When you sew all day, your mind has a chance to wander and wonder. Things that make me stop and THINK include the morning newspaper, stuff I read online, movies, music, videos….usually 2 or 3 different ideas combine to create a single question, and today the question is “Are we sewing too many clothes?” More specifically, are we sewing too many “quick-sews” that will be worn only a few times, as opposed to better-quality clothes that will last and get lots of wearings?
Here are the sources that got me questioning my sewing goals, and how they fit into the Big Picture of using the earth’s resources:
- This interview with Latvian designer Arta of MimiiKids (“I always keep in mind that my designs need to be both chic and simple so that they can be worn for more than one event and more than one season; I like the idea of making clothing that children can keep wearing as they grow.”)
- A post on Facebook: “I am sewing to avoid fast fashion, not to make it. ” (Thank you, Lenka Uzakova!)
- Hurricane Harvey, and people collecting clothes for those whose homes were flooded in Texas (I’ll explain in a minute where this comes into play.)
First, a confession: I’ve sewn more clothes for my daughter than she “needs”. More than we have room for, really. Our house was built (circa 1940) with just one closet, only deep enough to hold a handful of hangers going crosswise…less than 3 feet of hanger rod. In the forties (in this area anyway), people generally had 2 sets of clothes: an outfit for work or school, and one for church. Laundry was done once a week. Compare that to a house built today which likely has:
- a main floor coat closet with about 4′ to 5′ of hanger rod
- possibly a mudroom for jackets and sports apparel and shoes
- an apparel closet for each bedroom
- maybe a walk-in closet in the master suite
Typical household hanging space has ballooned from 3′ to about 30′. These large closets in modern homes are not empty. They are jammed full in many cases. Some of the best-selling books are about how to de-clutter your closets. I wonder how Americans would have felt if you’d told them in 1940, “By the year 2000, having too many clothes will be a problem.”
What does this have to do with sewing? Just as many of us purchase more clothing than we need, some of us sew more clothing than we need. At heart I’m a libertarian, believing in the freedom of every individual to do what she pleases with her time, energy, and resources. However when I see countless Etsy shops and IG posts with handmade kids clothes specifically designed to be worn once….I wonder if adding to landfill (12 million tons per year in the U.S.) justifies the “making memories” aspect of one-time-use clothes.
Is it necessary to make a new outfit for every one of life’s occasions? Yes it is a huge part of our culture to have a special dress for weddings, a dress that most likely will never be worn again. Graduation robes used to be rented and returned, now they are often bought and discarded. We already have plenty of limited-use clothing ( Halloween and school play costumes, dance recital dresses, tee-shirts from every running race and summer camp and vacation spot). Do we truly need to sew special “wear once” outfits for:
- baby’s take-home from hospital
- first birthday, 2nd birthday, etc
- trip to the zoo, trip to Disney, trip to the ice-cream parlor
- first day of pre-school, last day of school, 100th day of school, history day at school, color day at school, science day at school
- Disney movie premier, Pixar movie premier
- Christmas dress, Easter dress, St. Patrick’s Day dress, Valentine’s Day dress
- apple picking outfit, pumpkin picking outfit
- visiting the fire station outfit (yes I’ve seen that multiple times)
Sure, this is fun for all, and obviously good for business to keep the dollar circulating, but is it necessary? Not to be a party-pooper, but there are some downsides to this trend of making a special outfit for one-time events:
- stress on mom who stays up late making dreams come true
- stress on the family budget
- storage space for outfits that have limited use
- what is this teaching our kids about limited resources?
- or outward appearances?
- how do the classmates feel, who don’t have these special outfits?
- is this really for the kids? Or is mom needing validation?
Yes, it’s creative to make special outfits. Yes they help make cute photos. Yes, they bring joy to an occasion….but that’s the problem: it’s AN occasion. The more specific the apparel piece, the less likely that it can be worn again….by that child or any other child.
- They can’t be handed down to a sibling or cousin.
- They can’t be donated to a flood victim
- Thrift stores don’t want them!
Yes, even the thrift shops have too many clothes. Goodwill and The Salvation Army regularly purge their racks because they take in far more clothing than they can get rid of. Guess what happens to the clothing they can’t sell? Some of it ends up in landfill, much of it is sent to third-world countries where, again, the more specific the clothing the less appeal it has. If you want a real shocker as to what happens to hundreds of shipping containers of American and European clothing each year, please watch the video “Unravel”.
Pay attention to the part where the workers explain that they’ve been told the reason for the endless containers of used clothing from the west is that we apparently have not enough water to do laundry, so we are forced to keep buying more just to have clean clothes. Also, think of the carbon footprint: the majority of our clothes (and sewing fabrics) are made in Asia, shipped to America and Europe, then a whole bunch get shipped BACK to Asia.
A few suggestions:
- Think carefully whether your child wants a special outfit, or you just want to make it, and if so, is this the most efficient use of your time and resources.
- Invest in better fabrics and sew fewer, higher-quality clothes in classic non-trendy colors and prints that will wear longer, wash well, and serve multiple children.
- If you love to sew so much that your kids already have too many clothes, consider sewing for charity; there are children who do not have clothes other than hand-me-downs, or who do not know what pajamas are.
Last word: obviously the beauty of a free culture and the open market system is that you can have, buy, make, sew anything you want to, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. I know that I was blessed to be born in America, and I’m thankful that my husband immigrated here. To each his own, but personally I would rather spend my precious time making fewer pieces of clothing using finer quality fabric and better sewing techniques…making apparel that lasts, that’s timeless, that can be shared and passed down and enjoyed by more than one person, for more than one occasion.
Please keep the people of Houston, Texas in your hearts.