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Theses: Threading the needle – together!

Taking care of your clothes is an environmental act, says Marium Durrani. Communal clothing repair workshops are popular around the world and have now landed also in Finland to push against unsustainable fast fashion practices.
Marium Durrani ompelemassa käsin vaatekappaletta, jossa on kukkakuosi.
Marium Durrani’s doctoral thesis in the field of design examines clothing repair events. Photo: Nita Vera.

What do you do when a shirt tail rips or a trouser zip jams? Do you get the clothes repaired? Quite a few of us answer no – sure this costs money and takes time, and I don’t know how to do it myself nor do I even have the supplies. And I can always buy a replacement.

Researcher Marium Durrani thinks this isn’t how things should be, as clothes can be mended and maintained at communal workshops.

‘Repair workshops are a counter-reaction to disposable fast fashion practices and the world’s growing mountains of textile waste,’ Durrani says.

From pop-up events to continuity

Durrani’s doctoral thesis in the field of design examines clothing repair events in Finland, Scotland and New Zealand. The threshold of participation in these workshops is lower because sewing instruction and supplies are available at the workshop.

‘More and more young people want to learn skills that were mundane for their grandparents, but have been forgotten by their parents.’

Some of the participants in these free events want to learn how to sew on a button or patch their jeans, while others are already quite handy and come there to share their skills with others. In Helsinki, the repair workshops have been individual pop-up happenings, but these events are more regular in Scotland and New Zealand, where they can be organised at fixed locations.

‘In New Zealand, the local municipalities of Auckland and Wellington support and provide facilities for these events. Over there, these activities have developed into communal movement, whereas in Finland events are arranged by individual fashion designers.’

In Edinburgh, Scotland, social enterprise business ventures based on the recycling of clothes have also introduced these workshops.

Grassroots influencing

Mending your shirt instead of trashing it won’t change the world, but it is a step towards more sustainable consumption.

‘Change can be brought about even if it happens one small step at a time. There’s also strength in doing things together and once people engage in these activities they begin to recognise how their everyday actions connect with wider ecological problems, such as textile waste.’

Interest in sustainable fashion has grown powerfully in recent years. More than 1 500 clothes repair workshops around the world have registered with the Repair Café organisation, and lots of unregistered activities take place alongside them.

‘It is extremely important to support existing events and groups in order to make clothes maintenance and repair a part of people’s everyday lives.’

The world is open

Durrani continues her research as a postdoctoral researcher in the Fashion/Textile Futures research group at the Department of Design.

‘I hope that one day I’ll have my own research group. I’d also like to set up a non-profit organisation. It’s activities would combine my two passions: the clothing industry and sustainable development.’

Durrani has witnessed first-hand how international her field of research is. Born in Pakistan, Durrani completed a Bachelor’s degree in social anthropology at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). She then earned a Master’s from the University of Oslo before coming to Aalto. Her doctoral research took her to the Auckland University of Technology and the University of Edinburgh, where she worked as a visiting researcher. She looks forward to travelling the world in future, too.

‘Finland is absolutely one of my homes, but let’s see where life takes me and what opportunities it presents. Finland will always be part of me, irrespective of where I am.’

Marium Durrani istuu hymyillen kotisohvallaan ja heittää ilmaan kukkakuosisen vaatekappaleen.

Marium Durrani's doctoral thesis Through the threaded needle: a multi-sited ethnography on the sociomateriality of garment mending practices is published 3.12.2019.

The printed version is available at Aalto University Shop

This article is published in the Aalto University Magazine issue 26, April 2020.

Text: Marjukka Puolakka.
Photos: Nita Vera.

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