I want you to start mending your clothes instead of throwing them away

At 1.30pm on 14 June, shoppers on Bromley High Street in south London might have noticed a group of colourfully dressed people gathering outside Stonehenge Cafe, carrying folded chairs and fabric.

In less than five minutes, the group had spread out along the centre of the pedestrianised street and sat in single file, creating a line stretching 150m between Primark and Next.

Once in position, each person attached a hand-sewn banner to the back of their chair, saying ‘#stitchitdontditchit’.

For the next hour, each member of the group sat in meditative silence and quietly mended a piece of clothing. I was one of them. 

We sat apart to be more vulnerable, more approachable. And shoppers responded by coming over to see what we were making and why we were doing it in the middle of the street.

There was no heckling or confrontation. Curiosity became appreciation then support. Many of us didn’t know each other before, but immediately became allies.

This is called Street Stitching. It’s a new but growing movement to champion the joy and necessity of garment repair at locations where consumers go when they want to add to their wardrobe. 

A month before this I had sat alone outside Primark in Oxford Street, fixing the hem of a skirt.

The idea came about when I overheard the dynamic founder of Fashion Revolution Orsola de Castro speaking in an interview about the reputation of fast fashion clothes as ‘cheap tat’ and how clothing is being seen as disposable, designed to be dumped. 

Despite the fact that many low-priced fashion items could last for years with a bit of care, they often get ditched long before their time because they’re so easy to replace. 

I thought, if I can sit in the path of shoppers showing a better alternative to replacing what they have, maybe I can change a few minds. The idea filled me with a sort of giddy hope and a pleasing certainty that I would enjoy the experience.

Our reckless shopping habits are contributing hugely to climate collapse

To me, Primark on Oxford Street was probably the most iconic store to represent unconscious consumerism, so I plonked myself in front of its window with my needle and thread, and got repairing. It had a similar effect as a painter at a street easel.

People gathered around, inquisitive and open to a conversation. The exchanges I had were friendly and I felt I may have changed a few minds; it was energising.

The next day I posted a photo on social media and asked if anyone wanted to join me. The response was explosive. 

Within a few weeks, hundreds of people from 20 cities across the UK and abroad had taken to the streets with their needles to stitch. In some places, 30 or so formed a line (or ‘mend’), in others just one stitcher sat alone in solidarity. 

According to a survey conducted by Barnardo’s in 2015, one in three young women – who represent the largest consumer segment – consider clothes ‘old’ after wearing them just once or twice. This is terrifying unconscious consumption. 

With the textile industry believed by many to be one of the largest polluters on the planet, our reckless shopping habits are contributing hugely to climate collapse.

It’s not just consumers who are fuelling this fire though: some companies deem it cheaper to dump returned goods rather than gift or resell them, meaning that  plenty of new clothing ends up in landfill, much of it unworn. 

While there is clearly much to protest about, Street Stitching is not strictly a protest. In the words of one stitcher, ‘It is an encouragement. A way of demonstrating what we want to see more of rather than opposing what we want to see less of.’  

And what we want to see more of is the care and repair of clothes being recognised as the creative, health-giving and rewarding process it is.

Our generation does seem to have unskilled itself. Repair is not difficult, just ‘a little bit inconvenient’, and sadly we’ve been taught to believe inconvenience is a bad thing. 

To help encourage curious members of the public, each stitcher carried a QR code linking to a resource of free online tutorials in altering, mending, refashioning, embellishing and up-cycling clothes. This proved a helpful solution to the often-cited excuse: ‘Oh but I don’t sew’, and allowed help to be given without the need for many words.

It was an uncomplicated way to lead someone towards a vast pool of encouragement and advice, and it was taken up by almost everyone.

When photos started pouring in online from all over the country of Street Stitching groups and their beautiful signs I felt extremely moved. Stitchers from Brighton to Edinburgh and across the world in Adelaide and Texas were unleashing a powerful movement in their bustling, noisy towns. 

Those who took part agreed how liberating and purposeful it felt. Connections were made with the public, minds were altered. And everyone wants to do it again, even – in fact, especially – those who felt nervous about inviting public scrutiny. After shakily trying to thread a needle, they soon became lost in their work and relaxed. 

The next unified action will be taking place on 14 September to tie in with Sustainable Fashion Week. Anyone can bring a needle and a sock and join a line. It’s about intention, not skill. Young, old, male, female, novice or pro: all are welcome and all are needed.

No matter where you live you can get involved: stitchers in Japan, USA, Portugal, France, Germany, Canada and South Africa are joining in. While writing this, people in over 50 cities have stepped forward to become ‘Line Makers’ – organisers for their area.

The first Street Stitch started a ripple through the amazing mending community and began to mobilise a wave of creative and skilled people, using their talents to inspire people and spark ideas around sustainability. I know of a teacher whose class are making signs to sit with us in their playground, which overlooks the street. Some communities are now doing this as a weekly event. 

I hope this action will bring joyful disruption to autopilot spending in even more high streets. And I think that by putting mending into public retail spaces, it will successfully encourage people to look at repair not as a chore or a sign of impoverishment but as a way to form a more meaningful bond with what they own. 

Our relationship with our clothes is like any relationship – it becomes more satisfying and rewarding the longer it lasts. 

To get involved by joining a line or starting your own, contact [email protected], or visit @streetstitching or @twistedtwee on Instagram. 

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected] 

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