In with the old: Restyle your wardrobe for an eco-savvy makeover
Half of all clothing is binned within a year of being made, but we can make our closets more sustainable by restoring and re-using what we already have. Meadhbh McGrath meets the experts who give old wearables a new lease of life
As the seasons change and we make the switch from warm- to cold-weather clothes, we often end up doing a wardrobe clear-out at the same time. But this year, rather than throwing out items you've grown tired of, consider having them restyled for a whole new look.
The fashion industry is a massive polluter, and the growth of fast fashion is making it worse: according to a 2016 report by McKinsey and Company, nearly three-fifths of all clothing ends up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being made. The report also notes that recycling methods such as shredding or chemical digestion don't work all that well, and the resulting material often has nowhere to go, due to a lack of markets large enough to absorb it.
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As the climate crisis gets worse, we're all reviewing our own role in protecting the environment, and what we can do individually to promote sustainability. One of the simplest places you can start is your own wardrobe.
Even high-fashion brands are now offering restoration services in-store: Amanda Wakeley, the London designer worn by Angelina Jolie, Laura Whitmore and Kate Middleton, invites customers to bring in their old clothes, from any label, to be restyled by the team at her Mayfair boutique.
Kate Middleton herself is a great fan of restyling. She had a floral Alexander McQueen off-the-shoulder gown she wore to the 2017 Bafta awards updated with cap sleeves and a new bodice for a gala this year, proving a special-occasion dress doesn't need to be single-use. And in 2013, Keira Knightley had her strapless Chanel wedding dress revamped with long mesh sleeves and a beaded illusion neckline to wear to a charity event the same year.
Disposal should be your last resort - instead, ask yourself why you don't want to wear that particular piece, and think about what you can do about it.
"We are all guilty of over-spending, so it's always good to start with what you have in your own wardrobe. I like to quote 'the four Rs': rethink, rewear, relove and recreate. If there are pieces sitting in your wardrobe that you're just not wearing, there are different little things you can do to give those pieces a new lease of life," says Gail Murphy, a fashion blogger and image consultant (gailsrails.ie) from Kilcullen, Co Kildare.
"I'm guilty of it too, buying stuff that's ill-fitting. I know something isn't quite right but I love the pattern, or the shape of the skirt part but not the top."
Gail recently collaborated with the Zip Yard on a number of restyles, including transforming a baggy wrap dress into a more flattering wrap skirt, and a patterned dress into an A-line maxi skirt.
"If you have a dress that's ill-fitting or sitting too high or low on your waist, it's never going to feel comfortable on you. I'd suggest altering it into a skirt: use the fabric from the top to create a little waistband and then add a zip. Or if you own a dress that catches you on the hip area but you love the top of it, you can remove the skirt and create a fabulous top to go with trousers." Mary O'Loughlin, manager at the Zip Yard Galway, notes that occasionwear tends to be the worst wear-once culprit, as so many women buy a dress or jumpsuit for a wedding or a party, after which, it's relegated to the back of the wardrobe.
"What we are seeing more and more of now is people going through their wardrobes and bringing in garments that they may have only worn once to an event. They want to restyle it to make it more of a wearable piece," she explains.
"Once a customer does it once, they start to look at their whole wardrobe differently and they pull pieces out every time they have a clear-out. We'd have regulars who would bring in a bag of pieces to us every season; they'd be looking at their summer wardrobe differently and coming in with a bag of those clothes."
Mary and the Zip Yard team have completed courses in personal styling with the Dragon's Den-approved Stylefish fashion school, so they can advise on what will and won't work, whether it's adding or removing sleeves, turning a dress into a two-piece, changing the neckline, shortening the hemline or embellishing the garment with beads, zips or new buttons.
"Sometimes, the customer will have ideas themselves, they'll have nice pictures and it'll be nice and easy, but often, it's a case of them asking what we think they can do with a piece," says Mary. "There's always something that can be done. Obviously, price can be a factor as well. If it's a case where you're taking apart a garment and using it for materials, you're almost drafting a pattern from scratch and creating a whole new item."
Prices can vary - some tailors charge by the project, others by how long it takes to alter. The Zip Yard falls into the latter category, with a rate of €45 an hour. Mary explains that the length of the process depends on how the garment is put together: is it lined? Is there a zip? Does it have a lot of detail? Sometimes, customers will want a piece totally dismantled and reassembled; for example, to use the material from a good pair of trousers to create a pencil skirt.
"We've made pieces from scratch in about five hours, or it can be something very small and it can take an hour," says Mary.
At the Alteration Centre on Dublin's South Anne Street, the team base their fees on the garment. Owner Clare Corrigan notes that for the most basic restyle, such as turning a simple dress into a skirt, the cost would be €28, and most restyles are under the €50 mark.
"It can be a longer process, if they need a dart put in or something, or we need to do a couple of fittings. Generally, it takes a week to 10 days," she explains."It's about putting a personal touch on a piece. We have one lady who would put a fringe on her jackets or some detail to make it her own - people add little bits and bobs to give it a quirkiness and restyle it for themselves."
Clare observes that there can also be a nostalgic element, as restyling allows customers to give their family members' hand-me-downs a modern refresh. She remembers a woman who called in after her father had died, and had his jacket altered to fit her.
Mary recalls another example: "Last year for the races, we had a girl in who had a dress that belonged to her aunty, from the '70s, and we made it into a little crop top and skirt. It turned out beautiful, and it was lovely that she got to rewear her aunty's clothes."
The environmental factor also comes up a lot. "Customers are starting to talk about sustainability more and more. It's something we're definitely hearing more of," says Mary. "Even with people repairing their clothes rather than buying new ones - jeans might need a small patch repair where they've gotten a bit weak, and people are beginning to go, 'If I pay €10 for this, I'll get this amount of time out of them again', rather than going and repurchasing."
Gail agrees, adding: "You probably already have pieces in your wardrobe that you can create looks with if you get a little bit adventurous."