Lined up on stools outside a well-known clothes store in south London, around 20 needle-wielding stitchers took the fight against “fast fashion” to the streets, showing shoppers how to revive shabby garments.
Their message is “stitch not ditch” – to repair clothes rather than throw them away and buy more, despite the temptations offered by low-cost fashion.
The roaming street tailors on Wednesday set up camp in the London suburb of Bromley, in the shadow a Primark shop, a symbol of “fast fashion” increasingly criticised for its impact on the environment.
Their slogan is displayed on the back of their stools and folding chairs, often stitched in brightly coloured threads.
Organiser Suzi Warren wants to raise awareness of alternatives to the constant purchase of cheap, easily discarded clothes.
“It’s not to say don’t buy it, it’s to say, if you do buy it, try and enter into some kind of contract to keep it as long as you can,” she said.
“We cannot keep producing clothes at this pace,” she added.
Warren, who runs an online shop selling clothes with humorous designs, launched the street stitching movement this year after hearing about the damage of “fast fashion” and her Instagram page has developed a loyal fanbase.
Among the stitchers on Wednesday, Madeleine Tanato was hard at work mending a dress.
“In recent years I’ve realised that fast fashion is having a really bad impact on the environment,” she said.
As intrigued passers-by stopped to ask questions, the needleworkers hoped to show that mending was a source of pleasure.
“Mending is very meditative and a healthy thing for mental health,” said Warren.
“It’s easy, cheap, all you need is a needle and a thread.”
Passers-by were invited to join in by scanning a QR code giving them access to online tutorials.
The event was one of many held simultaneously in cities in Britain and across the world to mark the UK’s Sustainable Fashion Week, held before London Fashion Week on Friday.
Low-cost fashion retailers are regularly criticised for generating waste and pollution and for the poor pay and working conditions of their staff.
The sector’s image was further tarnished by the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka in April 2013, which killed more than 1,100.
It was also hit by reports that some brands use cotton produced by the alleged forced labour of Uyghur Muslims in China.
In the face of criticism, Primark promised on Wednesday to make all clothing from recycled materials or more sustainable sources by 2030 and to halve carbon emissions.
Asos, another British brand, on Thursday committed to more sustainable manufacturing and carbon neutrality by 2030.