When COVID-19 locked down the world in March 2020, I needed a creative outlet to help me deal with the isolation. Fashion has always been my way of expressing myself, but shopping online was not the same as trying on clothes in a store. So I saved some money, bought a sewing machine and started making my own clothes.
I haven’t stopped yet, having discovered a new relationship with clothes that has transformed my way of seeing fashion. And I’ve come to realize that by making my own clothes, I’m also directly participating in a global conversation about the harmful effects of what some call fast fashion.
Fast fashion is a global business model where high fashion runway looks and trendy styles are quickly replicated in factories and then shipped to consumers around the world. Social media, in particular, fuels the constant consumption of cheap clothes that someone might only wear once or twice before moving on to the next fashion trend. The negative environmental and social impacts are staggering.
According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water every year (which translates to approximately 24 trillion cubic gallons), enough to meet the needs five million people.
The global agency estimates that 10% of global carbon emissions come from the fashion industry, more than all international flights and shipping combined. One reason is the global nature of the industry: clothes made in low-wage factories and shipped to wealthier countries.
Then there are other pollutions. Nearly 90% of fibers used in clothing end up incinerated or landfilled. Twenty percent of the world’s wastewater comes from fabric dyeing and processing, and half a million tons of plastic microfibers enter the ocean, which UNEP estimates at around 50 billion plastic bottles.
Another major concern of fast fashion is the treatment of factory workers. Not only are they underpaid, but they produce clothes on their feet for long hours.
For creative people who care about fashion, how to act responsibly can be overwhelming. The problem is big and it needs big solutions. But we have a constellation of options, I realized, for engaging in what some call slow fashion.
We can wear the clothes we buy more often, over a longer period of time. We can repair and care for our clothes to maintain their lifespan. We can buy locally or regionally produced clothing that might cost more, but would also likely be more durable. Or, we can buy used clothes from thrift and second-hand thrift stores and turn them into our own new creations.
Reusing second-hand clothes is easier than you think. Most cities have thrift stores offering unwanted clothes to other people. And larger cities, like Albuquerque where I live, have local stores that specialize in vintage clothing, older pieces that are often better made than what you find today in major retail stores or online.
I think, personally, that the general quality of the clothing pieces a lot of them [pieces] were handmade, it’s just so much better, and I mean, that’s why they’re still around, said Carlos Vargas, one of the owners of Vintage Avengers, a vintage clothing store in Albuquerque.
Vargas is one of the many local shop owners I frequent. He said the difference in quality between older clothes and what can be found online these days becomes apparent the more we really look. try things on, feel the fabric, look at the way the piece is made, really pay attention to the details you will really start to realize in the details how much more well made it is.
Some local stores have started incorporating vintage clothing to address fast fashion’s environmental concerns. Andy and Edie, a local boutique where art meets fashion in Albuquerque, offers new and vintage clothing, including independent designers and brands.
Store manager Amanda Cardona said one of the main goals was to provide affordable, fashionable clothing that isn’t necessarily what you would find at the mall. But criticism from the fashion industry has had an impact. As we started to learn how damaging it was, in its many ways, that’s when we started to change, Cardona said. I’ve been here for four years now and where we source has evolved over that time, not just because of me, but just because of the conversations we have directly with people, in this community.
Vintage stores, boutiques, resale stores and thrift stores are the places I relied on on my own sewing journey. I immersed myself in making my own clothes with the mindset of “go ahead, I’ll do it myself”. I’m completely self-taught, which means I’ve improved through lots of trial and error (emphasis on error).
I started by recycling or altering clothes I bought from thrift stores to align them more with my style. That’s not to say it’s the only way to start sewing clothes, many courses are offered online or in person at different fabric stores. You might even be lucky enough to know someone who already sews.
But I’m living proof that anyone can make their own clothes. I didn’t know anything about sewing before the pandemic and I discovered many benefits. Primarily, I am able to retain and develop my own personal style, with full control over the finished product.
Since I was a man, making my own clothes has also helped me adapt to a fashion landscape that doesn’t usually provide the style of clothes I prefer, in my size. My clothes fit better and I am able to keep up with the latest trends while being unique and environmentally conscious.
And since I started producing my own clothes two years ago, I haven’t bought a single item of clothing from a fast fashion retailer.
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