Today I feel a need to talk about why I think that refashioning existing garments and sewing from your fabric stash is really important. I was planning a post like this anyhow, but watching The Island President last night brought the whole subject to the top of my 'stuff to write about' agenda. Not that refashioning, stash busting or even the garment industry are at all directly discussed in this film, which is actually an incredibly interesting look at the politics of climate change. But when faced with the sad truth that millions of people, particularly those who live in island states (like The Maldives of which the truly awesome Mohammed Nasheed pictured up there is/was the president of) are currently watching their countries be washed away by the rising sea levels caused by global warming, and then being shown the depressingly self-interested politicians wasting last-ditch opportunities like 2009's Copenhagen climate change summit to do anything constructive to prevent the escalating destruction, it reminds me that every single person on this planet has some responsibility to try to make a change. Plus we really don't have very long to try round the current status quo of elevated C02 emissions.
'So what the hell does that have to do with my fabric stash, Zo?', you may be thinking. Well, manufacturing and transportation use phenomenal amounts of fossil fuels, not to mention use whole oceans-worth of water and release harmful untreated chemicals and dyes into the environment reclessly destroying natural habits. Therefore fabric production and distribution are responsible for much of the emissions that are causing the sea levels to rise, so by this logic I (and hopefully heaps of other people living comfortably in developed nations who have noticed that governments and Big Business clearly have little/no interest in making noticeable changes) have been making a real concerted effort to consume less newly manufactured products. For a few years now I've furnished my home exclusively with second-hand furniture, I don't run a car and use public transport to get anywhere that my legs can't carry me to, and am committed to using second-hand fabric or existing garments to make my own clothes, and buy what I can't make (knitwear, footwear, accessories like belts) second-hand. I know there are lots more areas in which I could make better choices to raise my sustainability game, like in the area of food which we are starting to focus on lots more (having just pledged to dramatically cut down our meat intake), but everyone has to start somewhere with one or two areas of their lives otherwise it's all too overwhelming.
(industrial fabric dyeing plant)
Fabric production and processing are notoriously wasteful and damaging industries, not to mention all the shipping and transportation that the raw materials and finished products go through to get them to where they need to be so they can be consumed by us. If you make your own clothes rather than buying them already manufactured for you, you are already cutting out a lot more shipping, trucking about and C02 emitting, as well as avoiding being directly responsible for the exploitation of millions of ill-paid workers suffering terrible and dangerous working conditions. However, as sewers I feel we can do more to discourage unsustainable manufacture, in particular fabric production and processing.
At this point of a debate on this topic, I often hear the (perfectly valid and understandable) argument, 'But I want to support my local fabric shop', or 'But so many people's livelihoods, particularly vulnerable people in developing nations, depend on production and manufacture'. Believe me when I say that I totally hear that argument and am aware of the complexity of this whole thing, and do not want anyone to be pushed (further) into poverty. But as has been proven over and over again, governments, manufacturing companies and retailers are failing to make changes to green-up their activities despite thousands of scientists spelling out to them and us all that no changes in practices equals irreversible global destruction that has already begun. As horrible as it sounds, it's hard to talk about the livelihoods of anyone involved in the production, transportation or selling of manufactured goods when, with no change, there will literally not be a planet that we can live on. Expect the phrase 'climate evacuee' to become more commonly used over the next decade.
So that is why I have decided to completely stop buying new mass-manufactured clothing and to dramatically reduced the amount of new fabric I buy to sew with. I know that I was incredibly lucky to have worked for a time for a textile recycling charity so had access to lots of second-hand fabric which I still have quite a bit of for my sewing projects, but even when it's all used up, I'll still be committed to avoiding buying new fabric and sourcing already existing textiles. It is hard, I'm obsessed with beautiful fabric as much as the next sewer, but I wouldn't feel comfortable freely shopping for fabric knowing about the damage fabric production and processing creates.
I don't know a single sewer that hasn't been sewing for more than five minutes that doesn't have even a modest stash of fabric, and I know literally no-one who doesn't have some unused garments sitting in their wardrobes or cupboards. If I have managed to avoid it so far, this is where I may sound a bit preachy: I think all of us who enjoy sewing should look to what we've already got to start our projects, if not always then more often. There. I said it. And if you don't like what's currently in your stash, or don't feel particularly inspired by it, then attend or organise a fabric swap with other sewers. That way you can off-load the pieces you just aren't feeling for pieces that do float your boat.