Up until the fairly recently clothes were intended to be used for many years. As such sustainability was built into the design. If we look back to a time before fast fashion, we can learn a lot that will help us make our future brighter.
Let’s start way back. Hunter-Gatherer societies know the value of every resource. When they would kill an animal. Every part would be used. Everything they could eat, they would. The bones and teeth could be turned into tools. Ligaments could be used for thread. Skin and fur were used for clothes and other shelter.
Today we could learn a lesson about reducing our impact from these societies. The meat industry is separate from the clothing. Animals are bred for one part or another, and everything not used by that industry is discarded.
Moving forward in history; many early cultures used fabric in square units because that was how it was woven, and they did not waste any of it. Japanese Kimono are designed to use the exact width of fabric that they traditionally wove. Here is an example of how efficiently the Viking Apron Dress use of fabric was.
Today, garments are fitted and shaped in such a way that there is a massive amount of fabric wasted. For some garments, using squares still work quite well. For the rest, advances in garment printing could ultimately eliminate this waste all together.
As we move forward in time some more, we begin to see lessons that we can act on in a more immediate way. There are some very high tech solutions out there to making clothes that grow with children. But a study of history shows some great ways to do this in very low tech ways.
Let’s start with the most basic- something that has been used for millennia; the drawstring. With this simple idea, clothes can be made in a larger size, and worn from a younger age. They are great for adult weight fluctuations too. These days, we also have the option of using elastic. However, elastic can wear out, has a limited efficacy when not stretched very far, and has a limit to how much it can stretch.
Taking this a step further, let’s use the example of medieval bodices. When the garment was made, the pieces may overlap on the child, but as they grow, the lacing opens up. This gives you a lot more time with a single garment, and means a lot less construction time and money spent on materials.
As we move forward to the Victorian age, we see another great grow clothes example. When we think of a stereotypical little girl from the era, she wears lots of frills and pleats and gathers and ruffles. There is a reason that this much fabric was given to young children. As they grew up, they would need it. These pleats and tucks could be removed as the child grew to allow the clothes to still be used.
So what happens when those clothes get torn? Do they just get thrown away? No way…but that is a topic for a later post.