There’s no doubt that we need to move towards a more sustainable society. The rapid production of large volumes of clothes comes at a high cost for our ecosystems as well as garment workers, and consumerism and ‘fast fashion’ are increasingly being held to account for their environmental and social impacts. But it wasn’t so long ago that making and mending our own clothing was the norm – could we do the same again?
The process of rapidly mass-producing textiles has a huge negative impact on our environment. The fashion industry produces around ten percent of the greenhouse gases emitted by human activity and is incredibly energy intensive. In addition, there are often long international supply chains that ship garments around the world, significantly increasing greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the fashion industry uses up to 1.5 trillion litres of water every year, which in some cases cannot be cleaned and recycled due to the harmful chemicals used during the manufacturing process.
Mass-produced clothing is also frequently made of synthetic materials made of plastics, which not only use fossil fuels to make but add to another major environmental issue: the release of microplastics during washing and long-term breakdown processes in landfill. The problems are exacerbated due to the speed and scale at which garments are made – it’s thought that every year more than 100 billion items of clothing are made, some of which are never even worn.
Slowing down fashion
Before the development of mass production we made almost all our clothes by hand. Nowadays, many of us wouldn’t think to dive into old techniques like knitting, sewing, or weaving to make our own clothes, but taking part in these creative activities does us a whole lot of good and is much better for the planet. Mending our own clothes prolongs their life, meaning we can buy less, reducing demand on manufacturing and limiting greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts. In addition, making our own clothes allows us to choose fabrics that have a lower carbon footprint, for example those that are made locally or with more sustainable processes.
But how is making or mending our own clothes good for us? Crafting of all types can be a social activity, providing opportunities to reduce loneliness. The broader impacts on those who regularly take part in creative activities, such as writing, art, or making music, include strengthened immune systems and improved connectivity within the brain leading to better cognitive function. Sewing is a great way to improve hand–eye coordination, and any activity that involves repeated movements, like knitting, crochet, or weaving, induces a sense of calm and relaxation along with releasing serotonin, the mood-boosting happy chemical. In fact, a recent study into the benefits of knitting found that it can have a great impact on mental health through reducing depression and anxiety. In addition, regular knitting can distract from chronic pain and has been found to lower your heart rate and slow the onset of mild dementia. Get creative, support your wellbeing, and help the planet!
Ruth Kirk is a science writer based in the UK.