Whether they’re out-of-date or worn out, the dictates of fast fashion means clothes today have a short shelf life and according to DEFRA, two million tonnes of textiles end up in landfill each year. Some designers are working to reduce this waste by making the most of offcuts or upcycling discarded garments. Last year, H&M launched Waste: a line made from leftover items, after it was embarrassed by the revelation that staff dealt with unsold goods by simply throwing them away. But retailers aren’t the only ones dealing with piles of unwanted clothes. Thanks to the abundance of cheap clothes on the market, consumers are more likely to throw away their old clothes than repair or reuse them. Given the myriad creative ways to reuse old clothes, whether reworking them into something wonderful, making them into cushion stuffing or even turning your old boots into flowerpots, that’s a shocking state of affairs. But that could all be about to change thanks to a revival of interest in make-do and mend.
Someone who knows all about the art of making do and mending is Elena Garcia, designer and co-founder of eco fashion promoter EcoLuxe. Elena also created Sew Last Season, which turns discarded pieces into the height of chic. According to Garcia, upcycling is all about developing your own style. ‘Try and understand your shape and work with it,’ she says. ‘Once you know your shape and what goes with it you'll be able to acquire classic garments that need only a little updating or be able to turn them into something of your own.’ And if it all goes wrong? Well, there’s always cushion stuffing or flowerpot boots.
From t-shirt to t-skirt
When the temperature goes up and you find yourself short of a summer wardrobe; instead of rushing into the shops, dig out your old t-shirts and turn them into funky skirts. ‘Just stretch the neck so you can fit your waist through or make it bigger by putting an elastic band around it,’ says Elena. ‘Sew up the bottom of the sleeves and place them inside the skirt to turn them into pockets.’
Make an old tie your new best friend
Ties make great accessories. Elena suggests giving a normal tie a twist by wearing it backwards. ‘I like wearing silk ties the other way around, with a halter neck top or dress and the tie showing on a bare back, it looks sexy.’ Ties also work as belts on jeans or a fitted jersey dress.
Patchwork patch up
Found a hole in your favourite blouse that can’t be sewn up? Don’t fret – clothes with holes or blemishes can be reworked or altered to make them good as new. ‘You can always cut sleeves, stick ON an embroidered flower, stitch a patch on it or even shred it to make fillings for a cushion,’ comments Elena. ‘Try and see the imperfections as a way to do something new with it, a chance to wear something differently.’
Everyone has old t-shirts sitting in their closets collecting dust. But given the myriad creative ways to update them, throwing them away shouldn’t even cross your mind. ‘Cut two short or long sleeved t-shirts diagonally,’ suggests Elena, ‘making sure they have different lengths and then wear one on top of the other for a t-shirt kimono. The layering effect is really interesting. You can also turn t-shirts into vests by cutting the sleeves off or try making small slashes on t-shirts and weave ribbons through them. The more ribbons the better.’
Turn something old into something new
‘Wedding dresses from charity shops can make brilliant party dresses,’ Elena says. ‘The fabrics and the make tend to be very good.’ The material from the dress can also be used to create your own handmade pieces. The lace and embellishment often found on wedding dresses can be quite expensive to buy on their own but make great details for plain blouses or skirts.
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