What makes a garment repair-worthy?

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Some garments are worth mending because they are special to you. The garments you absolutely love wearing. The handmade items you have poured time and thought into making. The garments that have a special story, like a Christening gown being passed down to new generations, or a hand knitted jumper that speaks of family connection.

Some garments are worth mending because they were expensive, and it makes more economic sense to repair the old than splash out on a new replacement.

But what about the rest, or most, of the clothes in your wardrobe? The garments that are neither particularly pricey, nor very special, but simply serve the purpose of keeping you clothed and fit to be seen. Are they worth mending, too?

 

The story of the plain old sweater. Again.

Earlier this year I wrote a post on how to mend underarm holes quick and easy. The turquoise sweater I mended in that post is neither very special nor particularly valued in my wardrobe. It is just a plain old sweater, a little scruffy now with many years of wear.

I have almost got rid of it many times, only to scoop it back out of the donation pile thinking that if I, even I who once bought it, no longer want to wear it, who will?

Nobody, probably. A thought that is confirmed whenever I read things like this: no one wants your used clothes anymore. The amounts of unwanted clothes already out there is overwhelming.

I don’t love this particular sweater, but I can still use it. I have already mended it a handful of times. And I realise not every garment needs to be perfect to be worn. Not every garment needs to be so very special or expensive to be worth repairing.

The perfect wardrobe

I would never pick this turquoise sweater for a capsule wardrobe, where every item needs to be versatile and at the same time beautifully convey your style. Capsules are for the best pieces. But if capsules are the ideal, what happens to the ordinary items that, you know, are just okay.

Every time I have taken this sweater back into my wardrobe, I have unintentionally renewed my commitment to it. Every time I have mended it, I have forged some sort of emotional connection to it. By mending it I have made it mine, because now it is something I have put my mark on. With that sense of ownership I feel a certain responsibility for wearing it.


The incentive to mend

Privileged, as many of us are in the West, we are far beyond the point where mending is a necessity to keeping ourselves clothed. Far from it. Often, it makes more economic sense to a buy a new replacement (made from virgin resources and shipped across the globe) than paying for a repair done locally.

Yes, fast-fashion has made clothing accessible to the masses. But with that, has also come a devaluation of clothes, and the materials, labour and skill that went into making them.

What is the incentive to mend, today, when most of us no longer need to mend in order to save money or materials?


Environment versus emotion

There are, of course, environmental reasons to mend. Mending means less textile waste, fewer clothes flooding the second hand market, less virgin materials used, less pollution and less water waste.

But these reasons often aren’t enough to get you mending if buying new is just as easy. Merely having less of a negative impact on the environment is hardly motivating. These environmental reasons, though good in themselves, are too abstract, too distant, too far removed from your everyday life.

A good reason isn’t enough. You need a reason that motivates you. The money you have in your purse (or bank account) is motivating. Holding on to a family connection, a special story or a fond memory is motivating. But mending clothes that mean nothing, cost little and are easily replaceable isn’t motivating.


Emotional connection

Here is a hypothesis: Without the traditional money-saving reasons to mend, we need instead an emotional connection to our clothes to get us mending.

If that is true, it might explain why I find darning socks so utterly uninspiring. I have absolutely no emotional connection to my socks (despite trying for years to pay them the respect they deserve by folding them neatly, Marie Kondo-style). Socks are so easily replaceable, cheap and soon worn down anyway. That, and I find darning them awkward, fiddly and boring.

But, from a sustainability perspective, it is worth mending anything you are willing to keep wearing – even fast-fashion items. Even when mending takes as much time, effort and money as buying new. Even store-bought socks.


Creating meaning

Perhaps materialism is good. Feeling an attachment to your things means you value them and gives you a reason to to care for them. For, why else would you bother?

What makes clothes – just ordinary clothes – worthy of repair? You do. Clothes are just clothes, until you place them in a context of meaning.

As it happens, that plain, old turquoise sweater of mine has become a token of greater things: commitment, comfort, connection to my personal history. Despite it being just an ordinary piece of clothing, it is now part of my slow fashion journey because I made it so.