energy than virgin polyester.
Tip #14: Dye the fabric yourself.
Use natural dyes, which are often more environmentally friendly than the usual synthetic chemicals used in commercial processes. Plus, you don’t need to worry about toxins leaching into your skin or being released into the air as they tend to do with many mass-produced items.
There doesn’t seem to be a silver bullet or one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to sustainable clothing. Ultimately, the decision to either make your own clothes or buy factory-made garments is a personal one. But no matter how you slice it, sewing your own clothes has some benefits over buying from a store. It’s environmentally friendly, cost-effective, and a great way to create a unique personal wardrobe.