17 Jan 19
Cleaning out the closet has never been a simple task, just ask anyone who is currently obsessed with Marie Kondo. But all that tidying up is complicated by the negative impact fashion waste has had on the environment.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency reported that, in 2015, 10.5 million tons of discarded textiles ended up in landfills. That’s a lot of wasted material. And while hoarding everything isn’t likely an option – do you really need the shirt that hasn’t fit right in decades? – it’s useful to think about how items in your closet can be repaired, reworked into your outfit rotation or recycled as another household item. Maybe your clothes need a repair or a new purpose to “spark joy” in you again.
Erin Han owns Chinatown’s East/West Shop with her husband Dennys. The two spent years working in the fashion industry before forging a more sustainable style path. At East/West Shop, they sell vintage items as well re-made vintage items and new pieces made from surplus materials. They collaborated with Sanrio for Earth Day, where Han also led a mending workshop.
Niki Livingston Tsukamoto is a Chinatown-based artist who work incorporates the traditional Japanese fabric dyeing technique shibori. In addition to her multiple art and fashion projects, she occasionally teaches workshops on indigo and natural dye workshops. Both offered tips for extending the life of some of the items in your wardrobe.
1. Make repairs
Don’t let a few small tears keep you from the clothing you once loved. “If it’s just a small part of the garment, the rest of the fabric is still sturdy, then there are many things you could do,” says Han via email. She also points out that “small breaks in seams can be easily repaired by hand or machine” and that replacing missing buttons is another quick fix.
Other repairs can take a bit more skill and creativity, but are doable. Patches have had a resurgence in popularity in recent years; scroll through Etsy and you can find everything from video game characters to political messages to sew on worn jackets. But Han points out that you don’t have to go the pre-made patch route. You can use fabric to repair a garment as well. One method she uses is sashiko, which originated in Japan. Han has led sashiko workshops and has a tutorial on East/West’s website.
Darning is an option for repairing small holes in sweaters and other woven or knit items. “This can be done with a simple thread tack on smaller holes or with a yarn darn on larger holes,” says Han. You don’t need to be precise about matching colors either. “You can even use a contrast yarn and make your repair noticeable,” she adds. “This can look really cool.”
2. Modify items that no longer fit your style
Sometimes, all it takes is a hem to refresh a piece of clothing. Says Han, “Hemming is simple and cheap if something is too long or if the length is not flattering or outdated.”
Or maybe, it’s the color of a piece that no longer suits you. “With traditional dyeing, people would typically bring their clothes back and they would be re-dyed again,” says Tsukamoto. When she teaches dye classes, Tsukumoto tells students to bring in their items. “They can bring it in and they can refresh it and it becomes something new, so it’s something that can go back in circulation in their wardrobe, something that they actually want to wear.”
Tsukomoto also does commission work. She recalls one woman, who brought in a coat to have dyed. “I indigo over-dyed it and now it’s her favorite thing in the world,” she says.
Dye isn’t just for clothes though. Tsukumoto says that people have taken sheets to her for fresh color too. Plus, she adds, remnants of fabric can be dyed and turned into items like cloth napkins.
3. Learn how to hide stains with dye
Sometimes, a dye job can cover up small stains. If you’re going the natural dye route, which is used for fabrics made of natural fibers, Tsukumoto has some tips. Using natural dyes to cover stains might be a bit tricky. “If you just want a flat, even color, then natural dyes will typically bring the stain up even more, specifically if it’s a protein-based stain,” she says.
Tsukumoto studied shibori, a traditional Japanese technique of resist-dyeing fabric, and says that this and similar methods can be useful to camouflage stains. “You just hide the stain within the pattern,” she says. Tsukumoto says that she’s even worked on blood stains. “We just get really crafty,” she says. “We can make it look like it’s part of the pattern.”
4. Know that your worn T-shirts have other uses
First, Han says, a T-shirt with holes might still be good enough to donate. “Many people love shirts with holes,” she says. “If it’s a good shirt graphic, donate it.”
If your T-shirts are just too tattered and visually unappealing for the second-hand market, don’t fret. There are still ways that you can use them. “You can also cut an old shirt into rags to remove your need for paper towels,” says Han. Rag rugs are another option for repurposing old T-shirts. “We do this with our unusable shirts from our shop,” says Han.
5. Work towards building a more sustainable wardrobe in 2019
If you want to avoid adding to the global pile of fashion waste, Han says, “find a way to prevent adding to it in the future.”
She adds, “Let your family and friends know you don’t want cheap clothes for your holiday gifts…Clean your closet out in a healthy way and start to fill it with the things you love. And then maintain those items. Repair and mend them when they need it and be conscious about anything you are adding in the future.”
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