Fashion Innovation: Make do & mend

Girls in STEM Mentor jan Choudhury

by | 25 Apr, 2019 | Untapped Thinking

As it’s Fashion Revolution Week and was also Earth Day on Monday, Untapped has been looking at sustainability trends in innovation and has invited one of our talented associates, Molshee Vaid, to write this blog. Molshree is a freelance consultant working at the intersections of fashion, sustainability and technology. Having spent over 10 years in fashion marketing and business journalism, she is passionate about mainstreaming the sustainability framework in the apparel industry. Enjoy!

During World War 2 aka the era of rationing, the British Government issued a pamphlet titled ‘Make Do and Mend’. It carried useful tips on repair, upkeep and reuse of clothes.

A version of that frugal fashion guide, updated for the current fast-fashion era sounds relevant, especially when Britons alone discard around a million tonnes of textiles every year. That generation of waste further compounds the problem as the apparel industry’s production processes carry a hefty environmental cost in terms of energy, water and land use.

Simply extending the life of a garment by an extra nine months could reduce carbon, waste and water footprints by more than one-fifth, according to a 2017 study by UK-based non-profit, WRAP. Therefore, the case for a revival of the ethos of ‘make do and mend’ is stronger than ever before. It presents itself as a low hanging fruit in the race to a sustainable fashion future.

Even the recent report by the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), inquiring into fast-fashion, addresses the concept of clothes repair. It recommends adding lessons on creating, mending and repairing clothes for school kids. One can hope that teaching a teenager to sew might prevent her/him from binning a perfectly usable outfit on the back of a missing button.

The topic of valuing and looking after clothes is also close to the heart of Orsola De Castro, Founder of Fashion Revolution. Her organisation campaigns for transparency as well as sustainability in the fashion industry and promotes the hashtag #lovedclotheslast ever so often. At a panel discussion, she expressed her desire to see clothes repair shops dotting every street.

While omnipresent repair shops might still be placed in the distant future, a number of online start-ups have stepped in to meet this growing demand. London-based Clothes Doctor is one such service that allows a time-poor customer to order courier pickups for alterations, customisation and repairs. Another player, Restory offers repairs for luxury shoes and handbags. Speaking of start-ups aimed at increasing clothes longevity, Save Your Wardrobe is a wardrobe management app, set to launch this summer. The app will send its users proactive notifications for repairs, alterations and customisation recommendations for garments in their wardrobe.

Meanwhile, the culture of repair hasn’t quite caught up with the brands. Premium to luxury brands like Gucci and Ralph Lauren might still be coming to the rescue of customers but the mass brands haven’t made progress beyond offering spare buttons with the garment.

Interestingly though, H&M has taken the lead and is experimenting with repair and remake service at its flagship store in Paris and the concept store in London. The brand is offering free clothes mending to members of its loyalty programme, H&M Club. Another brand, Marks & Spencer, has a stated goal of offering repair services but the implementation at store level is yet to be seen. While the established names are still experimenting and figuring some of the sustainability, frontrunner brands are already there. Swedish denim brand, Nudie Jeans offers free repair service for life and so does American brand Eileen Fisher.

Hopefully, the throwaway natured fast fashion will make way for longer-lasting and better quality fashion. Inspiration is available beyond fashion to categories like home. For instance, catalogue retailer, Argos sells a breakdown care insurance for household products that covers breakdowns and repairs, ranging from one to three years. IKEA is trialling a ‘Learning Lab’ at its Greenwich store in London where customers can learn more about product repairs and upcycling. And as the discussion around adverse impacts of overconsumption enters the mainstream discourse, products with longer lives will increasingly become the norm.

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Sally Kemkers

Sally Kemkers

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Happiest when considering how to answer tough business questions, Sally relentlessly digs deep into consumer insight and connects this with trend and product insights to deliver a product cue or piece of communication.

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