Sustainable sewing

Sewing your own clothes is something of a revolutionary act in an age when fast fashion has become the norm and handicrafts skills a fleeting resource. Below, you can find out more about how home sewing in itself is a sustainable deed – both ecologically and ethically – as well as tips about how to make your home sewing even more sustainable.

WHAT’S THE ISSUE WITH THE READY-TO-WEAR CLOTHING INDUSTRY?

The modern clothing industry is built on unsustainable foundations: the aim is to produce as cheaply, quickly and as much as possible. This holy trinity is possible only through the exploitation of natural resources, damaging the environment, and oppressing those who are more vulnerable. The carbon footprint of clothing production is greater than that of international sea and air traffic combined, but negative impacts are not just limited to the worsening of the climate crisis, although that alone should set alarm bells ringing. Clothing production also pollutes waterways, causes droughts and erosion, exploits natural resources, erodes ecosystems, and weakens the state of the environment in many other ways. In addition to the ecological issues, the majority of ready-to-wear clothing production is highly unethical: Production takes place primarily in countries with a cheap workforce, where the legal frameworks are insufficient to guarantee safe working conditions and a living wage. Clothing companies unscrupulously exploit this and millions of people working in clothing factories end up with inhumane living and working conditions.

Ready-to-wear clothing production factory

HOME SEWING AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO READY-TO-WEAR CLOTHING?

  • When you sew your own clothes, you know that the clothes were not made through exploitation. So you can be confident that your clothes were sewn ethically. However, it is worth noting that sewing is just one part of the clothing production chain – it is also important to ensure in particular that the production of the materials you are using is ethical, if you want to make sure your clothes are ethical from start to finish.
  • When you sew your own clothes, you understand just what it takes to make a piece of clothing. You also learn to assess just how sustainably made ready-to-wear clothing is, as you know that making each piece of clothing required a huge number of stages and countless pairs of hands.
Sewing threads
    • When you sew things for yourself, you create an emotional bond with that piece of clothing. You dedicated a lot of your valuable time to making the piece, and created it to fit you perfectly through your choice of design, colour, details, fit and size. This is likely to create a special relationship with the garment. The closer the bond, the greater the likelihood you will also take better care of it and value it in the longer term.
    • When you make an individual piece just for yourself, you minimize the wastage in the clothing industry. In the ready-to-wear clothing industry, clothes are produced in huge batches, in sizes based on an estimate of how well the piece will sell. Vast quantities of brand new clothes languish unsold, and these excess pieces will, in the worst-case scenario, wind up being burnt for energy or sent to landfill.

    HOW CAN I MAKE MY HOME SEWING EVEN MORE SUSTAINABLE?

    • Choose sustainable materials:
      Whilst the stitching element of self-made clothes might be ecological and ethical, often the same cannot be said for the materials. By switching the materials you use for more sustainable alternatives, you can significantly reduce the climate and environmental footprint of the clothes you make. Seek out recycled fabrics and accessories or use materials from clothes you already have. If you want to use a new fabric, opt for sustainably produced materials. Invest in quality and choose materials that are well-suited for the intended use. You can read more about this in our Materials guide.
    Sustainable fabric rolls
    • Make only what you need:
      The clothing industry produces more than 92 million tonnes of waste every year. However, the greatest problem, and one that requires immediate action, stems from the excessive fast fashion production volumes and overconsumption; home sewers can also do their part here to move consumer culture in a more sustainable direction. Only sew the amounts and the pieces that you will actually wear. Do not unnecessarily hoard fabrics, buttons and zippers, instead, use what you already have and take care in using all materials.
    Textile waste
    • Quality, quality, quality:
      Regardless of whether a piece was purchased from a fast fashion chain or made yourself, it can be good or bad quality. However, when making your own clothes it is much easier to ensure that the end result is top notch. Use high-quality fabrics, avoid being stingy with the various accessories or the lining materials. Hone your own skills so that the pieces you make can serve future generations too. Prioritize quality over quantity and make each individual garment a real gem. Remember to also spend time adapting the piece to fit you, so that it is enjoyable to wear. A poorly fitting or uncomfortable piece of clothing will soon find its way to the back of a wardrobe, never to see the light of day again.
    • Equipment is not a competition:
      Home sewing can require quite an array of equipment. Whilst you will of course need good equipment and tools to make good products, there is no need to get competitive about having the latest technology or indulge unnecessarily. Sewing machines and accessories can easily be bought second-hand, and it is also worth exploring whether you can find any shared-use sewing equipment local to you, so that you do not have to buy everything yourself.
    Cutting fabric
    • Look after and cherish what you have:
      Besides using your fantastic super power – your sewing skills, that is – to make new clothes, it is also worthwhile cherishing older pieces: wash them according to the instructions, look after them, repair tears, and give new life to old pieces. If a garment is unsalvageable, remove any usable buttons and zippers that could come in handy in making a new piece. Check your local recycling guidelines to see how to recycle textiles that are not suitable for reuse.