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Book extract: Why the act of caring for our clothes extends to the act of caring for our environment

by | Mar 29, 2021

Ahead of Fashion Revolution Week 2021 we are publishing an extract from Orsola de Castro’s book Loved Clothes Last.  Orsola, who together with Carry Somers, launched Fashion Revolution in 2013, a global movement calling for change in the fashion industry. If you head over to our Instagram you’ll find our giveaway offer: We have one book to give to a reader. Fashion Revolution Week is 19 – 25 April 2021. Read the extract below: 

We aren’t repurposing and mending clothes because we can’t afford to buy something new – we are doing it because we can’t afford to throw something away

Throughout history, clothes have been regularly thrashed, unpicked, resewn, rejuvenated, reconditioned, cut up, repurposed, revived, reworn and remade, because, until quite recently, frugality and efficiency made economic sense: clothes were expensive, designed to last, and their wearers were implicit in their longevity, repurposing and upcycling not as a fashion statement, but as a result of poverty, ingenuity and need. Unfortunately, rather than celebrating the creativity and the craft of maintaining, we have always focused on the shame of poverty and need; wearing hand-me-downs and make-do-and-mend suffer from a worldwide, age-old cultural blanket of negative associations spreading from Mexico to China: poor people wear old stuff, rich people buy new.

How absurd that it is now precisely the opposite, with vintage and pre-loved clothes, mending and customising as the niche, elitist, conscious option, and buying masses of cheap new stuff as the affordable, democratic solution. It is vital that we defy and redefine the negative stigma around (further) consuming used clothes from the unacceptable to the aspirational; and if our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents perceived second-hand as a badge of shame, we now need to turn it into a badge of pride: we aren’t repurposing and mending clothes because we can’t afford to buy something new – we are doing it because we can’t afford to throw something away. What has made economic sense for previous generations will make environmental sense for generations to come.

Clothes are our chosen skin. We can use them to speak of our principles, demand positive change and make sure that what makes us feel good about ourselves is also an instrument to bring good to others. Alexander McQueen spoke about fashion as a reflection of the world we live in, and any old photograph will prove it – we can instantly date an image from its subjects’ outfits. For those of you who were alive in the 1980s, for instance, the layering of several cut-up T-shirts that looked so cool on Madonna or, before that, punks (ripped tartan, studs and safety pins) and hippies (crochet squares and embroidered jeans), the New Romantics (vintage Victorian petticoats dyed black with everything) and the whole Grunge thing (more crochet squares and embroidered jeans) – these are all testaments to youth taking up scissors and needles to customise, in order to rebel, and saying something by looking different.

Key ingredients for your mending kit

Today, at the dawn of Generation Climate Breakdown, the ‘I Care, I Repair’ and #lovedclotheslast message that we share when we mend and alter our clothes has gone beyond showing off sartorial originality and savoir faire; it is now a statement that the act of caring for our clothes extends to the act of caring for our environment, and marks our gratitude by valuing the work of the people who make the things we wear. If we look at this shift as a mass endeavour to embrace a more ‘conscious’ consumerism, we need first to understand that being conscious opposes being unresponsive and implies action over apathy.

Positive action can take several forms, and becoming a clothes-keeper is by far one of the easiest and most rewarding.

This is an extract from Loved Clothes Last by Orsola de Castro published by Penguin Books, available for about R220.


  • Feature image: Merve Sehirli Nasir / Unsplash
  • Other Images supplied
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