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Upcycling - a collaboration with 'The Library of Things'

The new 'Library of Things' opens in Kilburn Public Library, at the end of March – providing the perfect reason to host a Mend & Repair workshop and introduce people to the world of upcycling. The workshop organiser and driver is Juliana Velez, a zero waste and sustainable living advocate, and I will be co-leading it with her. To quote Juliana "I want to help people make positive changes to their lives and reduce their waste in the process". (source: Twitter @JulesVel)

For this workshop, Juliana and I have orchestrated a plan of action to teach 15 individuals for 2 hours one week, and then 15 new individuals for 2 hours in the following week. It’s all funded by the local council, which means these workshops are entirely free for you to attend - the only cost being 2 hours of your time to sit and participate. Events taking place are: Saturday, February 25th, 10 - 12am and then the following Friday, March 3rd.

Venue: 12-22 Kilburn High Rd, London NW6 5UH.

Book here: EventBrite

Workshops are vitally important; for building communities, for supporting mental health, for learning new skills, for using your hands and creativity to make beautiful things, as well as for the educational opportunities they provide, in this case about sustainability. How exciting to just pause, book, attend, learn, meet new friends, connect etc.

The 'Library of Things' is an amazing concept, and attendees will not only learn how to access readily available equipment to hire (from power tools to pasta makers, including sewing machines priced at £5.00 per day or £20.00 per week), but will also learn simple mending and repairing techniques (or at least, refresh your memory about how useful and beneficial mending can be) - which can hopefully prolong a garment’s life and thus prevent it heading to landfill.

Photograph taken by Serbian Midili

This upcycling workshop, is also an exciting collaboration/partnership with Traid, who have very kindly donated surplus stock (denim jeans and garments) that people no longer want to buy, that will can use to create new items.

Traid is an amazing company that, as quoted on their website, ‘is a charity working to stop clothes from being thrown away. We turn clothes waste into funds and resources to reduce the environmental and social impacts of our clothes. It is a circular and sustainable approach to the problems of clothes waste tackling disposal, production and consumption’.

What is Upcycling?

The word upcycle means to reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original.

(as defined by the Oxford Languages Dictionary)

What is Upcycling vs Recycling?

A quote taken from Evolve Beauty; 'What is Upcycling? Upcycling is a form of recycling where instead of turning waste into new materials, you can take a product that you would otherwise throw away and give it a new lease of life. Rather than recycle using a recycling bin, you can use your creativity to update and renew old items'.

These days it’s all too easy to buy into the throw away mentality of fast cheap fashion, i.e. it's cheap, it's damaged, so let’s just replace it. However, what is taken out of this scenario is the value and quality of the craftsmanship and resources that are involved to create the item in the first place. This is why I constantly talk about the importance of slow fashion, as well as regularly taking personal decisions towards living a more sustainable lifestyle (You can find clear evidence of this, found on my company Instagram account - creation26, under the heading 'Sustainability').

During the 2nd world war there was a national shortage of items, so people were encouraged to buy less and repair more as money and raw materials were scarce - livelihoods and habitats needed to work together. 'Make Do And Mend' was an explosion of craft, learning new sewing skills, fixing what you had or seeing what could be shared or swapped with your neighbour. To read more on this, see articles here and here.

(image taken out of an old CSM sketchbook/ design work/ 1950s magazine)

As decades passed, lives and communities began to thrive again, which of course, was wonderful for the economy. However as time went on many companies chose to source production lines overseas where the price per garment (for example) significantly came down (due to the many determining factors, but often driven by being able to pay lower wages). This meant a lot of factories in the UK ceased to operate, and many jobs were lost. As production costs came down, so too did the selling price, which ultimately brought about the rise of cheaper fashion and following on from this the boom in throw away fashion. Sadly this also led to the rise of waste going to landfill. Whether it's over production, poorly made materials which do not have longevity factors, or mixed fibres which makes them harder to recycle - one thing leads to another, which leads to another, which leads to the slippery downwards slope towards unsustainable fashion.

Fairtrade thankfully tried to put a stop on this. For example, in the world of coffee, many coffee growers sold their coffee to big companies and were very low prices for their products. The producer’s families suffered, often living in poverty whilst big company owners thrived at their expense. Something had to change. Fairtrade was set up to be as an in-between, becoming a voice for coffee growers and likeminded individuals, and making sure that the coffee beans harvested were sold at a fair price where each coffee grower received support. The same principles can be applied to the world of fashion, helping ensure that workers and manufacturers get paid a fair wage and have their rights protected, giving rise to the idea of fair-trade fashion.

When the horrendous disaster happened at the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, where many low paid workers lost their lives after being forced to work in an structurally unsafe building, it bought the above issue to a global audience, and highlighted the true cost of the clothes we wear, and throw away, in the western world. Ultimately this gave a rise to Who Made My Clothes Campaign.

For more on the true cost of fashion, then watch this.

The amount of textiles wasted globally each year is absolutely astonishing.

"The average US Consumer throws away 81.5lbs of clothes every year. In America alone, an estimated 11.3 million tons of textile waste - equivalent to 85% of all textiles - end up in landfills on a yearly basis. That's equivalent to approximately 81.5 pounds (37 kilograms) per person per year and around 2,150 pieces per second countrywide." (Quote via Google, from 10 Concerning Fast Fashion Waste Statistics - Earth.Org)

“The United Kingdom produces 206.456 tonnes of textile waste in a year. Out of the 3.1kg of textile waste each Briton produces every year, only 0.3kg are recycled and 0.4 kg are reused. However, 0.8kg are incinerated yearly per person and 1.7kg are disposed of in landfills” (Quote from Circular Online)

How widespread is waste in the fashion industry?

"The long, and more detailed answer is: it's estimated that 92 million tons of textile waste is created annually by the fashion industry. The average piece of clothing is worn 36% fewer times now than it was 15 years ago … every second the equivalent of a rubbish truck load of clothes is burnt or buried in landfill. Waste is a prevalent in very part of the fashion industry, as a result of over consumption and problematic end-of-life solutions". (As detailed in the article ‘'Everything you need to know about waste in the Fashion Industry' on the fashion sustainability blog 'Good On You', written on 21 Feb 2022, by Charlotte Brown, edited by Solene Rauturier)

(photograph taken by Maude Frederique Lavoie)

The more I read about the 'True Costs of Fashion', the more I educate my brain, the more my heart wants me to shout, "No More". Unfortunately, we end up in a loop that sometimes is too hard to get out of, a loop where despite discipline, self-control, and wisdom, you still make the same old choices, instead of choosing better ones. But we must drag ourselves out of this loop - we all can make a difference in the world if we just believe and then take the necessary steps towards a brighter future. Can't afford sustainable brands? Then attend their sample or seconds sales. Don't agree with fast fashion? Then support sustainability by searching for and then purchase garments that have an eco-branded label. Write a letter to brands you love, asking about their eco footprint. Promote your steps on social media channels. Have too many items in your wardrobe? Then remove what you don’t actually need, and book a company such as Traid to come collect them.

Buy wise. Think longevity. Want to learn how to sew but can't afford a sewing machine? Then pop into the 'Library of Things' at a location that's closest to you and hire out a sewing machine. Start small. Small steps regularly soon become the next newly formed habit.

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