Spaces to remake and mend clothing in retail stores could encourage more sustainable fashion choices, study suggests

01 March 2024

Findings suggest workshops in repairing and remaking could result in positive changes in consumer behaviour

Incorporating spaces to remake and mend clothing into chain stores could help consumers to make more sustainable fashion choices, a new study suggests.

The study A Social Practices Approach to Encouraging Sustainable Clothing Choices published in the journal Sustainability, recommends extending community sewing workshops to high street chain stores and calls for these stores to incorporate areas for mending, modifying and repurposing clothing alongside selling more sustainable garments designed to be durable and adaptable.

Researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University in partnership with University of Exeter who led the study, and Northumbria University, ran hands-on workshops designed to give participants the space, support, and equipment to learn new skills for repairing and remaking clothing enabling them to make more sustainable choices and embrace slow fashion.

Through interviews, audits of wardrobes, informal discussions, questionnaires, short films and reflective diaries, participants were able to better understand their purchasing habits and engaged positively in making more sustainable clothing choices at the end of the process.  

The study suggests that if making and repairing workshops became commonplace in shopping centres and high streets it could provide the building blocks for positive changes in consumer behaviour, as well as offering a much-needed boost to high streets.

Fiona Hackney, Professor of Fashion at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “We found a real energy and commitment from people who wanted to develop more pro-environmental practices in their relationship with fashion and clothing. There is enormous concern about what’s happening to the planet and a widespread sense of helplessness. The workshops offered a positive way to get involved and also have fun. People loved learning new skills, being creative, and sharing their skills and ideas. The community aspect was a big draw.”

At the end of the project, researchers found that participants’ style remained relatively fixed, suggesting an enduring emotive connection with style and buying habits were still dependent on their budgets.

Most participants remained as high street shoppers with a slight shift towards using charity shops with many reporting they would ‘not continue to buy fast fashion’ in general except for essentials, like underwear, marking a significant change.

Overall spending on clothes appeared, on average, to have increased due to participants’ more discerning tastes post-participation as they increasingly sought more ethical – and presumably more expensive – clothing items.

Participants also reported that they thought more carefully about what they bought and through the development of new skills, bought fewer items, sourced clothing ethically, thought differently about how they dress, and were more likely to fix their clothes. Quality and longevity were considered to be more important post-participation, with people looking for clothing that was better made and would last longer.

One participant Christine went to lengths to reduce the number of items in her wardrobe when she realised that her bulk purchase of cheap products was leading her to hoard unworn items.

Another participant Susan continued to make only careful purchases that fit her style, while Jennifer sought to reduce her clothing spending, to only buy clothes with the right colour, fit and style.

Based on these findings, additional research is proposed to include a multi partner project working with fashion brands and charity shops to explore the impact of repairing and mending workshops becoming commonplace on the high street and how this might encourage positive change in fashion cycles and relationships with clothing. 

Manchester Metropolitan is at the forefront of town centre research, with the Institute of Place Management leading the Government’s High Streets Task Force supporting the transformation of 138 High Streets in England, including expert University advice to develop strategies for positive change.  

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