I come from a family of seamstresses. I’m the proud owner of not one, but two handmade Aran knits created with love by my mother. She wore her mother’s wedding dress at her own wedding, taken in and altered by her cousin. That same cousin made the wedding dress of her niece just two years ago (not white and poofy, but a very unique sea green silk). I am probably a desperate disappointment to them all, in that two weeks ago, at the age of 23, I asked my Mam to show me how to sew a button on to a shirt.
Where did we lose that skill and love for mending our clothes? In today’s age of fast fashion and disposable trends, we buy new items of clothing and view them as nice wardrobe additions that will probably last a few months before we move on to something else. You won’t find a biscuit tin dedicated to sewing supplies in the average millennial’s bedroom. Learning to repair clothes, much less make them from scratch, has largely become a lost art among younger generations.
My Mam’s side of the family is not unusual. All of my close friends’ mothers, aunts and nanas are dab hands at sewing and mending clothes, with many of them skilled dressmakers. Our generation, on the other hand, is more likely to throw out a T-shirt when it gets a small rip. Are we more careless with money? Debatable – as young professionals are currently grappling with the possibility of never being able to own a house. Are we less thrifty than we used to be? Maybe, but second-hand shops have exploded in popularity over the last ten years, with many of the most stylish among us rocking vintage one-off’s regularly.
So why don’t we take care of our clothes? Why do we just accept when they get damaged and move on to another piece? Where’s the loyalty?
The effects of this carefree attitude to buying and throwing out clothes can be devastating. The fashion industry is reported to be one of the most polluting industries in the world, second only behind oil, causing terrible and irreversible damage to the environment. This year also marked the five-year anniversary of the Rena Plaza collapse, in which 1,134 people died while working on clothes for Western brands such as Primark, Mango and Accessorize – key players in the trend-obsessed culture we find ourselves in now. And that’s the crux of the problem. We’ve fallen in love with trends, and out of love with clothes.
Our parent’s generation didn’t have the wide range of fashion options that we enjoy now. Many of the high street shops that we know and love hadn’t yet made their way to Irish shores, and online shopping was a sci-fi pipe dream. When they bought something, they made sure to choose wisely and to show it some love when it got home.
Now we spend our downtime scrolling through social media, or binge-watching TV series when we’re not at work. Despite (or perhaps because of) this, we’re currently in the midst of a wellness revolution, and mindful hobbies, like colouring and embroidery, have increased hugely in popularity. Learning to knit or sew could be the evening wind-down you’ve been searching for, and it will save you some euros on your next high street haul.
We can learn a lot from the women who raised us, not least in the fashion department. I’ve recently learned to love ‘shopping’ my own wardrobe, and when a well-loved item becomes a little too well-loved, I’m making it my goal to mend it myself. I just might need a couple more lessons from my Mam first.