Sewing Clothes: Is it Really Sustainable?

as fast fashion becomes more prominent in the minds of environmentalists, more and more people are resorting to sewing their own clothes. this article will delve into the ins and outs of sewing and the best ways to do it sustainably.

Sewing has always intrigued me but my interest in sustainability and the fast fashion industry has made me think about it in a different light. When you think of all the people being paid barely minimum wage to make clothes and the millions that haven’t been paid during the pandemic, it becomes frustrating. The fashion industry is the one of the most polluting industries but how does this tie into making your own garments? How can we make sewing more sustainable?

When I got my sewing machine in lockdown, I started with altering and mending my existing clothes that didn’t quite fit so I would be more likely to wear them. This is a fantastic way to maintain sustainability whilst sewing because it extends the lifetime of garments and will encourage you to wear them more often! However, it’s difficult to be purely sustainable especially when you’re just starting to learn to sew. What do you do when you get a hole in your jeans or a button falls off? You probably donate it or let it sit in the bottom of a drawer. In this case, sewing is definitely the sustainable option. All you really need is a needle and thread. But when it comes to constructing garments from scratch, that’s where sustainability becomes a bit hazier. You need to think about the fabric, buttons, and zips as well as its origin.

cotton has been named the ‘Dirtiest Crop on Earth’

So, although it seems that the saviour of the fashion industry is cotton, don’t get your hopes up because cotton still has its flaws. Conventional cotton has been named the ‘Dirtiest Crop on Earth’ due to its dependance on insecticides, pesticides and fresh water. Thinking about a simple t-shirt, surely it doesn’t need too many resources to make. However it takes about 2,700 litres of water to produce one t-shirt. That is an unimaginable amount of water when you consider how many t-shirts the average person owns. The solution is organic cotton, which is better in many ways. Research shows that organic cotton uses 91% less water, reduces CO2e by 46%, and of course, no pesticides are used! Now, by all means, if you can afford to buy organic cotton fabric for your garments, you should! Although, a lot of people, including students, aren’t prepared to spend that much more for the same amount of fabric, nor can they afford it! 

it is possible to make beautiful garments on a budget in a sustainable way. 

Noémie Jouas is a student fashion designer here at St. Andrews. Juggling her degree with designing new collections, she is a great example for sustainable sewing. I reached out to her to get a greater insight into how she keeps sustainability a priority in her sewing. The main way in which she does this is by finding fabric from secondhand sources, such as buying bedsheets or curtains from charity shops. This allows her to find patterns and colours that aren’t widely available for a fraction of the price! By doing this, you are putting less pressure on sewing perfectly, because if you mess up, it’s not like you spent a fortune on the fabric. Even for her most experimental designs, she still manages to keep sustainability close. Her pink cloud look, which was made using secondhand bedsheets and pillow stuffing, shows that sustainability and sewing can go hand in hand. Noémie has also delved into sewing with waste materials as shown by the dress she recreated for the Met Gala challenge. This dress, designed by Giambattista Valli, was recreated using plastic packaging from her neighbourhood that would have otherwise gone to waste. Her work shows that it is possible to make beautiful garments on a budget in a sustainable way. 

I have compiled a few tips to reduce your impact on the environment whilst also being on a budget. 

  • Look at the fabric you already have. The fabric you already own is the most sustainable thing you can use. You have already bought it so no extra impact will be made.
  • Charity shops sometime sell curtains/bedsheets which can be used to make garments. As mentioned before, these fabrics can be unique and will spark your creativity.
  • Salvage buttons, zips and closures from clothes that are beyond repair or you no longer wear.
  • Save your scraps. Fabric scraps can be used for a variety of projects such as cushions, stuffing ottomans and much more.
  • Deadstock fabric is a good choice if you need to buy new fabric. This fabric is leftover from production and will be thrown out if it’s not used so think about buying deadstock before new fabric.
  • Use thread made from natural fibres. Sewing generated lots of thread waste but if you use natural thread, you can compost your wasted threads.
  • A micro-mesh bag will reduce the amount of micro plastics released when washing. If you end up using synthetic textiles, using one of these bags will catch all the microfibres and preventing them getting into our water and oceans since nearly 35% of the microplastics in the ocean come from our clothing.

Whether you are brand new to sewing or a seasoned pro, I hope this article has given you insight into how you can develop your skills and creativity with the environment in mind. Remember, the most sustainable clothes are the ones already in your wardrobe. I would love to see your sustainable creations! If you were inspired by this, reach out to me on Instagram at @sustainablyscottish and we can have a chat about fashion and the environment!

Art by Tina Smaile

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