If we buy cheap clothes we should learn to mend…

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This phrase came to mind last week when I returned a £3 dress my youngest daughter had bought at Primark. Admittedly she had bought it in the sale but after only wearing it twice the fabric tore at the back. I had considered mending it myself but as the material was a type of netting I knew the sewing would look clumsy. At first I hadn’t even thought about returning it for a refund as it’s a hassle to go back to the store. However I realised it was her Christmas money and, in the end, the store assistant was very helpful.

I began to wonder how many times people return cheap clothing to High Street stores because it’s damaged. I’m not just singling out Primark as there are plenty other shops that sell cheap (and not so cheap) clothing that falls apart. (Last summer I posted here about my personal experiences with buying school uniform).

In the early ’90s I studied in the US and bought the dress below from Nordstrom, a well known department store:

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I can’t imagine the dress was very expensive as I was living on a small budget. However after wearing it a couple of times the hem came undone. I really liked the dress and was gutted to have to return it. But much to my surprise the store had its own in-house seamstress. She mended the dress and I picked it up as good as new. Twenty years later I still own it and the hem has is still good! (I just had a quick look online and it still seems that Nordstrom has its own onsite tailoring and alterations service).

Wouldn’t it make sense if UK stores offered the same service? Instead of having to return an item because of a fault wouldn’t it be better to have someone on-site mend it? I imagine shops would argue that it isn’t cost effective but I do wonder what happens to all those tonnes of imperfect clothing that customers return?

In the meantime if we want to keep on buying cheap and badly-made clothing perhaps we should reduce our environmental fashion footprint by learning to mend them when they (inevitably) fall apart.

Mending jeans

I blogged here about my recent visit to Primark to buy (very) cheap jeans for my girls. Since then I have been thinking about how I can avoid ‘fast fashion’, ie buying things that are quickly thrown away because of quality or trend. Okay, so the latter probably applies less to me at the age of 42 but I know there’s something I can do about not throwing things away because they are broken or torn. As you may know I help to run a bi-monthly Repair Cafe but I also have a sewing machine and access to the internet so I should learn to mend more myself.

The £5 jeans got me thinking that I could really learn to mend these myself. I originally bought the jeans for my 7 and 5 year olds because the older one was already wearing a second-hand pair that had gone in the knees, and the younger one had grown out of her M&S pair. Despite replacing them with inferior (and thinner) trousers from Primark I have kept onto the old jeans and plan to make shorts out of them for the summer. I have also used fabric from them to MEND my tattered jeans which have long needed either repairing or replacing.

After the obligatory search on pinterest I came across this really useful youtube tutorial from tlc inspirations:

I basically cut material from one of the girls’ pair of jeans and pinned it onto the inside out leg of one of my jeans. I then turned the trouser leg the right way and, with some effort, slid it onto my sewing machine. I then used a simple zigzag stich to secure the fabric in place and hey presto:

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from this….

 

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….to this

okay so it may not be the best fix but I did it and I can’t tell you how empowered I feel about it. I love these jeans and couldn’t bear the thought of parting from them, or having to scour the shops to find a new (or new to me) pair. I’m also now armed with the ‘skills’ to mend another pair, or repair the Primark jeans when they inevitably go, as well as some fun ideas to turn old pairs into fun shorts for the summer.

Fast fashion and £5 jeans from Primark

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The other day we went to Bristol and, despite a good scour around the charity shops, we did end up at the HUGE Primark store in the city centre. If anything epitomises fast and cheap fashion it is this store. I remember the chain in my student days being known for its naffness yet it has become a great success story. Today it has announced it is going to be opening stores in the US.

Visiting Primark is like being a kid in a sweet shop. Multicoloured, fun designs grab your attention as soon as you walk in and with dresses costing as little as £5 these are very affordable sweeties. It is true that you get what you pay for but as ‘fast fashion’ pervades the High Street what does it matter if these are throw away garments?

I confess to having bought a few cheap items from here, particularly when it comes to clothing my girls. The quality has varied (shorts worn every day last summer are still wearing well, but a onesie bought at Christmas has already had to be resewn on the seam). I also struggle with the cheapness and fastness of it all. How can children’s jeans cost £5 a pair? Does it really take just six weeks to design and produce a new line of clothing, and how long does this last for?

Yet Primark has shown there is a huge demand for its cheap clothing and, as cash-strapped consumers, it’s hard not to feel pleased with the change left in our pockets after a visit to the store. I did buy two pairs of children’s jeans in the store last week (costing a grand total of £10, cheaper than our family lunch at Subway).

Tomorrow (24th April) sees the anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh. 1,133 garment workers died in the complex where businesses produced clothing for western companies. Lucy Siegle from the Guardian has written some interesting articles on Rana Plaza and fast fashion here. While Primark has already paid compensation to victims and families other brands have not. The Bristol-based organisation, Labour Behind the Label, has an online petition asking other companies to follow suit.  Tomorrow also sees the launch of Fashion Revolution Day encouraging us as consumers to find out who made our clothes, who is involved in the supply chain and what their working conditions are like. Jen from mymakedoandmendyear will be wearing her clothes inside out for the whole day.

I will also be looking at how I can remove myself from the ‘fast fashion’ consumer chain which means I am sucked into buying £5 trousers for my children because I believe it is a bargain. I believe this sort of fashion is unsustainable and a false economy  – both for our planet and its resources, certainly for the workers and in the long run for the consumer who has to buy many pairs of £5 jeans to make them last.