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Emily Towers

Published date
19 Jun 2018

The practice of mending: Unraveling its effect on the wearer’s relationship to clothing

College: London College of Fashion
Supervisors: Professor Kate Fletcher, Professor Sandy Black


In contemporary consumerist cultures our engagement with fashion is often dominated by short-term, consumption-based relationships with garments (consumerist materialism), replenishing them in ever- increasing frequency (Black 2012).

Our insatiable appetite for “stuff” and the desire for new items has escalated to such an extent that the amount of resources needed to maintain our accustomed day- to-day standard of living is unsustainable (Papaneck 1995, Global Footprint Network 2012). To counter this, key thinkers suggest the development of actions that promote connectedness, where immaterial relationships are valued enabling ‘flourishing’ to occur (Fletcher 2012, Ehrenfeld 2008).

Context and background

This research intends to interrogate our current system of fashion acquisition by addressing our connections to clothing, using mending as one possible strategy towards sustainable futures.

The purpose of the research is to discover whether it is possible to extend the use phase (durability) of clothing through mending both the physical garment and the emotional connection, by testing whether mending interventions affect our relationship towards clothing.

This work explores our connections and domestic consumption of clothing and how mending interacts with them; discovering how the ideas, relationships, techniques and treatments of mending support durable use practices.

The act of mending can instigate the learning of new skills, which could potentially assist us to engage with garments differently, hopefully building competencies and connections towards clothes that affect how we participate with consumerist materialism. Proposing that garments that have had time and craft imparted into them, to extend their working lives, will increase the emotional connection between the wearer and subsequently optimise their lifespans.

The practice of extending and intensifying the use phase of a garment could increase the resourcefulness of fashion expression, which in turn should reduce the acquisition of replacement garments reducing the resources needed therefore increasing sustainability (Fletcher 2008, Laitala 2010, WRAP 2012). A macro understanding of whether the wearer’s domestic consumption habits are affected will be researched in tandem. This is studied by interviewing volunteers within their wardrobe environment before and after mending interventions are practiced within workshops, in order to determine how the wearers are caring for other pieces in the wardrobe and how the reworked pieces are used.

Case studies exploring existing repair workshops and a quantitative survey triangulate the research. A preliminary study of self-selected women from the London Borough of Islington has generated multi- layered findings about the practices and ideas of mending. It comprised of semi-structured interviews performed within the wardrobe environment and in-depth discussions on specific items, such as oldest and newest garments in order to gain an understanding of their current domestic consumption. Further workshops provided interventions within the group by teaching them the craft of garment maintenance including skills related to repair or refashioning such as darning. Further interviews followed, executed in parts, firstly within a month of the last mending workshop and then at six-month intervals for the extent of the research in order to understand whether any change has resulted in their domestic consumption of clothing and their connection to it.