Viva the repair revolution


Viva the repair revolution

DOUW STEYN was ahead of Gen Z when a friendly seamstress started giving new life to his old clothes. Now he's thinking of taking sewing lessons.


IT'S cold and grey here in La-La Land. I doomscroll through the hard and soft news while lying in front of the fireplace with my patched trousers. And then I read this: 

  • New research shows Gen Z repairing more than any other age group, with 77% mending their clothes in last 18 months;
  • Cost of living encouraging more clothing repairs as 62% who repair do it to save money, increasing to 95% among 18-24 year olds;
  • However, research indicates more to be done to challenge consumer perceptions around durability, with 69% more likely to repair an item of clothing if it’s expensive;
  • More than half (59%) of consumers in Ireland say they would like to learn how to repair their clothes as 31% say they don’t have the skills.

The rise of ReGeneration Z: new Penneys research reveals what’s behind the new ‘Mend It’ mindset in Ireland | Primark Cares (UK)

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

This one, especially, attracts my attention:

“Gen Z, the very demographic most devoted to throwaway fashion, understands the importance of wearing an article of clothing many times to justify its environmental cost. For this reason, the repair revolution — an integral part of the industry’s push for sustainability — is well under way.

“Resale, rental, regeneration — you name it. In 2022, there’s no shortage of ways for the style-obsessed among us to ensure we’re being as conscious with our consumerism as possible.”

And this:

“A survey from 2017 showing that 60% of British people can’t sew on a button proves this.”

‘Make do and mend’ is the hottest new eco-friendly trend - Thred website

I decide then and there that I want to learn to sew. Absolutely hopeless with that. Too many fingers and ham-handed. But at the rate my favourite garments are unravelling, it's a matter of showing butt or not. And my current man is adamant that my butt is too old to show. So I will have to patch them.

Fashion industry and pollution

Neatness and my attempt at wokeness do play a role. But actually I've been holding on to what I own for quite a few years. I buy fewer clothes anyway. (And other stuff.) I don't need them. I have more than enough. And the more I read about the fashion industry's role in pollution, the more I feel vindicated. (Look here and be ashamed.)

I am not innocent. I have a lot of clothes. Fortunately also of good quality. The thing is, I like my old clothes. And if they can be patched, so much the better. In our village on the border of Europe and Asia we have a friend who likes to sew clothes. And she does it exceptionally well — and differently. There are patterns, hearts, stuffed animals and more. All works of art.

Now we have a lot of patched clothes. After almost 10 years in the small Greek village, we soon learnt: fix it or discard it. Something happens to you when you slow down. Your outlook changes. Your needs change. I think to your benefit. You patch your clothes, among other things.

A second life

The option of buying new or buying again was also there, but more limited. Especially for men. You can buy anything on the internet and it is couriered from London within five days. I used it. Very nice. But the old patched clothes remain the favourites time and time again. There is something about old clothing that you are attached to and that is given a second life.

It happened again the other day, Completely unexpected. I was ecstatic. Wow, the feeling when she gave me back my ripped jeans. Patched on the butt. One of my favourite pairs of jeans was wearable again. Wonderful. I immediately put them on.


Every garment has a story

Each patched garment also has a story. Years ago, I visited my sister in Beaune, Burgundy. She gave me the most beautiful dirty-orange designer linen shirt as a gift. The type French men wear so casually when they sit and drink wine in the street cafés in summer.

More than 20 years later, it is still my go-to shirt in Greece. But Greece is not France. No, things are rougher there. After a few ouzos, everyone jumps up and dances. Everyone smokes. We did too, after the third ouzo. So, on one of the many wonderful Greek nights, a cigarette butt from my own mouth fell on my nice shirt. Burnt a hole, just to the right of my belly button. I was devastated. Jeez. My shirt was a goner. (Apparently, I promised never to smoke again. That didn't happen.)

Give me that shirt, she said when she saw it. She disappeared and returned it a week later. The dirty-orange shirt was patched with a grey-blue heart over the hole. It looks like it belongs there.

Months or maybe years later, I was riding my yellow scooter in town. I must have been on my way out to the harbour, because I was wearing my patched orange shirt. Met an Aussie friend on the way. Hello, yes everything is going well and so on. He looks at me. “Mate, I love your shirt. Where did you buy it?" I'm a bit surprised until he presses his finger on my grey cloth heart. I just laughed. “Special place, Matthew."

So, both of our closets are now full of patched clothes. My man's white linen shirt, also damaged by a cigarette, has a red heart just above his own heart. His other shirt was so ragged, she patched almost the entire upper part. It's a completely different garment.

I now have pants with a tiger from India on my butt. Nicely cut out and then patched. Another popular pair of pants was more than ragged. Also on the butt. (I don't know how I sit or why I wiggle my butt so much that they get worn out like that, but that's where all my pants tear.) I went to her with a pleading face. Can you save this one?

She visits us in the motherland. And after the greetings and complaints about this and that, she says nonchalantly: I have your pants. She hands over the paper bag with the pants in it. I am dumbfounded. It is like a work of art. The entire butt part has been redone. With several pieces of cloth. It's almost as if the trousers now have a patchwork backside.

You must understand: one doesn't feel that way about new pants from one of the chain stores or something grander. No, the pants and I have been together for almost 20 years. With their new backside, they now have a new life.

Thank you, Gen Z

Generation Z, thank you. I've been having my clothes patched for a while, but as it seems as if I've started a trend, I'll do my part.

I'm joining your repair revolution. I am all fired up about my first sewing lesson. I just have to find a sewing machine that works with solar power.

Oy vey.

♦ VWB ♦

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