Sewing for Sustainability; Making Feudalism Fabulous

Beckwith James Carroll Normandy GirlHeather Callaghan
Activist Post

Without going on a diatribe about the hallmarks of modern “science” – a cult-ure of culturing the public – I would just like to say I’ve read yet another asinine piece pretending to be a study. It is a thinly veiled attempt to influence young people to “do without even less than you have now, and get used to it – embrace it. And by the way, you suck at life.”

Read enough studies and you get a clear underlying tone: “You are worthless, you are small, you are the cancer on the earth, do without, don’t even exhale or you might damage the Earth – you should be taxed for that…” and so on. It’s not even hidden anymore…or wrapped in a nice bow.

This one, however, is a little more niched. Apparently, it’s a huge, earth-shaking problem that young people don’t know clothing repair – but not for the reasons you might think…

Pamela Norum, a professor in the Department of Textile and Apparel Management in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences, found that many more of the Baby Boomer generation possess skills such as sewing, hemming, button repair and general laundry knowledge than Americans 18-33 years of age.

Although this is obvious, she says this is concerning because,

In 2012, Americans created more than 14.3 million tons of textile waste. Much of this waste is due to clothes being discarded due to minor tears or stains–easily repairable damages if the owners have the skills and knowledge to fix them. If we, as a nation, want to move toward more sustainable practices in all aspects, we need to evaluate not only how we take care of our clothes, but how we educate younger generations to do so as well. [emphasis added]

14.3 million tons? Really? Americans everywhere are opening their windows, throwing their clothing out and yelling “Gardalooooo!”

She goes on about the need for more education in the skills, more sustainability, and more education of said sustainability. She won an award for this gem. Sewing skills are wonderful; minimalism and frugality when it’s the individual’s choice can be wonderful. Creativity is wonderful. The sweet old lady who is sewing pillow cases to make clothing for impoverished children is wonderful. But hopefully it remains a matter of choice and not pressure to ration and be a good global-itizen.

The work is also based on the flawed assumption that millennials are tossing perfectly good clothing into the garbage. That it’s their fault (or lack of education, more women in the workforce) for not knowing how to take care of clothing. Another possibly flawed assumption – that the clothing actually can be repurposed into something else. And don’t people donate their used clothing? Or maybe the clothing we currently have is no longer donate-able…

Personal anecdote: a dire need for shorts arose and I attempted to break my no-shopping-at-Wal-mart rule. It was an ill-fated attempt, for no sooner had I tried them on, I see the seam that connects the zipper to the crotch was not only base-stitched, but already blasted wide open. In other words, it was a permanently pre-opened fly. I had been thrifting for so long, I forgot how junky and badly stitched the imported materials really were. (Soon, thrift store clothing will be just as disposable and worn, tattered.)

I used to think – higher-end quality is where it’s at. I’ll save up enough to buy a shirt from Eddie Bauer ($49 – it may have been on sale) and keep it for longer. Nope. They get a lot of their goods from China, too. Overpriced does not equal better. Following the label directions didn’t keep every single button from cracking and falling off the threads after a couple washes. To tailor-repair would cost $27. Knowing how to sew comes in handy, but why should someone purchase new buttons and sew them all back on for a $49 shirt??

These are not just a couple pre-purchase mishaps – I could go on – you could go on! Given that we are already starting out with disposable toilet-ware, are we to be pressured into spending evenings darning holey socks and reseweing buttons that were never even attached properly? Have you ever tried to stitch frayed polyester? Should I break out my spare loom and start pedaling? In other words, the comparison of skills-to-materials ratio to that of the Baby Boom generation – or those before it – is at least, a little unfair and misguided. Obviously, there’s a deeper problem that wasn’t present during Baby Boom time.

She is also not acknowledging that “upcycling” (repurposing) has been an ongoing trend for awhile now. It’s because the economy has been broken for a long time and young people who can’t find jobs are already wearing worn-out wares. Or, they can break out a credit card and buy high-priced pre-ripped, pre-tattered jeans, see-through jeggings and paper-thin, teeny tiny shirts. (Underlying marketing ploy: “We make serfdom sexy, but it comes with a price.”) Upcycling does appeal to minimalist, anti-consumerism sensibilities, but maybe it’s also a (feudal, futile?) attempt to create some individual style, apart from the common store rack garb.

You can see the repurposing trend, aka “eco wear” is pushed in books and TV shows like Chop Shop, a way to hybridize your existing wardrobe without buying new. And, hey, wouldn’t it be cool to look like Katniss or Peeta from Hunger Games? Or how about the ancient, stylized cast from Noah (2.0). A “cleansing” movie about the horrors of humanity.

I’m not saying these pastimes aren’t fun or useful – and they are increasingly necessary – but I’m interested in the intent behind disseminated information.

And that is the point – we, young and old, are supposed to get used to wearing rags, and then repairing said rags – to get used to rationing and stop being such a “blight on the earth.” And then embracing it as fashion sense. Because, if not, we are solely responsible for waste – for ruining the earth! For not being good, conscientious consumer/producers.

Let’s stop the insane blame game, especially on people who weren’t even born when the economic wheels were set in motion. Everyone reading this wasn’t here yet. It goes without saying that the true individual would feel free to wear whatever they like and dispense or use up their bought, worn materials as they see fit. Pun intended.

More asinine studies:

Heather Callaghan is a natural health blogger and food freedom activist. You can see her work at and Like at Facebook.

Recent posts by Heather Callaghan:

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