Intercept Fabric Rescue founder Jenny Hill shows off her DIY jacket.
The inhabitants of the North quickly caught the pace of the slow fashion movement, so it is Northern advocate went to talk to our locals who are leading the movement.
New Zealand sends about 100,000 tons
of clothes to landfills every year — about 44 kg per person.
Clothes from some stores are so affordable that there is no incentive to repair items with basic damage. On average, clothes are only worn seven times before they are thrown away, and the incredible acceleration of trends has seen racks of clothes topple over every week in fast fashion stores.
The fashion industry didn’t become the mammoth empire it is without the help of all of us, championing cheap clothes and short trends over quality and connection to the piece.
But some Northlanders are doing their part to change the course of a garment’s life cycle.
Buying clothes made to last
The relationship between garment and maker is fundamental to Whangārei pop-up Papa Clothing, according to founder Kev Rands.
“From day one … whatever I was going to do had to have a significant impact on the environment,” Rands said.
Randa’s childhood helped shape her approach to the brand, she grew up in an eco-village in Matapouri, and her parents own the Ecostore brand.
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“That’s why I’ve been working to order for a long time so there’s no waste, and that’s why I’m now focusing only on completely natural materials used in small editions, I’m still not making large quantities of clothes,” said Rands.
Rand’s clothing is made in Aotearoa from 100 per cent natural fibres; linen, cotton, wool and silk, which means that the clothes will organically decompose at the end of their life cycle.
Rands said looking at clothing labels can sometimes help consumers determine the quality of a piece they’re considering buying.
“I would definitely always look at the care label and see what it’s made of.
“You might see a thermal top in the store and say, ‘Oh, that looks nice and will be warm for the winter,’ and then you’ll see it’s made of 100 percent acrylic instead of something like merino.”
Papa Clothing’s garments are made with durability in mind and locally made from quality materials, and the price reflects this.
“I think the main issue with fast fashion versus slow fashion is affordability because clothes like mine require a bit of savings to be able to afford them.
“People who save and invest in slow fashion are simply brilliant.”
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Browsing used clothing for quality clothing is a more affordable option, although it has become increasingly difficult as thrift stores and op shops are flooded with poorly made fast fashion.
Online platforms such as Trade Me and Facebook Marketplace, as well as Depop and Designer Wardrobe give you the ability to search for specific brands and styles without having to wade through the fast fashion shelves.
On the other hand, if you have 50k to spare for a Hermes Birkin bag, Webb Auctions is the way to go.
Extending the life of clothes
Whangārei’s Salvation Army Family Store is home to humanitarian clothing upcycling concept Intercept, started by a group of fabric artists and environmental activists, including Jenny Hill.
“The Salvation Army gets about 10 tons of fabric a year – which is a lot – but a lot of it can’t be used. It might have a hole or a few buttons missing, but they don’t have time to spend fixing it, but we can.”
Hill said when she started the program she wasn’t sure if there would be enough quality old clothes to repair or enough demand from people to buy the repaired items. Neither proved to be a problem.
“People just buy clothes without thinking about the price.”
The Intercept tries to save as many natural fiber fabrics and special vintage pieces from landfills as possible. Hill is a full-time volunteer and spends his days soaking clothes in buckets, ironing and mending them for resale.
“If it’s vintage, I allow synthetics because I believe it’s good quality if it’s lasted a long time without pilling.
“You’re not just saving it from being trashed, you’re respecting it.”
Hill also pointed out that natural fabrics are much more comfortable and forgiving in northern climates.
“Polyester will make you stink overnight. It’s a horrible thing to wear, it’s sticky, the only thing going for it is that you don’t have to iron it.”
To prevent the need to iron natural fabrics, Hill recommends using a gentle wash cycle and then hanging the garment flat on a hanger to dry.
Whangārei Bernina co-owner Sandy Robinson said slow fashion can be more than just shopping and you can always start with something from your own closet.
“Fast fashion follows trends, all seasons and can be quite low quality … slow fashion is your upcycle, recycle … you have a pair of old jeans, but you’re going to make them into something different. “
Robinson said there has been an increase in the number of people looking for alternatives to buying new because of the rising cost of living.
By purchasing ready-made travel or emergency sewing kits, you’ll start with all the basic sewing equipment you need without having to do your own research.
“It’s not just about using the garment in a new way, it’s about using the fabric.”
Whangārei Bernina offers a range of sewing, crochet and knitting courses as well as online tutorials.
DIY embroidery, lace, and adding a pocket are all things Robinson suggests can help repair or replace an old garment, with the help of learning two basic types of stitches.
“Basic running stitch and basic appliqué stitch, which is actually blank stitch, in our older language. You can do a lot with those two.”
When it comes to making something made at home last, Robinson echoed the views of Hill and Rands: fabric choice is everything.
“Don’t start with loose fabric, or it will fall apart quickly. If you really invest in buying good fabric, good thread, your clothes will last longer no matter what.”